Thursday, 29 June 2017

Consciously Unconscious

Since last year I've been thinking a lot about bias, post truth and the way in which we perceive the representation of our views.

We are all biased. Consciously and unconsciously.
Consciously we have preferences; things that we prefer, that we choose, and this influences that ways in which we act and present ourselves to the world.
Unconsciously we have biases that influence our actions and are influenced by society and ingrained notions of 'good' or 'bad'. This podcast explores this phenomena better than I can explain it.

Post-truth is a term that entered the general lexicon last year. It suggests that we live in an age of "alternative facts" where individual 'truths' are more important than objective facts. This is manifest in a denial of reality, a rejection of expert testimony, and the jealous defence of personal perception over other possible views.

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When we see or hear things that challenge our opinions, people are beginning to retaliate rather than rethink.

The BBC is constantly accused of bias: last year there was even a debate in the House of Commons on the issue. Whatever they report, however they report it, someone, somewhere, believes that they are being biased. In the issue of Brexit both sides are angry at what they see as an 'obvious' preference for the other side, and it was the same during the General Election.

Here's the thing: I think that the BBC are actually pretty neutral. I think that they have to be. But we are not used to seeing, hearing or reading completely nonpartisan coverage of an issue any more.

I heard somewhere, recently, that the BBC is bound by a code of conduct of impartiality in the UK that doesn't extend to newspapers or other news channels. This means that newspapers can be prejudice as their editors wish, with repercussions only when they misreport, rather than misrepresent the facts. The BBC can't do this: they have to show objectivity.

However; during political or sociological debates, when invited guests are brought into studios to answer questions, the BBC selects these participants based on party vote share: this means that as, unfortunately, UKIP got a larger number of votes nationwide than the Green Party, they are more likely to invite a UKIP spokesperson onto a show rather than the Green Party MP. This can mean that the debate appears biased, but it is more reflective of the opinion across the country.

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I believe that it's very important to attempt to absorb a range of views and viewpoints. This can help us empathise and understand an opposing opinion, but it can also cause anger: I occasionally endeavour to read a newspaper that has a diametrically converse outlook to the one I personally hold, even though they often make me really angry, both in the language they use and the way the language is employed. 

Alongside this, I strongly believe that the press should report facts, not opinions. And that any curtailment on the freedom of reporting facts is a threat to all of our freedoms. Witness la-Leadsom's sinister comment that news reporters ought to be 'more patriotic' when reporting about Brexit. As if reporting factually on the fall in sterling, the widespread unrest, the debacle of negotiations, without at least having the decency to wear a Union Jack tie and praise Our Glorious Leader in the next breath, is somehow misleading to the nation.

To mis-quote Voltaire: I may not believe what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. We live in a free country (for now) and we are entitled to our opinions. But every right comes with a responsibility, and it is also our responsibility to respect the opinions of someone who may think differently to us.

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If a person limits themselves to one source of news, or one area of input, this brings us back to bias: unconscious bias, stoked by a constant source of only one perspective, becomes conscious bias and can lead to an insular, narrow-minded outlook, on all points of the political and sociological spectrum, and this is dangerous because it creates 'othering.'

The other is not like us. But we are all other and we are all us, and it is important to remember this. Especially in times when bias is mainstream, and alternative facts are reality.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

We're All Mad Here

There's a method of coping with anxiety which suggests thinking of the worst thing that could possibly happen, then telling yourself that it probably won't. There's another method called Reductio ad Absurdum, which reduces an argument or scenario to ridiculous conclusions.

Neither of these are particularly helpful at the moment.

Politics, and society, is operating so illogically at the moment that even denigrating a scenario to absolutely ridiculous proportions, making it the worst thing that I could think of happening; I wouldn't put it past the realms of possibility.

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Quote: Alice's Adventures In Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

I recently watched an interview with Armando Iannucci, one of the creators of the television show The Thick of It, which spoofs the inner workings of a political party. He stated that there was an episode where the politicians and civil servants had to pull a major policy announcement and replace it, at the last minute, with policies which were created on their way to the press conference. Iannucci said that the writers sat around a table and came up with the most outlandish suggestions that they could think of.  Since that episode aired in 2012, several of those policies are now law.

You couldn't make it up. Except Iannucci and the writers of The Thick Of It did. Maybe the ruling elite thought that the show was a documentary rather than a satire?

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I am anxious at the moment. There is tension in the air, and I worry that during the simmering summer it will all boil over. Westminster Bridge, Manchester, London Bridge, the General Election, Grenfell Tower, Finsbury Park, the DUP, Brexit negotiations... the list of tragedies goes on. We have a lot to be angry about.

And in the past twenty-four hours we have been informed that the government is paying an obscene amount of money in order to secure the occasional support of a party that denies climate change, is against LGBTQ+ Rights and anti-Women's Rights; and the deal itself may be illegal, while public services across the UK are cut to the bone and those most in need suffer the ongoing effects of Tory slash and burn austerity.
The offer that was given on the rights of EU Citizens in the UK after Brexit is laughable, raises more questions than it answers, and may actually remove rights and freedoms that EU Nationals have had in this country for years. (But I'll write another blog about this soon as it's something that is personal to me!)

It's madness. It's maddening. We're all mad here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Puppet Protest

May you be cursed to live in interesting times... so says the misquoted and mis-credited proverb.

Theatre has a responsibility to reflect the state of the nation, but one of the issues that theatre has is generally the long lead time to staging a piece. Several productions over the past year have looked at old events, such as Limehouse and This House, which depict political events from years ago and allow the audience to draw out the similarities, and therefore, maybe, give some idea of what might happen next in our current crisis.
It can be difficult to anticipate crises, which is why, I believe, we often read allegory into classic or already established work. Shakespeare is a case in point here: whenever a new staging takes place, we see parallels with our own time. I don't think that this is a bad thing, and I will discuss this further in a future blog.

However, in times of political crisis, guerrilla art comes in to its own. Reactionary and impromptu, theatrical performances can spring up as a result of an outpouring of passion: Aristotle believed that one of the functions of theatre was catharsis, the purging of high emotion, and at the moment there are few things that rouse a more emotional response than politics!

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Something that caught my eye on social media was the Number 10 Vigil at Downing Street, using puppets to stage a 'final leaders debate.' This group use various styles of performance, including songs and spoken word, in a nightly demonstration, and they have incorporated Spitting Image style puppets into their protest.

Puppets have been used in performance and ceremony for hundreds of years: they have even been found in excavations of ancient Greek and Egyptian sites, believed to have been used in dramas depicting the stories of the gods.
Similarly to cartoons, puppets can 'say' and 'do' things that a human actor couldn't get away with, and the ridiculousness of the puppet form creates comedy in a situation that might otherwise be humourless. Humour humanises, and can create empathy and understanding through laughter by disarming an angry reaction - it's very difficult to get angry at a puppet!

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Ancient Greek marionette puppets

Because of the highly visual nature of puppetry it can communicate across language, learning, and cultural barriers, and the caricatures immediately convey the character, or what the creator would have the audience believe about the character!

I'm going to keep an eye on the No10Vigil and see what else they come up with: I feel that impromptu performance protest will expand over the next few years as people turn to the arts to express their hopes, fears and frustrations, which are sure to increase as political instability increases.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Well Hung

This blog has been a work in progress for a couple of days: I started writing in a delirious haze on Friday morning after no sleep and a lot of gin, so I sensibly held off posting until the fog had cleared. Then the internet went down all weekend, so this post has been a few days in the making!

I had gin, fluffy slippers, and my boyfriend and I have been prepping for the zombie apocalypse for years. All bases are covered.

Blimey, it was a long night on Thursday wasn't it? And a little bit of a roller coaster! I've said previously that I always thought that, while the Tories would win, I didn't think Theresa May would get anywhere near the landslide she assumed she'd get. So I was expecting a slim majority, a loss of a couple of Tory seats, a surge in Labour support, and for the Conservatives to continue their roughshod ride across the social fabric of the country.

Then the Exit Polls were revealed, and it all went a little bit topsy-turvey from there. I'm not a Labour supporter, but I was still excited at the prediction. I spent the night flipping between BBC and C4, watching as the results came in, and my mood was the polar opposite of this time last year when I pulled an all-nighter in a very different state of emotion.

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And here we are now. A hung parliament. In a slightly-less-than-lucid state of mind on Friday I typed a few notes, and I'm going to try and make sense of them now:

  • Theresa May wanted a mandate for her vision of Brexit. A mandate for her, personally. What is this a mandate for?
    Her speeches yesterday, both in her constituency and outside Number 10 were incredible, in the sense that I couldn't believe what she was saying; how arrogant, patronising and detached from reality she seems. But then, her entire party and 51% of the electorate also seem to prefer to believe in fantasy than reality so I guess she's appealing to her base.
  • She has been reprogrammed from "Strong and Stable" to "Certainty and Stability". Does anyone actually believe a word she says?
    How dare the Conservative government talk about needing stability when all of the upheaval over the past two years has been their fault? David Cameron said he would hold an advisory referendum on EU membership to quell party in-fighting; he stepped down amid party in-fighting. Then there was a party in-fight to elect a leader. Then, because of party in-fighting, Theresa May called a General Election. Now there is in-fighting amongst the party as they debate whether she should leave. Whatever she does there will be more in-fighting amongst these overgrown toddlers who chuck a tantrum whenever they don't get their own way.
    And they have the absolute gall to accuse other parties of instability, and claim that they are the best ones to lead the country.
    (Wow, this one was a bit of a rant wasn't it?!)

  • We were warned that a vote against the Conservatives was a vote for the Coalition of Chaos, led by a terrorist sympathiser. I said in a previous blog that if this is stability, give me chaos! Well, she was right in a way: people voted against the Conservatives, and it appears we may be getting a chaotic coalition with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party a party against gay rights, against women's rights, climate-change deniers and creationists, founded by a terrorist. 

  • It appears that young people voted in their droves. Previously younger voters felt that politicians don't listen to them so they don't vote: this is a self-fulfilling prophecy as if they don't vote, politicians won't cater to them. They cater to their core voters and their target demographics. Now that young voters are becoming a powerful demographic, politically speaking, politicians will see that they are a force to be reckoned with and will have to factor this into any future plans.

  • In conversations with friends they asked me what I wanted to happen. Obviously my dream would have been for a LibDem majority, but that was never going to happen. So, realistically my best outcome would have been for a 'progressive alliance' between the LibDems, Labour, Greens and SNP. This could still happen - it would be a minority government, still, on a 'confidence and supply' arrangement, but I think this would be a lot more palatable to the majority of the UK than a minority party with the DUP on side.
But we'll see what happens. Since beginning this post three days ago, things haven't become much clearer: Theresa May's advisers have resigned, calls are rising for her to resign with Boris Johnson being touted as the next Prime Minister (we'll see what happens at the 1922 Committee today!), Jeremy Corbyn has said he is prepared to propose an alternative Queen's Speech, the Brexit talks begin next week, leading Brexiteers are back in favour in the cabinet, and across my Facebook I see people planning protests and marches.

One thing is for sure, British Politics: The Soap Opera - Season Two is shaping up to be just as bonkers as last year!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...

Theresa May was right. As much as it galls me to even type those words, she was right when she said that this was the most important election. It is. It is a chance for change.

For many people who voted Leave in the referendum it was a protest vote: they felt that their voices were not being heard so they let loose a howl of frustration at years of government austerity that was channelled by a campaign built on lies and emotional manipulation into a misguided anger towards "unelected" bureaucrats in Brussels. Really their anger should have been at our own parliament and problems that have very little, in reality, to do with the machinations of the European Union.

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Now we have a chance to actually make our voices heard. In this country, towards our own leaders, a protest vote for things that can make a positive difference to people in this country.

Theresa May is a disingenuous puppet, propped up on her Iron Throne by the most degenerate press moguls in the world. The reason she has refused to take part in any live debates is because without a carefully scripted response she cannot speak beyond meaningless slogans and patronising platitudes. She says that she has 'debates' every week in PMQ's - yes, because she knows the questions that are going to be asked and her lackeys will have spent the morning deciding what she is going to say in reply.

Macbeth: Act Five, Scene Five

And she's getting scared. Polls are narrowing, and opinion, and patience, is beginning to wane. Her decision to call a snap election is beginning to look like political suicide. Personally I can't understand how anyone could support a party that flip-flops on policy, whose leader has changed her mind multiple times: if she can't be trusted to speak frankly to this country, how does anyone expect that she can deal with representatives from twenty-seven other countries? 

If Theresa May's version of Brexit really is the most important thing to a voter, to the point that they are willing to overlook the crises in every element of public life (the NHS, schools, social care, mental health provision, food banks, inflation, wage-stagnation), to support the most elite of the elites, to bring back fox hunting, to prop up a party that supplies weapons to regimes that support terrorism, that help their friends and treat the rest of the populace with thinly veiled contempt, then I weep for the future of this country.

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I am angry. I am hopeful.

All I can do it use my voice. My vote.
People who feel that their vote doesn't matter; this is your opportunity to matter. To shout. To direct your rage towards those who actually deserve it.
If you don't speak you cannot expect to be heard. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

This Morning

I've not written a blog for a while. There are all of the usual excuses about life, being busy, working hard, not enough time, etc. But I've also not been able to coherently express my thoughts as I watch the maelstrom of political discourse that has been taking place.

So, in the absence of a properly composed blog, to demonstrate why my writing skills have suffered, here are couple of things that have already baffled me just this morning. This is what the inside of my head has been like:

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The Tory party have begun to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of "speaking in soundbites." My reaction to a lot of the events in the run up to this election has been the human equivalent of the shocked emoji, and this is no different. Just this morning I was watching Theresa May speak to a group of the party faithful (the only people she's willing to talk to), and she answered a question on whether she was insulting the intelligence of the British public by resorting to soundbites by resorting to soundbites (re-read that last bit, it makes sense, I promise!).
I'm literally having a Pavlov's Dogs style gag reaction every time I hear the words "Strong and Stable." It hurts to even type that phrase.

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2. Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Change agreement. My brain hurt this morning as I watched a guest on the breakfast news defend the move by claiming that there was no link between pollution and climate change. But then, the president himself believes climate change is a hoax, so what can you do?
In a speech announcing this withdrawal Trump wondered aloud about the point at which the rest of the world begins to laugh at America. I hate to break it to you, but that ship has sailed; we've been wetting ourselves with laughter at you for months.
Our own glorious commander has refused to sign a letter alongside pretty much every other leader in the world condemning this act. But then, as Chairman May is alienating everyone else, she's clinging in desperation to the tiny hands of friendship from across the pond while leaders of other nations openly mock the tangerine terror.

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3. The weird, almost physically painful reaction of the audience at BBC Question Time when Jeremy Corbyn refused to say whether he'd use nuclear weapons. 
Personally I'm all for unilateral disarmament, but that's obviously not going to happen any time soon. I was livid when parliament voted to renew Trident; we don't have enough money for schools, social care or the NHS but we have loads of change down the back of the green seats in the commons to pay for weapons that no one in their right mind would ever use? It's the epitome of a midlife crisis - spending millions on something utterly useless. However, I do believe in leading by example; if we want everyone to get rid of their nuclear weapons, why don't we get rid of ours?
And why in heaven's name did the audience get so riled up that Corbyn refused to say if he would use the damned things? Whether we struck first or second everyone on the planet be screwed anyway so why would it matter? In the case of nuclear missiles being launched I sincerely doubt that anyone's going to be thinking "Oh I'm so glad we're going to be able to chuck our own back at them."
I can't even form a cogent argument for the rest of this point because I'm so completely dumbstruck.

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In the immortal words of Bricusse and Newley; Stop The World, I Want To Get Off...

Is June The End Of May?

Is June the end of May? Well, in straightforward terms; yes, it is every year. We have May 31st, followed by June 1st (and a few weeks in, we have my birthday, but I digress...) However, the annual passage of the seasons, delineated by months, has, this year, provided a slogan for our times.

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I said, right at the start, that, while I think the Tories will win (unfortunately), I don't think they'll get the huge majority May seemed to think they would. I spoke to a couple of friends about this as well (a few of whom study, or work in politics) and they disagreed, taking the media's initial view of an absolute landslide for the Conservative party. However, over the last week, it looks like my prediction might be bearing fruit as polls narrow between the two main parties.

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I hope that the trend continues over the last few days of campaigning. I hope that the Tories are soundly humiliated. And I hope that thousands of people use their anger against Tory austerity, which was channelled into a misguided and short-sighted vote for Brexit, to get the Nasty Party out of power.

Two years ago David Cameron said that the choice was between stability under the Conservatives, or chaos under Labour. Now Theresa May is rehashing the same line. To be honest, if this is stability, give me chaos any day!