Othering, and the devastation of division and hatred

Hate is a word I try not to use too much. It’s a word that describes the worst of human emotions. It is an intense feeling.

As the news of what happened last night in Manchester comes out, hate is not the first feeling that comes to me. Melancholy. I feel an intense sadness that people can do this to others, particularly children, who are guilty of nothing. Just enjoying life.

I question what it is that could drive a man to blow himself up, in a concert hall full of kids. Some not much older than my own. And where I feel sorrow at the results of the evil act, I can only imagine that the Manchester-born young man hated intensely. He hated himself, otherwise how could he have ended his own life intentionally? He must have hated humanity, or how could he have murder children and young people so indiscriminately?

When a child smiles or laughs, when you watch them enjoying themselves, I can’t imagine the soul of a man that would use the death of these lights of the world for political ends. What did humanity do to him that was so bad for him to want to destroy its future?

But when I think about it a bit more, I realise, it wasn’t necessarily humanity he hated. He hated us. And we’ve been here before. There has been no shortage of mass murder and genocide in human history. When they occur, I believe there is a common event preceding it: painting some group as “the Other”. It is this Othering that allows people to do some of the most heinous acts.

During war, armies kill the enemy, not just because it is their duty and they know it is a “kill or be killed” situation, but because they are the “Other”.

During republican and communist revolutions, nobles were executed as “Others”; “they’re not like us”.

During the well-documented Holocaust, there was the systematic “Othering” of the Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and that facilitated their extermination.

I look upon our world today and see a lot of divisive hatred. Aside from the cultural conflict of Islamist extremism, there is Right Vs Left; Leave Vs Remain; Internationalist Vs Nationalist; Working Class Vs “Metropolitan Elite”. And through all of this Othering, perpetuated by much of the media and politicians, they have got us all hating each other. But not hating each other because of our actions, but for what we believe.

I’m sure there was a time when a conservative and progressive could have a good, reasoned discussion. But when our own politicians, during debate, descend to school yard antics, it doesn’t set a good example for the rest of us. They’re supposed to be the most educated. The most informed. Yet they don’t seem to be interested in winning the discussions based on the strength of the ideas, but by weakening the credibility of the person delivering the opposing idea.

Humanity has faced a great many conflicts. Many millions have suffered because of this Othering. If we don’t find common ground — if we don’t seek compromise — how can we proceed as a species? Right and Left, Religious and Areligious, Christian/Muslim/Sikh/Jew, Remainers and Leavers, we all need to find the points we agree on, then look at those we don’t and try to meet in the middle — the centre ground. If we can achieve that, maybe we can avoid the level of hatred in the future that will lead to our own mutual destruction.

The worst of our capabilities as a species was seen yesterday night. But in the aftermath, we also saw the best. How the whole city pulled together, united by a common grief. Taxi drivers offering free rides home, restaurants giving free food, local residents offering their sofas and beds for those stranded. People were kind, considerate, giving.

I know that is who we truly are as a culture and species. I guess I always had, but recently I’d forgotten or become  disheartened. Let’s try and remember that, and not allow those that hate to divide us.

“Strong and Stable”? Screw that, we just need “Honest and Thoughtful”…

When I heard Theresa May announce the snap election, I actually cheered. Out loud. I thought, finally, we’d have a chance to get rid of the Tories; the ones who are throttling, dismantling, and destroying everything that I believed to be special about my country. Having seen the polls, it’s obvious that not everyone agrees with my point of view. But after seven years of the Tories, and only two with a majority? Imagine another five, with an even bigger majority… My cheer was short lived.

In 2010, while the financial crisis was biting, things were still fairly positive, at least in my own mind. I knew that Labour was on the ropes. I expected the Tories to win. At the time, the Lib Dems seemed to be doing really well, but few people seriously expected them to win. Regardless, I didn’t expect what really happened to happen.

2010 saw the Tories come out on top, although not enough to form a government on their own. Even though they were ideologically incompatible in many ways, they teamed up with the Lib Dems to form a coalition. The Lib Dems took a big pounding for that. As they were “in government”, seemingly failing to deliver on their campaign promises, when 2015 came, there was a vicious cull. I will still defend them to a point, as they were the smaller party in the coalition. It is now clear that they did their best to slow the damage a majority Conservative government can do.

Since 2015, when the Tories won the General Election, we’ve seen more people struggling, public services declining due to lack of resources, and, obviously, there was the divisiveness of the EU membership referendum. That was something they thought would fix their internal problems for good, stop UKIP defections, and shut those “banging on about Europe” up for good. But there is no end to this. Not anytime soon.

The calling of the referendum, actually, I supported, much like I cheered for the snap election. I thought, like Cameron, that once and for all the critics would move on, as the good and reasonable people of the UK said, with a clear, loud voice, “We want this!” I believed they would choose the cautious, clear path, as we so often do, in spite of the misleading propaganda, blaming all the UK’s problems on that foreign bogeyman, Brussels.

But still, when the results came in and my hand rose to my face, I thought that the government would take the least destructive course, to ensure the so-called “will of the people” is upheld, but also maintaining our place in Europe and the world. But that didn’t happen. After David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister, and Theresa May was selected (by default) as his replacement, the government took a fierce, hardline approach. This was clearly designed to appease the far right in the Conservative party, as well as those in the press and other media. They went from moderate conservatism to UKIP-in-blue, in a very short space of time.

And all through her Premiership, Theresa May seems incapable of having a conversation with normal people that disagree with her. In Parliament, she gets flustered easily, with only the supportive jeers of her party, lapping up all of her pokes and prods (not answers) given those opposing her, keeping her going. We are in election campaign season, yet she won’t take free questions from the press. She won’t mingle with us “commoners”. Events are carefully controlled, ensuring the least possible resistance, surrounding herself with only loyal supporters, making her look loved and adored. Sounds a bit like Kim Jong Un’s tactics, doesn’t it? Although, to be fair, May just shuts the press out. Kim executes them. (Credit where it’s due.)

By avoiding these critics and the opposition (or “saboteurs”, as the Daily Mail calls them), her ideas go unchallenged. When she does answer questions, which are no doubt screened and pre-approved in some situations, she is evasive, and falls back on her mental flash cards and spits out nonsense about “strong and stable leadership”. She has shown over and again she is neither strong nor stable. In Parliament, and the few occasions a real voter has gotten close to her, awkward questions far too easily rattle her.

Then we have the other party leaders. Corbyn from Labour, Farron from the Lib Dems, have been getting among the people. Discussing issues with them, shaking their hands, and having civil debates with those that having opposing views. UKIP is a shambles Their only MP left the party, becoming independent (who was one of those Conservative defectors), shedding seats in local elections, and an embarrassing level of dishonesty, even for them, with Paul Nutgall, the current leader. And the Greens, who have done well in local elections, still only have one MP, and the press ignores them. I guess TV/producers and news editors know that with UKIP comes conflict. And conflict makes good entertainment.

With all this, and putting aside the dubious performances of (some) Shadow Cabinet ministers for a moment, Labour still seems to be the only real competition the Tories have. On top of the expected vitriol coming from the right wing press, even the left wing press has constantly undermined the direction of Corbyn’s Labour Party. On top of that, the Parliamentary wing of the Labour Party has seemingly sought to destroy itself, as if having a socialist leading a socialist party is somehow wrong. One wonders if they just enjoy being in opposition, criticizing, rather than having someone from their point of view be in a position actually make the decisions.

The recently published Labour manifesto contains commitments that a large proportion of the country supports — nationalized rail, fully supported health service, a national education service, committed to tuition-free university education. They support the ideas, the message, but not the leader, so many traditionally left-wing supporters will end up voting for the strong-not-strong, stable-not-stable leadership of the Tories, likely leading them to a significant win, increasing their majority in parliament. But, as I said before, some of us on the left have significantly contributed to this situation, through this nonsensical act of political suicide. It’s as if some of those on the left want to remain the outsiders, the opposition, criticising the decisions from afar, rather than in a position to actually make the decisions.

Can we as a nation survive another five years of the Conservative’s disastrous policies? Can we trust that they will focus on what is best for the country and its people, not just the party and their wealthy friends? It is those on low to average earnings, who rely on public services, who need good local schools (and don’t have a real choice), who don’t have the contacts in high flying positions to funnel their children into equally high earning positions, who will ultimately pay the price. And then there is the country’s safety net, that is constantly snatched away from under those that need it at the time they need it most. But those in the Conservative Party don’t see the problem. They’ve never had to manage on the paltry amount that the disabled get, that jobseekers get.

I have no doubt there are compassionate Conservatives. But this current Conservative Party does not reflect the views of those people.

In such a divided country, we need a moderate, progressive government to bring us together with compromise. We need a government for the 100%, not just the 52% that voted leave. We need a government that cares for its old and young, its poor as well as the wealthy, and everyone else in between. We need a government that can put the interests of country before party.

As Nick Clegg recently said, when the Lib Dems entered into a coalition with the Conservatives, they did it for the good of the country. He admitted that it was bad for the party. They lost a lot of supporters. But they put the interests of the country first. I have to respect that. None of what I have seen from the Conservative camp has given any indication that they have the interests of the country at heart. And, surely, that should be the most important thing to us, when we come to mark our ballot papers on June 8th.

Born Stupid: A drunken, stupid mess…

This piece was originally published in Lights Go Out Zine, issue #41. Support independent music journalism and check them out.

I’d never been particularly great at expressing myself verbally, so I was naturally drawn to music. Punk especially, as a philosophy and social movement, appealed so powerfully because of it being a home for rejects (and kids with guitars that didn’t play very well).

I have always lived by the old-school philosophy. When forming the first line up, there were no auditions. Just one question, with a follow up: “do you have a [insert instrument name]”; “do you wanna be in a band?” If the answer was yes to both, they were in.

When I first got into a rehearsal room with a enough people to call ourselves a band, I was undeniably a shit musician. I had a stack of songs I’d written over the past few years, and I didn’t know any chord names for them, even as simple as they were. I had to teach Scott, the guitarist, to play the songs by forming them on my own guitar and simply saying, “Here, here, here, and here,” or words to that effect. But, my recruitment process had, serendipitously, led me to get people who were much better than me. Although, actually, that wasn’t difficult.

 Some of my early songs were okay (Scott’s were certainly a lot better). At least one my early ones — Fantasy — lasted until our last ever public performance, when Steve (aka Ste Stupid) and I got up and played it for Newbury’s Second In Line’s “farewell” show, back in 2008. We borrowed their drummer and taught him to play just beforehand. That is a testament to how simple it was, I think (and to the skill of SiL’s drummer, of course).

I like to think I developed as a musician after that. I made a point of learning the chord names, which was a good start. But music for me was an outlet. It was something to divert my attention to. To do something productive with my time, rather than wallow in self-pity, bathing in my own excrement.

As childhood gave way to adulthood, and the insanely intimidating idea of getting up in front of people and playing — exposing myself, you could say — became a serious topic, I knew it was something I couldn’t possibly have done sober. So I drank. 

I would never describe Born Stupid’s music as “drunk punk”, but I certainly was, most of the time. I simply couldn’t have done it any other way. So those tight, simple songs were generally presented to the unsuspecting public as a slurred and garbled mess.

I don’t think many people around today have much memory of Born Stupid. We were pretty notorious around the Reading “Punk” scene in the early 2000s. Those drunken, sloppy performances, with me slurring some bullshit in between songs, often didn’t go down very well.

I don’t think our reputation was helped by the popular skate punk scene going on at the time, either. We were caught in the middle a bit, regardless of how well we played on the night. We were “punk”, in the creative philosophical sense. Our songs were a little too heavy, a bit too slow, and not lala enough for the skate punk crowd, and far too sloppy for the metal crowd. When we played up in the Midlands, where Scott was from, we were far too soft, and seen as soft Southerners.

But hell, we played. No matter how many bad reviews or bad comments we had, I always wanted to get up and play. Sure, often I had to have a few beers to do it, but, ultimately, I was never playing or writing for the audience. I wrote and played because I just wanted to expel whatever nonsense was flying around my head, even if it was slurred and sloppy.

Sometimes we connected with the audience, sometimes we didn’t. I can still listen to the recordings we made back then, though, and feel satisfied. I gathered a lot of them together and uploaded them to Bandcamp. I’m not sure how many people have listened to them. But it’s better for them to be somewhere than locked on my hard drive, never to see the light of day.

The last few songs I wrote never made it into the studio. One day, as a mature adult that doesn’t need to be drunk to play live, I’d like to give it another go. Maybe even record those last songs I did, if I can still remember how to play them. But those guys were my guys. I can’t imagine playing with anyone else. Everything that I was I put into Born Stupid. And yes, that included being a drunken, stupid mess…

Home (and whatever the hell that means)

“Home”, and what the word really represents, is one I’ve considered a lot. Maybe it’s down to me having moved around a lot as a kid.

In my time, I’ve often been asked “Where are you from?” I’ve never really been able to give a straight answer. I used to say, “Well, I’m not really sure.” It seems a pretty strange answer. How can I not know where I’m from? Well, I just never stayed anywhere long enough.

I was born in Manchester, way back in 1981. I was still a baby when I left. Obviously I have no memories of life in the city. I have early memories of Rochdale. I was about maybe four or five when I was in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I remember being six in Edinburgh. I was nine when I moved to Reading (it was 1990, the year of the World Cup in Italy). Fourteen took me to Stourbridge. Eighteen to Slough.

I could say that Berkshire is my home region. The closest thing I have to a home town is probably Reading. I spent my early formative years there, and when I was in Slough, I spent most of my free time there. But now, except for a couple of old friends and some damn good memories, I have nothing there. I haven’t even set foot in the town since 2008.

In spite of — or maybe because of —  all that moving around, I always settled quickly in a place. “Home is where you hang your fucking hat,” I used to say. Where ever I went after I was free of the restrictions of childhood, I settled in pretty quick. I wouldn’t say I made friends easily, but I felt comfortable. I never really needed very much. As long as I had my books, my guitar, and music to listen to, I was fine. Mostly. Obviously, we are social animals, so being alone for a long time gets depressing.

After leaving home, I lived in Ironbridge Gorge, Bath, Brighton, Lincoln, Kamakura (Japan), each for a few months to a year, and no matter how long (or short) it was, I felt comfortable. Happy. At home…

Which is why I always said what I used to say.

In 2009, I moved to Frankfurt, Germany. A country I never even thought about visiting. I upped and left my homeland, to take up a job. At the time, I never really imagined I’d end living here for seven(soon to be eight) years. I said then, I’d see for a couple of years, get some work experience, and then head back. That never happened. But, in that seven years, I’ve really learned to appreciate what home is.

Home really isn’t just a place to rest your head. That’s a purely practical thing. Home is not just having a few friends around. Home is having a place that, after a long journey, you get back and breath a sigh of a relief. Not because you can rest, but because it kind of completes you being there. It’s a feeling that’s really hard to express with words, but only when I didn’t have it did I realise what it was. I think after a long journey everyone’s happy to have a chance to rest. But when returning home there’s always something else. Kind of like when you’re away there’s a piece missing, and only when you get back do you find it again.

But I’ve been living in Germany for a long time now. It’s the longest time I’ve spent in any single city. When ever I returned “home”, from wherever I’d been, I never really felt like I was being reconnected with that missing piece. I only ever felt that relief that I didn’t have to travel anymore. I don’t look upon the cityscape and feel a soothing contentment at being home.

But then, when I look at the events going on back in the UK, I wonder if the country that I had always loved even exists anymore. I mean in spirit, of course. Maybe I’m guilty of living in a bit of an arty, liberal bubble.

I was naturally drawn to people like me. People who thought like me. I guess that cut me off from what a lot of people seem to think. The politics of division are going wild, stoked by Farage and his ilk, and the festering wounds under the nation’s skin have burst. I feel like my country has been dissolved in my absence, like Tom Hanks’s character in “Terminal”. It seems that my green and precious land — the one of tolerance, individuality, of generally progressive values — was a fantasy. A pure fantasy. My liberal, progressive utopia never existed, except in my own little bubble.

Stateless. Homeless. Even if I do actually have a place to hang my fucking hat.