Ten

Prosaic, Pulpit

On Gender, Sexuality, Identity, Mental Health

If you ever get the chance to sit on the bench at the top of Pump Hill in Loughton, Essex, you’re going to see something interesting: you’re going to see humanity spread out over miles running from forest through hamlet through town, finishing up in the bright lights and tall towers of London, the spires of Crystal Palace, the dome we now call the O2. Human society is a surprisingly complicated mesh of contrasting attitudes and cultures, and that’s what you’ll see looking out over the spread from Essex into London. So many different details all acting more or less coherently as part of one societal web. It’s mad good.

I went to a chat last night about John Perceval, son of the only assassinated British Prime Minister. John was notable for ending up in a lunatic asylum claiming he was a prophet from God. After he was eventually released from the asylum, he campaigned to improve conditions for all like patients across the country. This was a time when women could be declared mad for thinking, anyone could be declared mad for talking about democracy, and the equivalent of psychiatry was conducted by sadistic quacks more mentally deranged than many of their patients. It was a time of radicalism and unrest across Britain, some would say reaching a peak in the death of Spencer Perceval, PM. Anyway the author holding the chat was Robin Holton, and he had this pretty perceptive comment to make on mental health: that it’s not so much a problem within one individual as it is a problem between individuals. The common theme among many mentally ill people is a form of loneliness or isolation, either literally, or in their lack of empathy, even despite a kind of gregariousness or charisma.

And that just seemed to link up mental illness to identity generally – the sense that it’s something defined by relationships with others. I mention it because so much of what is now largely termed “identity politics” is actually a fundamental element of our existence: interactions with others. That’s the simplistic core often deliberately ignored by critics and pundits. I don’t know about you reader, but I find that a great deal of commentary on issues of mental health, sexual orientation, gender orientation, is unselved. It’s taken away from people, from society, and turned into specific phenomena applied only when certain terms are invoked, when certain “appropriate” rituals are performed.

Oh yeah – if you’ve not already tuned out in anger – why am I linking mental illness and gender/sex? They’re all about identity. Personhood. Society. Being human. The all-uniting theme. That’s the point I want to make here before you hear the polemic incoming. That’s why a guy whose prime was around 1830 (ACE, not PM) is relevant to this. John Perceval lived in a world where much of “mental derangement” was defined quite explicitly by how other people viewed you. Today we live in a world where the basic “how other people view you” is filtered through advanced layers of supposed professionalism and entrenched political filibuster. Try to ignore all the layers of politics and assumption for a moment. Try to just think of the core person.

Here’s just my opinion on the titular topics.

Gender: your chosen take on your biology. Because, all you people who say you either have a penis or a vagina – biology also applies to the feelings and desires that lead people to homosexuality, becoming transgender or anything else. All of that is biological. It’s now commonly accepted that our understanding of the body through science is not limited to the appendages that appear on our skin. Not to try and cut you out, but, get over it. Biology is everything, not just your genitalia.

Implicit here is that there is no absolute heterosexuality or homosexuality – it’s all choice. It’s all a kind of bi or pan or whatever. You can always be your best you.

Sexuality: a social construct built from thousands of years of sex. The backdrop is early humans not having much culture beyond “good to receive penis in vagina/good to put penis in vagina”. That’s the root of modern sexuality for sure. But today we have all sorts of nuanced approaches to those basic desires rooted in chemistry and biology. I think of masculinity as sexual feelings and identification based in the old “my penis goes into your vagina” whereas femininity would be sexual feelings and identification based in “your penis goes into my vagina”. So, male or female or anything else, a person chooses which of those best suits them. Or no particular sexuality at all. You don’t need to have a penis or vagina to subscribe to one or the other. We now have, and really have always had, useable equivalents. Mouths, tongues, fingers, fists, oily sticks made of various materials, anuses. Options, basically. The option of nothing too.

But now more than ever we are aware of our options and capable of expanding them. I’m going to be straight with you, I have more of a feminine sexual identity. I think that’s fine, I don’t think it means all women have to get fucked, I don’t think it means all women have to fuck. I don’t think it means all men have to get fucked. I don’t think it means all men have to fuck. I think every individual person chooses who they are. Influenced by what happens to them sure, but they make the final decision, have the final veto. That’s sexuality. A person chooses and acts on who they want to be.

Identity: a terrifying mix of how you see yourself and how other people see you. Everything you remember as being a prominent part of yourself, and, to a large extent, everything you are seen doing, or understood to have done. It’s your professed values, your internal values, something of the values other people think you have. Your emotional composition, the things you sometimes do to change that. Your favourite clothes, music, movies. Your physical health, what you feel about your physical health. It’s all that stuff to do with you. But really, when you think about you, how can you think without considering the world around you, the people around you, and your place in it.

I guess I’m saying identity is the changing nature of the place in which you put yourself, or find yourself in the world. You and your surroundings are separate and yet inseparable. Different parts of the same connected scheme. A big flowing interconnected entity. And that’s not even getting spiritual.

Mental Health: the extent to which you are publicly viewed as being normal or sane. Mass and community reactions to your behaviours and tendencies. Basically responses to your identity that my go on to form part of your identity.

Your own sense of emotional composition, stability, your ability to express or restrain yourself. The feelings that force themselves into your perception, the thoughts that repeat in your head. The sounds, smells, sights, textures you encounter through your own particular means to engage with them. It’s everything your mind does in response to what you physically, biologically, chemically encounter. And it’s the way you reason through all that, or don’t.

And, in a slightly different context, the biological integrity of your brain and sensory functions. Fewer people will have a substantially damaged brain, whereas all people have physically different brains, biologically, scientifically different brains and minds. That includes different sensory capacities, emotional tendencies. Difference on its own isn’t grounds for disability. Difference rejected by society will cause disability.

That’s one of the major misunderstandings about mental health. Depression and like disorders are built from experiences, encouraged by genetic predispositions. They aren’t mysterious imbalances of the humours (cheers Galen) they are built from profound trauma or joy or endless streams of emotional demands. And they can become accidentally entrenched in the way someone thinks about themselves in relation to the world, self-propagating, remaking beyond the point at which they’re at all healthy.

This is what I think anyway. I’m certainly no great source of knowledge on the matter. Just someone who thinks about stuff a lot. You decide whether any of this thinking helps you. And check out that bench in Loughton if you can, the view really is special. The Gardeners’ is fine too.

Seven

Prosaic, Pulpit

Petty Revolutions: My Old Blogging Manifesto

“You’re gonna wake up one morning and know which side of the bed you’ve been lying on.” Is a quote.*

I’ve finally got to the frame of life where I have to write. Sickened beyond capacity of the inevitable sentiment that if I don’t do art enough I’m not an artist. Fine, I’ll accept it. You can have the art. I don’t want it anyway.

There’s only so many brilliant young somethings you can read about as a disenfranchised twenty-two year old before you lose it. I want to be able to join Louise in saying I’m like forty-something. I’m experienced.

I want to make anyone with half a brain look and say I’ve had more than enough time to get performing. I want people to look at my artistic life and say I’m lazy. I want people to know, like I do, that I should’ve made a start the moment I could write. That the one national poetry competition for twelve year olds wasn’t enough. I want people to realise that every year of your life is an experience you can and should communicate to inform and entertain, like they should’ve said in an exam question somewhere. “Inform and Entertain around the subject of panda nipples”. With the internet you don’t even need to use your own experiences for performance, you can basically just hijack everyone else’s.

I am not still young. It is not okay.

You don’t need Microsoft and Adobe to write and edit. You’ve got apache and gimpshop. You don’t even need them because you can thieve a Sharpie from Morrisons and scribble on smooth public surfaces. You don’t even need that because you can walk up to someone and introduce yourself like chuggers, muggers and beggars do not.

Teenagers are bringing out the new wave of Grime.^ Some of them not even out of school and still making significant record or publicity deals. Meanwhile what the fuck am I doing? Why am I not being written about in Vice and Dazed? I mean Grime is basically fucking open mic. I mean they calls themselves MCs, what more do you want? Pretty artworks and a beatbox called Echo? Alright. I’ll get it. I’ll start mixing fucking White Stripes tunes on audacity and call it Cheesy McFlapsface. I don’t know. Art. Art is going to happen.

Seriously though look at these kids. They’re fantastic. I mean it’s not exactly my sector being as I’m basically a white suburban punk¬ of one kind or another. An aspiring anarchist. I’d call them out on accidental misogyny and proper game in equal measure but maybe that’s part of why I’m not where they are. Or haven’t been where they are. Different discourses work at different times, and there’s plenty of room in paradise folks. We can all get there if we try. Though I guess we’d all rather get there before than after death. Even this morning there was a programme on about Constable essentially saying people loved him most after he died. So many people have to face – or not face – that. Look at the 27 Club for one thing.

That must be one of the biggest issues facing down artists and radicals everywhere. What if I’m not my job, what if I can quit, but then, when I do…I’m not successful enough. What if I’m a starving artist like forever and only get famous after I die? What if the work all comes to nothing that you can see or use to make you feel better about the endless peregrinations of existence?

Well, if that, then you didn’t sell yourself hard enough. You should’ve done that pelvic thrust with a little bit more energy. Cos kids, the world is what we make it, and we can make anything.

All of our celebrities, adored stars and key societal influencers (thinking more behind the scenes there) worked fucking hard to get where they are, but as part of that they worked to ignore expectation and routine. They levelled their sights on what they really needed and started cutting away the weed and dross surrounding it, all the fucking mess we’re sold by leaders and advertisers to make shit smell like roses. It doesn’t matter how it smells. Shit is shit. It has only a select number of uses, mostly involving its being destroyed or otherwise broken up to help make something else better.

And you don’t need to be sitting out in some Brazilian jungle or up on Machu Picchu to become a Guevara or write a Stones song. You’ve got everything you need right where you are, it’s just you might occasionally need to travel one way or the other to realise it’s there. Like when you can’t find the remote because you’re sitting on it.

So forward this blog has to go, and all that follows from it. We need those photos to finally get here. Videos! A new website build! I’m gonna have to learn programming languages! Fuck. Ah well, it’s all for the art.

*I read it as a sort of title for “collection by Mark Jackson” in a Dazed&Confused back issue. Think it was number five. It had beautiful androgynous people 🙂

^http://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/blog/the-square-novelist-teenage-crew-future-of-grime

¬ “white suburban punk” epitomised for me in this song, which really deserves a post of its own https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoF_a0-7xVQ

 

Four

Political, Prosaic, Pulpit

Anarchy for the UK in 2000 Words (part 2 of 3)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Chaos

Anarchism is best defined as a specific philosophical technique. It’s the tendency to completely deconstruct anything and everything, but especially commonly accepted and influential concepts that change how people live. In deconstructing these things, anarchists get a better understanding of what structures are strong, logical, workable, and which ones aren’t. And the discipline gets a lot of bad press, okay, but that’s because it’s a bit of an easy target.

It eventually recommends the total restructuring of society, which, whether violent or not, tends to find enemies throughout the existing structure of any society. Understandable, right? Look at Gandhi: first he just wanted Indians in South Africa to be treated as equal human beings. Then later he just wanted his country to be able to govern itself. The whole time he demanded non-violent resistance only. He didn’t seek excessive power or pleasure. Although trained as a lawyer in Britain, heart and mind of the empire, he chose to accept and love the simple way of life led by the Indian peasant or maybe more accurately the Hindu holy man, Christian monk, or devout pilgrim. He took pleasure from having some food, some shelter, and the ability to help his fellow human. And he was repeatedly imprisoned, sometimes beaten, as a revolutionary. A threat to the state. Can non-violent demands for better treatment really be considered “threatening”? Surely not in anything like the way a club to the head is threatening, a long sentence in jail is threatening.

But still, he was going to change the status quo – and you can see why the British rulers and competitors for power in India (he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist) didn’t want that. He proposed a way of living that prevented them from dominating. He was going to deprive them of their chose lifestyle. Through non-violence and reason, yes, but they didn’t care. They were still going to lose, they thought, and he was going to gain. The well-being of millions of Hindus, Muslims and other denominations be damned.

This is the problem with the mass perception of anarchism. Our criticisms of present societies, our proposals for radical change: people can only imagine that we would right wrongs and enact changes by destroying what already exists. If Communism took over government and failed to make things better, why would anarchism – something that already sounds worse – ever succeed? Well, anarchism doesn’t want to take over government. Doesn’t want to destroy. It wants to help people to learn about the world so that they choose to form their own self-sufficient communities within society. It wants to enable people to effectively govern themselves, to exist in a true democracy, legally of course. It wants to build a new structure over the rotten model under which we presently exist, replacing it as it naturally fails.

It’s hard to summarise what anarchists believe even in a page because, whilst there’s a lot of common ground between individuals, anarchism also allows infinite flexibility…to the point at which the word “anarchism” represents more a tendency to a certain world view, or a way of behaving, rather than belief in a codified ideology. It seeks the disestablishment of ideology as much as disestablishment of the state. The easiest definition – if not the most helpful – is that anarchism tends to look for radical ways to create a better society, mostly without use of violence, because history shows that violence is not an effective tool for societal organisation. The philosophy has many layers, and you’ll want to get to know those – they’re great – but politically we tend to share one goal: ultimate democracy, or, in plainer terms, “localism”.

Anarchists tend to agree that the best way to restructure society is to build power from the bottom up. Small community groups – familiar with each other, grown to understanding and trust – making ultimately unanimous decisions about their affairs. Anarchism is basically about steadily achieving real democracy. And some war-torn North African and Middle Eastern communities have already achieved that kind of anarcho-democratic rule as a necessary response to power vacuums created by the war. At the moment our collective goal is probably best served by our trying to de-mystify the cause and just get people interested in learning more, seeing real democracy in action. After all, there is no official anarchist organisation, no anarchist bible, just people doing what they think they should to make the world better.

Two

Political, Prosaic, Pulpit

Anarchy for the UK in 2000 words (Part 1 of 3)

A Note on Oligarchy

I just want you to take a look at the UK political system. I don’t see this as a criticism per se, just as a more honest description which highlights the flaws you already know are there in systems like this one.

I would classify the British government as a Parliamentary Oligarchy. That is, a state in which governmental power is held by a small minority of individuals, most of whom exercise their power though an elected parliamentary assembly.

We have 650 elected members in the House of Commons, tasked with representing the majority views of over 65 million people. Yes, we are ruled by 0.001% of the nation. Maybe 25 of them are involved in Cabinet – the core of government decision-making – while around 100 become different kinds of Ministers. So the 0.001% itself is dominated by 3.8% of its number. In 2016, Official Labour Market Statistics estimated the population of Hastings Council’s area of responsibility at 92,200. It has 32 councillors: not much hope in local government either. And the European Parliament isn’t worth mentioning because – never mind Brexit – it can’t legislate. It’s the European Union equivalent of our House of Lords. Our Watson chamber is the Lords, theirs is the only vaguely representative arm of European Union government. Go figure.

Moving on to parties. In 2015, the Conservatives formed a government on the “majority” of 37% of a 66% turnout. That’s 11,334,920 people getting representation versus 51,846,855 people in the general population (figures based on the 2011 Census) being given a government they disagree with.

In 2010, it was 36% of a 65% turnout: 10,703,744 people, so what roughly a sixth of the population – 17%! – getting minimal representation. Everyone else left high and dry, most still paying taxes. Over 40 million people regularly left without even the smallest tip-of-a-hat to representation.

That’s nationally. Locally, once again taking Hastings as a sample area, 2016 council elections, the highest turnout was in St Helens Ward: 47.2%. And that was the highest turnout of all wards by 6.3%. The Labour candidate got in by a relatively substantial 50.3% in St Helens. In rough terms, this all amounts to 1,000 people out of 4,000 getting what they voted for. 25% being represented.

In 2013, the Conservative party announced that it had 149,800 members. About 0.23% of the population. Labour claimed 552,000 members in June 2017. About 0.85% of the population. A September 2017 Parliamentary report on party membership put the total membership of Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP at 1,024,600, based on the most recent official figures available. Almost at full strength our very much disunited system of political parties might represent 1.58% of the population.

These figures alone show that we do not live in a democratic nation. We do however live in a nation where oligarchic government needs to seek some kind of approval or at least participation from an electorate of 46,835,433 people – based on the 2017 election – which translates to around 72.1% of the population. This is probably better than any other level of governmental representation in at least 1000 years of British history. So it’s still progress, but it’s not democracy. I’ll address this further in the following two parts, but to emphasise: voting is not equivalent to democracy. Voting is just voting.

All of my percentages are based on a rough tally of a total population of 65 million people. The latest UN estimates put it at 65,431,223 as of April 2017. Our 2011 census put it at 63,182,000. I suggest that even British people who are not part of the current electorate deserve consideration and representation under any kind of decent social contract. This is why I keep providing percentages out of the total population and not just the electorate. We’re talking about democracy here, not just voting.