On Destructive Public Voices

Hey there, long time no see.  Only a month, but you can still call it writer’s block I guess.

Also, apologies to anyone who’s comments didn’t show up! I’m reasonably tech-savvy I promise, but I’m still getting used to this GUI.

So, after that hiatus, normal service is now resumed.  Gosh, I can feel a palpable sense of relief sweep over the nation on hearing that.  On to business…


 

We recently saw both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May interviewed by Jeremy Paxman.  Now truth be told, I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Paxman, whether he was savaging a soundbite politician or haranguing a bewildered undergraduate for taking too long to identify the second percussionist in a late sixteenth century line-up of the Prague Philharmonic.

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Oh doooooo come on Magdalen!

Image: Duncan Hull – CC BY 2.0

I grew up in a more deferential age.  The likes of Ben Elton were seen as radical comedians simply because they questioned the status quo.  Spitting Image drew shocked gasps from florally patterned sofas across the nation.  Punch magazine was not only still extant, but to some extent even still occasionally relevant.  George Bush Senior contrasted The Simpsons with The Waltons, thus placing an eight year old with a catapult at the pinnacle of non-conformist youth.  When South Park and Family Guy arrived on the scene I’d watch them with the sound right down, sheepishly aware that My Mother Would Not Approve.  Even when I was living in my own house about four hours’ drive away.  I guess Methodist guilt must be hereditary.

In my best Ted Mosby narration I’ll tell you this: Kids, things used to be different.  Any idea that actual behaviours have gotten better or worse over time is a very easily demolished fallacy.  Even the most cursory glance at the realities of social history reveal that as the poppycock that it is.  But what is certainly true is that what is widely deemed as ‘acceptable’ for mainstream public broadcast or print has undergone a seismic shift.

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Olden tymes

Image: Graham van der Wielen – CC BY 2.0

So when the 1980’s Paxman sat down with the MP for Haltemprice and refused to doff his cap or tug his forelock, it was bordering on a revolutionary act.  The budding antifa growing inside me rather liked that, someone prepared to square up to our patrician twentieth century Tory overlords.  Paxman was a small but meaningful force for change.

So, interests fully declared, we move on to the present day, and in particular the role the likes of Paxman play in our national political discussion now.

His questioning of both Corbyn and May was simply pathetic.  It was childish.  It was Magrittesque at times, quizzing Corbyn on why not all of his personal views made it into the manifesto of the democratically run party that he leads.  Whether or not you like Corbyn, the guy wasn’t elected by Labour members to sit as an autocrat over the party.  For the love of God the man’s a socialist – and you’re questioning why he’s not dictated the manifesto despotically rather than by consensus?  This really isn’t a sophisticated point of political theory I’m making people.

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Paxman’s twitter avatar, yesterday

Image: calmansi – CC BY 2.0

Paxman didn’t appear to like the answer given to him though, so I assume he’d prefer Corbyn to be running the party on more authoritarian lines, akin to a Presidential system.  As, it has since been revealed, Theresa May did with her own party.  Wow.  That way Blairism lies.  No one wants that.

A couple of days before we had the high profile sacking of Katie Hopkins.

Apologies – my mistake – Katie was by no means sacked.  She left LBC by mutual consent.  She was definitely not fired.  She left of her own accord, with the blessings of her employer.  I expect a massive good luck card was signed by all at the Leicester Square studios.  James O’Brian probably circulated it around the office, and brought special cakes in.  There may have been prolonged and tearful farewells.  She was absolutely not sacked.  She just decided her show had run its course and now was the time to pursue other ventures.

All a day after putting out a tweet suggesting that a Muslim holocaust would be just spiffing.  Which she then deleted.

Not fired though.  Mutual agreement.

Those two people – Paxman and Hopkins – are not in many ways alike.  Hopkins has made a career, and probably a small fortune, simply by being a hate-filled uninformed gobshite.  Paxman on  the other hand presumably at least understands the subject matter he’s discussing.

There is one similarity though.  Both have used their public platforms to influence socio-political discourse in an inflammatory manner.  ‘Inflammatory’ is a word used so often these days that I feel it’s lost some of its meaning, so let’s clarify.  What exactly does it inflame?

It inflames abuse in the playground.  It inflames angry and distrustful stares at the supermarket checkout.  It inflames racist and faith-based slurs at pub chucking-out time, and in the taxi queue home from the clubs.  In extreme instances, people get beaten, battered, stabbed.  These ‘inflammatory’ behaviours result in real people getting really killed.  It results in a divided society, with one group feeling that the other hates them and wishes them harm – and vice versa.  It results in kids growing up shying away from their peers, isolating themselves out of a defensive reaction to a perceived hostility.  It results in a vulnerable growing youth, looking for acceptance, ripe for exploitation by any madman intent on recruiting soldiers to their insane war – whether white supremacist, twisted jihadi, xenophobic nationalist or any other cause du jour.

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Some racists, yesterday

Image: Chris Page – CC BY 2.0

Point is, the words and behaviours of Paxman and Hopkins do not exist in isolation.  They have a public platform which grants their real words real impact upon the real world.

And thus they have real responsibilities.

I believe that they understand this.  Whether it be Paxman’s childish and narcissistic interviewing style or Hopkins’ spittle-flecked venom, they understand full well that what they vomit into the world has more impact than the angry bigot ranting into the ether at your local Wetherspoons.  I’m not the first to suggest that their privileged position gives them influence on actual behaviours and events.  No one reaching their kind of standing is a genuine idiot, so it’s not that they can’t conceive of the consequences of their actions.

Like them or not, successful journalists have had to display some degree of intelligence to succeed in that world.  Take Piers Morgan for instance.  The man’s detestable, an odious opportunist of the first degree.  He’s also not half as smart as he thinks he is.  In the grand scheme of things though, he’s not stupid.  The idea that these journalists don’t understand the impact of their words is ridiculous.

They know.  They understand.  So therefore, they must just not care.

We’re left with the unpalatable idea that these people simply don’t give a shit.  Paxman was well aware that his schoolyard tactics would produce nothing of value, and perhaps influence the course of an election, influence all of our futures.  And he didn’t care, so long as he got noticed.  Hopkins was fully cognisant of that her tweet could inspire a suburban youth to smash a brown person’s skull into a paving slab.  And she really didn’t give a flying fuck, as long as people were talking about her.

When journalists behave like this I’d like nothing more than to give them the benefit of the doubt, to believe that they don’t know, or don’t understand.  But realistically that’s simply not true.  They behave like this totally aware of the possible consequences of their words, so it must be that they just don’t care.

Their ego is far, far more important.

The rumblings about phone-hacking continue, accompanied by plenty of opinion pieces referencing the hallowed ‘journalistic ethics.’  But where are those ethics in the behaviours of Paxman, Hopkins, and every other journalist indulging their self-image before their responsibilities?

If you’re a print or broadcast journalist, even if you just write a blog like this, or just tweet to a wide audience – do you realise the impact your words may have?  If you write in an ‘inflammatory’ style are you willing to accept responsibility for the abuse or violence that you may encourage?  When a kid has his head caved in because your words ‘inspired’ someone to misguided action, will you be at the hospital bed, the prison, or the funeral?  Will Paxman?  Will Hopkins?  Do they ever stop to consider that some things might be more important than their vaunted public profiles?

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Narcissus, yesterday

Image: cea + – CC BY 2.0

Narcissists, nothing more.  And yet we hang on their every word.  Perhaps the responsibility lies with the rest of us as well, for giving them the attention that they  so desperately crave.

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Alcoholism Episode V: Dinosaurs, Debts, & Diagnosis

I’ve written before about what I termed the “self-medicating alcoholic.”  When I wrote that piece I claimed to have coined the phrase, but I’ve since found it used elsewhere, such as in drugrehab.com’s section on co-occurring disorders.  HuffPo got in on the act with this painfully accurate description of the self-medicating road to alcoholism back in 2013.  Even the Daily Mail have published an article on it, but I’m not giving you a link to that repulsive, spiteful little rag.  If you want to hurt yourself like that, I refuse to be your enabler.  Get help.

Given the evidence though, I’ll have to bravely face the stark reality that I’m not the first to recognise this phenomenon, and it may have already crossed the minds of a few amongst the hordes of professionals that deal with mental health and addiction every day.

I use “self-medicating alcoholic” to describe folks like me, who first became alcoholics by dint of self-medicating against an undiagnosed mental health issue – in my case Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).  My friendly psychiatrist is confident the GAD was screwing with me from no later than about nine years old, and I know I wasn’t necking schnapps in front of Thundercats – so the chicken and egg question seems fairly clear cut.

By the by, birds evolved from egg-laying dinosaurs – Paraves – so the answer is egg.  Someone please hurry up and find a better analogy.

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A Paraves 150 million years ago, yesterday

Image: Jim, the Photographer – CC BY 2.0

Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that alcohol and other substance abuse has a tendency to cause anxiety and depression in individuals previously unaffected by it, on a short to medium term at the least.  This creates an all too easy reflex reaction in your average primary care practitioner.  There are simply far too many GPs that, because of this cause and effect relationship, will dismiss any talk of mental health by an addict as just an unfortunate side-effect – and label it as ‘depression’ no matter what.  Here, have yet another SSRI/SNRI.  The last six we tried didn’t work, but seventh time’s the charm!  In my case the underlying issue is GAD, and for my brother it’s PTSD (which I’ve now learned also falls under the Anxiety umbrella).  Anti-depressants don’t tend to be a hell of a lot of use when the major clinical problem isn’t depression.  So Gee, thanks doc!  I’ve dislocated my shoulder as well, do you have some Thrush ointment handy?  It’ll be about as appropriate a treatment as what you’ve just prescribed.  Perhaps some worming tablets for my syphilis too.

As the anxiety worsens, and especially for those living alone and without a day-to-day support network, a vicious circle of anxiety and alcoholism can kick in frighteningly quickly.

Tasks of daily living can assume monumentally overwhelming status.  Often, those around them will be entirely unaware of it.  For a long time, I was what some would describe as a ‘high functioning alcoholic’.  I got up, showered, put on a suit and tie, navigated difficult, challenging, contentious issues and decisions at work, came home, started drinking, made dinner, carried on drinking, and passed out – usually in bed.  I didn’t get hangovers – never have – so the next day would just be a carbon copy of the last.  Rinse and repeat.  The outside observer never saw the drinking.  All they saw was a well presented, assured young man confidently presenting to the board and getting on well with his colleagues.

As far as I was concerned, what I felt inside, I was a massive fraud getting by purely due to my seemingly infinite capacity to blag it – but they didn’t know that.

What they also never saw, was the ever-increasing pile of unopened post beside my front door.

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Unopened post, yesterday

Image: Keith Williamson – CC BY 2.0

I was able to weave my way through the day with a facade of utmost capability and charm – but it depleted the totality of my daily reserves.  Any additional challenge was thus amplified out of all proportion to reality, into an impossible task.  Opening the post – confronting the fear that it might contain an unexpected bill for instance – became an impossible undertaking.

And what does a drinking alcoholic do when the world all seems too much?  They take a few minutes out to do some deep-breathing exercises, phone a trusted friend to take their mind off things, and almost certainly they’ll go for a brisk jog to get the blood pumping and clear their head.

Yeah.  That doesn’t happen.  Having a drink or twelve to make it all go away happens.  It’s a common phrase around recovery – “we drink on our emotions.”  If an alcoholic experiences unmanageable anxiety, and they’ve not yet found an alternative way through recovery, there’s only one way that story ends.

So those letters go unopened.  In my case I had arranged everything possible to go out on direct debit, the day after payday – so by and large my bills still got paid.  Some can’t or don’t do the direct debit thing though, and man – they’re just screwed.  Even for me there were still things that needed attending to, changing, sorting out in some way.  But instead they would just sit there, lying patiently in wait for me, growing into a bigger problem with each passing day.

Eventually I’d have a particularly good day, where I felt I could face them.  I’d sit myself down on the floor with that big pile of envelopes in front of me.  I’d have a full glass and cigarettes by my elbow, and I’d start opening them, sorting them.  The vast majority would be junk, or just bank statements telling me that yes, my bank balance was still in minus four figures because yes, I was still drinking all of my considerable salary bar rent, tax, and utilities.  No one was taking me to court over it though, so that’s fine.  But now and then there would be an anomaly.  An extra expense I hadn’t considered maybe, or even a mistake, charging me for something that was nothing to do with me.  Utilities companies are particularly good at the latter example.  Whatever the case, occasionally there would be something that would require a phone call at the least.

Then you open the next envelope, and it’s a reminder.  And the next one is a final demand, and so it goes on getting ever more threatening and scary with each opened letter – debt collection companies and so on.

It doesn’t matter if you know it’s all just a mistake.  At this point you’re sweating, your heart is racing, and your chest feels tight.  You can’t cope.  You can’t deal with it.

Drink.  Make it go away.

And so you do.

And the worse the drinking gets, the less you can face dealing with those things – and the bigger those issues become, the more you drink.  Welcome to the spiralling vortex of alcoholism, incessantly sucking you down into its churning void.

Vortex

A vortex, yesterday

Image: Chris Searle – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I described myself up top as having been a ‘functioning alcoholic’.  That’s what I was at the time, and I damn well knew it.  If I’m totally honest I probably felt a degree of twisted pride in it – I was waltzing with addiction, and still leading the dance.  I remained like that for many years, but as you may have gathered, it didn’t last forever.  I lot of alcoholics in recovery refuse to recognise the label of ‘functioning alcoholic’, but I think it serves a purpose.

The thing that needs to be absolutely clear though, is that it’s only a transitionary phase.  The length of time may vary – for me it was over a decade before it all came crashing down – but believe me, it will inevitably end in tears.  That perverted sense of pride I felt back then looks a bit silly now.

With that primer on anxiety and alcohol in mind, consider this snippet from drugrehab.com:

Individuals with co-occurring disorders frequently struggle with everyday tasks, leading to a number of hardships. They often develop multiple dependencies and try to self-medicate the side effects of drug use and mental illness.

There are recognizable signs that an individual may be suffering from a co-occurring disorder. Typical symptoms include:

Employment and housing instability

Difficulty budgeting funds

Legal problems

Social isolation and repeated social difficulties

The list continues, but those are chosen to take the top four spots.  The next one down involves sexual deviancy.  I never graduated to that, but perhaps only because it sounds like it would involve far too much hard work and exercise.

That top four shouldn’t come as any surprise.  Anxiety leads to drink leads to anxiety leads to drink leads to anxiety and in the meantime those mundane everyday issues are growing into seriously life-affecting problems.  Those mounting problems in turn just feed the anxiety, and the drinking.  Round and round we go, ever deeper with each spin of the wheel.  In my case, ultimately resulting in the loss of job, relationship, home, friends, self-respect, and any glimmer of hope.  And lots and lots of rides in the big yellow taxi with the flashy blue lights on top.  Usually with a few tubes coming out of my arm and a fetching silicone mask over my face.  Very à la mode for alcoholics in the death-throes of their disease.

Ambulance

Uber for drunks

Image: hazelisles – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I was in rehab twice.  I learned ridiculous amounts about the psychology of addiction, tools and techniques to deal with it, the importance of self-discipline and routine, meditation, prayer, the works.  Hell, I can even bore you with a mini-lecture about the hedonic circuit and the role of dopamine and glutamate if you like.  I’ll admit a twinge of pleasure at the look on the guy’s face in Holland & Barrett, when I pulled that out as he was explaining how 5HTP works to my mum.  I’m guessing he was a bioscience undergrad earning some extra in the university holidays – in any case, he certainly wasn’t expecting that.  I didn’t, however, follow it up with an explanation that I’d learned it in rehab.  It’s always nice to maintain an air of mystery, after all.

I learned a lot.  What they never taught me, was how to open the damn post.

I don’t know how long I’d been out exactly before I felt so overwhelmed that I drank again, but I doubt the sun had set.  I was dry, I was sober, I was equipped with lots of knowledge – and I was still every bit as messed up as I was when I went in.  My mental and emotional sores were still just as gaping as they ever were, I’d just had a few weeks without the outside world pouring vinegar on them.  Everyday life with a severe anxiety disorder makes every minute of every day feel like staggering through a minefield, with artillery raining down on you.  Waking each morning and screwing your eyes shut, willing yourself to go back to sleep, because when you’re asleep you’re simply not awake.  Because being awake is unbearable.  It’s an inexplicable state of perpetual terror, of horror.

I’ve read that the risk of people with anxiety disorders developing addictions is well established:

Although people with anxiety disorders don’t always develop substance use disorders, or vice versa, research shows strong associations between the two. An estimated 18 percent of all people with substance use disorders have an anxiety disorder.

Yet it took more than twenty adult years for my GAD to be diagnosed.  For the last six or so I’d been totally open about both my mental health and my drinking with doctors, to which they’d responded every time by just chucking more antidepressants at me.  If it had been picked up and treated earlier, it’s quite possible I’d not have burnt my entire life to the ground, nor wrought so much pain and chaos on the lives of those around me.  I have caused irreparable harm to people thoroughly undeserving of it.  Good, kind, loving people.

It can be difficult for health care providers to diagnose anxiety disorders in people with a substance use disorder because it is difficult to tell the difference between symptoms of intoxication and withdrawal and symptoms of anxiety.

I don’t give a fuck; try harder.


A Request

Hey y’all.  If you’re reading this then I’m assuming that you don’t think the blog is entirely terrible.  I’m flattered.  Despite the sarcasm usually pervading my writing I genuinely mean that – the positive feedback I’ve received from assumedly unbiased randoms on t’interweb has been very unexpected, and very generous.

I write for three reasons, and one of them kinda depends on you guys.

I write partly because I’m a mental.  I’ve got a certificate from the doc and everything.  Sticking my thoughts down as text helps me make sense of things, and even occasionally rationalise them into what’s generally regarded as a more normal perspective.

I write because I enjoy it.  Some would claim that’s the only thing that matters.  For me, I disagree.

I disagree, because I write to communicate.

I attempt to craft phrases that are aesthetically pleasing.  I hope to make people smile a little, or even offer them a perspective or insight they’d not previously considered.  I’m not on a mission or anything, I just hope that people enjoy reading what I’ve written whether they agree with it or not.  Without this aspect I may as well just scribble stream of consciousness diatribes on the back of a napkin.  I stick my stuff out on the web instead, because that element of communication is important to me.

That being so, it would be great if I couldn’t count the number of people reading it on the fingers of one foot.  There’s no material gain to me, I just want to feel that there’s some point to me pounding away at a keyboard until two in the morning.  That I’m connecting with someone, somewhere.

I’ll carry on doing it anyway – but my smile would be much broader if you could share it around on Bookface, twitter and whatever.  There’s even dinky little buttons to make it easier down the bottom of the page, if you click on the post title itself.

Hey, you could even go mad and leave a comment!

Serenity,

‘rax

Schooling Skeptical Skillsets

It’s pretty clear to me that if anyone’s qualified to propose a radical reform of school curricula, it’s me.  Sure, I may not have actually worked within the education system, but I’ve got over a decade’s experience in the NHS – and that’s public sector so it’s bound to be pretty much the same.  I’ve never been a teacher per se, but my best mate is so that has to count.  It’s true that the national curriculum isn’t something I’ve studied at length, but I’ve spent at least twenty minutes googling it, and I’m a fast learner.  I can also hum the theme tune to Grange Hill at the drop of a hat.  Anyhow, we could go back and forth on who’s qualified to give their opinion on what until the cows come home; the past is the past and the fact is, that it’s fallen to me to write a blog post that a handful of people might skim over, proposing a radical overhaul of what we teach our young minds.

School

A school, yesterday. Damn you, image search.

Image: iwishmynamewasmarsha – CC BY-NC 2.0

I hope you’re sitting down, because I’m about to say something radical: The World Has Changed.

I’ll give you a moment to take a breath and try to get your head around that.

That’s alright; take your time.

Okay? Good.

When I was studying, at the turn of the century, a lot of what we learned was essentially fact-based.  A lot of it was stuff that I’ve almost consciously turfed out of my brain since, because thanks to Jimmy Wales I now carry the greatest compilation of knowledge in the history of mankind in my pocket.  Although it’s useful to know the principles of photosynthesis, I really don’t need to cart the details of a chloroplast’s innards around in my head.  If it comes up in conversation with the vicar, I’ll just have to rely on my ability to deftly steer the conversation onto Spurs’ FA Cup winning side of ’91 instead.  If he’s really insistent on swapping our favourite adenosine triphosphate anecdotes I’ll nip to the bathroom with my phone.  And yes, I googled photosynthesis to come up with that.

At the same time, the course of our nation is being dictated by people who manipulate public opinion – and therefore votes – at every turn, in part by taking advantage of an overly trusting electorate and in part by the overt use of logical fallacies.  If there are things we could teach kids to better equip them to face such challenges, it wouldn’t hurt to be giving them a bit of a higher priority.  Instead of, say, being able to identify an intransitive verb on the spot.  I’ve got a 2:1 degree in English Literature, and I still haven’t got the foggiest.  I’d not say it’s significantly affected my opportunities.

The most obvious recent example of misplaced trust is the subconscious belief that you wouldn’t be allowed to put something on the side of a bus if it was untrue.  I’ve no simple solution to this type of tendency, other than for schools to generally encourage children to question anything that’s presented to them as a prima facie fact, to demand explanations and answers, and to conduct their own research.

This is a delicate balance though; there’s no benefit in fostering a nation of outright cynics, any more than one of tin-foil hat wearing loonspuds with a fervent conviction that the moon landings were filmed at Pinewood.

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A leaked undoctored NASA photograph

Image: via Pigeon’s Nest – Public Domain

The difficulty of finding that sweet spot of healthy scepticism is illustrated neatly by the long-running MMR-autism debacle.  I refuse to refer to it as a ‘debate’, because it’s not.  The MMR vaccine does not and never has caused autism.  Despite this, the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement steams on apace, particularly in the US.

The initial traction for this sorry saga came from a fraudulent claim made by Doctor Andrew Wakefield.  Had he not held, at the time, the title of ‘Doctor’, it’s unlikely that much would have come of it.  Instead though, many bought the whole thing as at least vaguely plausible – including The Lancet it seems.  Whilst it’s remarkable that the peer-review process failed so miserably in this instance, it remains the best way anyone’s so far come up with for sorting pearls from poppycock.  In this context, it’s more pertinent to note that if Wakefield wasn’t writing from a position of accreditation, his con would never have reached that far in the first place.  His deceit was assumed to be worthy of consideration because of the letters after his name, even by those who really should have known better.

A little more scepticism would not have gone amiss.

You’d think though, that after he’d been struck off and his research thoroughly discredited that would have been the end of it.

Oh no, not in the least.  Instead the narrative dropped by those taken in by his credentials was hastily picked up by those that believe that Lizzy Saxe-Coburg is a shapeshifting lizard-person.

The conspiraloon brigade seized on it with glee, proudly trumpeting that Wakefield was the victim of a smear campaign by the vaccine manufacturers.  It was added to the list along with chemtrails, Obama’s Kenyan kindergarten years, and a belief that the earth is a giant frisbee.

MIND.  BLOWN.

Yeah… probably best not to encourage too much scepticism I guess, if that’s the result.

Nonetheless, the current situation isn’t actually a hell of a lot better, with a populace so easily gulled for lack of a bit of applied logic.  The contentions put to people are often no less brimming with balderdash than the video above, they’re just presented more artfully.  Often by someone in a suit who speaks nicely, which alone adds an astounding amount of credibility in the eyes of many.

To be clear, this is nothing whatsoever to do with intelligence, or even the level of education achieved.  It’s only about the fostering of a very specific set of analytical tools, with which an argument can be dissected and objectively appraised.  It’s about being aware of the use of logical fallacies, being on guard for them, and possessing enough self-awareness to be able to check yourself and realise when you’ve been duped – which we all are occasionally, no matter how alert.

There’s much more to this than simply memorising a set of bullet points, but I’ll admit to being quite fond of the logical fallacies images that one can find on that there interweb.

FallaciesPoster24x36a

Image: Jesse Richardson – CC BY-ND

Full size here

Posters like this should be printed out by every teacher across the land, no matter what their discipline, and plastered across every inch of their classroom walls.

Politicians in particular – but certainly not exclusively – make good use of the general public’s inability to spot these fallacies.  Most people are instead reliant to a greater or lesser degree upon journalists, and a mysterious cadre of experts, to call them for what they are.  That in turn, means that people are at the mercy of whatever agendas or editorial lines that may be channelled through those mediators.

The immediate problem is that to make our educational curricula laser-focused on logical analysis of this sort simply wouldn’t be in the interests of those with the power to make that decision.  Even the most well-intentioned politicians use their ability to manipulate, not just the evil ones with the white cats and the secret mountain lairs.  That really isn’t relevant though.  It doesn’t matter if the motivation is to enslave the populace of Basingstoke or to build a hospital for poorly kittens – it remains deceitful manipulation, and one which we should aspire to eliminate no matter the ends to which it’s being utilised.

But as with our Parliament’s refusal to move away from the absurdly non-representative First Past The Post electoral system – the 2011 ‘proportional representation’ referendum only offered up AV as a substitute, which is equally useless – lamb aren’t in the habit of suggesting koftas for dinner.  A fully engaged electorate, who could see when these fallacies are being employed, would likely start asking awkward questions all over the place.  Irate objections to the allocation of resources and the distribution of wealth could become commonplace, rather than the preserve of an easily dismissed handful of excitable types in Guy Fawkes masks.  Competing with the hoi polloi on a level playing field is the last thing anyone in Westminster wants, no matter their motives or the colour of their rosette.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall.

Guess Who

Steph came down with a nasty bout of demonic possession just before the photoshoot

Image: Alice Bartlett – CC BY-NC 2.0

So, with my recently diagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder held in check to an extent by some newly prescribed medication, the long road to a more permanent solution begins.  I say held in check “to an extent” because the nice doctor I saw estimates that my anxiety levels, even with the pills, register a hell of a lot higher than those most people experience anyway.  I was dismayed that no certificate was offered.  Not even a sticker with a cartoon lion on it.  Disappointing.

I can now only imagine that other people’s heads must be like a sunny meadow full of wildflowers and pretty butterflies.  Bastards.

Anyhow, the medication is only a short term fix.  I’m assured that a longer term answer lies in CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  I’m promised that this will provide not simply a way of ‘managing’ the noise of my anxiety, but getting it to pipe down altogether.  That difference is essential; the idea of living the rest of my life suffering that constant disturbing crackle of unease, but just ‘managing’ it every day for ever more – is simply unbearable.  I don’t think I could do that.  Happily, I’m told that won’t be necessary, so break open the champagne.

I’ll still always be an alcoholic though, so maybe you’d better make it Appletiser or Irn-Bru or something for me.  Or perhaps a nice cuppa.  And a hobnob, since we’re celebrating.

My initial reaction was one of some scepticism, largely because I’d gone through a little CBT before, which covered the model illustrated below.  I’ll not regurgitate the concept; the link’s there if you’re not already familiar.

CBT1

Apologies for the spelling. Americans eh? Tsk.

Image: Urstadt – CC BY-SA 3.0

Top tip: don’t blindly image search “CBT”.  It stands for some other things that I’d guess aren’t much help with anxiety – and are quite unlikely to be provided by any reputable psychologist.  I’ve seen things I can’t unsee.

The difference this time is the doctor’s explanation of the need to explore and mend more than the basic cycle of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.  Firstly my underpinning ‘rules and assumptions’, and then my ‘core beliefs’, which underpin those assumptions in turn.  I’ve been asked to have a think about them, and scribble some stuff down before our next session.

It’s at the ‘core beliefs’ bit that I find myself starting to question my identity itself.  Core beliefs were explained to me as likely to take the form of statements such as ‘I am…’, or ‘others are…’, or ‘the world is…’

The last one I instantly completed with a time-honoured Chaucerian adjective beginning with F – which seemed only reasonable in light of Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, Syria and the lack of any effective leftist political opposition in the UK.  To her credit, the psychologist didn’t object to my pithy analysis.

I really struggle with ‘I am’ though.  I am… what?  Quite bright, and with some ability to form coherent sentences and follow logical lines of reasoning.  A bit short for my weight – but I’m going to work on being taller.  Brown-eyed.  Male.  Human.  Arrogant maybe?  Strikes me as distinctly possible, given that I described myself as being pretty smart just a few sentences ago.  Twice a week I begin a rambling monologue with the words “My name is Corax and I am an alcoholic” – but I don’t think that counts as a ‘core belief’ any more than someone’s diabetes would.

And that’s pretty much all I’ve got.  Other people may think I’m boring, or witty, kind or selfish, devastatingly handsome is pretty much nailed on I suppose, or maybe they just think I’m a bit of an arsehole – but do their perceptions of me qualify as Who I Am?  I present different aspects of myself in different contexts and to different people, so those reflections can’t be what I would consider a reliable truth.  But neither can I trust the veracity of my own perceptions of self.  I don’t see how anyone can.  No one goes through life comfortable in the self-knowledge that they’re a rude, obnoxious, insufferable muppet.  Yet I know for sure that rude, obnoxious, insufferable muppets exist, so the only conclusion must be that they don’t see themselves that way.  Maybe I’m a rude, obnoxious, insufferable muppet too.  It’s definitely not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Escher1

Gratuitous excuse to post an MC Escher pic

Image: Marco – CC BY-NC 2.0

“Know thyself” commanded the graffiti at Delphi.  Cheers pal, but have you got the manual to go with that?  Socrates dedicated most of his life to the subject, but his answers remain somewhat lacking in easy-to-follow instructions.

Can a person truly know themselves?

But if I can’t fill in more of those ‘I am’ statements, does that mean I’m simply an empty husk of a man?  Is it just me, or is this the reality for everyone else as well, and we’re all just engaged in a silent mass conspiracy to pretend it’s not so?

For homework this week, my therapist appears to have asked me to answer one of life’s oldest and deepest philosophical questions.

Seems a trifle unfair.  I assume that next week I’ll be asked to detail the mind of God and the true nature of reality in no more than five PowerPoint slides.

I am… a bit snarky.  Cool; I’ve got one.


A Request

Hey y’all.  If you’re reading this then I’m assuming that you don’t think the blog is entirely terrible.  I’m flattered.  Despite the sarcasm usually pervading my writing I genuinely mean that – the positive feedback I’ve received from assumedly unbiased randoms on t’interweb has been very unexpected, and very generous.  It’s helped lay a few blocks of self-esteem to build upon.

I write for three reasons, and one of them kinda depends on you guys.

I write partly because I’m a mental.  I’ve got a certificate from the doc and everything.  Sticking my thoughts down as text helps me make sense of things, and even occasionally rationalise them into what’s generally regarded as a more normal perspective.

I write because I enjoy it.  Some would claim that’s the only thing that matters.  For me, I disagree.

I disagree, because I write to communicate.

I attempt to craft phrases that are aesthetically pleasing.  I hope to make people smile a little, or even offer them a perspective or insight they’d not previously considered.  I’m not on a mission or anything, I just hope that people enjoy reading what I’ve written whether they agree with it or not.  Without this aspect I may as well just scribble stream of consciousness diatribes on the back of a napkin.  I stick my stuff out on the web instead, because that element of communication is important to me.

That being so, it would be great if I couldn’t count the number of people reading it on the fingers of one foot.  There’s no material gain to me, I just want to feel that there’s some point to me pounding away at a keyboard until two in the morning.  That I’m connecting with someone, somewhere.

I’ll carry on doing it anyway – but my smile would be much broader if you could share it around on Bookface, twitter and whatever.  There’s even dinky little buttons to make it easier down the bottom of the page, if you click on the post title itself.

Serenity,

‘rax

Ego

I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I’ve a brother sharing the same condition who’s had a relapse recently.  We’re both extremely lucky in that there are some wonderful people that love us – and because of my continuing recovery I’ve been able to be someone who’s caring, not just cared about.

During this I’ve found that when talking about the alcoholic mind to non-alcoholics there’s a particular communications barrier when it comes to ‘ego’.

This is hardly surprising, given how hard it was for me to wrap my head around the concept, let alone accept it.  And I’m the one living with it 24/7.  I had to have it slowly hammered through my thick skull in residential rehab, and it took a bloody big mallet.  Expecting someone else to fully comprehend the alcoholic ego, on the basis of a few phrases from me, would be a vast overestimation of my own powers of communication.  Which would be a little… egotistical.

Freud long ago made ‘ego’ a cool term that teh Vieneez y00t were splicing into their beats, but since then it’s just  become a mainstream part of our modern vocabulary.  Most frequently, it’s accompanied by ‘big’.  As in “he’s got a really big ego”.  Someone who thinks that they’re God’s gift, the bee’s knees, the dog’s bollocks or the otter’s elbows.

Anyone who’s started taking steps towards recovery will be familiar with the spotlight that tends to be shone on their ego.  It’s a concept I really struggled with for a very long time.  When first confronted with the idea that my ego was the primary problem, it was extremely hard to make any sense of it at all.  I was wracked with self-loathing, feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and a general feeling that everyone I’d ever encountered would have been a damn sight better off if I’d never existed.  I was a wretched, broken, pathetic individual.  I hated myself – and not just in a hormonal teenage tantrum way; I sincerely believed myself to be total and utter scum.  Yet here I was, being told that my ego was the problem.  What the hell?

But eventually I understood.  This wasn’t about ego inflation, it was about ego control.  Being in thrall to your ego doesn’t necessarily mean that your ego makes you think you’re in any way ‘better’ than anyone else, but simply that your ego is in charge.  It’s the centre, what you’ve based your personal constellation around.  What’s circling your ego core is as likely to be concern for others as concern for self, but it’s still whirring around that central mass.  I finally understood – what I heard as accusations of narcissism were nothing of the sort.  What appeared to be a paradoxical coexistence of ego and self-loathing, coalesced into a single entity that started to make some sort of sense.

Galaxy

Image: kristian fagerström – CC BY-SA 2.0

Even at the bottom of the pit, you’re convinced that if only you could try hard enough, you can climb out.  It hasn’t worked before, but that’s only because you haven’t tried hard enough.  It’ll be different this time.  You owe it to those who have stuck by you.  It’ll be different this time, because you’ll try harder.  You’ll just grit your teeth and try harder.  Try harder.   I’ll try harder.

I.

Always I.

It doesn’t work.  I state this from not only my own experience, but also the experience of every happy and stable recovering alcoholic I’ve ever met – and over my years of tribulations I’ve met a fair few.

Our egos can’t beat this.  Our desire can’t beat this.  Our guilt and shame can’t beat this.  The only thing I’ve seen beat this – in any alcoholic – is an admission that they can’t win and can’t control.  An admission that they’re unable to hold sway over not only drink, but also the world around them itself.  We can only win by conceding defeat, or rather by not playing the game in the first place.

As I said at the top, my brother recently relapsed.  He’s now dry, and I’m thankful for that.  But when talking to non-alcoholics on his prospects for remaining that way I’ve mentioned the need to let go of ego, and their reactions have caused me to consider how this word is perceived outside of my cosy bubble of recovering addicts.  The word ‘ego’ conjures associations of someone big-headed, self-centred, an egomaniac.  Sure, these things are usually true to some extent, as they are in all of us.  I’m certain many doctorates have been awarded on the back of it.  But it’s not as simple as that.

It’s where God comes in, or whatever higher power works for that person.  I’ll not make this about theologies; WordPress doesn’t have enough server space to duck down that rabbit hole.  Even for the most staunch atheists with solid recovery though, they’ve handed over the reins.  Many of them don’t know what or who they’ve handed them over to – they don’t care; it’s kept them sober and sane.

I know several atheist recovering alcoholics that pray daily.  That may not make any sense whatsoever to you, or me, or even them – but that really doesn’t matter as long as it works.  In which case, and in the context of recovery, who cares?  They keep their life, their kids keep their mum/dad, their… you get the jist, right?

Ego, I believe, is a big challenge to alcoholics.  One that we need to manage each day in order to become – and stay – well.  But that doesn’t mean we’re narcissists or big headed.  In my experience, the contrary tends to be true.

I love my brother very much.  He’s rescued me from my own self-created hells on numerous occasions without a single moment’s pause for himself, sometimes putting his own well-being at considerable risk.  I have three role-models in this world, and my brother is one of them.  This man is not someone who acts all Billy Big-Bollocks.  He is, to put it in very plain terms, a far better man than I will ever be.  I’m okay with that – I’m just very grateful that I get to have a brother like him.  Yet I wish with all my heart that I could forcibly tear his ego from him, and force him to rely entirely on something which is not himself.

From everything I’ve witnessed, an essential part of the recovery of every alcoholic necessitates that they kick their ego to the curb – as I try my damndest to do, every single day.  I don’t always succeed.  In all honesty, I probably don’t always try.  But I do always try to try.  And if I fail, I’ll give it another go the next day.  Or even the next hour, or minute.  Our arbitrary timescales mean nothing – the opportunity is always there.

When it comes down to it, I know that handing my life over is what will keep me alive.  That’s what I want for my bro – not just to stay alive, but to live.  He’s pretty good at that – far better than I’ll ever be – when he’s got his head on straight.

But with non-alcoholics, it’s very hard to talk about ego without the negative connotations of the word coming in to play.

When it come to alcoholics, the word – ego – perhaps needs redefining.

I’m conscious though, that it took me long enough to just accept that my ego was a big part of the problem, and I certainly don’t understand it fully now.  How much harder then, must it be if you’re not a card-carrying mental like me?


A Request

Hey y’all.  If you’re reading this then I’m assuming that you don’t think the blog is entirely terrible.  I’m flattered.  Despite the sarcasm usually pervading my writing I genuinely mean that – the positive feedback I’ve received from assumedly unbiased randoms on t’interweb has been very unexpected, and very generous.  It’s helped lay a few blocks of self-esteem to build upon.

I write for three reasons, and one of them kinda depends on you guys.

I write partly because I’m a mental.  I’ve got a certificate from the doc and everything.  Sticking my thoughts down as text helps me make sense of things, and even occasionally rationalise them into what’s generally regarded as a more normal perspective.

I write because I enjoy it.  Some would claim that’s the only thing that matters.  For me, I disagree.

I disagree, because I write to communicate.

I attempt to craft phrases that are aesthetically pleasing.  I hope to make people smile a little, or even offer them a perspective or insight they’d not previously considered.  I’m not on a mission or anything, I just hope that people enjoy reading what I’ve written whether they agree with it or not.  Without this aspect I may as well just scribble stream of consciousness diatribes on the back of a napkin.  I stick my stuff out on the web instead, because that element of communication is important to me.

That being so, it would be great if I couldn’t count the number of people reading it on the fingers of one foot.  There’s no material gain to me, I just want to feel that there’s some point to me pounding away at a keyboard until two in the morning.  That I’m connecting with someone, somewhere.

I’ll carry on doing it anyway – but my smile would be much broader if you could share it around on Bookface, twitter and whatever.  There’s even dinky little buttons to make it easier down the bottom of the page, if you click on the post title itself.

Serenity,

‘rax

Anti-capitalists Everywhere, And Not An Anti-capitalist Among Them

Anticapitalist

An anti-capitalist, yesterday

Image: funkcoolCC BY-NC 2.0

Outside of the left-wing, there aren’t many places that you’ll find people openly describe themselves as anti-capitalist.  Anti-globalisation maybe, and many who would find much shared ground with a lot of anti-capitalists, such as environmentalism or workers’ rights.  But the identity of anti-capitalists in the eyes of a large proportion of the population conjures images of black hoodies, bandannas, and bricks through the front of Maccy D’s.  Many people find such images deplorable, and would want in no way to be associated with them.

The justifiability of direct action and associated damage to commercial property is a big topic and not what this post’s about.  Buy me a coffee sometime and I’d be happy to trade perspectives, objectives, historical contexts and ideological views at length.  For the moment though, let’s just agree that a lot of people find photos of masked protesters battling with unidentifiable and unaccountable members of the TSG quite distasteful.

As such, when the port and cigars come out, and talk turns to politics, these men and women would never for an instant think of stating their position as ‘anti-capitalist’.

Yet to a greater or lesser degree, many of them seem to be just that – they just haven’t realised it.

Let’s take some recent headlines as illustration.

Pharma Headline

The Independent

The pharmaceutical companies come in for a lot of flack.  People get upset when their health service says it can’t afford to provide the drugs they need for luxuries like freedom from pain, the ability to walk, or being alive.

The pharmaceutical companies will counter this by pointing out the huge sums they spend on research, and the number of blind alleys that need to be pursued in the lab before they find something that’s effective in vivo.  This rather ignores the fact that almost all the big players spend billions more on marketing than they do on R&D.

These poverty stricken companies post profit margins of up to twenty-two percent.  The children of their executives and major shareholders must trudge to school barefoot each day; ten billion doesn’t go as far as it used to after all.  I’m considering setting up a JustGiving page on their behalf, the poor wee mites.

And many people feel ‘justifiable outrage’ at this news, and demand that Something Must Be Done.

Utter tosh.  You want capitalism?  This is what you get; suck it up.  Supply and demand.  The headline about destroying drugs may be an extreme example, but it’s still only a manifestation of the primary drive for any profit-making business – to make cash for their shareholders.  Without this purpose the whole system collapses; it’s essential for a capitalist economy to function.  And as anyone who’s taken the most basic of economics lessons knows, if you restrict supply you can increase those profits.  Chuck half your stock of cancer meds in the ocean, job done.  Crack open the champers and congratulate yourself on a good day’s work.

Once you’ve made your fortune by flushing pills down the privy, you’d do worse than to invest it in the property market.  Houses are needed; more than a quarter of a million people are homeless in England alone.  Maybe.  Bizarrely, no one really seems to know.  You’d think that establishing just how many people are sleeping in hedges would be a fairly basic measure of a civilised society, and one that ought to have some solid figures behind it.

There is no national figure for how many people are homeless across the UK. This is because homelessness is recorded differently in each nation and because many homeless people do not show up in official statistics at all.

Crisis

Right then.

Anyhow, there’s certainly no lack of demand, so you’ll not need to repeat the pharmaceutical tactic by hiring a fleet of bulldozers and rudely interrupting the neighbour’s Sunday roast by driving through their front wall.

Those of a previous generation took advantage of the post war housing drive – and later the decision to sell off half the country’s social housing stock – to buy a three-bed semi with a fiver and still have change for the bus ride home.  Then the government abdicated the responsibility to make sure their electorate weren’t getting rained on at night, and left such indulgences in the hands of the private market.  That’s worked out brilliantly.

But the principle of restricting supply in order to make money still applies.  If house prices go down, heaven forbid, it’s splashed all over the front pages as though it’s a calamity on the scale of Aberfan.  In reality the only effect of such a trend is the inability to get rich off property trading.  If the value of your house goes down and so does everyone else’s, then if you need to move you can still buy a house of a similar standard to your current one.  The more significant measure should be the comparison between house prices and wages, and by restricting supply that ratio can be controlled, resulting in an ever increasing spiral.  That’s not so much a problem if you’re already a homeowner – for the same reason as mentioned above regarding equivalent values – but it’s a bit more of an issue if you’ve just graduated from your nursing degree and haven’t inherited fifteen acres near Epsom.

House Price to Earnings Ratio

And that’s only since ’75…

Image: KPMG – Fair Use

Bad for first time buyers.  Pretty good if you’re sitting on a cache of muddy fields with planning permission.

As an added bonus, you don’t even need to get involved with all that mucky stuff involving shovels and coarse chaps drinking overly strong tea.  You can just let your land sit and mellow, ageing like a fine wine and increasing in worth fifty times as fast.

Britain has enough land to solve the housing crisis – it s just being hoarded Cities The Guardian

Image: The Guardian – Fair Use

Outrageous?  No, just market forces at work.  Adam Smith’s invisible hand ruthlessly spanking plebeian backsides in a sustained convulsion of unscrupulous avarice.  Many will bemoan the injustice and call for intervention, but they’d never admit to anti-capitalist sympathies for a second.  They don’t even own a hoodie, let alone wear one out in public.

All this wealth-creation must be a tiring business – so it’s time for a nice sit down with a cup of tea, milk no sugar.  This is one thing that almost everyone can afford, rich or poor.  For the dairy farmers providing the milk though, it’s rather less relaxing.

Due to the mismatch between the cost of producing milk (about 17p a pint) and the farm-gate price paid to farmers (as low as 20p) many dairies face going out of business.  The supermarkets are sometimes the ones vilified for this, with fingers pointed at the prices on their shelves.  It’s true that once supply chain and other costs are added in, 50p a pint won’t pay much more than the Netflix subscription at farmer Giles’ place.  The supermarkets certainly aren’t exempt from culpability no matter how much they harp on about fixed prices for producers and loss-leading market strategies.  But the vast majority of dairies sell their milk to ‘milk pools’ like Dairy Crest, not to retailers.

It’s this bunch that put the squeeze on in the name of profit – ten million pounds of it in six months for Dairy Crest’s latest results – and why shouldn’t they?  Their raison d’être is to make money and dammit that’s what they’re going to do.  The other option for the farmers, instead of bankruptcy, is to embrace the megadairy.  To pile the cows in as densely as possible, and milk them so hard they wrinkle like your toes after a three-week bath.  Most of these ‘zero-grazing’ herds will never see the sun, let alone a field – but they’re only cows; screw ‘em.  The producers can stay in business, and Arla’s Managing Director can buy a new sapphire-encrusted knife to stab baby pandas in the face with.  I’m assuming that’s one of his hobbies.

Dystopia1

A megadairy, yesterday

Image: Louis Vest – CC BY-NC 2.0

This is, of course, awful.  It shouldn’t be allowed to happen.  Emails should be sent to MPs, and petitions signed.  Angry letters should be written to newspapers, possibly in green ink.

But anti-capitalism?  Never.  Capitalism is good, for all of us.  Wealth inevitably trickles down.  Not to Jaywick or Blackpool apparently, but surely they can’t be spending all of their riches on megayachts hand-carved from ebony by raggedy orphans?  Capitalism is good; it’s what I’ve been told.  Anti-capitalism is about spray-painting rude slogans on The Cenotaph; I saw a photo in The Express.

There are a hundred other examples.  The resistance to renationalisation of the railways is particularly striking, recalling British Rail’s unreliability, overcrowding of carriages, and poor service.  The capitalist idol of privatisation promised that it would banish such horrors.  I’m still waiting, but perhaps the prices need to go up still further before we see these pledges fulfilled.  In reality the railway is effectively still a nationalised industry anyway, it’s just owned by the French government instead of our own, and it’s them that reap the fare price hikes.

But anti-capitalist? How dare you sir?  I bite my thumb at you.  The very same people that gleefully mock religious beliefs and faith, will build huge steel and glass shrines to the magical power of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

Lloyds Building

Gomorrah, yesterday

Image: Dmitry Tonkonog – CC BY-SA 3.0

No doubt some will attempt to dodge the accusation with shilly-shallying and hand-wringing sermons about being in favour of regulatory frameworks, market oversight, and other such serious sounding expressions.  They’ll say that what I’m referring to isn’t capitalism itself, but only free-market economics capitalism.  But at the root, all this amounts to is an admission that capitalism is at the very least just as flawed as any other system.

Or sometimes they’ll ask if you’d rather have communism, together with the ‘fact’ that although a nice idea it’s been proven again and again not to work.  No, it hasn’t.  No one’s ever tried it.  There’s just been a procession of despots that have stolen the name because it seemed like good PR at the time.

I’m not claiming that one system is better than the other.  I’m certainly left-wing, but I’d not self-describe as a communist.  There are pros and cons that come with any of the options thus far imagined.  Despite my own ideology I’ll even concede that fascism has its benefits.  I just think they’re a bit outweighed by all the oppression and genocide and whatnot.   Whilst I try to remain open-minded, I’m fairly confident in stating that I’m against death camps.

But we ought to be able to openly consider the options and be able to discuss them in mainstream politics and media, rather than the tiresome mandatory repetition of the mantra that capitalism is the only system that works.

For one thing, it clearly doesn’t.

The Beatles, Hugh Laurie, John Oliver and Me

What do the above all have in common?  That’s right folks, they’re all Brits that have made it big in ‘murica!

Muricans1

Muricans, yesterday

Image: David WilsonCC BY 2.0

Not only do I have that poisonous orange grotesque from a rejected Smurfs spin-off series to put me off transatlantic travel, I now have to take the paparazzi into account as well.

Last week I was extremely flattered to be asked to write a guest piece for Transformation Is Real, a hugely popular stateside blog and web resource about addiction, recovery, and transformation.  When I read through previous postings on the site I quickly added ‘daunting’ to my feelings on the offer – some of the posts on there really blur the boundaries between prose and poetry.  Happily my piece passed muster with Dan, the site founder and (amongst other things) also the author of a couple of graphic novels.  The beginning is reproduced below, then click on ‘read more’ to see the rest.  Have a look around whilst you’re there; you’ll find some outstanding writing.

Free will and divine intervention, with a quick stop at Einstein’s special relativity along the way.  Kinda like the stuff in Hello! magazine I guess.


In these increasingly secular times, I make no apologies for my faith. 

“Hello, my name is Corax, and I’m a Christian.”

“Hi Corax!”

I don’t identify with any particular denomination — but I’m pretty sure evolution is a thing, I’ll not be damned to hell for my fashion choices, and fitting two of every animal into a big boat without them eating each other would be an administrative nightmare.

I don’t think God gives a rat’s arse if we’re born fancying people of our own gender, both, or neither. I’m not sure what my view on abortion is, but I’m certain that it’s not down to me to make a woman’s decision for them anyway. I’m a feminist, but I don’t believe that God is a woman. Or a man. When it comes to that bone of contention, I’ve never really been able to work out why God would feel the need to have genitals — it seems like it would be something of a pointless inconvenience.

[read more]

Hey Amazon: What The Actual..?

In these days of division and discord, it’s good to look back over the centuries and note how humanity has united together in pursuit of one common goal.

It’s not quite so heartening when you’re forced to recognise that the goal we’ve been striving for is to make the planet completely uninhabitable for mammalian life.

We should muster a hearty round of applause then, when a company on the scale of Amazon takes a significant step to reduce their part in the collective effort to wipe out all humanity.  In the summer of last year, they made a commendable announcement.

The company will use machinery that “creates the perfect packaging for your products, reducing the empty space (air) in each shipment. This reduces the need for void fill and improves the protection of contents for each package.”

The Drum

Wonderful.  Good going guys.

Oo! There’s someone at the door!  I wonder what they’re bringing me?  Could it be that ball throwing stick thingy for the dog?

Packaging

Banana not included

The technology… will ensure more appropriately sized boxes are chosen.

BT.com
Unimpressed

Huh.

Image: Jamie Boyd – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Oh well, looks like we’re doomed after all.  In the end there’ll be just three animal species left.  Cockroaches.  The Scottish Midge.  And Katie Hopkins.

To be fair to Amazon – and I’d really rather not be – they did warn that it could be up to twenty months before this scheme was fully rolled out.  But honestly, how on earth did the company grow into such a behemoth in the first place, with this kind of absurdness permeating their core business activity?

Alcoholism IV: Big Boats and Icebergs

Friends are important, and I’m lucky enough to have some very good ones – Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon and James.  They live in a very different world to me, partly because they have their own TV show, but also because their life just seems to run along different tracks to mine.

Thomas the Tank Engine

My mate Thomas, yesterday

Image: James Hall – CC BY 2.0

And my real name, of course, isn’t ‘Corax’.  My real name is Cody the Cargo Ship.

These days I freely ply my trade routes, mainly shipping light goods like marshmallows and buttercups.  But for a long time I was indentured to the company of Vladivar, Tyskie and Glen’s Plc.  Back in those days, they’d load me absolutely full to the brim with their bottles and cans, so much so that sometimes I’d be overloaded and some of it would just pour out of me again.  This happened less and less often as time went on though; I got more and more used being laden with so much booze.  The strain of carrying such a heavy load took no less of a toll though.

Constantly loaded up, a lot of me was invisible to the world, below the waterline.  I’d plough my way through the waves, with the largest part of me out of sight to everyone, struggling against the currents underneath.  People would see my cheery red funnel and smile, and I’d give them a friendly toot.  They thought they knew me, but they had no idea what I really looked like.

Having escaped the clutches of Vladivar and partners’ slavery though, I’ve slowly started to rise up out of the waters.  More and more of me emerges each day.  The truth of what I look like becomes ever more apparent, and my profile against the skyline is bigger now, a new presence in the visible world, above the murky depths.  Each day I’m increasingly sailing over the top of those enduring currents, instead of constantly having to fight against them.

But Vladivar, Tyskie and Glen’s are still always searching for me.  They’re tireless and unremitting in their efforts to bring me back under their control.  No matter what else I face on my voyages, no matter what obstacles I have to navigate, or stormy weather I must bear, I always need remain vigilant for their traps.  They’re sneaky buggers, and I know that if I let my guard down and think that they’ve given up, then that’s just when they’ll pounce.  And if I’m ensnared once more, there’s no guarantees that I’ll escape again.

You’ll be relieved to hear that my rather tortured analogy breaks down at this point, so I’ll have to break character.  So long, Cody!  Happy sailing!  Toot toot!

The same principle applies not just to individual alcoholics, but also to alcoholics as a set.  No doubt you’ll be overjoyed to learn that I have another analogy to take Cody’s place.  I refer to it as iceberg alcoholism.

Ask The Man in the Street© what an alcoholic looks like, behaves like.  I don’t mean the alcoholic Man in the Street©, nor the family or close friends of alcoholics.  Ask someone with no direct experience of alcoholics.  You’ll tend to get some fairly consistent responses.

Man in the Street

The Man in the Street, yesterday

Image: Chris – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

There’s the comedy drunk.  Much beloved of film and TV, from Charlie Chaplin’s drunken antics through to more recent creations.

Video: BBC2 – Fair Use

Hilarious.  What you don’t see in that clip is the bit three hours later, when Rowley’s doubled over with abdominal pain and bleeding out of his arse.

Then there’s the park bench drunk.  During all my many years of alcoholism, whether actively drinking, despairingly relapsing, in rehab, recovery, or AA – I’ve rarely met anyone who has spent more than the odd night here and there sleeping in a hedge.  I’m not saying they don’t exist; they clearly do, and I’ve spent time chatting with several who were in this situation.  However, they amount to a very small proportion of the UK’s vast alcoholic population.  Yet they make up one of the principle archetypes of an alcoholic in the public’s minds.

Newcomers to AA meetings sometimes express surprise that many of the people they find themselves sharing a room with have jobs, careers, families, children, cars, clean driving licences and no police record.  They often say “I didn’t know what to expect”, but I suspect they really thought we’d all be wearing raggedy patchwork coats and have bits of last night’s kebab stuck in our unkempt beards.

NotAA

Not an AA Meeting, yesterday

Image: Paramount Pictures – Public Domain

When you step into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting of course, you’re actually entering a country more dry than Brunei.  I doubt that there are many places in the UK where you’ll find so many people gathered together with a collective blood-alcohol reading of zero.  And for many AA members their exterior appearance isn’t some new-found change that’s come with sobriety.  They presented no different a face to the outside world even when they were drinking.  They were clean-shaven and well dressed, and guarded their secret masterfully.

The other major mental model of an alcoholic that many people carry around with them, and in my view the most damaging one, is the angry drunken thug.

The one fighting in a pub car park, dishing out shockingly brutal violence on a downed opponent with no hesitation.

The one yelling at the kids, and sending them to school with unexplained bruises.

The one that beats their girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife.*

Video – Various – Fair Use

Of course these people exist.  Some of them are angry, violent people to start with.  Others can be the sweetest-natured souls until you put a drink in them, and then alcohol somehow flips a switch and they change beyond all recognition.

Those archetypes though, are just the visible part of the alcoholic population’s iceberg.  The far greater part lies beneath.

For a vast number of us, we’ve never harmed a soul, even when so paralytic we’re barely human at all.  We never caused any trouble to anyone.  We were never in a position to.  We knew our drinking wasn’t normal, and we hid it away.  We were never angry, just ashamed.  We drank on our own, in front of a screen, in the basement or the home office.  We picked the kids up from school, cooked them dinner, put them to bed and only then fished out the bottles we’d hidden behind the pots and pans.  We didn’t feel rage, we felt guilt, we felt fear, we felt alone.  You never saw us.  As far as the world was concerned, we didn’t exist.

Many therapists and substance misuse specialists will confidently state that every alcoholic has a problem with anger at the root of their illness.  Sure, okay.  But it’s not generally called anger given the mark we’ve selected.  Self-loathing.  Our anger is targeted exclusively at ourselves.  Our hate is directed only inwards.

That type of alcoholic, that sorry, scared, lonely individual, makes up by far the greatest proportion of alcoholics in my experience.  Many started off as the life and soul of the party, but over time they slowly retreated from the bright lights and laughter.  They stole away into the darkness, clutching at the only thing that felt solid any more, a bottle.  Those invisible drunks, the part of the iceberg hidden beneath the surface – far greater than the part you can see.

There’s no drama there, no arrests, no battered partners or abused children, no fights in the pub car park.  It doesn’t make the news.  It doesn’t make good telly or film.  But believe me it’s there – probably right on your street, right now.  It may be the woman who delivers your mail, or the bank teller, your vicar, or your son’s headmaster.  It might be the nice bloke who sit at the desk next to you at work.  You’ll never know – but believe me, it’s there.

Drunken, alcoholic violence captivates audiences.  But for a great number of us it’s never who we were, ever.  No matter how much vodka had gone down our throats.  And it’s horrifying to us, and painful, that the Man on the Street© assumes that we were.

*I’ll not make much comment on gender here, and I’m certain that women are substantially more the victims than men – but I also know without doubt that it’s not uncommon for men to be on the receiving end of violent domestic abuse, and I strongly suspect that this goes even more unreported than for women.  After all, men are supposed to be big and strong, able to ‘defend themselves’ – right?  Patriarchy damages everyone, of all genders and orientations.

The Blame Games of an Antediluvian Administration

Fake News

Image: Free Press/ Free Press Action Fund – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Here in the UK, an uninterrupted torrent of headlines in recent months have been to the effect that social media corporations, such as Facebook and Twitter, should be doing more to combat ‘fake news’.  They appear to be driven for the most part by governmental or quasi-governmental agencies like GCHQ, and sometimes by MPs themselves.  The growing chorus is that these companies are responsible for the content published on their platforms, and that they should somehow be vetting the 4.75 billion daily posts on their platforms to check that they’re not about fiddling with kiddies, dissing Mohammed, or suggesting a nice day out wearing a rather volatile vest.  Or reminiscing on David Cameron’s affection for charlie and pigs, probably.

Social Media

Image: Animated Heaven – CC0 1.0

All of this betrays a reluctance to engage with the twenty-first century.  It demonstrates a lack of comprehension of what it is that these companies actually are.  They’re a medium, nothing more nor less.  They’re not the ones creating the ‘fake news’, people are just utilising their technology to put it out there.  Does that mean that they’re responsible for it?  They have policies in place to remove content and close accounts once they’re made aware of such things, but is it reasonable to expect them to act pre-emptively?

If someone is in the a habit of making nuisance phone calls then they can be prosecuted, and in theory banned from the network.  Not once have I heard it suggested that BT should have prevented the calls in the first place.  If I start writing abusive and threatening letters to people then I’ll be breaking the law, and may receive a knock on the door from a man in uniform with a big stick and a deep-seated inferiority complex.  No one would be asking questions in the Houses of Parliament about why Royal Mail weren’t steaming my envelopes open.

Let’s play one of my favourite games, reductio ad absurdum.  It’s a fun game for all the family, and anyone can play it.  Under the rules of this game I can blame Network Rail for the July 2005 London Underground bombings.  I can hold the South Devon Chilli Farm responsible when I eventually try eating anything cooked with my Bhut Jolokias.   I can point the finger at the local shop for my many years of tortured alcoholic drinking, and Spotify can be sued for the PTSD suffered after accidentally listening to Lorde.

Politicians are either aware of this and playing to the gallery, are deflecting attention because they have no idea how to deal with the problem properly through the police and courts, or have their heads stuck firmly up their dark ages.

None of these possibilities are good.