The Dystopian Century

Cause they say two thousand zero zero
Party over, oops out of time – Prince

Back in 1999, the world seemed one with a rosy future. The internet was growing and opening up possibilities to people and communities – a time before social media and the voyeurism of the media society had come to be fulfilled. The idea of snooping, hacking, identity fraud or cyber-crime were weak plots in 80s television movies, and if it did happen it was some shady geek attacking larger entities.  It was also unthinkable that we’d be rehashing the ideas of the 20th century’s darker decades. We were too smart for that.

Yet it wasn’t all peachy-creamy; we did have major concerns about the outcomes of the 21st century: climate change was in our conscious horizons, the growing world population and how to feed it, and more immediately, we idly speculated about worse case scenarios for the Y2K bug – which fired our fertile minds with images of computer mainframes crashing, airplanes falling from the sky en masse, and satellite and missile systems getting all hot and bothered at the stroke of the millennium midnight. Computers dialing themselves back 100 years, it turns out, was the least of our problems.

Escalating global populations and melting ice caps seemed to be a pressing, but equally distant horror that would have to be dealt with by some unfortunate generation of humans. Our mess, but not our problem – impending crises often seemed so distant in the 1990s, after all, there were no smartphones, no social media, no incidents of ‘anti-western’ or ‘islamist’ terrorism, on western soil at least – no severe financial crises and no mass automation of jobs.

Things in the western world changed forever on 11th September 2001, and it became the first great narrative of the new century. It became more prominent as invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan took their toll and European cities were attacked – Atocha train station in Madrid 2005, London Underground and buses, 2007, and in more recent times, attacks in France, Belgium and Germany have hit Europe hard. It was always someone else’s problem – now it became ours. With the Arab Spring and power vacuums were created, and all of the geo-political wounds now weep, all roads lead to Damascus – and some are blocked by ISIS.

Suddenly, we began to cast suspicious glances at members of the community – on trains, buses, planes; in the street. Since then we’ve been primed to view certain members of society with reservation, seeds of doubt planted in minds begin to grow.

During the years 2008-2011 islamist terrorists decided to give western cities a bit of a breather, which was handy, because we had a calamity of a different nature to deal with. There’s no time to lose when you’re trying gather the momentum for the world’s end.

The banking crisis sparked off by turmoil in the sub-prime mortgage sector in the US in 2007 became the second narrative of our century and one that has arguably had the biggest impact – causing a radicalization of both those on the left and right politically. Banks in the UK and Europe were massively exposed to bad debt – the entire banking sector wobbled and teetered and almost caused the end of organised society and capitalism as we it.

Had the banks gone, who really knows what would have happened? Quite possibly an end-of-days scenario where business collapsed, food supply chains would have been under severe pressure, and cash was hard to come by.  All that was avoided by handing over capital reserves of taxpayers’ money in order to continue our present way of life. But did it really avert the crisis? Or just put off the cold, hard realities that we will have to face at some point in the future?

The banking scenario brought home the notion that the last 60 years of social stability in the west, might’ve be a blip rather than a concrete fact. Furthermore, it plays into modern-day mythology of zombies, apocalyptic tales such as The Road, and the implosion of the capitalist order like a Prepper’s wet dream. It fired up survivalist dreams of self-sufficiency and hunter-gathering, appealing to some intangible part of the atomised, urban-dwelling human which longs for the freedom of nature, and from the moneyed-order of our present day.

We can’t imagine what the outcome of such an event would be. It’s likely to top the carnage of kicking out time in the dead zones of the provincial cities –  where puffed-up chests and clenched fists lie in wait for a wrong response, wrong dress code or perceived sneer. Come the revolution – or last orders – someone’s going to pay: most don’t care what they’re fighting for, so long as they get to land a few punches.

Despite the end-of-days scenario being thwarted in 2008, it came out in some manifestation of the London riots of 2011, which ,in less significant terms spread to parts of Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. Using social media and P2P messaging, pockets of vandalism and unrest sprung up in random places as soon as dusk hit. Shops, aware that the air was febrile for another night of trouble, boarded up their premises. Menace lurked at night fall, and people were itching to have a kick-off. What started off as a protest against the lawful shooting of Mark Duggan, turned into a wider display of anger and frustration.

Provisions and services for the poorest in society have been cut, and being uneducated, unskilled, poor or disabled is slowly becoming ideologically unacceptable. Services that were once there – for all – have disappeared. We’ve gone from dole as a means of getting by in hard times, to it being the easy resort for scoundrels and society’s enemies. Using social services available to you, has become in a matter of a few years, enough to guarantee pariah status.

With terrorists, looters and thieves roaming the streets, might it be better if we all just stayed at home?

Luckily, third significant thread of the dystopian century: the digital social platform, allows us to do just that. We how exist in a digital social sphere –  the hive mind documents the granular facets of self, beliefs, and attitudes. Now, everything is political, and our identities are being defined by what we are not rather than we we are. We’re taking sides and the divisions that already exist are fast becoming chasms.

It’s a heady mix – broadcasting to a potentially mass audience a la Twitter, and being able to create multiple anonymous identities in the process- it has allowed us, some would say freed us from the burden of social etiquette, to tell the world what we truly believe. What it actually is, is a situation where those dark little thoughts that in the pre-social media era would’ve been rationalized or subverted by one’s peer group and/or family (one hopes) and has tinged our minds with a darker need to communicate our lusting hatred.

And so, if terrorism has made us fearful in our own communities, and the financial crisis has removed the last vestiges of community hubs and sense within it, social media destroyed our need for the physical space that we own, that gives us our sense of self as social animals. We now communicate through memes, gifs and anthropomorphized viral content in order to express our frustration at the civil malaise and ennui that we feel. Our communities exist only in cyber-space, our groups open only to those who share the same values, interests or fetishes. We’re not longer forced to ‘rub along’ with the other, and as a result we are quickly forgetting the art of compromise.

We’re scared, broke and angry. We haven’t even reached the ‘bits’ of the brave new century we all envisioned; just like the number 82 bus, all our apocalypses have come at once -and  we all thought we’d be sat around chin-stroking our way to solving melting ice caps and the dwindling numbers of wildlife, while technology built a utopia.

When the environmental catastrophe hits, then we will truly understand what ‘a wave of migrants’ is, what ‘local sourced produce’ means, and how much money one really needs – when all that is on offer is left-overs and scraps.

In the meantime, the anger has been directed at something – anything –  that promises to radically change the order of things, and so far the universal random generator has produced Donald Trump and Brexit. Where we’re at now. A public sphere where there are no such thing as lies (or there are many truths), no such as thing as equality and no such as thing as optimism – unless you bury your head in the sand and go on believing that the last train out of town really does have extra seating, a clean loo and a free buffet.

What Gen X and Millenials do share with their baby-boomer predecessors is that we all now have a sense of ‘final generation’ secret thoughts and fears. Fears that we thought we’d banished with the nuclear disarmament treaties of the early 90s. Mothers and fathers can’t help but wonder now what kind of world their middle-aged children will endure, and whether they too will have the luxury of progeny.  For now we have a range of doomsdays (how fitting? How very 21st century?) of how our species will fall: environmental calamity, intercontinental nuclear war, complete collapse of ideological structure and society, economic devastation caused by automation? Ooh which one would you like? Perhaps a a unique blend?

The sky falling on our tiny heads and withered souls was meant to occur on 1st January 2000, or some times in 2160s. So very much has changed about our world in under a generation, that we were now struggling to cope with the sheer deluge of flux; the integral component in the human psyche – meaning – is under full assault.

With our lives being so public now, perhaps its understandable that we need safe spaces, as well as private ones. A little place where we can collect our thoughts and work out what it all means, count our tinned food, our medical supplies and our shotguns. Party (on our own) like it’s 1999? The night won’t finish with a booty call, it’ll finish with an angry status update. Maybe Prince knew our destiny all along:

Don’t bother knockin’ on my door
I got a lion in my pocket
And baby he’s ready to roar



Hard Brexit

Theresa May confirmed on Tuesday that the UK is set for a ‘hard’ Brexit – coming out of the single market and the customs union, so that the nation can have control of its borders.

Her speech declared that the triggering of Article 50 and end of economic ties would usher in a ‘global Britain’ that will embrace the world market rather than being tied down to its closest economic and geographical bloc.

It’s breezy symbolism that conjures up ideas of conquest and victory, an easy and natural dominance; almost an aching irony that it is a public relations vision based upon a ballot that firmly rejected any idea of globalism – certainly on British shores.

While the oi polloi and their mass media influencers squabble over immigration numbers, interjecting with the odd metaphor of invasion in the process –  the grown-ups are nodding their heads sagely about a thing called trade.

The key word in this whole sorry mess is ‘trade’ because for most people, including me, it is never expanded upon. It’s a useful collective noun to summarize a bunch of suited professionals sat around conference rooms, sipping sparkling water while agreeing to move huge units of currency, from one server to another for goods and services. It’s a rather pretty, nicely shaped package which allows us to dispatch a serious political point without unpicking all the myriad industries with their complex processes and relationships.

Because how could we know about all of these?

One assumes that the government does, or has a fair idea at least. Let’s take agriculture, for instance. Rural England overwhelming voted to leave the EU despite foreign labour being a key part of agri-industries and EU subsidies helping many small farms to break even or make the small profits they do. Without those subsidies, and without the promise that the government will safeguard payments for those hardest hit from European withdrawal, then the entire industry faces decimation.

We are likely to discover which industries the government really cares about through the negotiations – and agreements it reaches – with the EU. It’s highly likely that the banking sector will retain some if not all of its rights to trade with the EU, and perhaps the same guarantees will be given to the rest of the automotive sector, as Nissan received last year.

The rest of UK ‘trade’ will have to fend for itself and hope upon hope that it isn’t restricted to punitive World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs come 2019.

What it shows more than anything is how little the country produces.  A nation that is, fundamentally a glorified finance silo with the remains of an automotive industry, which will keep the UKIP wolf from the door in the midlands and parts of the north east for the Conservatives, but not do a whole lot more to reassure business leaders in other sectors.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not to undermine all of the fantastic SMEs and producers on the UK who are quietly doing their thing, but ultimately the United Kingdom no longer has the clout and reputation in specific industries. Banking and finance account for nearly 10% of the economy, the industrial base has been eroded, and what we predominantly have is a service industry culture – which does nothing for the individual or the nation as a trading force.

What ‘trade’ will look like in reality (probably) will be some access to the US market – but not for the ailing agriculture market – and in return, Theresa May will bring in some TTIP-lite agreement, that finally lets the Conservative Party privatise the NHS, allowing access to private healthcare providers to fully exploit the new market.

The sacrifices Britons will have to make for ‘taking back control’ will become evident enough over time; for those with a memory of how political decision-making usually pans out – it’s clear that communities will continue to stagnate and the poor will only get poorer.



Lionel Shriver and cultural appropriation

Lionel Shriver recently gave a keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival and called for the end to the fad of cultural appropriation. Clearly, headline writers have done a job encapsulating a speech that explored many ideas, but also helped draw a line in the sand where folk take sides.

It’s clearly not a call for rampant cultural theft to be overlooked, but in an age of 140 character soundbites and clickbait headline writing – it creates a handy narrative for people to argue over.

The most public of the rebukes against Shriver’s desire to see cultural appropriation be a sign of a past era was Yassmin Abdel-Magied and her heavy-handed and histrionic account of her walking out of the conference in disgust. I think ‘playing a straight bat’ and writing a more objective analysis of why she believes that Shriver is wrong, would have been far more appropriate and convincing, and slightly less like she’d just witnessed a thought crime.

This is not to say that cultural appropriation does not happen, and should not happen. But we need to think about both the intent, the approach and outcomes of attempts before being quick to label people and their actions in a broad context, one in which it’s only a short step away from branding someone as a racist.

Rachel Dolezal’s story is sad, complex and unjust on many levels but do we really think that her actions are in any way comparable in unfairness to people taking up yoga? Or that of non-Japanese folk culturally appropriating sushi? We have to be careful in the battles we pick, because if we pick too many we risk trivialising issues.

Pop culture appropriation is clumsy, clueless and gimmicky – such as Katy Perry or Iggy Azalea‘s attempts at cultural cosplay demonstrate: but who really gets the cultural cringe – is it Japanese or Indian audiences, or is it a western, middle-class, mostly white in colour and educated commentators? It’s becoming clear that we’re living in a society where boundaries and standards are changing, but there is also a growing culture of ‘calling out’ think-pieces by writers who are as concerned (if not more so) about their media influence and publishing opportunities as they are about the issues that they tackle.

When a ethnic minority actor loses work to a slightly more idiosyncratic caucasian counterpart, or when a company appropriates a cultural symbol from a specific culture, then we can call it what it is – appropriation or exploitation, and theft. To apply this to the common currency of experience, appears facile; to apply it to the act of communication and a world of enormous economic divides (and digital ones – the media that gives us all a voice) is a scandal, when simply having access to a computer and modem is in itself the ultimate privilege. But to apply this to the writer, with the skills and craft of an experienced fiction writer, seems trite. The writer’s job is, after all, to imagine worlds that are unbeknown to he or she, to imagine experiences and research them to the point where they become real, legitimate and authentic. That a white, middle-aged male author (or example) can manage to plausibly write a tale of a Nigeria girl – Shriver’s example – should be celebrated for its craft and attention to detail. That such a person of social ‘privilege’ should have done so, does not deny a voice and there is no evidence to make such claims.

The artist, writer and creator operates in an imaginary space and brings other worlds to life. If we inhibit that, then the bookshelves – digital or physical – will be filled with drab autobiographies by writers too afraid to write what their curiosity urges them to do, for feel of impinging on someone else’s experience.

The call-out culture of social media has become a worrying symptom of continuous information flow. It’s a symptom of people ‘filling in the gaps’ when there seems to be little else to say i.e. boredom and finding fault with something that is completely irrelevant. It’s also the psuedo-intellectualisation of discourse – where kudos is traded on name dropping bell hooks and calling out those who do not tow the party line.  No wonder the right-wing are growing ever more extreme.

Worryingly of all, this is coming from those who claim to be politically progressive. Along with the ‘no platforming‘ strategy of denying dissonant opinions a right to air their views, the left is taking a worrying path: one that demands absolute orthodoxy in thought and language, one in which not only calls out but also labels and exiles those who do not comply with its puritanical ideals.

In a society where public spaces, public services and even public funds have been commandeered by private interests we need more than ever channels where ideas and thoughts can be expressed freely. Of course there is a limit to what can and should be given a platform, but we’re developing a very weak stomach for those we disagree with; a society where its constituents and sub-cultures live within its own echo chambers is not only bleak but dangerous too.  For all the need and talk of safe spaces – we have precious few where rational ideas can still be debated.


Thoughts on higher education

I frequently think about education and its purpose. I worked as a language teacher for a long time, and I’m currently doing a Master’s degree, so I can look at it from both sides.

Despite just turning 40, and having had to work abroad – away from my partner and close circle for months at a time –  in order to pay for my tuition fees, I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, and I’ve tried to enjoy it and get as much as I can from the experience.  Despite this, there’s no real guarantee I’ll see a return on my money.

As much as I’d love to be doing it for the love of learning, my sole purpose is to get the piece of paper and be (woosh!) instantly more employable (I hope). I enjoy it for what it is in the meantime; I’m fully aware that academia is essentially glorified navel-gazing, and while covering real world scenarios, practices and organisational behaviours, it is essentially chin-stroking, theorizing and concept positioning that matters little to the nitty-gritty of real life workplaces. For me, it is a tick box exercise,  and nothing more.

What exactly is the purpose of academia in 2016? Does it really matter anymore? With annual fees at £9,000, students are accruing enormous debts upon graduating and struggling to find graduate positions thereafter. The graduate jobs that do exist on the market pay little more than entry-level positions that are on offer for non-graduates who are starting out. To make pay-out as a graduate requires hard work, perseverance, a large slice of luck in getting a lucky break.

I had to spend months away from my home, my partner and my social network to work in the middle east, in order to raise funds for my MA. It wasn’t easy, and that was before I’d even picked up a book. I’m super fortunate in that my further studies won’t add encumber me with debt. Many more are not quite so lucky.

We’ve commodified and bestowed value on a piece of paper that opens doors for some but for many others offers a false hope, indebting themselves along the way. The education system is a throwback to when the labour market was more stable, and when educational level was a measurement for social rank and status. The modern labour market is a skills-based economy, skills that are so often not taught in university – our perceptions of education and attainment have yet to catch up.

At first glance, the introduction of tuition fees by Tony Blair’s New Labour was a a terrible idea: having allowed a generation of people free access to enlightenment and potential for career and income betterment, the door was slammed shut for those to follow – on 16th July 1998, university fees were introduced at £1,000 per year, and means-tested subsidies were replaced by loans. Not an enormous amount, but a figure significant enough to deter those from the poorest backgrounds, and introduce the first increment of hurdles for social advancement that have been added ever since.

The figure had since risen to its current figure, and there would be no surprise and shortage of outrage if that fee increased further. Many see the privatisation of education costs as being purely ideological, but in a increasingly competitive labour market the real injustice is making people study for 3 years, when they could get an equivalent position straight from school.

Commodifying the education system has yanked at the ladder of social-climbing, and allowed universities to brand themselves; it’s segmented the middle-classes even further and allowed the cookie-cutter alpha males and females an even clearer route to the top of the tree. It’s also seen the rise in personal debt as students struggle to balance the demands of living costs with the demands of finding an income to subsidise studying.

But making university education free again, and allowing those who unfortunate to benefit currently from the learning experience, isn’t going to create more graduate jobs. The internet has had such a profound effect society over the past 15 years, that even those in established careers are having to re-evaluate their roles and their livelihoods in 2016. Increasing numbers of graduates will devalue the idea of a degree even further, and leave more people jobless and disappointed.

Reflection and critical thinking are needed more than ever in an increasingly tumultuous, paradoxical world, and university life develops and strengthens one’s critical faculty.  Yet, scan any job advert and the need for critical evaluation skills are not what companies identify in the primary skills of their ideal candidates. What is required as an educational add-on, to be given practical skills and abilities in every course so that they can either perform in a working environment or have the knowledge to set-up their own businesses.

What compounds the issue is that work placements and internships are so rarely of any use to the graduate hoping to glean real insight into the day-to-day routines and pressures of work, with some candidates reduced to tea-making, photocopy and admin chores in companies that either don’t or won’t have the resources to allocate to someone to act as a mentor. These tasks should be the domain of the school-leaver, not the university graduate.

While top bosses complain that graduates are not equipped to deal with the day-to-day of the working life, few companies are prepared to roll up their sleeves and give the necessary guidance to bring these graduates up to speed. After all, making tea and pressing a button on a photocopier hardly brings a star quality to a CV once graduates have done their internship.

Having done a few internships when training as a journalist, I can say with confidence that I learned very little from my (often unpaid) time in the newsroom, often I was performing tasks that did little to test my abilities or prove my worth; if someone senior had spent 10 minutes of their time outlining what I have to do and asking what I would like to have a go at doing, it would’ve been much more valuable experience.

It seems then, that many who leave higher education are neither benefitted from their studies or the world of work, unless a kindly employer is prepared to take a chance.

So, university fees have increased by 300% in the last four years, but what exactly are students getting in return? What extras do they get for this extra cash?

A solution to this problem would be if local businesses and universities formed partnerships, where they operate in a symbiotic relationship. Degrees would be 3 (or even 4) years, with one year being given over to a work placement – the work achieved in this would be evaluated and count towards the degree. Students get a year of paid work and vital experience; employers get immediate access to graduates with job skills and an understanding of both their personal duties and the organisational culture. For £9,000 you leave with both a university degree and some on-the-job training. This would add value to education.

In a world where people are now racking up their first large debt at the age of 21, its imperative that they be given the skills to pay it off.

The changing face of public discourse

I wrote recently a blog post about a group who been in the news regarding their trolling and bullying of folk online. The initial aim of that blog was to talk about how social media has actually changed public discourse but, given that much of the news on the topic last week was about the ‘alt-right‘, it ended up being much of the post’s focus.

I’m studying a Communications post-graduate degree, so media is a big interest for me. What really interests me is how social media has evolved and what effects it has had on public speech and dialogue. In the decade or so that it has been around, it’s undeniable that it’s been a game-changer and how it has altered our attitudes and habits around communication.

Up until a few years ago, I loved the internet and embraced all of the new changes that occurred. It genuinely felt like a force for good.  Maybe it’s an age thing, but I’m certain now that the internet has more drawbacks than it does advantages. Social media has transformed the arts, in that if you’re hoping to make a living from music, photography, journalism or literature it’s made it a whole lot harder. It offers anyone a potential global audience, but the cold hard reality is that it’s killing many of these industries. The ‘great democratiser’ has levelled the playing field – but really, the idea that anyone can self-publish while great in theory, isn’t so great in practice.

I embraced Facebook pretty quickly, but it soon became a source of annoyance when they kept tinkering with it – in its original guise it was a lot of fun and I made friends with people who I’d never met in real life. Once Facebook etiquette and ‘good practice’ had coalesced it became less fun to be locked into the walled garden.

I took a while longer to get on-board the Twitter train, joining in 2009 with some scepticism but soon became hooked. I joined to chat with similar folk interested in politics and football; being able to connect with like-minded people who shared my political viewpoint and supported my football team seemed absolutely brilliant.

And in the first year or so of using it, I chatted to new people, became aware of new blogs and some great pieces of writing. It became a great tool for football fans who can’t make it to the game but want to discuss football stuff. It was a fertile ground for political discussion as the country (and wider global economy) began to feel the effects of the worst economic crisis in 80 years, and government-imposed austerity measures started to bite.

Following the London riots of 2011 in real time was social media at its best; watching unrest flare up in different pockets of the city and getting reports from twitter users at the scene(s) was better than any mainstream coverage could offer.

But after that, something started to happen – or maybe I just began to notice it more: the fighting, bickering and negativity.  Perhaps it was always there. Not being a woman, an ethnic minority, nor a high-profile person, I’m not statistically as likely to be subjected to abuse. Yet, reading through people’s feeds it seemed that it was turning into a forum where bullying, belittling and berating users was becoming the most common use for it. A platform where people went to rid themselves of all the anger and frustration that builds up through having a shitty job, an aggressive boss, a troubled relationship or just a very bigoted view of the world.

This seems to be the among people who are supposedly ‘like-minded’, the slightest fracture in our collective accord gives rise to disputes, arguments and bickering – on issues that have no real meaning or significance at all. Some issues are significant, and are of major import. Social media has turned most football fans into ranting, foaming monsters who want their manager sacked after one bad result, or who have become obsessed with the spending of money in the transfer window and the management of the football club, as if it was their money that was being spent. It’s almost as if the modern game has turned most football fans into amateur accountants.

And politics is no better. Twitter has become an echo chamber for partisans to shriek aneurysm-inducing tirades into the void hoping in desperation to change the world; a tactic that is most far removed from reasoned persuasion that one could ever hope for. If anyone has had their world view changed by this method, please step forward.

The on-going Labour leadership battle is a clear case in point. A schism has opened within the party that is irreconcilable, and with every day thousands and thousands of tweets from supporters of each side only help to broaden the ideological chasm that now exists in a party that has torn itself apart 140 characters at a time.

Social justice warriors, some well meaning, some spoiling for a fight – jump on the most tenuous acts of injustice or perceived slight – and seek to ruin reputations, credibility or debate. It’s right that people should be called out for expressing views that seek to harm or smear social sub-groups, or that re-enforce flimsy, inaccurate stereotypes. I can’t help feeling that the angry mob has tipped the balance in favour of widespread self-censorship and has seen withdrawal in public debate by reasoned voices and reasonable individuals.

Have we lost the art of civility? Have we fallen out of practice in being able to ‘agree to disagree’? It does seem that in feeding our will to power, our need f0r validation, that those who hold different opinions have become our mortal enemies.

Mainstream media hangs over us like an oppressive storm cloud that covers us all in a fug of negativity. It shapes not only public debate and opinion, but also manipulates our collective health and well-being.  The one-way/uni-directional  communication system that has been prevalent for decades makes us impotent. Social media  has torn this system asunder, presenting a right to reply, offering feedback on those narratives and giving a voice to the unheard. When we’re all screaming into the void, all that can be heard is our own solipsistic cries.

The poisoned well of social discourse

I don’t have the balls to be a woman. Not on Twitter. Not with all the bile, and loathing that put up with, day-after-day. Thankfully, I’m a middle-aged white male and my twitter mentions are generally untroubled by anyone. I like it that way, but I’ll happily take on a troll. If I were a woman, I wouldn’t have the courage the to use it and it often surprises me that the 52% of humanity do not leave social media en masse – and leave one giant global sausage party in their disgust.

Twitter has gone from a being a global chatroom and information source, to being a giant sewer – and women having an opinion do pay the heaviest price. It’s truly horrifying how the baseline of acceptable behaviour in public discourse has changed over the years, since our ‘real’ lives became enmeshed with our digital identities. Bigotry and anger are on the rise.

On Monday a black British woman who is currently guest-posting on the @ireland account on Twitter received a constant slew of racist and sexist abuse from right-wing, men’s rights/white power activists who took exception to an ethnic minority being a representation of Ireland. Most of the trolls were US-based and use the #altright hashtag, which is fascism by any other name.

Yesterday, actor Leslie Jones had her website hacked and had personal photos hacked from her iCloud account, posted onto her website by hackers, after receiving widespread abuse from trolls on Twitter simply for daring to be part of a re-make of Ghostbusters, and being, of course black.

Now that sex, drugs and rock n roll have been commodified, it seems that being a woman and having an opinion on the internet is the most subversive thing that one can do in 2016, unless of course you’re a beach-going muslim woman in France.

The causes in the rise in misogyny (and racism) are complex and understated. Male privilege has been eroded by growing acceptance of the rightful need for gender equality; more opportunities for women pose a threat to those who assume that the only place for a woman is in the kitchen and the bedroom. Bigots, fascists and alt-right-ers surely live in mother-less and sister-less vacuums of existence.

Late capitalism and globalization have been the vectors of a feminized workforce and transient populations, leading to widespread immigration in the industrialised world.  The losers in this have been white males, who have seen their seat at the top of the table jeopardised. The labour market has opened up, and the competition is now fierce. Free market and competition lie at the heart of right-wing thinking, yet only applies in certain contexts, and is only open to a particular demographic.

The third factor that fuels the alt-right trolls is their self-appointed role as guardians of freedom of speech; the ‘right to be able to offend’ is one of central tenets of their philosophy, so enshrined is it to the core of freedom, democracy and liberty.

This guardianship of free speech (and white culture) is a counter to the rise in political-correctness, which in theory, demonstrates a starting point of respect for interlocutor(s). Public discourse should be enjoyed without shaming, embarrassing or belittling members of society who don’t fit into ‘normative’ preconceptions. Political correctness is sometimes used a form of censorship which has also poisoned the well of social discourse, no less than the hateful trolls who victimise and attack; it stokes the burning fire of alt-right injustice. The ‘social justice warrior’ is a slur justly pinned to those who wish to see respectful civic principles and parameters applied to social discourse, as well as those who wish to take offence for the sake of it.

The insult of choice for this group ‘cuck’ – the emasculated man, quietened by what they see as the rampant spread of feminism – and is discussed by Dana Schwartz in this excellent article. Yet for people who are so passionate about freedom of speech and placing value in vocalising ‘real-men-stand-up-to-feminism’ machismo its surprising that so few are willing to come out from underneath their online handles and their symbolic avatars to show their real identities.

To assume that the likes of Donald Trump are the cause of it all, is to look through the wrong end of the microscope. Trump, and to a lesser extent Nigel Farage in the UK, have identified a segment of the population that is disenfranchised and disempowered with politics and the opportunities that are now available. The demand was already there – the uber-wealthy demagogues are the effect, not the cause.

All three are astute businessmen and entrepreneurs: they have chosen their markets wisely and researched the demand for their wares, their brand. Trump and Farage have tapped into an older, working-class segment of their markets. Milo, has chosen a different one but no less important; a younger demographic, using technology journalism.

This is a phenomena that has been gestating for a long time: the slow death of the industrial and manufacturing base of western economies, flatlining wages and job insecurity, the flow of immigration to wealthy economies, and the death of communities and civic pride; real estate as a significant economic driver, the threat of terrorism and of course, the internet have all created this heady concoction – the trio have exploited these factors to the max.

The real winners are of course, white men. Not all white men, no matter how much privilege white males enjoy in this world. It’s the white men who travel in entourages, wear expensive (pin-stripe) suits, whose everyday milieu is the boardroom, the conference, and the front page. It is they who have a far larger platform than a social media website and it is they who ultimately gain from the hatred.



Thy Barber: A cut above



It’s Saturday morning, and it’s the last Saturday that Thy Barber is doing walk-in haircuts, – they’ve been doing walk-ins only on a Saturday.  I like appointments for hairdressers and normally I’d book an appointment, but I was in need of a clip.

I’ve reviewed a couple of hairdressers, and could do hundreds more. But I don’t have time to write loads of terrible reviews, when there’s good ones to be done.

This is one such. I’ve found hairdressers (plural!) who cut hair well, and do exactly what I want. It’s taken me a while – and I’ve sat in so many barber/salon watching the hairdresser at work, judging them intently as they finish off the odds-and-sods of the back and sides, and brush down the current customer. Usually it’s with a creeping sense of dread at what I’m going to get.

“You having trouble with your name? Want some help?” Frank cheekily asks a hesitant customer, pointing to a thin blackboard where customers have added their names by order. The list isn’t very long, so the wait won’t be more than 30 minutes. Neil has been on the list at the top, but he seems to have wandered off.  The customer writes his name and waits.

Frank continues shaving his present customer. Pauly is just getting started on the sides of my head. When my hair grows out, there’s something weirdly satisfying about seeing it fall to the floor.

Being in Shoreditch you’d imagine it would be quirky. It’s a nicely decked out salon, but because it’s tucked in an alcove of sorts, between a restaurant and a biker-wear shop it is quite odd. They do make the most of the space and, most important, Pauly and Frank are great fellas too. When I have an appointment after work, they always offer me a beer and a comfy seat if I have to wait. I’ve been a few times now, and the haircuts are bloody good.


It’s pretty much a win-win all round, I love the booking system, which doesn’t even involve calling up and speaking to an actually human being. And you can get a text/e-mail reminder the day before your hair too.

At 26 quid for a haircut, it’s at the top end of the scale for what I’m prepared to pay – but I know that I can wait a couple of weeks longer than I’d normally and my hair will still look pretty damn good – that’s the sign of a bloody good haircut. The chat is good, and the the music ain’t bad either. The first time I went in there they were playing this, which is all right by me.

My only complaint is that they don’t wash your hair – there’s no basins (given the space constraints?), so that’s a minus, but I’d rather go home and wash my own hair knowing that I have a good haircut, rather than have it done for me and by someone does a mediocre job, so for some as fussy – about haircuts – for me its no big thing.


It might seem expensive, but they know what they’re doing and I’ve come away a very happy customer every time. Worth every penny.

Thy Barber – The Bike Shed, 384 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT