Charlotesville & Violence

The reaction to events in Charlottesville has been a major part of the news and social media cycle recently. Rightly so, although it’s worth remembering that banner head events like this are just the peaks of what can and does happen on a daily basis throughout the US and here in the UK too. It’s size makes it more prominent, but perhaps not massively more important than the daily acts of intolerance and hatred that some people set out to encourage and take part in.

One of the strands of reaction, one which I find perhaps more confusing than any, is the condemnation of those people who set out to physically resist the Fascist presence on the streets. It’s not the loudest line, fortunately, but it does have enough prominence to be a disturbing one so I figured I’d throw in my 2p’s worth of opinion on it.

I don’t understand how, or why, people try to analyse physical action as a political or philosophical act, I’m not sure everyone involved in it does at any rate. Even if you believe that some Fash or fellow travellers can be talked to and brought back from where they are (and I do) that’s a moot point when it comes to actual, street level action. The only question there is what effect their presence has on a community and what measures are needed to limit it, I don’t understand how anyone with any experience of the world can honestly try to break that down into a comfortable political talking point to be chewed over with sorry recriminations from a safe distance. When these people go out to march, or more usually just act up in their day to day lives, they’re not setting out to convert people, or convince people of their righteousness, they’re trying to assert their power, they do it solely to make themselves feel bigger and to intimidate and threaten the people around them. Saying no violence in return as a personal position might feel morally right to an individual, it might even be morally right to an individual but it’s still a myopic position and a selfish one to impose on other people.

Try to impose the same thinking on others, imagine it’s your family, your friends or your kids who are walking around that area when the Fash are out. Imagine it’s them being told they deserve to die, that they’re less than human, that they should be lynched or thrown in gas chambers. Imagine that it’s them being physically attacked for the colour of their skin, or their religion or for believing that Fash thinking is wrong. And that’ll all happen even without them being involved in any counter protest, it’ll happen just because they exist. It happens every day in fact. To condemn people who take physical action in return, or who defend those who are attacked in that way is, tbh, a fucking disgusted moral imposition to make on anyone especially if you’re taking your stand from a safe distance where you’re fairly sure you won’t face the same.

I’ve posted a statement from a former member of the clergy above (click to enlarge). To me that’s a truly decent position for any pacifist to take if they hold their beliefs honestly. You don’t have to fetishise violence or think it’s good or get a buzz off of it. You just have to accept that your moral stand (if that’s really what it is) isn’t viable or reasonable for everyone and perhaps even acknowledge that, if it were, it wouldn’t just be the philosophically peaceful counter-protestors who’d get a beating for it. If Fash felt they could act with impunity on the streets, whenever and wherever they are, it’d be whole communities who’d have to live with it. Day in and day out.

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Suicide and Cowardice

I’ve never listened to Linkin Park, or Korn for that matter, and long and varied as I hope my life’ll be I hold out zero desire to experience either band in the course of it. So when I touch on Chester Bennington’s suicide and the reaction to it here I’m not coming to it from any particular fan-ish or grieving angle, more a personal one given my own experiences with the suicidal and the depressed.

Chester’s death didn’t really come on to my radar to be honest. Someone I’d never heard of killed himself, sad but no more interesting or relevant to me than the deaths of anyone else whose time comes before it perhaps should. What has popped up on social media within my usual blank faced staring at the screen though is the angry reaction from Korn’s Brian Welch.

Honestly, Chester’s an old friend who we’ve hung with many times, and I have friends who are extremely close to him, but this is truly pissing me off! How can these guys send this message to their kids and fans?! I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sempethetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!! [sic]

There’s been a strong response to the above, even though he’s now apparently deleted it from Facebook and while many others have already touched on the feelings I share towards it I figure it does no harm to put it all in my own words. Some lazy, cheap headlines reported the statement as an outright attack on the man rather than one couched in a more personal disappointment from someone whose own experiences, apparently, have some comparison to Bennington’s. Some of the initial outrage was mediated when people bothered to look beyond the misleading hackery that they first saw. Even if the statement had been nothing more than third rate editors decided to label it as though the aggressive response wasn’t, in my opinion, necessarily fair.

Suicide, and to a degree the depression that can precede it, can be taken in two ways and the closer you are to the individual in question the truer that becomes. On the one hand the factual realities of mental illness are, as any decent person can realise, tragic ones. People who drift so far into their problems/condition really shouldn’t be judged or attacked for the manifestations of them, any more than a victim of more clearly physical disorders should. On the other hand though mental health problems, while they may be illnesses, aren’t as easily quarantined into disdain as physical ailments. It’s easy to section off a physical disease from the person afflicted, it’s easy to hate what the former does while never for a second losing love for the latter. But with mental health the illness can become so insidiously wired into the behaviour of the individual that it’s hard, or even near impossible, to be objective about it.

From my own personal experience I’ve known individuals who’ve committed suicide and been driven to the point of attempting or openly considering it. And my reaction, like Brian Welch’s, wasn’t exactly as detached and understanding as some of those attacking him might have liked it to be. In fact at times it’s been downright bitter and disdainful and even if I didn’t term their actions as ‘cowardly’ I can’t deny that my views weren’t much more friendly or considerate. I was angry at them, or more accurately at my inability to help them, or the world for leading them to a place where the hope I wanted for them became such an impossibility in their eyes. I was even disgusted by them at times, although never openly, because I wanted their problems to become a matter of choice. Helpless in the face of them I wanted it to be a simple matter of personal strength to escape that trap they’d fallen into. Much as I told myself that it was the manifestations of an illness and not the nature of a person I was dealing with that was a hard line to maintain in day to day life, where that truth wasn’t just considered as a ‘right’ thing but was tested as a daily requirement.

Now, with a measure of hindsight and more comfortably separated from the more visceral immediacy of things I can certainly say that my reactions could have and should have been better but at the time, as I experienced the loss, or was around the destructive force of people being driven into that extreme darkness, I reacted as a human being being effected by someone close to them. I reacted, I think, naturally for the circumstances. Which isn’t to say I didn’t do what I felt to be best to help them but it is to say that the understanding, benign feelings I would have liked to have felt towards them and within myself were near impossible to maintain.

And that’s an important thing to remember when it comes to comments like Brian Welch’s. His insensitivity, his cruelty even, weren’t the sum total of his broader reaction to mental health, they were a reaction to a death which to everyone who isn’t in a place where suicide becomes a necessity will always seem avoidable. They were a reaction to the loss of a friend who, as everyone whose been around similar situations will know, will always leave him wondering whether there was some way to stop it from happening. That they seem so personal, so vitriolic is a testament to the nature of the illness rather than the failings of the man himself. As I said, depression is insidious, consuming and winds its way into every aspect of who a person is. To hate it is, in part, to always risk the act of hating it’s victim too. And as abhorrent as that may seem from a distance, as much as we may all want to be the sound voice of reason which can judge the condition as wholly separate from the person, the closer you are the harder that gets to do.

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Artistic Endeavours

During my time in Nepal (and more on that later, perhaps) I found myself in a writing slump. Not a bad one, I’ve finished a new novel which I’m currently editing to the point of literary perfection, but the sort of lull that comes when you’ve spent a while living in your own world. Coming back to reality is always a slightly off putting experience after that, partially frustrating, sometimes isolating but always a noticeable shift from the steady (and sometimes glorious) immersion of a big project. So in an attempt to hold myself back from habitual drinking and the talking of nonsense with passersby I picked up a pen and paper and drew some stuff. After that (and during it, for that matter) I got on with the habitual drinking and of talking nonsense too and regarding that – a special thanks to Sam’s Bar of Kathmandu (and V, owner/barmaid extraordinaire) for putting up with me occupying a quiet corner for my arting.

Anyway, I’m no artist, I claim no talent and have no skills but I did enjoy taking the time to play with a form that I could give in to without getting caught up in the need to be good at it. It was a nice way to lean back from words but still create something, no matter how minor, that I could look at with at least a little pride. I recommend it, create something or, if you already create stuff as a passion/job/vocation, create something unrelated, enjoy a little freedom with your thoughts.

Now I’m back I’d like to do more drawing (and a couple of these have been done in London) but just as a hobby, a way to claim some space away from more involved work.  For now though here are the fruits of my limited labours…

 

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Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower

On Grenfell Tower – Don’t think there’s much to be said about the fire, not by me anyway. My thoughts are with those who’ve lost their homes, friends and families and I hope that more have survived than are expected to, bad as it looks now.

As for what’s to come I hope that they get some real justice. Not just as far as the causes of the fire go but in getting their homes back too. I don’t think it takes too much experience of London housing, or cynicism, to suspect what’s going to happen. The immediate temporary accommodation they’ll be offered won’t be good, because with most councils it isn’t and there’s always the chance that they’ll have to fight to get it and even when they’re in it might end up being isolated from work/friends/family and all the other necessities and supports that you’d imagine people need even more in the wake of something like this. Doubtful that they’ll get the psychological support they need in the wake of this either, unless it comes from the/a community which organises to provide it. The resources for the state to do it haven’t been there in a long time, even without horrific shit like this happening.

Longer term they’ll be shifted around London (and hopefully just London) to make use of inadequate council housing stock which even the boroughs which will take them in won’t really be able to spare. With luck it’ll be appropriate at least, but I wouldn’t say that’s guaranteed either, families might end up in places which are too small, the elderly, people with disabilities, parents worried about getting their kids to school might all find themselves cut off from established support or workable ways to keep life as normal as it can be.

The rebuilding work, when it starts, will almost certainly take place once the media glare has faded a bit. It’ll probably take place with either a private or ‘partner’ developer who’ll spend more on PR than on consultation with residents. The new build will focus on profit and telling the right lies about ‘social’ or ‘affordable’ housing – both of which are generally a bad joke in this city.

Going on the usual routine and unless something drastic changes the people who have to argue for their right to move back, for their community to exist and for decent housing will be the people who’ve suffered the most. Hopefully with support from the rest of us, but probably not with much, if any, from central government or the media. Maybe a few paragraphs in three years time about long term campaigners amongst the residents wondering where all the promises went.

Anyway, I hope I’m wrong about some/all of that but, as things stand, I’m not optimistic unless some radical change comes. The only way that’ll happen is if the concern and anger a lot of people are showing now lasts. As the story fades there’ll be plenty of people happy to let it go, relying on the fact that everyone else will forget enough for nothing to be done. Things’ll be buried in long investigations and reports which don’t lead to any action and which, if they do, won’t do enough, soon enough to help those who’ve lost.

Anyway, hopefully I’m just being a miserable bastard, watching the coverage and residents on TV hasn’t helped. Hopefully serious steps will be taken immediately. Central funding for decent temporary accommodation, active use of all the empty housing stock in the borough (1,000+ places, apparently) and a proper new build with absolutely guaranteed right to return for Grenfell residents and real consultation.

Update 19/10/2017:

Added without comment…

Twenty Suicide Attempts Since Fire (BBC)

Grenfell Tower Executive Still On Full Pay

Police block key information…

Failed Housing Promises

 

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Trump’s Militias, Perhaps

I was reading the other day about the militias that go down to the border and play soldier in the sand dunes. A mix between racism, paranoia, overdone patriotism, dressing up and just harassing random brown people – imagining that they’re all cartel bosses and hitmen. Border agency and police seem to let them just do their thing, although some actively work with them – either as individuals or as unofficial policy – feeding them info, marking out travel routes etc. They also have a strong Trump supporting tendency, unsurprisingly.

Probably the only thing you can say in their favour is that these organised militias at least operate with some tenuous notion of control. They keep the crazies localised, listed and, almost certainly, riddled with informers. Which, if you’re going to have heavily armed racists and apocalyptic day dreamers is better than just letting them squat in rural bunkers wanking away the days until they can re-enact Red Dawn.

I do wonder though, as one of the many depressing possibilities of US politics, how they’ll react under Trump. If the wall goes up and, worse, if there’s real follow through on the mass deportations then these are just the people to appoint themselves as enforcers.

Hopefully, maybe even probably, the grand claims about deporting non-citizens will be on the same level as prohibition. Photo ops and headlines but next to zero success. Not that that’s good, but it’s better than the alternative if you’re liable to be a victim to it. With militia groups thinking of themselves as auxiliaries to the right wing of the state though and people within the official structures happy to feed their sense of self-importance who knows what’ll happen. Even if it turns out to be a hollow promise from Trump they and their fellow travelers could still assume the duty and get away with more violence and harassment with even minimal legal backing. Can even justify it as a loyal supporter – Donald may have to compromise in speeches, but we know he wants us dragging Mexicans out of their homes and to the border. So does the local Sheriff, border agent, community etc.

Anyway, just a thought.

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