Thursday, 24 August 2017

There's a big reason why the UK may not actually leave the EU

Switch on your TV and some politician, no matter what side of the fence they sit on, will say "the British people voted to leave the EU, and that's what we're going to do". There are Remainer members of the public who say "we accept the result of the referendum and we have to abide by it". But deep inside the minds of many, there is a profound sense of having made a terrible mistake. As every day passes, more and more articles in the mainstream press, including even the most rabidly fervent pro-Brexit papers, are appearing, containing bad news on the UK's withdrawal from the EU. 

This is to me a sign that most newspapers, including the vitriolically parochial Express and the excrescent Mail, didn't really believe the UK was going to actually go through with voting to leave the EU, but had found a niche in propagating xenophobic lies for profit, and now they have fulfilled their readers' wishes, they don't quite know which way to go and seem to be hedging their bets... added to this is a fightback by the readers - lots of replies to articles expressing regret, apportioning blame and venting anger. Here, I list some recent articles to make my point:

This article from the Mail admitting that Brexit is not yielding the bounty it was supposed to:

This article, with a link to The Spectator, detailing how the chief director of the Leave campaign admits to lying to achieving his goal:

Business Insider reports that the promise of more manufacturing jobs is also not true:

Prospect Magazine has an interesting piece on how civil servants have told the government that the UK will have to choose between the US and EU trade models as it is too small and insignificant to set up its own (it seems to have sided with the EU, unless Liam Fox has his way):

There's this piece from the Telegraph, of all places, suggesting immigration figures were exaggerated:

The Daily Mail also reports this:
It's OK to report these things after having voted to leave the EU - nice bit of track-covering: when Brexit blows up in everyone's faces, they can say proudly, "we told you so!" (whatever the situation).

We also have a surprise entry from Putin's mouthpiece, RT, who want to inform us that people have started to regret their decisions:

This BBC report talks about the exodus of foreign workers and the reluctance of many to go to the UK to work:

It is backed up by this Reuters report:

The Financial Times argues that giving up influence in Europe will not enhance influence elsewhere:

This article from Pound Sterling Live says in a very discreet and indirect way that the pound is not going to go too much lower against the Euro (currently €1.09 to £1.00) because J.P. Morgan says it looks like hard Brexit is not going to happen (they even lower their odds from 25% to 15% on the chances):

Here, we see the Pound Sterling as reported in the Independent, as the worst-performing of all major currencies:

OK, the Guardian is the most pro-EU of all the papers, but it has this interesting editorial where, reading between the lines, it seems the government has given up on its hard Brexit wishlist:

This one from the Welsh Daily Post concerns the effects of Brexit that are already biting:

These are just some of the articles reporting the slow demise of Brexit. There are also many books, speeches and reports by all types of experts, professionals and those in business claiming Brexit is gradually being dumped:

This book is especially poignant:

It is called "Brexit, No Exit: Why Britain (in the End) Won't Leave Europe" by Denis MacShane, and it goes into detail about how the UK (and the West in general) reached the point of protectionism and anti-globalisation but this may be just a blip.

All-in-all, it is slowly but surely becoming clear to many people that the promises made last summer to the people of the United Kingdom were based on blatant lies, false premises and pipe dreams in an attempt to make the common man and woman vote to leave the European Union without realising the full ramifications. The government is going through the motions to make it seem they are still going ahead with it, but it is becoming more and more unlikely - impossible even - by the day.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Witnessing the end of my family connections

My sister is a Jehovah's Witness. She got cajoled into it by her husband, who met her during a period of enlightenment when he had left the organisation. He was soon made to rejoin through the usual shunning techniques employed by members, where they take away your access to them even in an unofficial capacity, and put himself and his unsuspecting victims - I mean family - back under the Watchtower Organisation's malevolent influence. 

This all happened when I was a young boy, and I remember the day they came out to my mother. She was in floods of tears and whisked me away for consolation to my grandmother's house, where everyone present lamented the situation and realised there was little or nothing there could be done to change it. She is still a Witness (i.e. Watchtower employee) today, and the shenanigans I have seen, and the excuses I have had to put up with are enough to prove that their organisation is nothing more than an evil and manipulative publishing company, where all the "congregation" are in fact unpaid employees who are peddling their employers' wares to the easily-led, the ignorant and the lonely. Not to mention the stupid.

There is something in psychology called cognitive dissonance, where a person makes a choice and if afterwards all evidence disproves it, they will still stick by their choice and defend it most vehemently. The most embarrassing part about this is in the real world ordinary deluded people caught up in a lie that they still believe often resort to physical or verbal abuse, but Witnesses don't believe in violence, so they either disengage from the conversation or they change the subject. In other words, they're a bunch of easily-duped, easy-to-please, confused and disoriented pussy cats who are looking for an easy explanation for complicated matters like geology or biology.

There are no single-sentence explanations, which is why they require research and academic papers that can look a little tricky to read, but are not telling you an absolute lie handily packaged in neat little bundles of simple words. Read any Watchtower publication and it is so neatly expressed, so tidily packaged, that anyone of low academic ability or low self-esteem will immediately be hooked. It sums everything up so well, and all answered so satisfyingly easily.

What experiences can I bring up that I can talk about? Well - there are many, but here are some of the highlights:

1. Luring me into an engaging debate

One of the ways I have been "preached" to is by the systematic turn-taking of my sister, her husband and two daughters to engage me in conversation on a subject that I would find interesting, and then make a segue into something pseudo-religious before attempting to link that to their organisation. I can remember 6 times when this happened - two by the brother-in-law, two by my sister, and two by the daughters.

There may have been more, but I don't tend to remember all conversations of a low-to-mediocre standard. The idea of engaging in this way is to then lead into something that may make one sit up and think (if one did not do much thinking beforehand). It generally made me think, yes, but mainly "if they have answers to everything, why haven't these people done much research?"

For example, they knew I was into science, so they came up with the idea to "teach" me about why Jewish males are circumcised on the ninth day. Apparently, doctors have discovered, that day is when there is the least blood in that area of the boy's body and therefore "God" made it like that to aid in the process. This is, of course, without bothering to mention that it is practically the same for the first couple of weeks of any boy's life, not just the ninth day.

I was routinely bombarded with "interesting" anecdotes like this, in the hope one would make me shriek "of course!" and join them forthwith. Most of them made me chuckle inside as I waited eagerly for the next beauty to be paraded before me. I remained respectful, because she was still my sister, and my elder sister at that, but deep inside, I could see she had done her research on me (that I liked trivia and interesting bits of information especially on history, science and language) and was aiming her artillery at me and what she thought was my weak spot. What she didn't know was that her weapon of choice was never ever going to be adequate to penetrate my defences, which are not actually that strong, as I am always open for persuasion. I am just not the typical dopey idealist that falls for the first simplistic explanation.

2. Let's show 'em how cool and ultra-modern we are!

Then there was the time I was given a rundown on how fab their meetings are. This was supposed to tell me they were just "normal" people like everyone else. Well after listening to the kind of twee things they got up to, accompanied by the occasional chuckle at their really wild stories of singing karaoke and walking in the woods, I really felt like running in the other direction. If they weren't going for the hard sell, I may have gone along to one or two events, but this was far too badly dressed up. They apparently had a party back in the nineties when the Macarena was all the rage, but they couldn't sing that word because it was taboo to them, so they sang "Margarita" instead. Because you know, an alcoholic cocktail containing tequila and triple sec is far better to sing about than a Spanish girl's name taken from a Catholic saint, lest it enrage their "God". Wild times.

What annoys me most about these moments of acting up-to-date is their utter contradiction in other areas. So they dance to contemporary songs, albeit with the words changed. So they talk about fashion and celebrities. Big deal. I have also been told about illnesses and cures, or the latest in dietary science from the most qualified of medics and academics. But they deny climate change, they deny geological evidence of the age of our planet and they deny a host of other scientific facts. Why is one OK to believe and the other not? Shouldn't you then just deny them all? Why are dietitians and oncologists to be believed, but astronomers and biologists not? Are they all lying to us? Are 98% of all climatologists in on some sick joke? I don't think so, but try telling them that.

3. The time I was accosted with a suit and a restaurant dinner

At no other time in my life did I feel quite so insulted as the day my brother-in-law thought it was a good idea to come all the way to Germany by car, with my sister and my father, to spend a couple of days being nice to me, and then dressing up in a suit and buying me dinner in order to break down my resistance before spinning me a yarn about how there were two Titanics and it was all an insurance setup, which bafflingly led into some discussion on God and stuff that I don't remember much about. I was receiving the Hard Sell, to which my reply was to look disdainfully at him and shake my head. He paid for the dinner and looked resigned to his fate, that he was never going to bring me on board. Until Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough and Brian Cox all declare the JWs to be right, I will still get my news on our planet from them and not from a bland group of gullible individuals who have never seen the inside of a lecture hall.

4. The great shunning tactic

One of the most despicable aspects of life as a Jaydub is their treatment of those that leave the congregation. They think it's all right to ignore them, reject them, forget about them, pretend they never existed. This has a traumatic effect on many, both those who are sunned and those forced to shun someone who used to be close. It is effectively a permanent exercise in mourning for those involved, but is a great way to prove loyalty from those who remain and to demand loyalty from those who leave. Basically, how it works is, a JW will only engage in conversation with outsiders when they either need something or if they think there's a hope they can persuade you to join.

If you don't join, you are seen as a lost cause and therefore a dangerous influence on people, so you are kept at arm's length. (I have received this treatment from my sister's family for quite a while now. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times she has called me since I left the UK in 2001. I have called many times more, but I do it a lot less these days.) If you leave their organisation, however, you are seen as an apostate. This means you have everything cut off - your friends and family, possibly your accommodation, and anything else they can remove from your life.

It's basically cold shouldering on an institutionalised, systematic and unchristian level. What effect does this have? It makes you miss the warmth and kindness you experienced while basking in the glow of their fellowship. As soon as you leave, it's suddenly very cold outside. Many return even if they don't believe, just not to lose the things they hold in importance; others leave never to return because freedom of mind is more important to them than imprisonment of the soul, no matter who they left behind.

5. Cherry-picking factoids

"How dare you have a degree? How could you defy your Lord by believing in scientifically proven fact?! Don't you know this is untrue?!"

I remember the Dinner of Intellectual Insult mentioned above, and my brother-in-law sighing in utter frustration and almost contempt after we told him we believed in Evolution. "Oh no, you're not Darwinists, are you?!" I mean it was said with the same vitriol as if I had just told him I had slept with his entire family.
"Well yes, I bloody well am", I replied.
To which the response was, "But you know it's called the Theory of Evolution for a reason? It's only a theory."
And then I sadly needed to mansplain what an academic theory was - in the academic world, it is based on evidence and even proof, although it is called a theory just so as not to seem too pompous or presumptuous. At least that was my abridged version.

You will find this hilarious:
The NWT translation committee is anonymous. No names have been attributed to them. Except the head translator, Frederick Franz, who studied Greek for 2 years (TWO MEASLY YEARS!!!) and was SELF-TAUGHT IN HEBREW!!!!! My own acquisition of languages over 30 years tells me that 2 years, the equivalent of 240 academic hours of study, is not enough to be able to hold down a job in the language you’ve been learning, so to translate the Bible is really quite a tall order. 

It is claimed the other three people on the translation committee were not even as far along with their own language studies as our dear Mr Franz. That is the equivalent of a bunch of students in a houseshare, newly out of the parental home, trying to rewire the electrics and fix up the plumbing with the aid of a few written instructions on the back of a cigarette packet from one of their dads!

6. Patriarchal dominance and obedience

This is one of the most manipulative points of being a Witness - having total control over your family and congregation as a man. When I confronted my brother-in-law at That Dinner about this, as to why women were not allowed to be leaders, his astonishing replies were firstly "because every month women experience their periods, which throws their hormones off-balance and makes them subject to irrational decisions," which brought on a bout of indignation followed by mirth from me and Lady Kirsten. I countered this with the fact that females were often better leaders and academically more capable than males. His riposte was one of the most ignorant I have ever come across: "What about Margaret Thatcher? She was awful." He simply forgot Pol Pot, Mugabe, Stalin, Jaruzelski, Attila the Hun, and Uncle Adolf himself.

After having regained composure, I was still unable to respond adequately due to being rendered speechless.

In any case, patriarchal dominance suits the Watchtower organisation most perfectly as it allows them pretty much to ride roughshod over anyone and everyone that stands in their way. There have been incidents where the man has joined the organisation but the rest of the family hasn't, and in order to assume control over the household, he denies money to the rest until they join him. This is an organisation not so far from being a mafia-like enterprise where leaving is virtually impossible for wives and children. I have heard of teenage daughters who have left the organisation and the rest of the family have all but cut her off, down to not buying clothes, giving her lifts to the station in the rain, or even cooking dinner for them.

Patriarchal dominance is different to that in the established churches in that the Catholic Church denies women the right to be priests out of symbolism, and takes away women's rights to choose a termination or contraception out of dogmatic ideology (which is also wrong), but the Watchtower has rules for women that beggar belief, like wearing headscarves when carrying out gender-based stereotypical tasks in the absence of a male to do them, or denying them decision rights in the household (they are only to be consulted).

Yes, all religions were once like this, but many have gone with the times. The Watchtower is still way behind the rest.

7. Keeping the flock ignorant

A truly abominable tactic of the Watchtower is to frown upon those who go to university, on the grounds that they will become corrupted and partake in some form of sinfulness of the secular world. In other words, they might better themselves, realise what a bunch of jerks they all had been until they woke up, and never to return to the fold. Nor would I if I had been finally enlightened in the real truth.

Mentioning the truth, that's the codeword those people use to describe their organisation. They say "are you in the truth?" meaning "are you a Witness?" without realising the irony behind that. This article has not really done more than touched on their beliefs yet, because there is so much other stuff going on away from that, but the fact of the matter remains: the less academically gifted, the better. Why? Because critical thinking is easier to manipulate if you start from scratch. It's a bit like tank drivers in the British Army - they choose 17-year-olds to drive them because they haven't yet learned to drive an ordinary car, and can be trained only for tank-driving operations. And so the Witnesses prey on those who left school at 16 or 18, because they do not have the superior academic tools necessary to make fools out of Witnesses.

One of the most hilarious moments when I was growing up, was when my sister claimed that a JW could quote the Bible better than anyone else, giving the example of an outing to a book and stationery shop: she said a JW boy was listening to a conversation between two non-practising members of the general public and their argument over Bible teaching. apparently the boy stepped in and guided them to the correct passage. She then said all JW children are better at quoting the Bible than everyone else. Well then... that should be handy at the next G20...

I was sent a Watchtower brochure back in 2013 by another family member of mine who was flirting with joining (he has sadly since joined). It was basically some guff about "were we created and put here?" In other words, what is the evidence for Noah's flood and that we have only been on Earth for 6000 years? Lady Kirsten and I read some paragraphs in this very colourful, clearly-explained and well-illustrated booklet, having spontaneous bouts of hysterical laughter as we read out loud some of the passages contained in it. I won't elaborate, because I don't want to waste my time, and giving detail will add credence to their barmy beliefs, but what I can say is that I wrote a 54-page reply on MS Word in size 11 Calibri font as to why that piece of "literature" (his word, not mine!) was utter nonsense. I don't know if he read it, but I never heard from him on this subject again.

He was "captured" in typical JW style - a close family member had just died, and in his vulnerable state, he was starting to ask questions as to where we came from and what we were doing here. My brother-in-law was there just in time to answer him, which brings me to...

8. (Not) being there in times of need

One of the tactics employed by JWs, which fits neatly into their strategy of only speaking to people who are, or could eventually be Witnesses, is their uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, and then somehow hoping you'll agree that they have some dominance over you through your debt to them. This can range from simply picking you up from the airport/station when you are rushing back to see a dying family member, to taking you to the doctor. There are even larger cases of altruism I have heard of and been subject to, for which I thank them, but this does not mean I want to join them and I would hope they would expect the same in return from me, although not as a Jehovah's Witness, but as a member of the human race. Only doing favours for, or being charitable to those in their organisation or who are potential new recruits, does not correspond very favourably with the teachings of their Lord and Saviour.

9. Pity me and my people

Another super ruse to make people more sympathetic to them is to play the hard-done-by card. They tell you people vilify them, that they mock them and reject them time after time. You start feeling sorry for them. You start gaining a modicum of empathy and before you know it, you're in a conversation about how good they all are and how they are so badly misunderstood. Well quite. It's not that they are misunderstood, it is that people understand them all too well. Don't be fooled by this.

On this matter, the one thing I have noticed is that they all speak in the same zombified tone. There is not much intonation in their voices - someone said to me this is because once you're in, you have the high waves of happiness dragged out of you although you don't feel sad about it. People are just in a state of emotional mediocrity.

10. Salvation and the End Times

This is their calling card. They believe that God has chosen exactly 144,000 people to join Him in His Kingdom at the Apocalypse. They reject Catholic doctrine as being immersed in symbolism and Paganism (fair enough, it is) and so they don't believe in Christmas, the Trinity or sainthood. So far, so good. So why, then, in the list of all the members they consider will be saved, are they all Witnesses, and why are nearly all of them men? Surely having such a list of people considered worthy to enter Heaven is akin to the Catholic custom of canonisation or sainthood, anathema to their own doctrine. Surely, they should believe what it says in the Bible: that only the Maker can decide who enters the Kingdom of Heaven.

If you believe in that kind of thing, anyhow...

11. Wacky ideas need clever methods to introduce them

Their teachings and beliefs are so different from other Christian organisations that many of their doctrines are so unpalatable that they only make new members aware of them after certain hurdles have been crossed. It is a case of acceptance - if the new recruit does not seem ready to embrace a new idea or rule, it is not mentioned to them until they are mentally prepared. 

If a religious organisation feels it needs to open up its views and teachings slowly, so as not to alarm new members, and if it needs to go out looking for new members because not a lot of people go to it of their own accord, and if there are potentially only 19 million members worldwide (the population of North Korea is 6 million bigger), then there must be something very worrying, very wrong and very creepy about it. Surely, if it were the panacea of the world’s ills, the doors of Kingdom Halls would be being thumped on by wannabe recruits day and night. But they're not. And they’re not, because like double glazing salesmen and dodgy cold callers, who use similar techniques to sell their product, most people know a bad deal when they see one.

12. Sheeple will believe anything and do anything for you

How does a Witness stay a member of the congregation despite all the evidence against them? By being told that everyone else is evil. Simple. Scientists carry out inhumane experiments, teachers may give lessons on inappropriate subjects (like astronomy and geology) and the secular people in general, with their Instagram and Game of Thrones, are all immoral. The easiest people to con into believing and subscribing to their nefarious activities are those who see the glass half-empty. They can be told the world is becoming immoral and its people are all evil. The truth of the matter is the world has always been that way. 

J.K. Rowling sums it up best when she says: "It is perfectly possible to live a very moral life without a belief in God, and I think it's perfectly possible to live a life peppered with ill-doing and believe in God." This was what my late mother used to say, although in different words to Ms Rowling, and it is what I believe too. There is no religion that can claim a monopoly on goodness and anyone who believes they are the chosen people or the only show in town with righteousness on their side needs to get a dose of reality. 

So if a whole group of people are told not to believe anything they see or read that does not come from a Watchtower-accredited source, due to it being evil, how are they supposed to believe anything at all from the real world? So they are cut off from things that affect us all. How convenient. Apparently, the BBC's Lyse Doucet and Jeremy Vine are tools of the devil... yes, I always had my suspicions about them, reporting from war zones without ever getting blown up themselves... makes sense now...

Furthermore, if you are told not to trust anyone from outside of the organisation, because they may be evil, you can feed your flock all kinds of bogus information. You can then interpret the Bible in your own way to suit your needs. Why on Earth would you ban your congregation from life-saving blood transfusions? I'll tell you why - because if you are the prize idiot who does refuse a  blood transfusion, you will be considered a hero for dying for the cause and you will be held up as proof of faith. If you don't and you accept, you will be rejected by the people you have been close to for however long you have been a member. Some would rather die a hero than live as an outcast, I can imagine.

There are other things they use to test their flock (or unpaid employees) and their loyalty. They are expected to knock on strangers' doors on a regular basis to recruit new members. This is where the boundaries of reality really get blurred - are they employees working for the company, or are they faithful servants of their deity? You see, the Watchtower company does a lot of publishing of books, brochures and pamphlets. It all costs money, and the upkeep of their upstate New York HQ must cost a pretty packet (the old one in Brooklyn was recently bought by Jared Kushner, of all people). So what better way to earn oodles of money than sell your merchandise to a captive audience? And while they're at it, get them to go out and find more recruits for you... all this for free, and they'll even pay you a tithe (10% of their earnings) to keep you going. How sweet.

In other words...

You have to be either an alpha male-type who is in it just for the power, or you enjoy being the submissive one in a very one-sided relationship, or you have to be one exclamation mark short of a psychopath for joining them in the first place.

I have hardly touched their core beliefs, which can lead to a fiery after-life of pain and misery, but I have so little respect for their idea that their Creator will punish everyone who ever lived except 144,000, that I will gladly take the chance at the end to be proven wrong - but I don't think I will, quite frankly.

Any God that makes up such harsh and inhuman rules leading to brutal retribution if disobeyed sounds more like Erdoğan, or Orbán, even Trump; some narcissistic, vengeful and paranoid Creator who is so mentally and emotionally insecure without the unconditional love and worship from his underlings that he wants to chuck them all in the fires of Hell. Except for the 144,000 on the list. And this, despite preaching a message of love. I think there's a disconnect somewhere...

So I have kind of said goodbye to my family. I still stay in contact with other non-Witnesses, but my siblings have unfortunately made their bed, so they can lie in it. I have not stepped in the family home since my mother died in 2007 - I want to remember it the way it was. I hope one day they wake up and see they have wasted their lives, but I don't think they will.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Removing gender from language is another step towards equality

Pride is a yearly event that takes place in a host of cities around the world. It celebrates diversity of sexuality and freedom of expression in this matter. Many of the strongest critics are those who still see the world in binary (male/female), and do not wish their view of life to be challenged. But they are failing to hold back the tide. This month, the management of the London Underground decided to abandon announcements that start with "ladies and gentlemen" and instead say "hello everyone". This is a step into the future, not a left-wing language coup.

Who says we should say "ladies and gentlemen" rather than "gentlemen and ladies"? Why do we start a formal letter with "Dear Sir / Madam" rather than "Dear Madam / Sir"? Where have those standards of etiquette gone these days? Surely women should always go first, no matter how illogical the sequence? And isn't everything male or female? Why are we being told there's this new non-binary gender? It's just the current trend, obviously, being run by left-wing ideologues to subvert the world order and bring down the system.

Well, not quite. In fact, not at all.

This is simply the way the world has been going. For many years, anything that contradicted the status quo was disapproved of, frowned upon, buried under other news or even carried the threat of a criminal record. Lots of people who were forced into heterosexual relationships or marriage in the past because it was expected of them lived in terrible depression and anxiety because they felt pressurised into this, and a great deal of those who are now in their forties and above have seized their chances to realign more appropriately with their orientation in this newly-open societal change. Young people today realise who they are much earlier, and all to the good. In many countries this is now clearly not the case, but the proliferation of this multi-gender, rainbow-coloured society can only continue now that it does not carry quite the stigma it once did (and only recently). However, it will be harder in a lot more countries than it is in others.


Gender grammar in language is one of the greatest obstacles.

The predominantly three-gender or common and neuter Germanic and genderless Anglophone countries are the main drivers of this new trend. Gender-neutral languages like English make it much easier to accept the idea of multiple sexuality. Latin-based languages like French and Spanish put everything and everyone exclusively into categories of masculine and feminine, even categorising more traditionally male/female objects in their grammar - la table, la maison, la cuisine (women in French should be in the house), le travail, le problème (only men work and solve problems in French, apparently), el tiempo, el muro (men only can tell the time and build walls in Spanish), la mesa, la flor (women in Spanish should take care of flowers on their tables at home). This happens in many languages and will not disappear overnight. So it is much harder for speakers of two-gender languages to conceive of more genders. Society puts great pressure on people to follow the herd, but we are starting to see changes brought about by changing attitudes and the raising of awareness of issues to do with gender and sexuality. Only the most judgemental of people are causing a delay in the progress and advancement of society, with language a vital tool in the battle to change hearts and minds.

German and Dutch throw up oddities, like the word for girl, which is Mädchen and meisje respectively. Due to -chen and -je endings signifying pejoratives, which are always categorised as neutral, girls in these languages, paradoxically, are grammatically not considered female. When asking "where is the girl?" in German,"wo ist das Mädchen?" it is still not uncommon to hear "it is here" ("Es ist hier") as a reply.

In English, there has been a shift towards using "they" for non-binary people, and this is catching on quite rapidly. However, language has been a powerful tool in establishing norms for centuries, so it may be much more difficult for French or Spanish speakers to get used to this idea. In French and Spanish even the word "they" is split by gender: ils/ellos, elles/ellas. This is why the idea of gender is easier for English speakers. German and Dutch, as well as the Slavic languages, with their notions of neutral gender will also find the transition from binary much easier. I believe this is why countries like Poland have always had such a high number of women in employment, and why Scandinavia is the home of linguistic sexual experimentation, where parents in some places are encouraged not to teach gender distinction to their children.

This is clearly not a phenomenon that is typical of whole countries and the speakers thereof. There are most certainly a great number of people in countries with genderless or multi-gender languages who still think in binary. They can be those who never thought of the idea before, but would not be against it, or they can be traditionalists who believe only in heterosexual marriage. They might be religious, they might be political (or both), but they are clearly shrinking in number as exposure to more and more non-binary people is becoming commonplace, especially in the big cities. All opinions and theories are there to be challenged, and now that it is becoming clearer that the pressure put on people for a very long time to blend in with established "norms" has caused untold misery and resentment down the years, we can finally do something about making amends for this. Medical and scientific research has highlighted that many children, some very young, feel uncomfortable with the gender they are born into. Fortunately, this world we are living in now is more equipped to deal with people's orientation than ever before. We just need languages to change with the times too.

Some genderless languages:


Some languages with masculine and feminine genders only:

Arabic (with some exceptions)
Lithuanian (with some exceptions)

Some languages with masculine, feminine and neuter:

Dutch (although with the article de being used for both masculine and feminine, they are barely distinguishable any more)
Norwegian (with some regional exceptions)
Czech, Polish and Slovak (Western Slavic languages) have three genders, but also distinguish between the animate and the inanimate

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Why is anti-establishment sentiment thriving even after Brexit?

Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

There was quite a gloating article in the Guardian this week on Brexit and its consequences on the rest of Europe. In a nutshell, it said that Europe had been revolted by the self-harm the UK has inflicted on itself and the instability it has unleashed on the British economy, its politics and society in general. Despite its "I told you so" theme, it is not wrong. But the battle for the soul of Britain has been hijacked by two opposing factions: the rich on one side and the poor on the other, with paradoxically the poor unwittingly doing the bidding of those who would like to subjugate them. Anti-establishment fever tilted the vote towards Brexit, not a genuine desire to leave the EU.

Oh David Cameron, what have you unleashed? In fact, I could replace the former Prime Minister in that sentence with a number of people, like the present incumbent (whoever that is at the time you read this), or maybe a few media moguls. But this all goes back decades. It is a seething collection of pustules that has been awaiting its time to spew its fetid contents all over the skin of public life and drag the victim into a chronic downward spiral of health and well-being.

There is a correlation between the Brexit vote and the current malaise in society - let me explain...

Successive governments have run public services into the ground through cutting costs, economy drives and selling off tenders to the private sector. None of this needed to happen if it were not for ideology-driven politicians whether in national government or local councils, and their chums in the private sector from lobbyists to energy conglomerates, pharmaceutical companies to building contractors. Every one of them is partly to blame for the current situation. The situation is clear: for the last 40 years, cheap is best, and to hell with the consequences. Hospitals and health workers, infrastructure building, public hygiene, education facilities and staff, police, firefighters, the military, even libraries, have been affected by the scything down of their expenses all so that governments, councils and their contractors can say to their clients (that's you), that they have been saving money in your name.

Well I don't know about you, but as far as I am aware, it's the exact opposite of that method that leads to good running of public services. Money needs to be put into their systems, not removed. That means that instead of reducing our income tax bills, VAT payments and council charges, the powers that be should be raising them, or at least looking for ways to maximise returns. When some suited chinless wonder from the richer side of public life comes on TV and warns against voting for various politicians because "your bills will go up", people need to remember that this bozo from the landed gentry is actually worried about his own costs going up. He will be the first to see a reduction in his own income because he is earning more per year than most earn in ten or twenty years. Why is Jeremy Corbyn being picked out for special treatment? Precisely because of that. He wants public services to run properly and rich dudes fear that if they do, not only will they lose money, they'll lose the opportunity to buy into them when lobbyists have finished convincing politicians to sell.

Back in the 1980s, public services were run into the ground until the public clamour to sell those services off was so loud, that this was the most logical step. It was a tactic used time and again by the then government to make the case for its sale. This was true for water, energy, gas, telephony, public transport, even security services. What we saw, though, was a change in the accountability and rights of those public services, now they were private. Trains that were before late or didn't show up at all were blamed on strikes and militant worker-related action, whereas now the services are not much better and in some cases worse, despite being sold off. Outsourcing and selling off public services has led us nowhere, except that now those services need no longer be directly accountable to the government, and ultimately, the public. It also gives carte blanche to those companies to limit pay, reduce workers' rights and entitlements, all in the name of saving money. They have effectively written themselves out of any social responsibility.

It is this selfish ideology that has led to this moment in history (and yes, this is history - PhD theses will be written about this period in the not-too-distant future) where the gap between rich and poor has finally become too wide, and where injustice in society has become plain for all to see where once it was easier to sweep it aside with gimmicks and distractions, fobbing people off with standard soundbites and impersonal press releases.

And things are a lot more complicated than on the face of it. Far from being a country that's full to bursting, as landowners, right-wing politicians and lobbyists will tell you, there is plenty of room. Indeed, only a very small percentage of the land has been built on. The real issue is that it is a country whose infrastructure has not been invested in for a very long time, and citizens' roles in society are becoming less and less welcome, and it shows:

  • the hospitals are maybe fully equipped, but many times there are staff shortages or there are not enough beds for patients, leading to dangerously long waiting times. If real investment were made to ensure there were enough fully-staffed hospitals for everyone, we would need to delve deep into our pockets 
  • you should send your child to a local school no matter its ranking, meaning that pupils are liable to be turned down if their parents try to apply for a place in what might be a more suitable school outside their catchment area, even if it is just over a designated line. This means house prices in certain areas rise, and the rules prevent any logic from being used. The fallout from this is that people are being forced to do irrational things to get their children into the school of their choice
  • the Royal Navy, once the envy of the world, is now a shadow of itself, as is the British Army and the Royal Air Force, all so the defence budget can be spent on a nuclear arsenal that nobody dare use
  • there is a huge swathe of building land that is lying unused and empty because building companies refuse to build on it, meaning prices of houses go spiralling up, but more shockingly, their untouched land turns them a huge profit
There are many more examples of this, and people have become sick and tired of being treated like commodities. They know that successive governments have cut everything to the bone, they know the country is dangerously paired back to the very limits of manageability, they just haven't joined all the dots yet, but they are slowly becoming aware of it. 

Having an ideology of saving money for the sake of it has proven recently to be a myth that has badly exposed the long-term dangers of such recklessness in playing with people's dignity and respect, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the case of Grenfell Tower in West London. What has struck me is how someone came up with the idea of saving a few thousand measly pounds by choosing an inferior cladding material in a refurbishment project to make the outside of a tower block more aesthetically pleasing while neglecting the inside, where residents - who are human beings, by the way - live.

The sentiment of grief turned to anger very quickly, leading to a general feeling of ill-will towards the Prime Minister, the government, Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, and various contracting firms. This is not surprising, but it is a microcosm of UK life in general. The protests we saw in Whitehall and at Kensington Town Hall are just a spit in the ocean of general British dissatisfaction with the way life is going at the moment, and this is manifesting itself in so many ways.

The Brexit referendum last year, in my opinion, was won by a three-way split between different sections of the public: 
  • easily-led individuals who believe everything that the right-wing press tells them, as well as unadventurous, stay-at-home monolinguals who know nothing about the wider world except the two-week drunken jaunt they undertake every summer to some touristic Mediterranean concrete jungle
  • people with vested interests in pulling out of the EU, such as some unscrupulous employers, financial investors and politicians, who have been heavily sponsored to say negative things about the EU, and finally
  • genuinely disaffected, forgotten and ignored people all around the country who wanted to vote for a change and saw it as their way to stage a protest; effectively kicking the government where it hurts for their constant overlooking of their issues (it is these people I can forgive for voting the way they did - so would I, probably)
What the last group fails to realise, is that by voting the way they did, they have done exactly what the people who are profiting from making their lives a misery wanted them to do; that is to say, they are turkeys voting for Christmas, which makes this such a national tragedy. There is also a gap between the educated and the under-educated, leading to a startling decline in trust in true facts and expert opinions, and a worrying rise in people's willingness to tie their misery to any popular movement that will get them out of the terrible hole they are in, whether that be extremist religion, militant political organisations, support groups, pressure groups or general grumbling to mates at the pub. Brexit had very little to do with many people's actual wishes and more to do with a genuine national mood of dissatisfaction with their circumstances.

What the UK needs right now is a long healing process and a coming to terms with the fact that the people have been lied to for many years for profit and nothing more. The recent election on 9th June reflected people's mistrust of the current incumbents and their handling of social matters as well as Brexit negotiations, where even the Daily Mail has revealed that 69% of people favour a softer departure from the EU. People need to regain a modicum of trust in their politicians and their public services.

Anti-establishment sentiment is thriving in lots of little pockets like local issues, or even as a cause of adverse personal experiences with authority, but when the dots get joined up and everyone realises that it is a national issue, there will be a mass protest at the gates of the high and mighty. People just don't realise yet who is to blame, but this is slowly revealing itself now that people see that cuts in services and selling out to corporate greed have led to the situation we find ourselves in the early summer of 2017.

If you want nice roses, you do not cut at the bottom.

Friday, 2 June 2017

UK Election 2017: tell your old folks their time is up

We live in an age where the source of your news will determine who you vote for and where in the social pyramid you probably find yourself. Most people will read from a news source, but there are stark differences in how those news sources treat various events and deal with diverse opinions. For one newspaper a scandal, for another an amusing anecdote. For one TV news broadcaster a waste of money, for another a long-term solid investment. Who to believe? And why does it matter to read all different sources of news?

My grandfather, who was also my uncle (long story cut short - my mother and her mother married two brothers), once gave me a very important life lesson. I asked him one day why he read a left-leaning newspaper but also a right-leaning one. His answer was clear: you have to know what the enemy is up to. I have never forgotten that line and I have stuck by it ever since.

Today, we live in a multi-faceted media world. We can get our news from someone's Facebook feed, or feeds from sources we ourselves have accepted. We can get it from watching Sky, Fox, ITN, or the BBC. Indeed, we can find it from a rejected newspaper in the train, or maybe we buy our newspapers at the corner shop every morning.

Newspaper readers in particular are very difficult to wean off their paper of choice. You could never give a Sun reader the Guardian and presume they will like it immediately. And vice-versa. Besides, it is not just a question of politics - it is also a matter or familiarity, intellect and taste. But it really matters. Because getting your information from one source is detrimental to acquiring a balanced opinion. Malcolm X once said, "If you aren't careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." If you stick to one source of news, over time, you are likely to believe everything written in there.

I acquire my news from the BBC, the Guardian, Mail Online and the Independent. I sometimes read the Economist, the Telegraph and watch Channel Four News on their website. I also see a lot of posts on Facebook from very diverse outlets such as Al Jazeera, CNN, and France 24. Most treat issues with the same seriousness and neutrality. Some find a unique angle to report from, some give statistics, some show a non-commentary video to tell the story. But the vast majority do not try to influence you one way or the other, because most of us accept certain issues as already fact, or because the news outlet wants you to make up your own mind through what they present. That is not always the case when it comes to politics.

That brings me on to the upcoming general election in the UK.

Where to begin? Let us start with the spin and the influencing. Take Theresa May's non-appearance at the BBC Election Debate on Wednesday night. She was replaced by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. Predictably, the left-wing press said this was a mistake, and she was scared of meeting the people, terrified of debates and not interested in ordinary people. The right-wing press predictably said it was not worth her turning up as it was a waste of time because twice as many people were watching BGT on ITV and because she was out on the streets instead, talking to the people who matter.

Where does the truth lie here? It probably lies somewhere in the middle - Theresa May knew a few weeks ago that she was a country mile in front, so she thought it best to steer clear of controversy and stay on-message, however sterile and boring that is. Saying that, I would say this was a bad error of judgement, as it gave five of the other six debaters the chance to stick in the sword.

Then there were the debates themselves and how they were reported. I watched the last half, and I saw highlights of the rest on highlights clips on YouTube and Facebook. I thought Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Angus Robertson, Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood were quite eloquent, but they spent a long time attacking each other and especially the Tories, and not enough time talking about their own party's credentials. Amber Rudd was robotic and smiled when the audience laughed at her comments, like "judge us on our record". It was as if she knew this was just a soundbite, and she realised the audience knew as well. Paul Nuttall was like a builder's bumcrack at a society ball. He was excess to requirements. He got nearly no applause and when he opened his mouth to speak, he came across like Sean Spicer's less talented stand-in.

How did the newspapers report it?

Take a look at this article in the Guardian, on how biased the media has been behaving against Jeremy Corbyn, which seems to have a lot of credence. This one attacks Corbyn for befriending terrorists, this one shows Corbyn as a security risk, and this one bemoans the left-wing bias of the BBC. They're all from the Daily Mail.

If one runs a Google search for Daily Mail articles on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn, one can find hundreds and hundreds of them criticising and attacking. The same newspaper's treatment of the Conservatives and Theresa May? Pretty clement, even towards Boris Johnson, the current incumbent of the people's Naughty Step:

In the end, this article is about Boris Johnson's masterful handling of an ice cream known in Britain as a 99 and nothing about policy at all. Funnily enough, there were no negative stories at all, except the one on the PM's refusal to attack Trump for pulling out of the Paris Agreement, and a mild one on her decision not to go to the BBC debate. Press bias is a feature of both the left and the right, and although left-wing ones are quite strong, they don't hit nearly as hard. Nowhere is it more vitriolic and more effective in its premeditated viciousness and underhand manoeuvres than in the hands of the right-wing media. They manipulate stories, change angles and points of view depending on who they are defending or attacking. But now, the tide is turning and many reasonably-minded press outlets are calling them out. Here is one of those, handled very effectively by the Huffington Post.

So, before you put your mark on the ballot paper next week, do a lot of research and question everything. You may even end up changing your vote preferences. For that reason, we need to get the message to the old. They are the ones most heavily influenced by newspapers, especially the right-wing press, and the ones most likely to vote. Demographically, in 5 to 10 years, there will be a lot fewer of them around, and my own feeling is this time is seen by the oligarchs in charge of the UK's press as being the final opportunity to make a landgrab for more wealth and influence.

Fortunately, the young are fighting back. Hundreds of thousands of new registrations to vote have been placed recently, and mainly by the young. This has caused a massive tilt in the opinion polls and a surge towards Labour, but these young people are notoriously languid on polling day. We can only hope they do go out to vote in their droves. The UK needs an effective opposition, especially if the Conservatives win a majority.

The Internet is full of images and graphics, like this one below, debunking the myths and lies spread by the right-wing media. The problem is, old people do not see these things, because newspapers do not have the same scope as the Internet, and so many old people are unaware of these simple issues.

(continued below the images)

These images containing meaningful messages are doing the rounds on the Internet, and so I challenge anyone with a family member over 60 who is without Internet: dig around for 5 to 10 simple yet effective memes of this kind, put it on your laptop or tablets and visit your relative to persuade him/her to vote for a party that wants to look after everyone.

Let us face it, the old have had their day. They need to be told the world will still be going on once they have departed, and it will most certainly not be the same world we have now. The elderly need to be persuaded that in fact, they do not have to put up with the decisions they make. The young do. Make way for youth, go and persuade your grandad to stand aside for the benefit of his descendants.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The truth takes too long to explain. It's time to rectify that.

The problem with human beings is they only live for 60 to 90 years. That is hardly enough time to learn how to make the world a better place. The other problem with many human beings, although fortunately not all, is their laziness: they have a tendency to strive for simplicity and they like complex explanations to everything packaged in neat comprehensible bundles that they can relate to, whether they are correct or not.

Throughout history, humans have tried to better themselves. They have gone from a short, brutal existence in primitive conditions via controlling fire, harnessing electricity and championing human rights, to supersonic flight, connecting everybody through computer screens and curing fatal diseases. Humans have forever been improving others' conditions, but they have not always raised their standards on a personal level.

What do I mean? Well, look at the vast majority of inventions. They have been created to make our lives better, because we are as a species particularly lazy. We will go to great lengths to reduce the need to go to great lengths. What these inventions, discoveries and adaptations do not do, however, is raise standards of intelligence and behaviour in people. They unfortunately go for the lowest common denominator, and if that's not available, the shortest and crudest explanation. This is what we need to correct now.

What has laziness got to do with it?
Well, look around you. People strive for the latest gadgets and machines to make their lives easier. They want them so badly, they'll go out to work for 8 to 12 hours a day to earn the money to pay for them. It's quite a paradox actually, when you think of it. We invest in clothes driers so we don't have to spend twenty minutes hanging up clothes on a line and wait several hours before removing them. Some of us then hire people to iron them for us.

We buy cars to go shopping even if there is a supermarket just down the street so we don't have to cart a couple of bags of acquisitions a few hundred metres, even if a shopping trolley costs a fraction of the price and the exercise would do us good. We buy kitchen appliances so we don't have to whisk, mix, stir or beat food ourselves, and we programme a destination into a map-reading machine so that we don't have to use our brains to read maps ourselves.

We constantly seek to take the effort out of our lives but we run ourselves into the ground getting there. We strive for simplicity in everything, though, including how we consume information, which is why many people are more willing to accept a snazzy slogan from a demagogue than listen to a full-length explanation from an expert.

In fact, people seem to have grown weary of professionals and experts altogether. And this is where the danger lies - politicians, big business people and captains of industry don't get where they are today by being lazy. The cleverest and most ambitious ones use the language of the lazy consumer to persuade, cajole and steamroll their targets into buying their products or supporting their policies. They can make people dance to their tune and wear clothes according to the weather they make. They get out of bed before they've even got into their pyjamas.

I am not saying this is nefarious behaviour; I am saying that they know how to play people's tunes. And there are a lot of people willing to be led. The fashion industry is the most extreme example of this - some rich tycoon with a clothing idea sends a faithful acolyte on TV to say "this is the latest fashion accessory", and before the Y in "accessory", it is sold out and a clamour for more engulfs the shops. If many ordinary people are willing to listen to this useless information about fashion which, let us be frank, has little or no impact in the whole scheme of things, they will of course treat important topics in the same way. And this goes for voting patterns too.

I would go as far as to say that the brutal treatment demonstrated in public voting shows on TV (the hollow commiserations handed out by the hosts, the cruel wait before the announcement, the gossip on the spin-off shows and in the newspapers, etc.) have made many people collectively immune to the feelings of others. People talk about these victims of fame as if they were characters in a soap opera. Added to that, we see evidence of people filming others involved in accidents or being attacked without intervening. Our civilisation is becoming immune to people's suffering.

And this is also reflected in recent political events.

The first that I can bring to mind is the refugee crisis in the Middle East and its spillage into Europe. Leaders of countries are ordering massive fences to keep out people fleeing for their lives and accusing them of carrying diseases into Europe, or worse, of shielding terrorists in their numbers. The problem is the opposite opinion is not an effective counter-argument - that we should allow these people in regardless is not going to win over many neutrals. This whole débâcle has sunk into mud-slinging and blaming each other for either being too hard or too soft. But those in positions of power are too proud to let go of their pet hates and any productive debate is stifled by the constant accusations. Western politics is sinking to lows that will take revolutions to amend.

Furthermore, we can point to the US-Mexico wall that the current incumbent of the White House is so adamant will be an effective antidote to illegal immigration. And this is where human laziness really reaches its nadir - symbolic gestures are seen as effective solutions to people's ills. For that is what the wall on the southern border of the US will be - a symbolic gesture, nothing more. People will go over it, under it, through it and around it. And symbolic gestures are happening everywhere. They stem from human laziness and unwillingness to investigate too far into something in case it turns out to be wrong.

Take the Brexit bus.

Image result for brexit bus

Never was such a succinctly effective untruth so widely used, and accepted, to justify an argument. The other side of the coin, though, cannot be emblazoned on the side of the bus so successfully:

Related image

And herein is the underlying problem - the arguments for and against any subject generally have on one side an attractive soundbite that makes perfect sense to people who like their news in short paragraphs; whilst on the other, a complicated narrative with detailed explanations can confuse or bore the average reader. Guess which story is likely to garner the most supporters...

And that is the disadvantage of those who seek to explain the truth and justify their answers in more detail - they can easily be drowned out by heckling from the opposition, or mocked for their unwieldy explanations. Short, snazzy slogans are the domain of commercial retailers and sports teams, but the political classes are getting in on the act, and taking their ideologies, warped or not, to the wider public. Unfortunately, and I don't think I am going to gain many friends by writing this, but there is a large section of the population that is easily led by simplistic messages that claim to be able to improve their lives, the very basis of commercially successful strategy. Taking this out into the real world is both reckless and unfair. The truth becomes blurred by people wishing it true, no matter how false it is.

The BBC has recently set up a Permanent Reality Check team to look into stories and claims that have been flagged as containing an element of untruth or spin. As you will see from its detailed clarifications, the answers are more complicated than the text they were originally packaged in.

If we are ever going to break the cycle of untruth, we have to simplify the message of truth. how could Brexit have been prevented? Simple, positive messages showing the benefits of the EU would have garnered a lot more support than the Osborne-Cameron fear campaign. Take the Facebook group WhyEurope - they have been developing positive slogans in support of Europe for a while now, and many of them bring the positive side of the story into a far more easily comprehensible light:

"Europe because...
We all have better things to do than waiting at borders."

"Europe because...
You receive the same medical care abroad as at home."

"Europe because...
I don't want to pay custom fees on Amazon"

"Europe because...
it's like being rich - you have 28 different places to live."

"Europe is like a window...
Often invisible, but you're gonna miss it when it's broken."

If only this group could have got this type of message out before the Brexit referendum... But of course, these positive features do not ring with people who aren't as greatly affected by them as they are by more pressing needs, like their health, social security, employment and domestic lives. Which is why their disenfranchisement will lead them to seek scapegoats and form up behind a cheerleader who will promise them sunnier times ahead, even if that may clearly not be true.

Populism does not need to speak the truth; it needs to press the right buttons. Which is why Donald Trump and his team could think up non-events like the Bowling Green massacre that never was, and the much-derided Sweden incident. People want to believe in Area 51 cover-ups and refugee rape stories in Germany. They want to believe it so badly because they are desperate to be right for a change. They have spent decades being told they are at the back end of society, misfits, plebs, rabble, and now the Establishment is teetering on the brink of self-inflicted destruction, those who get out of bed early on the opposing side are seizing their chance.

The only way for the current political class to salvage this is to shine an equally positive light on the future rather than the incessant sad music being they play while forcing through austerity policies on the poorest of society. Governments insist there is no money for schools, public transport, healthcare, welfare and job creation, yet there is ample money for defence and meaningless vanity projects. The current batch of politicians like Schäuble, May, Juncker, Rajoy, Hollande and recently Renzi and Cameron, seem (or seemed) to be doing very little on the surface to quell the fears of the impending downfall of Western civilisation, just carrying on as normal while all around ordinary people are growing tired of hearing about the closure of hospitals here and the reduction in police there, while third countries that are not so friendly to the West are now so obviously trying to infiltrate the system by subterfuge. People are looking for a sign that everything is all right and these dark times will pass.

If the West is serious about keeping up its standards then it needs to find some visionaries and statesmen and women from somewhere. The space is full of politicians acting like glorified civil servants, more worried about their own opinion poll rating than doing what is needed to re-calibrate the situation; any shining lights are extinguished by being marginalised by power-hungry politicians or disillusioned by the rigidity and intransigence of the political system.

It's time someone with a positive vision and two very sharp elbows stepped up before the populists get there first.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Don't bring your religion into politics and count on my respect

I have been utterly astounded by the number of people whom I have come across, on Facebook, in the media, or in person, who vote for political leaders based on one point only, no matter how relevant their other beliefs are for them. This is a very blinkered and self-defeating point of view, and the biggest share of this went to Christian fundamentalists, the vast majority of whom turn out time and time again for one party in many countries that best represents their chance to implement their ideologies, no matter what else the party believes in. We saw this in Poland, which swept the conservatives to power, and now we have seen it in the US, where the Republicans have steamrollered their way to all three houses.

In 2015, the Polish elected the Law and Justice (PiS) party to power, thanks to a growing dissatisfaction in rural areas with the speed of reforms implemented by the previous incumbents, Civic Platform. Although it is understandable for people to vote out a party that has ignored them, there were many who voted for PiS based purely on their sympathies with the Roman Catholic Church in the country. Since PiS was elected, it has taken a sledgehammer to the democratic institutions that were set up to assure constitutional equilibrium in the country, has tried to totally ban in-vitro fertilisation and pregnancy terminations (unsuccessfully) and tried to gag the independent media outlets.

Many fundamentalist Catholics in Poland would never consider voting for another party, and most certainly not for Civic Platform, the party that upheld the right to abortion in a vote not long before the last election. On 3 October 2016, the proposal to ban abortion outright brought Polish women of all kinds out on strike in a huge act of peaceful civil disobedience. Two days later, many politicians had begun to distance themselves from the proposal and an amendment was being considered at the time of writing this.

The irony is, the PiS (standing for Law and Justice) party claims they helped overthrow the Communist regime along with the Catholic Church, so they feel a little like they are owed a debt of gratitude for bringing about democracy, and yet they themselves have the most undemocratic agenda since the fall of Communism in 1989. So much so, a group of intellectuals and moderates established the KOD (Committee for the Safeguarding of Democracy) as a counterweight to the encroaching reduction in freedoms taking place in the country. What they want is closer to a theocracy than a democracy, and the people are finally beginning to realise the consequences of their actions.

The moral (pardon the pun) of the story here is, do not force your ideology on others. If you don't want to be involved in, or even inadvertently condone, something that you fundamentally deplore, that is your right. But it does not mean you should force your view on others by voting for a party based on one point of obsession. This is not how democracy works. Democracy is inclusive, and one size most certainly does not fit all.

Now we turn to the other side of the Atlantic, where the Republican party has won the right to govern the United States for the next four years. There is a great paradox between people with Christian values and the parties they vote for, the vast majority siding with the Republicans.

Let us take a look at Republicans' policies and compare them to Christian values:

So, to start with, they want to keep God in the public sphere. All's well and good if you're a Christian then. But dig a little deeper and the truth is very muddy.

Christian values stipulate that one should do unto others as you would do unto yourself, including:

  • giving shelter to those in need; 
  • providing help to the sick and the poor; 
  • not killing your fellow human. 
And yet the Republicans strongly oppose giving asylum to those who have come to the US for a better life, they wish to foist medical expenses back on the individual and advocate the reversal of the weapons restrictions introduced under Barack Obama. Upon further consultation of policy one can see the Democrats favoured these points. Who is more closely aligned to Christian doctrine in these areas? I know who I would say...

Then there are thorny issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, both favoured by the Democrats and opposed by Republicans. These issues are relevant to far fewer people than those in the preceding paragraph, and yet they are the Republicans' most fertile hunting grounds for opposition supporters. So what this suggests is that, despite the fact that Jesus himself is recorded as hanging around with socially stigmatised groups like prostitutes and ex-criminals, this is irrelevant when it comes to Christians' political behaviour in modern times.

We can ignore the hundreds of thousands of people on the poverty line who are about to have healthcare added to their list of debts; rough up and throw out any under-the-radar immigrants who are doing all the jobs Americans don't want to do rather than give them an amnesty; and risk our lives by going out onto the street hoping not to meet a testosterone-fuelled sicko with a gun licence who can kill at a second's notice. Forget that, because hold your horses, folks... love between two people is only right and proper if they're male and female, and we shouldn't allow anyone to make sexual "mistakes". This is really rather creepy, but yes, fundamentalist (emphasis on the mental, and most definitely not on the fun) Christians would rather vote based on such kneejerk matters such as that rather than on the bigger issues.

The same goes with the environment:
It is entirely feasible that the next energy secretary will be a climate change denier. Despite all the warnings, the evidence and the fact that nearly two hundred countries have signed treaties to deal with it, the US is probably about to assign this job to a sceptic. Christians are split on this issue, although time and time again the Bible tells humans to respect the Earth:
Leviticus 25:1-7 and 23; Psalm 24; Ezekiel 34:18; Matthew 6:26; 1 Timothy 4:4; the list is endless, and they all point to the need to look after our planet. So one would think, that even as a sceptic, one would at least be respectful of our Earth and Her resources. But most Republicans favour withdrawing from environmental treaties and reigniting the fossil fuel industry.

Again, this is considered a side-issue by many fundamentalist Christians, because moral behaviour is a far greater threat to them than this. And to be honest, I find it at best very distasteful, at worst profoundly hypocritical. But most of all it highlights the easily-led, knuckle-headed narrow-mindedness of people (or sheeple, considering they are a flock) that:

  • they would elect a party that condoned the widespread carrying of guns yet called themselves "pro-life"; 
  • would listen to their priest telling them the story of the Good Samaritan and then immediately join a demonstration against Mexicans or Muslims; 
  • would read from 1 Corinthians 13, which even for a non-believer like me is the best definition of love in existence, and then go and heckle an LGBTQ event. 
I remember I once knew a Baptist minister's daughter who, despite the deep unpopularity of John Major's government in 1997 due to the in-fighting, the scandals, the remoteness of the ministers and the institutionalised corruption, declared she would vote for him because he went to church. Did she even pay attention to the news...? I doubt it.

And this is my problem with religion interfering in politics. You cannot blindly let yourself be guided by priests, bishops and cardinals on the very narrow moral issue of sex and love which, by the way, they don't even take part in (if you don't play the game, you can't expect to make up the rules), and at the same time have a clear conscience on other issues of a more urgent nature, like the rising oceans, civilian gun crime, free healthcare, proper education, housing the homeless and welcoming refugees. The Statue of Liberty itself has these words:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
To spread the light of liberty world-wide for every land."

If this is what you believe, then you are most definitely not a Republican, but you have probably been made to believe that you are by more eloquent people, or cajoled into voting for them by peer pressure, pressure from your elders or by your sheer blindness to the real issues.

I think it's only right to see that Bible verse in full. Learn from it, because it sums up not only what one might call "conventional" love, but also that for the Earth, for our neighbours, for our fellow humans, and our country:

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

So on that note, if you vote based on one narrow issue of religious doctrine, don't expect me to regard you as an example of moral fortitude, for you have done nothing more than condoned a sort of "Christian Sharia" - the imposition of your religious doctrine in our law and politics, where people of other religions need to coexist. The content of Sharia law is totally different to Christian teaching in many aspects, but I don't think anyone would agree that Christianity should be applied to our laws. This is why, even in France and ultra-Catholic Italy, religious symbols are banned from state workplaces. Religion has a place inside people as individuals - it is a very personal thing. It has no place in a one-size-fits-all public sphere.

So please, keep your own beliefs to yourself, and don't impose them on others.