Like many of you I experienced today’s buzz through a handful of videos and articles on the Internet. In this way I was placed in a new context. Here was the input that gave my views the opportunity to evolve, die, or be reinforced. I think a viewpoint dying or being radically altered is a rare thing. Mostly, something has to resonate with us on some level before we’ll admit to agreeing with it. Cognitive dissonance makes us feel uncomfortable, so any evidence that contradicts our views tends to be – if not ignored – regarded with suspicion.
This is why I have a problem with vilification. It’s probably a softy liberal way of looking at things but when I see anyone targeted for their point of view, or the misinformation they cling to, it tends to make me more angry than the misinformation or ‘bigotry’ itself. I think this boils down to my own intolerance for bad communication. How inviting are the avenues out of racism? Or sexism? How much respect do atheists have for believers?How open are the lines of communication between climate change deniers and renewable energy vegans? I listen to a lot of feminist rhetoric and, as a man, sometimes it really hurts. Sometimes (and this is only an opinion) I am silenced before I can even begin to be reasonable. I belong in the category of “Western White Man”. I am the fount from which the poison spews. Yet – and this is why feminist dialogue makes up so much of my life – I am a feminist, I am part of the LGBTQ community, and I am opposed to toxic masculinity and the patriarchy.
I suppose what I’m getting at is separating the conscripts from the tyrants. Babies are born into this world in arbitrary ways, at arbitrary points in history and in arbitrary nations. In this respect they are enslaved by whatever system and culture they find themselves in. Even that hardcore troll calling you a feminazi or a cuck is simply copying their surroundings, like a baby learning to stick out its tongue, or a dog cheerfully leading the pack, unaware that its owner is a drug lord. If you really wanted to change people’s views you probably wouldn’t call them racist or sexist or stupid. You might try harder to find common ground or at the very least understand why they believe their nonsense.
If all you want to do is diminish the opposition, and silence them, then you are being a bully. Also – and we can all relate to this from watching movies and reading books – what a person says and what they mean are two very different things. There’s a subtext to every aggressive meme and facebook status and hardline “conservatism-is-really-fucking-dumb” conversation. Generally, like with all bullies, the more we attack the more we reveal our own vulnerabilities. There seems to be a kind of unspoken fear of being seduced by xenophobia or homophobia as soon as you poke your head in someone else’s echo chamber. I think this is kind of ludicrous when the confidence in tolerance comes from an inherent human kindness and empathy, and humans being equal is an extension of logic and the philosophical golden rule. Also it’s ludicrous because a fear of being brainwashed by conservative rhetoric leads to nothing but brainwashing in the comfort zone.
I know most reasonable people would rather disregard these labels anyway – certainly “feminazi” if not “feminist”, and probably “conservative” and “liberal” too. I trust that you’ll follow me here and read between the lines. I’d rather not have to attach badges to any of the participants in this circus but there has to be a certain amount of clarity. As I mentioned earlier I have issues with poor communication. And if it hurts to be identified as the worst possible synonym for one of your traits then just take the pain for a moment, look at it, examine it, and ask yourself who are you to call someone an idiot or a racist, a homophobe or a misogynist? Because these enemies do not identify with these terms; they might feel somewhat in the sphere but they are not the whole Venn diagram.
You can be a nationalist and not be racist. You actually can. Sure it’s an incongruous state of being with fundamental contradictions but then what view isn’t? I believe in democracy but I’m also aware of the average global IQ. Utter hypocrisy. But we have to choose sometimes between what’s truly, immutably rational and true, and what’s just bloody helpful. It’s helpful to remember that someone can be distrustful and dismissive – even angry – when it comes to feminism but that does not make them a misogynist. It’s painful and annoying that the responsibility for empathy almost always falls on the oppressed, but it’s not helpful to deny this responsibility. The conditions that create intolerance are ubiquitous – hate is everywhere. If you have ever found yourself eating alone because you were too high risk, socially, to be invited into the clique then I’m sure you can understand they would have found something. They excluded for internal reasons, not external ones. We’re social cowards and we take far fewer risks in groups than we do individually.
So I’m a white man – yes, I’m a polyamorous liberal transvestite with a thesaurus up his arse but I’m still the fount from which all poison spews – and I’m learning about today’s buzz from the Internet. I read an article by Amanda Palmer that’s just the most beautiful thing in the world. I won’t give too much away (link included) but it’s on the subject of being jealous of other people’s success, or lives. For a finish she is invoking the reader to literally scream and shout; exorcise your demons and be a happier person with more love for yourself and the world. She’s not lording this enlightenment over us either. Far from it. Instead she takes us on her vulnerable and cringe-worthy journey of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, inviting us into her jealousy and regret. Of course the journey is relatable. It doesn’t make Palmer any less of a hero to be so human. To me, today, her music sounds better than it ever has before.
This is more than art – maybe it exists in the same sphere but it’s not the whole Venn diagram. This is her saying “Hey. I’m terrible. I get so worked up over silly shit. Do you ever feel like that? Here’s what I did to feel better.” I see it as the stunning beauty of having played around and made mistakes; existing with a neurosis and dealing. Instead of cushioning it or pretending its not there, just reaching in and grabbing it and going “Ouch. This hurts. Hey little guy. You’re a toxic part of me. I guess you’re not going anywhere but from now on we’re going to communicate.”
So then I watched a video of Liam Gallagher talking about the good old days. Link not included. He told a charming story about how, along with his brother Noel, he once found himself in Diego Maradona’s hotel room surrounded by prostitutes. “Eyes out to here” as he put it (that’s a drug reference). The rest of the band weren’t invited, which I think was supposed to be one of the funny parts of the story (but as a bass player I didn’t think it was funny). And the story concluded with the Gallagher brothers having to ask a translator what Maradona’s parting words were.
They were “If you touch any of my bitches I’ll have you shot.”
Which I think was supposed to be the funniest part of the story. Maybe it’s coming across that I lack a sense of humour but I assure you I laugh at all kinds of silly things. In fact below this paragraph there’s a picture I made, just to prove how easy it is to make me laugh. Anyway, here was an example of toxic masculinity, right? And here was an example of misogyny. Also pride. Stupidity. Selfishness. Cruelty. Ignorance. Blind arrogant ego. Monstrous things all summed up in a forty-five second video.
Monstrous stuff. And yet I found I was slightly jealous.
Not really. Not like really really. Not “really” as in “emphatically”, nor “really” as in “in reality”. But part of me, a toxic part of me, wanted to be so… lucky, might be the word. A much bigger and better part of me is quite relieved to not be Liam Gallagher, of course. I’m thankful that as the father of two little girls I’m as much of a feminist as I can be and that, as a person, I have far more time for Amanda Palmer than I do for the Gallaghers. But still part of me wished for myself a hotel room full of celebrities and prostitutes.
And that is today’s buzz. We are none of us so insulated from influence that we don’t get changed every day, at least a little bit. There are beautiful influences ready to fill us up with light, and there are monsters ready to point out the worst parts of ourselves. I want to be the teacher, not the bully, or at least the funny kid at the back of the room who says what everyone is thinking. I want to be honest about my views and be ready to defend them if necessary, but to be reasonable about it too. I want to be willing to change. And I can judge no one. I really can’t. I watched an interview with Liam Gallagher and became, fleetingly, jealous of him. I hope we’re all that monstrous on some level. It seems a good starting point for conversation.