Blog

  • Confidence

    Of all the inner demons I have to fight regularly, confidence is the constant nag. There’s a lot which is expected of you as a man in society, and as much as you might want to change the system, some of those expectations are simply more easily managed when you accept to a part of it. Finding your voice and listening to it explode out with poise and passion is a miraculous thing when you are someone who suffers from low confidence at times, and it feels like the sort of sacrifice that is okay to make. Though vulnerabilities might be masked by such a hurricane of outer-body passion, it’s a part of yourself that you realise legitimately belongs to you, and if harnessed properly, brings you forward in many stagnated aspects of life.

    That’s why passions are important. They give you a voice when you feel like you couldn’t have one. It’s like someone flicks the switch on and the other part of yourself - the confident part of yourself - his engine surges in action, machine-like in its execution. My politics, my travels, literature and cinema, these are some of my own passions, and when the question is asked I find myself burrowing into a wondrous place where my voice has something important to contribute.

    It’s a fascinating thing to reflect on, seeing friends or acquaintances struggle or excel in locating that part of themselves. Confidence is a perplexing thing which can convince you to shut up and track back, or speak up and move forward. Society is cruel, and you see abuse, insults and mockery every day when someone decides to be vocal or be forward. It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to deny hurtful words from halting your progress and leaving their mark on you. There’s practice, and celebrities, teachers and politicians amongst others just have to get used to it, something that naturally becomes easier in time. People never stop talking though. It’s tempting to avoid being the center of attention, to discourage eyes focusing on you, to blend in and keep yourself safe from what you fear might sink you lower.

    But that’s when a societal reflection is sometimes important. If I’m meant to be big and strong, fit into clothes a certain way, play women a certain way, grunt and walk a certain way, then my confidence will suffer. It will declare itself not fit for purpose and demand a conformation to what we believe everyone else expects.

    But confidence doesn’t have to conform. If bravery is about speaking up when you find something you care about, that is something to celebrate. If being a man means anything it can mean having the guts to connect to someone else and expose your vulnerabilities. Confidence can be universally understood, but it doesn’t have to be. Frankly, nobody knows the life you’ve lived fully accept yourself, and what might seem like an insignificant step, or even an awkward situation to others might well be a tremendous advance of your own self confidence.

    Society will always be shit, and genders will always have stereotypes and those stereotypes will always have stigma attached to them. But the journey we are all on is a personal one, and however small our steps forward might be, and however heavy the defeats might feel - trying again and finding your voice is the most rewarding achievement you can earn in this fraction of a fraction of time we spend alive.

  • 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

  • Mini-Revolution

    Revolution does not have to come in the form of trumpets and artillery. Revolution of society can take place every day, in any location. It is my belief that whenever people discover the power that they posses, and use that power to legally better their lives and those of others, that in itself is a miniature revolution.

    Two months ago I began working in a cafe which also turned out to be the first customer service job I had ever had. After speaking to my colleagues I realised that despite the intensity of the work (both physically and mentally) all were barely paid a penny above the minimum wage and nobody had a signed contract. The standard answer to ‘how many hours are you working’ was ‘I’m not sure’.

    The company were losing many employees due to stress and low pay with nobody new coming in, so much so that the head of the company got in contact with the staff to ask what could be done to encourage people to stay. It was believed by all on the shop floor that they were holding out for something (or someone) to blame, our supervisor or assistant manager, faulty machinery or something similar. When they were informed that some staff had been working there for over a year and were still being paid £7.20 an hour, a Spanish 18 year old worker was getting paid £5.80 an hour and many appeared to have no idea of how many hours they were meant to work - there was (perhaps unsurprisingly) no reaction forthcoming.

    A few weeks later one of the senior managers walked into the shop when myself and my colleague were opening and asked us a similar question. As both of us were on the verge of leaving we pulled no punches and told him how ludicrous it was to assume that people would stay on a rate so far under the living wage when they could get the same wage for much less stress somewhere else. The man appeared to have never heard of the living wage and said he would look into the matter.

    Whether he, and the company were genuinely moved on the matter of the underpaid worker is perhaps not fundamental to the point of a mini-revolution. The work remains a worker, and in the context of a happy and stress-free life they are certainly still underpaid. But in this small case the reaction was immediate. The base salary went up to £8 minimum and every employee received a contract copy with the agreed minimum hours displayed in bold letters.

    Of course dire circumstances (for the company) were required. And of course the context of limited staff made the possibility of standing up without union protection all that bit easier. But the underpaid worker made life a little lighter for themselves just by speaking out, and that is cause enough to celebrate.

    Maybe if they’re told they’re sheep for long enough, and if they’re barked at loud enough it’ll solidify in their minds. Perhaps.

    A bit of solidarity can go a long way.