Why do I dislike that form of words? Thank you for not smoking, parking here, et cetera. It's simultaneously coercive and conciliatory. We're giving you an order, but we're scared of what you might think of us if we actually did give you an order. Something like that. We need you to like us, but don't step out of line. Maybe I'm over-thinking it, but I wonder: are the words "Apologies for any inconvenience caused" ever written by somebody who feels sorry?
Before the internet, there was the present day.
Or rather, there were times when people thought they were in the present day. They didn’t realise that they were in our past, and it never occurred to them that actually, we are the ones who are in the present day. Watch an episode of a TV drama called Millennium. The star of the show was Lance Henriksen and it was created by the bloke who created The X Files, Chris Carter. Remember The X Files? Of course you do.
Anyway – Millennium. The show was made in the nineties, and as the title tells you, these were the end times and everything was doomy and gloomy with shadows, deaths and (come to think of it, rather good) atmospheric music. The millennium itself was getting closer and the music was getting darker.
Like the Mayan Prophecy, Millennium started from the premise that we were all doomed and the portents were all around us. It wasn’t just the “millennium bug” that was going to screw us up when the digital clocks clicked round from 19- to 20-, but all manner of cults and nasties (soundtrack included).
Watch it today, and the thing that really gets you is that Lance Henriksen is always being called to the phone. He doesn’t have a mobile. How could he not have understood that he was in the past?
All we ever do with the world is measure it. Discuss. Technology makes us good at generating and tabulating data, so we express everything in terms of the data it generates - which means numbers. But data never really accounts for anything (I think that might be a pun - intended if so).
In Friday's FT, there was a piece about July's economic data. It's ambiguous, and in some respects (retail spending in particular) surprisingly good. The forecast post-Brexit (sorry) apocalypse has not happened. But, said the various authorities quoted, this is not conclusively good news; we're not out of the woods yet; the crash may still be imminent. Reading all that, I was reminded of all those weapons of Mass Destruction hidden in the Iraqi desert - or rather, of all the assurances that we'd find them. Okay, so there's no trace of them in the actual sand, no evidence that they're there, but we'll definitely find them, just you wait. The data says there hasn't been a crash, but just you wait...
It was something about the tone of voice. Not exactly hopeful, but. Stubborn, almost. The real world isn't conforming to expectation. The real world should get in line.
There was a follow-up piece in the Weekend FT going deeper into the data, and a leader suggesting that policy-makers should be cautious about drawing any conclusions from July. Yeah, okay. I'm sitting here thinking about belief versus fact; what should happen versus what's actually going on; the failure of real events to match the elegance of the economic models on which they're based.
Found this in some old writing.
You could argue that the modern age began on 23rd August 1939 (a Wednesday), with the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
What made that day significant was a comment by a British diplomat. Told of the Pact, this diplomat suggested that, “All the isms are now wasms.” Or so history tells us, even though it didn’t get the guy’s name.
Right at that moment, with Fascism and Communism signing up to be friends after all, the two big isms of the day really did seem to be wasms.
But we know what happened next.
If the predominant characteristic of the modern age is the unintended consequence, that was the point at which it all began. We have isms in abundance. We defend a lot of fundamental rights by signing up for isms – feminism, sexism, ageism, Corbynism, and so on. But we also have militarism, terrorism and … everything's an ism.
Last thought, I hope, on the referendum. There's still an argument over the result - people were lied to, or they didn't understand the consequences of their vote, or they were protesting and didn't expect to win, et cetera - and an apparently strong body of opinion that the whole thing should be set aside.
One counter-argument would be that a democracy, in the modern sense, is an arrangement where people aren't interrogated on their reasons for voting. Everybody votes, and the collective vote delivers the correct answer. Whatever it is, it's the wisdom of the people. The referendum was approved, and its terms set, by our parliamentary representatives. There were valid reasons for voting Leave, not all of them capturable in economic indicators, and I have no time for the "Leave voters are racists!" nonsense.
What strikes me, though, is that the referendum, on the scale of politics, is ancient history. "Brexit means Brexit" is one of the most ambiguous - at least, flexible - statements of modern times. A lot of politics has happened since then. We may end up with a settlement that looks more like Remain than Leave; there may be a debate one day as to whether we ever left at all. Isn't it naive, to think that the result matters, now that the politicians have taken over? What purpose does this argument serve?
Terrorism is a symptom of what’s wrong with our culture(s), as are: racism, sexism, trolls on the internet, unemployment, mass migration, hospital-acquired infections, the “obesity epidemic”, poverty, global warming, a lot of advertising, most of modern politics, and a lot else besides.
There would be no terrorism if the promises of western civilisation were met. If (for example) a young Muslim boy could grow up in an outer suburb of Paris or Brussels, pass through an effective education system that enabled him to find and hold down a job – and feel good about himself while doing so – and then find a life partner, raise a family, grow old in security, die in peace – there would be no terrorism.
People choose to become terrorists. They don’t choose terrorism from a list of good alternatives; they choose it over despair, futility, poverty, hunger. I believe terrorism, like juvenile crime, is now entrenched in our culture. To defeat – or minimise – terrorism means giving young people a meaningful life.
To think of terrorism as an external threat emanating from the Middle East is to think in the terms of past wars. Terrorism is what happens when people lose hope. Yes, there are wars in the Middle East, and we started them, but if the promises were met, those wars would stay in the Middle East. A distant war doesn’t necessarily breed domestic terrorism.
I’ve left out anger – anger that the state is wrong, and/or anger that the state is betraying its promise. “The West” holds out a promise that is barely met at any level – the loudest promises of the food industry – the food industry! – emanate from the makers of the fastest, least healthy food. We don’t ban cigarettes; we tax them to fund healthcare. Paper currency – backed by gold, ha ha?
It’s tempting to quote Yeats – the centre cannot hold – except that the rough beast is already among us and might trigger a necessary catharsis. The centre is structurally unsound, at state as well as regional level.
I take a “physician, heal thyself” (as in: western civilisation, heal thyself) attitude to today’s terrorism. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, a perfectly healed society is unattainable, but the more effective direction of travel would be towards social care and attention, healing, education, positive change – rather than yet another “war on terror”.
That’s why I find it so awful that their religious leaders are only ever countered by our secular leaders.
We all make mistakes in our relationships with other people. Sometimes, they're mistakes that can be corrected with an apology. Sometimes - "if only I'd said that, and not that." Sometimes, they're mistakes that are incomprehensible even to ourselves, and sometimes, we do things that show us up as not quite the likeable hero of our own story that we want to think we are.
I've done a few things. Some of them couldn't have been done by somebody as all-round friendly and nice as the person that I know myself to be. Did I really do that? Oh. I did. One get-out is denial; clearly I wasn't thinking straight that day. Another is a weak, perverse, cover-up form of self-affirmation: hey, I'm tougher and more bad-ass than I look (it wears off quickly). And a third is spiritual growth - take it into the complex mix of good and bad, heroic and too shameful to admit, that makes up every human personality - and move a tiny bit closer to an understanding of who I really am.
But this is not about me. I'm following an exchange on Facebook. A young journalist has done some work for a PR agency that was first accepted and then rejected, and has asked for advice on how to get her invoice paid. My reading of it is: the PR agency is a recent start-up; the young guy behind it was unprofessional (and perhaps good-natured) enough to accept the work before he even looked at it. Then he ran into a cash-flow problem, or changed his mind about what he wanted, or read the work and it wasn't what he'd expected - or whatever; and his solution was to reject the work, go back on his explicit commitment to pay for it, and reply to the journalist's request for payment - well, not in a friendly way.
In an intimidating way, actually. The manner of the rejection puts me on the journalist's side. I feel quite cross. The closed group of journalists - thousands of them - where the journalist has gone for advice seems quite cross too. The young PR guy has shown himself to be something of a bully, in my estimation. There's a storm blowing up around him, and up to a point, he deserves it.
But I'd say one thing. We've all done things that we regret. There's a group on Facebook that doesn't like this guy right now, but I hope they give him a chance to atone - and maybe to learn something about himself, and put it right.
Immediately after his election as leader of the Labour Party, the comment was made about Jeremy Corbyn that he had spent his entire political career rebelling against his own party. Having opposed it for so long, how could he lead it?
By opposing it?
Woke up at 4am, checked the tablet, realised it was so close that I wasn't going back to sleep. Stayed in front of the TV until after nine. Facebook reminded me of after the General Election - a lot of talk about we'd got it wrong, disaster, run a second referendum, petition, some talk on the news about how it wasn't binding. Cameron resigned, Osborne disappeared, polls discovered that the old voted out and the young voted in, which was apparently taken to mean that the old had deliberately voted against the young's interests, the Labour leadership disintegrated, everybody started talking about Boris and Theresa and whether or not they'd have a mandate without a General Election. Gordon Brown got a mention.
Osborne reappeared early this morning with a statement intended to calm the markets (no emergency budget required just yet), and I think I saw earlier that the run-it-again petition is a fraud after all. Some comment online about how the 'liberal' side didn't seem prepared to accept the 'democratic' result when it went against them. Polls suggested that educated people had voted to remain. A young woman stood up on Question Time and asked how many times we'd be prepared to re-run the referendum to get the right answer.
We have the undivided attention of the EU leadership, and John Kerry has diverted a trip to Rome to come here - that queue of Obama's was a short one. The sun came up this morning. 'Change' was until recently one of those political words - we're always being promised change, in ways that always make it sound positive. Now the electorate has delivered change, and along with it, some hard choices.
Before voting. My wish list. Let's hope we get a high turn-out and a decisive result. So we all agree on something. That matters more than the result. 51:49 would keep the debate going forever; even regional disparities - Scotland decisively in, England decisively out, say - would at least tell us what future we want.
Let's not discover that we're in a state of virtual civil war, with every distinct demographic against every other distinct demographic. If the post-results analysis tells us that the future is old v. young, men v. women, you/me v. everybody who isn't like you/me, we have a problem, right? Or an opportunity to engage? Real dialogue not soundbites and social media.
After voting, here because Weebly wouldn't upload this earler. Queue out onto the pavement at 10.25am. "Never seen this before," said the woman in front of me. A very elderly woman helped out on sticks. We are all voting. Now we just have to agree.
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