Does anyone else get tired of labels?

Political, Prosaic, Pulpit

I’m thinking ideologies and religions and politics and genders and all that stuff, but maybe some shopping labels too. I mean we wouldn’t need traffic light nutritional guidelines if all the food was in its freshly farmed or slaughtered form, or prepared by a trustworthy authority that’s not trying to pump us full of tasty tasty fats and sizzling stimulating sugars. Bastards.

I’ve been spending some time trying to work out what femininity is, and I’ve mostly been avoiding the masculine. I know enough already, I figure. But really, all you learn in research is that both terms are unhelpful. They’re social groupings that just don’t matter. I mean, grand scheme don’t matter. Like sure walking down the street right now reading this on your phone, or maybe sat at home listening to a loved one do something in the next room, or lying in bed listening to some filthy Lou Reed…then maybe it matters a little bit. But still not really. It’s not an important part of who you are, it’s just a filter that other people will try and feed you through, if and when they can. It’s not something you have to participate in.

I do it for fun, sometimes. I make myself a science experiment, probably way too obviously. I become the shy girl or boy walking into that club, that bar, that coffee place for the first time. That lecture hall, that fashion outlet, that library. I make myself look ‘interesting’ and do ‘interesting’ things, and I wait for people to respond. Sometimes I get real chats – people who find and love the opportunity to sincerely be themselves with another individual. Sometimes I get fake come-ons, brusque and lustful slurps of kisses or coffees, raised eyebrows, scowls, or timid and tender requests for books to borrow, seats to steal.

The identities I put on are not identities, they’re labels, uniforms. And I find it really…sad, that we have to act this way, or that we choose to act this way. That we get lost in posturing.

So much of what I read about masculine and feminine identity, for example, comes down to physical features and behaviours. But it’s like trying to say someone is bald – that semi-famous philosophical problem – how many hairs does it take? Because clearly you can be called bald even if you have some hair. It’s a vaguery of quantity and presentation that seems to defy conventional logic: the point at which someone becomes bald is relative to who’s looking, or who’s wearing or not wearing the hair. But mainly who’s looking I guess. It’s not so important to the one with the hair, they just feel more or less of a breeze. They probably don’t have much need for a name for how they look. They have other words, pictures, sounds, for their experience, what they think, how they feel.

So with masculinity and femininity – it’s a vague labelling to help other people understand who you are, and how they see you. It matters to them whether you walk how they want or have the curves they want, or the muscles they need you to have, the job they want you to work. In a sense, therefore, it’s not something you need to worry about at all. It doesn’t matter to you, you just have to be yourself and, hey, why not enjoy being yourself while you’re there? So what if someone else doesn’t like it? If they’re not involved in your life in any meaningful way, it shouldn’t matter. If they are involved in your life seriously…then why aren’t they taking you seriously?

Okay, sometimes being yourself will get you into trouble with the onlookers. They can imprison you, harm you, bully you. Sometimes. Basic line of defence there is the same: fuck them. You’ve got one life being you, so don’t let anyone shit that up. Being yourself can hurt but unselving is worse. The middle ground is, I guess, hiding in the labels people like without adopting them. The safe place, maybe, mostly, is that. Understanding the labels other people use, that you probably also have to use, remembering that a label is just that. Remember the you behind that peelable sticker. Behind that loose dust jacket.

Identity is something far more personal, and so far more nebulous than label. No name can fully describe, no traits, no long videos, books, audio recordings, nothing can quite encapsulate it fully except you having yours, you being you. And heck it’s something you can’t avoid. Unselving just hurts worst, it doesn’t actually break you. You continue being you, and having been you.

Sometimes I think labels are a way of people escaping their own totality. I’ve done a lot over the years I’m unhappy about, and that stuff doesn’t go away with time. Forgetting it for a while doesn’t wash it out of history. But hey, that doesn’t determine who I have to be, what I have to do, how I have to feel. It’s stuff I have to come to terms with, and carry on in spite of. And hiding, pretending, putting it off…that’s just running away from creaks in the floorboards, rustles in hedgerows, the call of the Moon. Life is something you have to live, you know. It’s weirdly self-fulfilling like that. All it asks is that you get properly involved in being…and being you.

Now, maybe I can’t make this properly engage with the debate on “identity issues/politics” but that’s because I don’t like having to be part of that warzone. I’m peaceful, I want happy, functioning folk, not holy corpses. Most of any debate seems to have become people demanding obedience and adherence from people who demanded that from them, because people demanded that from them, because people demanded that from them…ad nauseam. It’s a minefield in which most any opinion is wrong for someone. I just wish we could get back to the reality…you don’t need to have such a strong opinion about someone else’s life. Beyond wanting them not to shit on you, they’re really not your problem. And most people don’t want to shit on you. Scat porn is relatively exclusive like that.

It’s so frustrating as politics descends into nonsensical exchanges of buzzwords that have lost all meaning, discussions of gender, sexuality, patriarchy, identity, dissolve into a mess of offended males and females fighting for their right for other people to call them male or female…and that we seem to be unable to say “rape is wrong” and have everyone understand. We seem unable to say “racism is wrong” and have everyone understand. “War is wrong. Violence is wrong.” Or worse, we know these things are wrong, but in despair we suffer or indulge them anyway, the incomprehensible spewing mess of our existence drowning so many fractured minds…

I think we’re ordering. I think bit by bit humanity is helping itself to calm down and recognise a fair and universal understanding almost beyond description, but well within grasp. And on the one hand it’s so beautiful to feel that hope, more, that knowledge. But on the other, I am human and I am impatient.

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 has had some 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, 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 chosen 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. By harming. That’s what happened with communism after all. 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.

Really anarchism is best defined as a thinking discipline. 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. But this process is conducted in a way that’s entirely defined by the individual. There are no official anarchist texts or thinkers. What influences anarchist philosophy is what influences the individual in question. That person’s central feature is an open-mindedness extending beyond anything normally considered reasonable, usually mixed with enough self-restraint to stop that open perspective becoming problematic.

Politically we tend to share one goal: ultimate democracy, or, in plainer terms, “localism”. But at the same time, we want to become apolitical. Anarchism contents that centralised or top-down government isn’t needed, and so politics proper departs with it. We want to restructure society, 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 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 war. So right now we’re just 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. That’s what we want, that’s what we need.

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.