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  • To Be A Man

    Let start off with a couple of disclaimers. As a feminist, I want to stress that this discussion isn’t a whataboutery attempt of downplaying the necessary struggle for gender equality. As a white, English speaking, heterosexual male this is also not a whataboutery attempt at avoiding to accept my life is enhanced by privilege. This discussion is important because any societal system that negatively affects members of the population is worthy of discussion. If not just to understand the mentally of others, but to encourage the improvement of the short life we all get to live.

    I don’t know who this is aimed at. It might make no difference, or the smallest of differences. The intention is not self glorification, or pretentious mansplaining. It’s a waffle of thoughts that I, as a white, heterosexual male who is not and never has been an alpha male have had throughout my life, and hopefully a suggestion on how society can navigate this discussion going forwards.

    Being a man is, in many ways, simple. To look good we just have to keep our hair short and put on a plain white tshirt. Kick and ball and cheer when England score. Have a beer after work. That simplicity is absolutely fine. Having masculine qualities is absolutely fine. It is the continuation of that mentality with a weak counter narrative which grows into toxic masculinity. We are encouraged to grow a pair, to bottle up emotion. We are limited in the sports we are allowed to follow. We are expected to be brave by the same definition a Greek hero would slip into. Our rooms, our faces and our film tastes should reflect our lack of femininity. Romantic films suggest even in the face of rejection we need to continue to pursue the women we like.

    These themes are best analysed in the way generations of patriarchy suggest we should interact with women we like. Being dominant during sex means only we decide what we should or shouldn’t do - consent is understood in the simplest way imaginable. Take just the other day, a man gropes a barmaid before getting tackled and arrested for it, and the comments to the article justify the action because the way the woman was dressed meant she was asking for it. Asking to have sex without a condom, being rejected, then asking the same question again. Suggesting to do anal, rejected, then suggesting the same thing again. Of course, these examples are reliant on their context, and if trust is established and you are aware based on what has been explicitly advised beforehand, ‘stop it’ can be playful, or it can be serious. It’s another result of a weak counter narrative to toxic masculinity that some people are not aware how the above example is not in any way confusing. Without in any way defending the indefensible, if all a man has heard in his life is that he is the supreme decider of what their partner means when they say anything, while primarily blaming him and condemning his awful actions, we need to stop ignoring pointing fingers towards the system that encourages him to think that way.

    The way men talk to men is indicative of the system. The drive to write this piece came from a next to nothing incident at the gym this morning - two walking stereotypes of alpha-maleness were being rude to somebody who had politely told them he was in fact using the bench they had just sat on. The tone, the physical way they stationed themselves to appear intimidating, the explanatory manner in which they explained how the gym goer should have put a towel on the bench seemed to be justified by the fact that they were huge and the guy was skinny. That this was the animal kingdom and they were the alphas. Even if things are changing, there are qualities about these men which we are actually told to look up to. Dominant, strong-willed, physically imposing. Though most people would describe these two men as dicks, in another conversation the above qualities would be used in the form of ‘I like my man to be a man’.

    That system is everywhere. In my own way I have grown up with it around me. My parents never forced me into any activities or hobbies society deemed normal for my gender. I got Power Ranger megazord toys for Christmas as well as a Polly pocket Beauty and the Beast castle set. My dad was a passionate football fanatic but never pushed me into joining him with it. It would take 14 years for me to start to enjoy it on my own terms. This meant I grew up happy, with friends from all different backgrounds. As I moved up the years of Primary school I was mostly friends with girls as I gravitated away from boys who didn’t share the same interests as me. I also didn’t like my hair short so had neck-length hair for most of my childhood. I loved acting, Greek mythology, musicals, Disney, reading, tennis and art. Nothing seemed weird about these hobbies - why would it seem weird to do things you liked? I stayed away from most sports because, simply, I didn’t enjoy how physical it would get. I was referred to as gay at times in the playground but this never felt like bullying, probably because I was prepubescent and my uncle was gay - so this just didn’t feel like an insult.

    Everything got examined differently when I moved into secondary school. While gay was used as an playful observation at primary school it was now used as more of an insult. In what became a constant soap drama of heterosexual relationships, if you were not closely similar to a masculine archetype you were deemed gay. I was one of a few guys at school who didn’t fit this type for a variety of reasons, and therefore was defined by my peers. The irony was this was not always sinister. I was told on three occasions by close girl friends that they knew I was gay and that that wasn’t a problem. While there is a different space to discuss the complexities of sexuality, going through puberty usually means you have the best idea out of anyone who and what you are attracted to, and while glossing over the details of male puberty, I never truly had a doubt of my heterosexuality.

    But another theme was emerging as I grew older. I was not successful with meeting girls and progressing into intimacy. In fact, it was after I graduated that I first even kissed a woman. Oddly enough during school this didn’t panic me so much, but I noticed how it definitely became a reason others used to justify their definitions of my sexuality. The panic started to set in when I started university. Not being a toxen macho guy physically was one thing (I was extremely skinny, had horrific hair management and fashion sense), but I found it harder and harder to get started. To say I felt pressure is belittling it in the extreme. Some others will know the feeling when having a night with friends and playing drinking games or other games like ‘never have I ever’. Even at 18 years old you were expected to have had sex, and you didn’t dare admit you hadn’t. The result was either avoiding such gatherings or lying, which became painfully easy as time went on. It might seem ridiculous to portray myself as a victim when I admit to lying and portraying myself falsely to my friends and acquaintances, but to explain how someone can deal with anxieties without admitting to lying to make life easier is often disingenuous. Simply put, the structures established by society forced even my good friends into unintentionally making me feel uncomfortable. Though I have a few close friends who I was able to be completely open with, it still felt like a secret which carried a ridiculous amount of weight I shouldn’t have had to carry. You start to overcompenstate your own masculinity to the level you feel like you should reach.

    As time moved on, as I dealt with being independent following my Dad’s death, living abroad and working on my self confidence, I managed to successfully enter into some more 'masculine' arenas without trying to conform to their entirety (though many times I did just that). Things like flirting on dating apps and going to the gym. Incredibly, due to this or due to my circles being older and more mature, the pressure relaxed. People stopped making assumptions and stopped asking certain questions about my sexuality. While maintaining what was described as my ‘feminine qualities’ by my peers - such as my comfort with discussing my vulnerabilities, my enjoyment of singing, of being good with kids, of being an attentive listener to my friend’s problems and even on a few occasions my ‘long eyelashes’ - I found adulthood more forgiving to complex identities.

    Which brings me to today. Perhaps due to having my first sexual experience later than the average guy, or to have a childhood devoid of gender definition, or the fact that I have always maintained that as easier as it would seem to be a alpha male, I like the person I am - I have found the transition into adulthood uncomplicated and surprisingly natural. I enjoy aspects of myself which are masculine by definition, as much as I enjoy feeling completely comfortable in expressing my emotions. My dating life is completely frank about this mix, and it has allowed me to relax on dates without resorting to distortions of myself. This is naturally not everybody’s type and I am in a good place of completely understanding this. Some women like someone more traditionally masculine. Some are put off by emotions. And this is, once again, absolutely fine.

    My issue, having grown up constantly fighting against the expectation of being a man, is noticing when others reach adulthood and have not been exposed to the possibility of countering that one narrative. This is relevant mostly because suicide is the mostly likely cause of death for adult males in the UK. Reported cases of domestic abuse are still at soaring levels - not even counting unreported cases. With the BlackLivesMatter and the MeeToo movements have come a backlash of white men who don’t understand a society where their masculine privilege is at risk, and so turn to figures such as Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson for comfort.

    I believe, that what we understand about what being a man is, is very much a personal journey, and something which - like everything else throughout history - is going to be affected by the progressiveness of society. For one example, I believe that within a few years it will be considered normal for fathers to take extensive paid paternity leave to be with their child allowing the mother to go back to work. With this will be a (at times reluctant) acceptance that the breadwinner could be either parent, and your gender won’t be affected by expecting this. As a society becomes more open to difference, we will start normalising new definitions of manliness. The success of Netflix’s Queer Eye for example has shown how grooming and self improvement and being vulnerable are not obstacles to being a man.

    There will always be a backlash. Resistance to change - especially to such a monumental change to the fabric of society such as the breakdown of male superiority - is inevitable. That resistance will take place across all genders, all sexualities, all nationalities and cultures. The end game is not to try and change people. I never would want to go back and make myself into an archetype. The end game is to raise the profile of counter narratives. In this specific discussion, the end game is to encourage parents, teachers, society (including both men and women) that while their preference is their right, there are so many different understandings of being a man than just strict alpha qualities. Being a loving father can be a man. Being a good listener can be a man. Being brave enough to come out to your parents can be a man. Being aware enough to accept privilege can be a man. It is possible to be dominant and rough in bed while still being intimate and receptive. It’s possible to like shooting video games and romantic comedies.

    Being a man is very much like being a human, we are individuals, and there is no need to suppress identity. There is no need to conform when it doesn’t feel right. Your penis doesn’t disappear when you open up. Bicep size can show many things, but not the strength of character. Though it might seem troublesome and confusing to replace the idea we have of men with a gap-fill for you to define yourself, I believe, and have long believed, that we’ll be better men for doing so, for figuring it out, and jotting it down.

     

  • The Deafening Silence of the Anti-Semitism Debate We’re Not Having - How a glance beyond what's reported tells us something profound about the complex nature of anti-Semitism in today’s society.

    Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show, began his program in July 2014 with a segment discussing the Israel-Gaza Conflict. In the art of satire, his correspondents immediately surrounded him, yelling incomprehensibly in parody of American political rhetoric, resulting with him settling on discussing the ‘lighter’ topic of Crimea’s annexation from the Ukraine.

    While comedy and late night shows often get discredited due to their political bias and satirical element, there was something fascinatingly poignant about this Israel piece. Few can argue - though exaggerated for comical reasons - that it acted out a real and problematic issue in society. A debate on anti-semitism is certainly happening, and has been happening for a while. This debate is usually a melange of whether Israel has the right to exist, the intense focus on Israeli affairs compared to other world issues, whether Zionism is inherently linked to the racism or if that implication is itself anti-semitic and so on. All of these count as framing the discussion of what is considered anti-semitic in today’s society. And though all debates require a division of opinion, none attract as much anger and noise and inability to progress through issues quite like the 21st century debate on Israel, Jewish integration into society, and anti-semitism.

    In what is promoted by both sides as a highly emotional disagreement, a thorough understanding of these issues gets lost amongst the passion. Once the noise dies down, a contextualised, academic reflection on them is possible, but this is rarely offered and rarely available to us. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party might well have an ‘anti-semitic problem’, but what does the word itself mean? Would a better understanding of it mean criticism of Israeli policy can be better acknowledged? Who is taking offense? On what grounds is that offense caused? Who are offending Jews deliberately? How do you navigate the conversation properly to discuss actual political matters? Are we actually having a debate about anti-semitism, or about something else?

     

    The Debate We Are Having.

    I generously title this section as a ‘debate’, but I do so with a loose understanding of the term. Jon Stewart’s segment correctly identified the lack of a genuine debate on Israel's policies in the media, and no matter how important the issues which we are discussing are, to describe them as a ‘thoughtful debate’ is perhaps not accurate.

    The contemporary issue is Corbyn and the Labour Party. The debate specifically is ‘do they have a problem with anti-semitism?’ In certain corners of the public space the question might even be ‘are they anti-semitic?’ In Dave Rich’s take on the ‘Left’s Jewish Problem’, he begins by stating that ‘these trends on the left long predate Corbyn’s leadership and stretch well beyond the Labour Party. The crisis - as Rich calls it - is due to the contradiction of a political stance which describes itself as anti-racist, yet whose default position has become a strong opposition to Israel and Zionism. Corbyn himself has come under fire for showing support for the creator of an anti semitic mural in 2012. Various Jewish groups have accused him of ‘siding with anti semites’, a call back to questions he received upon becoming leader.

    The accusations have strong legitimacy in their concerns, especially to the Jewish community, and to understand this we must consider Rich’s assertion that ‘most British Jews feel a personal, emotional or spiritual connection to Israel’. Acknowledging this allows us to identify why they feel so aggrieved. Corbyn has accepted multiple links to documented anti semites and holds passionate views on Palestinian rights as well as being a vocal critic of the state of Israel. In addition to this, a number of high profile Labour MPs, councillors and members have been accused of clear cases of using anti semitic language. In March, Corbyn apologised for the ‘pain caused by the surfacing of anti-semitism in the Labour Party’, and acknowledged on behalf of the party that he had been too slow in condemning, and stamping out those issues.

    To deny that many of these matters are clear examples of anti-semitism, such as Alan Bull, former Labour candidate for Peterborough who was suspended for sharing a Facebook post declaring the Holocaust was a hoax - is an example of refusing to engage on the subject of what anti-semitism is, even in the face of a passionate and justifiable support for Palestinian rights. Some actions are beyond the pale.

    But these examples of clear anti-semitism are not what this article is about. I am going to move forward with the assumption that anybody reading this is aware that Holocaust denial, or describing the Jewish community using Nazi propaganda imagery are examples of rhetoric which is simply unacceptable in today’s society.

    This article is about the conversation we are not having. As according to reports, anti semitic incidents are rising, and if the Chakrabarti report is correct in suggesting that there is ‘too much clear evidence of ignorant attitudes’ in the Labour party which lead to anti-semitism (a suggestion which could easily be spread to society in general), it might be necessary to now engage in that conversation.



    The Debate We Are Not Having.

    Let's agree on what we disagree

    Shortly following Ken Livingstone’s suspension from the Labour party in April 2016, BBC’s flagship debate program The Big Question decided to air an extremely relevant episode titled ‘Is anti-Zionism anti-semitic?’ Unfortunately, the entire episode became a disagreement about issues masked as definitions, without once actually discussing the different definitions themselves. This is systematic of similar debates, where the conversation can never effectively begin because both parties engage in a semantic debate without touching on the semantics themselves.

    Anthony Ostrin, committee member for inter-faith matters at West Hampstead Synagogue in London, told me what Zionism means to him. ‘It is the support of a Jewish state, run by Jews for the benefit of Jews. However, I think that Zionism, achieved its aim by the state of Israel being set up in 1948’. Anthony describes himself as ‘an average Jew’ and not ‘somebody of authority’. It is an interesting analysis of our society today that we look to certain individuals to inform us on public opinion, rather than value the opinion of the public themselves. Despite there being many high profile Jewish voices in politics and the media, the voice of ‘the average Jew’ is often hard to find.

    Take for example, the rhetoric of Israeli president, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, only a few years ago stated: "The state of Israel [...] is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people.’ Such a stance, and the connotations it brings regarding the Palestinian people, lights the match for a firework of pointless debate. Anthony’s definition of Zionism presents us with an opportunity for a progressive discussion, where Jewish identity and political discourse have linked, but identifiable different paths. This was strongly supported by a report in 2015 of British Jews, detailing that 93% of people polled said they support Israel’s right to exist, while 64% considered they ‘have the right to judge Israel and its policies’. Such a point is surely a better place to start the discussion.

    On the other side of what, from afar, looks like a raging shouting contest, are those who maintain a firm anti-Zionist approach in support of the Palestinian people. What Rich describes as a broadly ‘mainstream left-wing [movement]’, it is a position largely supported in the UK, with a poll last year showing 53% of people polled believed the UK should recognise Palestine as a state. Oliver Vargas, co-chair of Sheffield University Palestinian Society does not fit the pantomime shouting role you might expect having tuned into The Big Questions. Passionate, but calm and composed, he points me in the direction of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance website for their definition of anti-semitism, one he broadly agrees with. The definition is as follows:

    “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

    The definition extends to include insinuations of Jews conspiring to harm humanity, employing sinister stereotypes and negative character traits. Oliver also adds that, to his understanding, ‘a lot of this isn’t actually simply saying I hate x’, a lot of it is more tropes, use of stereotypes, which there are many people who also haven’t had an education in’. This opinion is supported by the Chakrabarti report as well as many accused on using anti-semitic language citing ‘ignorance’ as their explanation.

    Though in a debate we naturally try to remain focused on how we’re different, it’s important to note how some issues go further than a binary black and white disagreement. Oliver regards zionism as ‘a political ideology’, something which suggests the term cannot exist outside it’s political significance, but it is interesting to draw a link to what many of the Jewish community could agree with, that Zionist rhetoric can be politicised. A lot depends on delivery, so declaring Zionism to be ‘a colonialist ideology’ might be immediately offensive to Jews, though exploring the question with more thoughtfulness might yield different results. Anthony initially rejected the colonialism comparison, but after a pause, suggested ‘In Britain, the mandate it had between 1917 and 1948, I suppose to a point, in that time, it could be considered as colonialism. But now, if the state want us [the diaspora] to go there to help make up the numbers - that then becomes an Israeli political issue. I don’t believe that is the same as saying Zionism itself can be used for political means’.


    The voices of the monopoly, and the nutters.

    Shortly before Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in September 2015, the Jewish Chronicle ran a piece which began with the following text:

    The JC rarely claims to speak for anyone other than ourselves. We are just a newspaper. But in this rare instance we are certain that we speak for the vast majority of British Jews in expressing deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr Corbyn’s election as Labour leader.

    Though a separate debate could establish if the points raised in the article were justifiable concerns or not, it is interesting to note how the JC felt comfortable to suggest they speak for the ‘vast majority of British Jews’. Certainly, election results show that Corbyn is unpopular among the Jewish community, (the 2017 election figure as low as 14%) but such a phrase can likely reject any indication that there might be different set of Jewish voices to listen to too. It does not seem an exaggeration to describe the JC as a monopoly of Jewish opinion in the UK media, seeing as a 2014 report showed that it was regularly read by 156,000 people, equivalent to 67% of UK Jews. It was therefore telling that in April, when Corbyn spent passover with a local left-wing Jewish group Jewdas, that mainstream media outlets attacked the group, led by the Daily Mail describing them as ‘a hate-filled group that mocks Judaism’ and Andrew Neil calling them ‘nutters’. The implication was that there is such a thing as a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ type of Jew, and that a group which had radical views and which supported Corbyn belonged in the latter category.

    Jewdas released a furious response to such suggestions, stating that ‘Then our communal leaders will rally together and tell all the Jews who disagree to shut up [...] and proclaim all the Jews who still disagree are not really Jews. [...] Already now, the Chronicle is flipping its lid that a politician has acknowledged the existence of a Jewish group that isn’t on their list of ‘correctly Jewish’ organisations.’ Once again, whether Jewdas’ stance on issues are deemed correct or not is another journalist’s problem. The key takeaway from this is despite the reality of a diverse community, we’re encouraged to view them all as the same, with the same opinions and the same fears. A healthier debate - while still weighed appropriately according to opinion - would surely show both the Jewish and the wider community that British Jews hold as diverse views as the rest of us.

    This is a recurring issue within the Jewish community, with zionism and the validity of the state of Israel proving to be the biggest division amongst them. Anti-Zionist Jews have been criticised and discredited by fellow Jews, as well as by the extreme right. Valerie Cocks, the former head of Labour Friends of Israel, called Jon Lansman ‘the worst anti semitic Jew I have ever seen,’ and that “the Jewish enemies” are always worse. In 2005, Israeli professor Ilan Pappe was forced to resign from his post at Haifa University for endorsing the international academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The Jerusalem Post declared that Bernie Sanders ‘hates Israel’ due to comments he made in the 2016 U.S. election about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is equally correct to point out that the rhetoric used by anti-Zionists can often creep into anti-semitism territory, such as using ‘Stop the Holocaust in Gaza’ placards. A 2017 article in The Forward asked 25 American Rabbis What is one thing Jews need to stop doing?Infighting’ came out on top.

    At the same time, the intensity to which both the Jewish and the mainstream media covered the Labour party pointed to a different problem. When I asked Anthony for his thoughts on the subject he stated that ‘At the moment I think it’s being very well reported to be quite frank. Incidents of anti-semitism are reported when they haven’t been so in the past. The press needn’t have reported anything at all and just left it alone. We know these things are happening, but it is usually very hard to fight for them unless other people are hearing about them’. A valid counter-argument would be why, when such incidents in other political parties occur, they are not reported with as much ferocity? Incidents such as when Tory MP Aidan Burley dressed up as a Nazi for a stag party in 2011. It is an important question about how anti-semitism is being reported on the whole, not a use of whataboutery, but this still shouldn’t take away from the fact that highlighting the issue is important, especially seeing that hate incidents against Jewish people is rising.


    The Political Lines We Cross

    So now it is clear that there are two thought processes to consider if we are going to enter into a thoughtful debate. The first is understanding what the terms we use mean and navigating the discussion without offending a whole community, and second is - having done that - clearly identifying political points if we have any and if they are relevant.

    The current issue is a fascinating example. A discussion which should run alongside the criticism of the Labour Party - alongside, and not instead of - is if there is any political background for such an onslaught of investigative reporting? In April, 42 senior academics signed a letter complaining what they saw as an ‘anti-Corbyn bias’ in the media coverage over the anti-semitism issue. They concluded that ‘the debate on anti-semitism has been framed in such a way as to mystify the real sources of anti-Jewish bigotry and instead to weaponise it against a single political figure just ahead of important elections’. The points they raise are worthy of consideration, stating how major outlets have reported the story in such a way as to suggest that anti-semitism is a bigger problem within the Labour party than as a country as a whole (whereas reports contradict this), that there is a distinct lack of Jewish voices reported who support Corbyn, a lack of relevant context explaining possible motivations for his political critics and that the media does not spend any time discussing the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, especially places like Hungary. It is important to highlight these points, because if the desire is to effectively combat the rise of anti-semitic attitudes, why have the daily number of published stories on the subject rarely, if ever touched on this? With this in mind, what is the political benefit of such a collaboration of partisan suspect media?

    The slippery slope that a discussion of politics invites however, is a comparison with one of the most common forms of anti-semitism; the conspiracy of Jews controlling aspects of society. This leads back to extreme examples of anti-semitism, spefifically The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 1903 text describing how the Jewish people had a plan for global domination. The Protocols and linked texts have been used by many people to validate persecution of Jews including the Soviets under Stalin and the Nazis. It is a serious link to make and alarm bells rightly should ring when anybody starts to go down that road. Similarly, Holocaust Denial is another certain indication that the person in question is in the same category of thought. These are points often agreed on all sides, from Anthony to Oliver, to Netanyahu, to Noam Chomsky.

    Bearing these points strongly in mind, the question to ask is why do many Palestinian supporters step over the line deliberately, link the Holocaust and conspiracy ideas to the Palestinian cause, resulting in offence and enragement for many in the Jewish community?

    There are three possible explanations for the use of Holocaust comparisons. The first, simply, is that they mean it. The possibility should never be absent from any suspicion, and educated, deliberate anti-semitism is by no means a rarity. The second, is that the speakers see a validating point to the comparison. In 2002, Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago suggested that Israel were ‘evoking the spirit of Auschwitz’ in its West Bank policies. In December 2016, Ecuadorian official made the same point, saying that there is 'nothing more similar' to Nazis than Israel policy towards Palestinians. Reduced to its simplicity, the route of this argument lies in the joining of both issues under the notion of ‘ethnic cleansing’. However, as the anti-Zionist Professor Moshé Machover remarks in the Big Questions episode, such a comparison is ‘needlessly hyperbole, and unnecessarily provocative’. There is a strong argument to be made on the Israeli government’s position in this matter, one that many Jews actually are critical of too, but this argument is lost immediately when, taken upfront, comes across as nothing more than blatant anti-semitism. The third is when they know it is not a valid comparison, but know doing so will have a shock value. Controversial American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein explains the tactic:you make the analogy with the Nazis, because that was the only thing that resonated for Jews. If you compared the Palestinians to Native Americans, nobody would give a darn.’ 

    A similar breakdown can work on the subject of ‘the conspiracy of Jews’. There are some who genuinely believe there’s an international conspiracy of Jews intent on global domination. Others, attempt to make sensible points but ruin them with suggestions of Jews running world order, comments which are either disturbingly ignorant or deliberate, both can easily be seen as anti semitic. Using such language is a woeful contributor to the debate, as there are important political points to be raised here. The Israeli lobby in the United States has long been accepted as a a wielder of significant influence in Congress, and similar criticisms have been made about its role and influence in British politics. When these points are careless in their construction, it becomes easy to dismiss them as anti-semitic. It is also a tactic which supporters of Israeli policy often exploit to limit conversation, Oliver suggesting that they ‘take advantage of and cast a massively wide net’, reducing the ability to criticise.


    A Consideration of Sensitivities

    The last point to consider, is perhaps the most important one. Why is it that such accusations offend many in the Jewish community so much that debate is lost before it has had a chance to begin?

    ‘We have a background of persecution. We’re aware all the time of potential persecution. We are forever conscious of it due to our history’. There is no panic or worry displayed by Anthony as he tells me this, he remains as calm and composed as he has done throughout the interview, but there is a deep seriousness in his voice here, an implication that these words are a reality that he has had to carry with him throughout his life.  

    A study from New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 2015 suggested how Holocaust survivors had passed the trauma of the experience down to their children. Even though the study has its critics due to its attempt to use epigenetics to explain transgenerational trauma, it is difficult to not recognise how being part of a minority group (0.5% of the UK population) which has been persecuted for centuries would not affect subsequent generations. Peter Wilby of The New Statesman wrote in 2002: ‘They no longer routinely suffer gross or violent discrimination; indeed, in the US and Europe at least, Jews today are probably safer than most minorities. But the Holocaust remains within living memory, as do the language and the iconography used by the Nazis to prepare the way for it. We have a special duty of care not to revive them.’

    Holocaust education is now a legal requirement in the English National Curriculum. Before the 1980s this was not the case, and as Rich explains ‘until this time, there was little or no education in schools and universities about the Holocaust, and public commemoration, even by the Jewish community, was on a small scale’. It is therefore a fair point to make, that an understanding of the Jewish trauma might be slightly less evident to those not well educated in the subject, but this has become an increasingly limited defence with the multitude of commemorations, museums and films in the last twenty years.

    It is a clear conclusion, based on the motivation for this entire article, that the significance of the Holocaust or the understanding behind the Jewish community’s fear of persecution should not be an automatic obstacle to a progressive and fruitful debate on important, contemporary subjects. But a consideration of sensitivities, of history, of semantics, and a well-structured argument respectful of these issues are crucial points to adopt in pursuit of such a conversation. It is hard to predict if this debate is possible, though considering the lack of reporting on the rise of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and an extremely vocal American government in support of one side, it’s future looks problematic at best. In the meantime, while duped into believing we’re engaging in a useful debate on the subject, the plurality of voices have become binary. It is our duty as conversational framers to reverse this, and start listening to and understanding one another.  




  • The Big Solution

    Imagine, if you will, that every month without fail, with no questions asked, £1000 drops into your bank account. There’s no rules for what you need to spend it on, it is not means tested. It is universal - it’s for everyone, unconditionally, continuing for the rest of your life.

    In a time where big ideas are so desperately needed, It is certainly a big idea, and has the potential to completely change the fabric of society, to change our understanding of work. As of now, many of the population have to work to survive, some of them are unable to find work due to disability or behavioural problems and thus rely on benefits to live. The mental stress this makes people feel is more than we would wish on our enemies, let alone those simply born into a more problematic lifestyle in terms of potential of social mobility.

    Basic income changes this. Firstly, the main point is in the name itself. By ‘basic’, it means you will have enough to cover your basic needs. Rent, food, bills, all covered. By the same token, poverty and homelessness would be eradicated. Your right - as a citizen - is to have the most basic demands to survive guaranteed to you. This isn’t about buying middle-class lifestyles. When rent can cost £1200 on average in London for a family flat, two UBIs plus bills and food doesn’t leave much left to spend on luxuries. It is basic, and you get the basics you need for a equal starting point in life.

    If this wasn’t life-changing enough in its simplicity, the greater societal change is actually the empowerment citizens will then get. Basic income gives the people the power to say no. They can tell an employer how many hours they wish to work, and can have a greater say in discussing their wage - the minimum wage would be a thing of the past. This potential empowerment is worrying to some of our population, but that worry is simply an indication that the current system is exploitative, it allows poverty wages, and those working those shifts have no choice but to take them.

    Various trials around the world have shown no drop in motivation to work, but it has seen an increase in creative jobs, in people starting their own businesses. Student used the money to go back to school - no longer needing to work part time jobs to afford their studies. New mothers used the money as paid maternity leave, giving them the chance to raise their children. Due to this lack of drop working, all earned income is taxed to help pay for UBI.

    It is still in its infancy - but the idea is big enough to turn some heads.

     

    Flaws need to be ironed out but as capitalism has made us so tremendously rich, we should now be at the point where we can eradicate such embarrassing societal failures such as homelessness, hunger and in-work poverty.

  • The Big Problem

    There’s something quite troubling when you put yourself into a working environment which change your appreciation of the value of money. For most of my life I have been comfortably lower middle class, without the kind of money to lavishly spend on cars and clothes, but I have always had a roof, always had food and even had a few luxuries such as a games console and camera equipment. Through my own political development, I found myself studying the inequalities and struggles facing those less fortunate than myself - but words on a page pale drastically compared to a human voice and terrified eyes.

    Everyone I work with are definitely working class. They all work full-time (whereas I am part-time), desperately grateful for extra hours, getting paid as pathetic £8 an hour. One colleague has five children and is only 31. Another is 17 and was kicked out of her home by her Dad. Another lives with his mother, helping to pay the bills. The prospect of social mobility is not a conversation you can have with my colleagues without sounding incredibly insensitive. I once asked my colleague with five children what we would work as if she could do anything, and she replied ‘I always wanted to be a nurse’. A quick google search when I got home in hope of finding some cheap and practical entry into the nurse profession resulted with depressing results. Degrees, qualifications needed. Years to complete. Soaring fees. Even if loans could be taken out to fund the courses, who would then look after the children, how will she juggle being the breadwinner while studying? It was a pipe dream, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

    What my small window into the reality of worker’s lives, was that effectively, the worker has no power. Some, perhaps. As detailed before, a worker might see their wage climb a few pounds will appropriate pushing, or demand contracts and use it to defend the number of hours worked etc. But these are changes which might get a slightly more spacious apartment, they are not changes which will give my colleague a chance to go study.

    In the face of such extreme pessimism, big ideas are needed. Small schemes and initiatives might help a decent number of people, but wholescale changes are needed, as there’s nothing to stop employers exploiting a worker who will simply accept any working condition because they need it. ‘In-work poverty’ - such a phrase is a societal embarrassment.

    When big ideas are so desperately needed, one is beginning to creep into public discussion, politicians are taking it more and more seriously, and day by day it’s sounding like it could shift from an idea, a solution.

     

    Universal Basic Income



  • The Silent Epidemic

    There’s few harder things in life than admitting you might need help. I can’t go about comparing genders but I can confidently say this is one category where being a man is difficult. Society has such a ridiculous expectation of what being a man is that any sniff of one not being able to hold it all together is met with a shrug or ridicule. We’re grown up to follow such instructions as ‘grow a pair’ or ‘be a man’, meaning push away the emotion, bottle it up and solve whatever issue needs solving.

    Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, with over 5,000 men in the UK committing suicide this past year alone. Of that number, men in their middle ages are twice as likely to kill themselves as the rest of the population. It is a worry that has been described by medical personnel as ‘the silent epidemic’. There may be multiple reasons why society drives men to the edge, but the real worry lies in - having been pushed there - are still reluctant to seek help. A report in 2013 stated that 75% of male suicides that year had never been diagnosed with a mental health condition, squashing the brutal assumption that only those unwell and disturbed are likely to take their own life. The reality is these men are just normal products of our society, a society which encourages men to deal with emotions themselves, or worse - stifle them completely.

    In a world where male children are encouraged to ‘man up’ when they fall, the mindset spreads so evidently to an adult stage. The lack of education of how to deal with low feelings results with completely confusion and worry when they surface. Men are prone to more impulsive suicides than women, and by much more violent methods. It suggests that the inability to work with their vulnerabilities makes the ‘quick exit’ strategy so much more appealing.  

    It all makes for incredibly grim reading, and it should be taken incredibly seriously. But there are substantial ways we can go about solving some of these problems. The most important and the most difficult is to start teaching men how to deal with their emotions. Such a skill is perfectly possible alongside a macho existence and would result in preventing the huge impulsive worry they face when they are at their lowest point. This is beginning to change and will undoubtedly be the long term aim, but right now discussing the issue in the open and suggesting free help such as the Samaritans is one of the most effective tools we have.

    As we develop as a society, gender roles are relaxing. I hope others will feel comfortable with their sexuality and their mental health as I have, and reached out knowing doing so doesn’t comprise what it means to be a man. During my lowest moments I sought help and have gone forward a more stable man because of it. I hope we aim to continue to raise awareness and continue to create an environment where such issues are discussed freely and confidentially.

    Unlike cancer, this is completely preventable. And if you’re a man between 20 and 49, you’re more likely to die from it than cancer, road accidents or heart diseases. This is a preventable epidemic, and we’re not quite doing enough to prevent it yet.

     

  • Homelessness on the rise. Blame on the demise.

    For the last two years I’ve lived in Switzerland, close to Zurich. In a country of exceptional living standards and well-funded social services, homeless (though it still exists), is barely noticeable. One of my students even described it as ‘being illegal’, implying that whenever somebody is seen they are immediately looked after.

    In the UK, and in my new home of London, we have a slightly different approach.

    300,000 people, or one in every 200 people in the UK are homeless. 4,500+ sleep rough. One whole quarter of that reside in London.

    Those are truly terrifying numbers, but the visual evidence we see on a daily basis are worse still as they bring the numbers to life and give them a face. Within my own routine, on the way to the gym at 7am every morning there are the same two men in the same spot, no matter the freezing temperatures of late. At work every monday, a local charity member brings three local homeless men in for a coffee. In central London they are seemingly everywhere and no street seems too unpopular to not be the temporary home to someone. Outside of underground stations the same people sit with a cardboard sign, day, after week, after month.

    But society has a problem with homelessness and homeless people. Like a white man insistent he has never gained any privilege from being white, society tries its best to look away from what is certifiable proof of its own failure. But it is nothing more than a societal failure. As problematic as it is to contextualise suffering, middle-class issues such as rail fares pale in comparison to those who have resorted to begging, destitute, hungry and sleeping on cardboard strips. Even those who are not rough sleepers, to be forced out of accommodation due to soaring rents, cuts to housing benefits and stagnated wages, hundreds of thousands of people a day wake up homeless.

    It is issues like these which beg the conversation to return to welfare, to affordable rents and wages. As a member of this society I have seen and heard what I have been encouraged to see in a homeless person. I have been sneered at for merely forking out a few pounds to buy the Big Issue, suggesting that I would be ‘funding their addiction’ or ‘encouraging more begging’ to the tune of loose change as if I were a rich white man throwing coins at an African child while strolling through the Congo. Guides use language such as ‘beggars operate here’. Last Monday I discovered that two of the three men brought to our shop by the charity member are former soliders. One of them used to be a professor of history. All former public service workers. 

    For now, homelessness is on the rise and funding to prevent it is going down. We could well be still in the period of our history where the majority do believe we live in a meritocracy, and these people are where they are due to their own decisions. It could be a significant amount of time before majority opinion switches and the political decision to ignore this failure is scrutinised with all the intensity and shame it deserves. For now, we still walk past them, keen to avoid eye contact and any implied blame for their circumstance. 

     

    For now, the numbers go up.  

     

  • David Wheeler and the Tax Problem

    David Wheeler is a professional football player for Queens Park Rangers F.C. which he transferred to from Exeter City for half a million pounds in August. Like all professional players his championship-level salary is likely to be impressive, which is why his recent interview in the Guardian turned a few heads.

    “I don’t feel upset by paying what looks like a large amount as a professional footballer. You’re contributing that money into a lot of things that are very positive about society.”

    Heads were turned not simply by those engrossed in the footballing world. Wheeler's was a rare voice by what would be considered 'top earners' to support themselves being taxed highly, despite the financial loss. While there are few people willing to come out to a deliver a passionate defence of the opposite view point, it is more common for top-earning public figures to restrain from voicing their opinion on the subject. Indeed, there have been numerous high-profile cases of celebreties exposed for attempting to avoid tax, which make Wheeler's declaration all the more impressive.

    Fundamentally, tax has always been a divisive subject. During the post-war era in Britain and the creation of the welfare state, the 'benefit' of high taxation was immediate. The welfare state - only made possible through a huge increase in the number of taxpayers, helped drag Britain out of a potentially disastrous situation, and continued to support the general public in the form of proud establishments like the NHS. Yet even in view of the potential benefits of a taxed society, many conservative voices began, and still advocate lower taxes, declaring them 'legalised theft'.

    The wealthy find themselves in a privileged position where they can hire accountants and lawyers to find loopholes to avoid paying a significant amount of tax. Firms like Ernst and young, Price waterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and KPMG are such firms are examples of those who discovered that helping the rich avoid tax could become a new way of making profits. Against popular opinion, in 2012, the then Chancellor George Osborn slashed the top rate of tax from 50 to 40 percent, shocking at the same time that the average British citizen was suffering the longest squeeze in living standards since the 1980s. Similarly, big businesses have shown a shocking desire to avoid to pay as much tax as possible, where the likes of Starbucks, Amazon and Google have all made miniscule contributions in wake of billions of profits made.

    One argument used often by those in favour of low tax is 'an unfavoured tax system would simply provoke an exodus of the wealthy and the job makers'. Recently this theory has been rejected by leading U.S. think tank.

    Which brings us back to why Wheeler's declaration is so refreshing and necessary. While the elite can afford to find legal means to avoid contributing a progressively fair amount to the treasury, many working people simply don't have this option. And while many of the elite use private health care and send their children to private schools, it is the working people who's public institutions are struggling to keep up with demand.

    From all levels of society we hear how tax is cruel and punishes those for working hard. Perhaps, however, the real cruelty is disregarding the importance of not putting a value on the amount the government takes from your pay check, when there's a decent chance tomorrow somebody will survive a car crash due to the medical attention they receive, because the healthcare system  'meets the needs of everyone. and is free at the point of delivery.'.

     

  • The myth of the self-made man

    Let's start off with some standard semantic checks. The self-made man is real, we all probably know a few, he / she might be our parent, a friend, even our boss. Rags to riches (or anything inbetween) cannot be described as a 'myth' as they exists as clearly as we can see with our own eyes.

     Neither is the implication that they are not hard working individuals, or that that level of persistence is vital to their success. In the vast majority of cases success cannot be achieved without that hard work, and these people regularly have to endure immeasurable hardships to get to where they are today. By the same token, I do not wish to discourage people from working hard.

    The 'myth', is that the self-made man can be anyone.

     In a similar vein to the American Dream, we are recounted stories about those who made it out of their humble beginnings by working three jobs, by persevering beyond the limits which we thought they had.  And they succeed, against all the odds. It is one of the most appealing stories (if not the most appealing story) that any society can retell. The simple criticism of this idea is that it advocates the idea that unfavourable circumstances should not be an obstacle. In real terms this implies that if you are born into an educated, well travelled and affluent family, your chance of success is equal to that of one born into a council estate, to parents (or usually a single parent) with no formal education, and a dependency to begin working as soon as you are of age to help your family pay the bills. It cannot be stressed enough that no matter how hard you are prepared to work, it is nothing more than a desire to accept the inequalities of our society to state that these two scenarios are at all similar.

     However, a more critical view on the self-made man is to ask 'are they truly self-made?' To what extent was government support in the form of the Educational Maintenance Allowance significant to allowing those bright students from poorer backgrounds to attend a secondary school before fulfilling their potential? To what extent did the parents driving their child to football practise weekly (possibly sacrificing working hours) contribute to the child being recognised and making it as a professional? What level of luck determined that a scout got to see them at that point? Does it not take a good-willed employer to accept someone with an accent which in elitist circles could symbolise unintelligence to give the worker a chance?

     By encouraging the story of the self-made man we discourage participation in the functions of a good society. We forget to praise those establishments which desperately try to give every individual an equal opportunity in life. When we achieve what was beyond our dreams why then do we so often then look down on high taxes, taxes aiming to give other people the same chances as ourselves? Why is it so easy to group the non-achievers as lazy, as scroungers?

     It is reassuring to us. Not just that it enables us to claim that we made it on our own, supports the idea that only hard work is necessary, but it denies the public debate that we should support each other, we should feel empathy.

    What truly is a meritocracy? Because it often sounds like the tune of the pied piper, making our feet dance towards an unknown destination, in full belief that we can get there, blissful in the knowledge that it is tangible, it is accessible, it's real.

    Dancing along, past the gleeful faces of the villagepeople.

  • The progressive response to Weinstein

    In light of the post-Weinstein revelations, I thought I should address a few issues on the progressive outlook of feminism. 

    My feminism has always been flawed, as however well-intentioned it might have been, it always relied on the fact that I felt my opinion rested on equal footing with others involved in the conversation, that I had the right to sit alongside them and state how I felt about it. It's a tendency which is essentially innocent, even natural, to want to comment on an issue you feel a certain level of passion towards.

    However, like the painful and difficult process of accepting white privilege in its entirety to successfully discuss a progressive future to racism, no opinions from men on the subject of women can be fully legitimate while we still live in such a prevalent patriarchal society. I can passionately hold views, and when asked, I'll be happy to discuss them, but the caveat must always firmly remain that as much as I think I can relate to womankind, or to the LGBT community, or any minority or discriminated groups - unless I am them, I cannot speak for or on behalf of them. To be progressive means to look forward, to accept that we are in a position where change is needed for a fairer society and to embrace that change, even at the expense of certain liberties. 

    Separately however, a conversation regarding the difficulties facing many men in our societies can be had and should be had now to deal with issues of imposed-masculinity, of domestic violence, of the terrifying high rate of male suicides etc. These are important and need to be addressed as they struggle to gain a platform in a world where men are discouraged to show emotion, or appear weaker than a stereotype. But despite being linked to the above argument, for now they belong in a separate discussion space. 

    A man's job right now is to button their lip up and to listen, to read posts like this and learn, to accelerate the process of identifying where our privilege as penis-bearers lie and let those whose voices have been muffled suggest the way forward. We should always be ready to contribute, to strive towards a mutual collaboration, but learning about another takes time, it can take a long time, and we have many years of learning to catch up on first.

  • La Mer

    May 2013,

    Here it is clear blue, peaceful and clear. It’s like millions of sheets of bright blue cellophane glistening over one another, endlessly overlapping in a continuous loop, floating away with a gust of wind as cellophane does, crackling under the gaze of the sun which is suspended beyond the Pyrenees - as perfectly as how a five year old would paint it, and under saturns watchful eye it lights this place all up, in the way that a projector in a cinema would light up its own world too. I’m on a tiny road circling down France, winding down to Catalonia but it could be eldolrado in this light, past endless flat french farming towns, the pale brick-plaster which builds the villages, roads aligned with white, leafless trees who look as though they have stood there for all of time, surveying this flat land framed by mountains, where the wine is squeezed from the grape and the bread rolled into shape. Do the French appreciate it? I have to admit the only thing I’m not enjoying about France are the French. But between all the grumpy, right-winged old tarts there is the occasional crystal-eyed girl, with hair loose, brown and long, with her hands free of the stench of tobacco and her mind free of the confines of her comforts.

    The sea is distant now, I’m sure that at some point on this trip we will both wind past each other again. In a few weeks I’ll do what I haven’t done for four years and sink into your endless blue abyss, sinking deeper and deeper until you fill up my tanks, and I’ll feel the beauty of fresh air again.

    Next stop Barcelona. The mountains have started to surround us and engulf us. Man is scarce in this empty chasm of trees. The bus went on through the French border but the light had gone, it’s dark. The blonde haired girl adjacent to my seat, turned and stared across for a moment. It was dark and I just couldn’t see, but something right there lit a fire in me. before she turned away again, i was sure she had blue eyes like cellophane