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An Erratic Orbit

A bipolar perspective on the 3rd planet

Month

December 2016

George Michael 1963— Donald

We find it comforting to name impersonal forces. It may seem as though knowing the winds that totalled your car are called Barbara isn’t going to do much for you (and it’s entirely unfair on my elderly aunt) but personalization is at the heart of every inner storm too.

By this point, 2016 has earned a name of its own. The obvious choice is Donald. Capricious, petty, and no friend of musicians from the world of pop and rock. Donald killed an uncle of mine this year for good measure, although Happy Birthday at five eighths of a semitone lower or higher than everyone else aside, I don’t recall hearing him sing more than a couple of lines. 

We might have hoped that Donald had done its worst, its reign of terror almost over, but there was one more horrible surprise on Christmas Day.

​George Michael was a gay North Londoner. He sang about Finsbury Park. He struggled with prejudice and his identity. He cruised the West Heath. He was just nine years older than me. His end hits me harder than any of the famous others in 2016.

Finsbury Park
Finsbury Park. Image: http://www.lovehomeswap.com

Although there are no details of his death released yet, growing up gay in a prejudiced world certainly  contributed to physical and mental  health problems. 

You can’t ignore also that he was part of an immigrant population. Like many of the Georges, Michaels, and Chrisses I grew up with, Anglicizing your Greek name was what Greek Cypriots did to seek greater acceptance. Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou was no name for the cover of Smash Hits magazine. 

Although he never cast off the trappings of celebrity and wealth bestowed upon him at a young age, by his mid twenties he was maturing as artist, operating out of the mainstream yet producing a range of pieces with a subtly original twist. Some of his music is not just deeply moving, it is harrowing. These two aspects of his music set him apart from some prominent stars who will take this opportunity to appear on TV talking about his influence on them. George had that universality of appeal which ensured his fortune, but his lasting legacy will be beyond the attainment of almost all ex-Boy Band songwriters. 

On Christmas Eve I listened to John Lennon’s last interview, with Yoko Ono, a conversation with Andy Peebles of BBC Radio two days before he died. It was clear he was relaxed and happy to be part of a stable family. I don’t think George Michael ever found quite the same peace in life. I am not the only person who will find “John And Elvis Are Dead” an especially poignant song at this time. 

The thing he softly said
It stayed with me, it keeps messing with my head
If Jesus Christ is alive and well
Then how come John and Elvis are dead?

In common with Lennon, George Michael found a simple but penetrative honesty in some of his best songwriting that is rare in the world of pop. A Different Corner is one of my favourite pop songs in the whole world. Precious Box is a great crossover of 80s/90s club dance music and traditional songwriting “bout private feelings ‘n all”. Many people will think of songs from Listen Without Prejudice. Praying For Time will now forever be associated with the televisual history of Donald. If I’m going to choose one song to remember George by though, it would be remiss to not look death as squarely in the eye as he did. So it has to be this haunting one he wrote to himself. Of course there is something in it for everyone. Even Donalds. This is the album version. .  . 

Love you, George. 

On Social Justice, ‘Higher’ Consciousness, And Charity

It was the tail end of summer. I was wearing my half and half black & white acid wash T-shirt and black jeans. Walking the city, I eventually found myself looking at the ornate filigree of the Palace of Westminster and the looming tower of St Stephen, and, in a state of content acceptance, I crossed the road  for Parliament Square. Fundamentally, acceptance of the terror of the world requires acceptance of self. I knew myself, black and white, capable of great love and great harm, a human animal with drives that can be destructive and a strong moral sense that can heal, and so  I had discovered an equanimity deeper than any I had known before. I located the centre point of the green and sat, back upright, legs crossed, hands resting on my thighs, palms upturned but half closed. Simply comfortable. I saw the crowds of people going to and fro on all sides, past the Abbey, past Parliament, past the Thames, between the cars on the black tarmac running North to South and disappearing in a shimmering haze to the West. I saw everything and everyone coming apart, turning to ash. This is inevitable. The people were burning. The buildings, burning. The statues and cars, burning. I felt compassion as the crowds rushed here and there and, at the same time, saw that there would be a lasting peace for all. 

Westminster Abbey
Image: http://www.waitamoment.co.uk

I cultivated these sensations until I fell into a quiet doze. My oblivion may have lasted seconds or many minutes. Whatever, I was refreshed when I awoke. I got up and walked towards the bridge. As I crossed, a passing oriental monk in dark orange robes and sandals acknowledged me with a smile. 

I was aware that this equanimity would not last. It was a glimpse, gathered on a warm sunny day when some problems had been resolved and there were few demands on me. The sun would fade, winter would come, and my peace would be disrupted. This benign resignation lasted a couple of weeks. It was physically healthy, no doubt, but I do not miss it. The remote view is only one perspective, lacking in the passion and anger that drives desire for justice and social change. Physics cannot be conquered, but each state is just one thread from the past to the present, and this was no better than any other. Morally, it may even be unforgiveable. Did I see the violence of Cromwell, the cruelty of Christian ancestors, swords hacking flesh, bullets shattering bone, rivers carrying corpses, hospitals bombed, mass graves filled with the skulls of dissidents? I did not. My vision was no more complete than a newly bought colouring book. We have equations that describe, well enough, the evolution of the universe, and to trust in the holiness of my vision would be no less a folly than to mistake an equation for history, or even to love a flag. 

Oliver Cromwell statue outside Parliament
The tyrant Cromwell. Image: Steve Punter

The greatest advantage of this state of encompassing benevolent pity is perhaps that it allows greater charity towards the words and actions of others. Bear in mind, however, that I am starting from  an illusory state.  It is not Amor Fati, the embrace of each moment of one’s life. It is a detachment, an overview from almost nowhere. Furthermore, of how much use is it? The world is complex, not all actions are benign (and certainly not all actors) and charity can dull the reactions. Here then is the conundrum. The most charitable are just as blind as the meaner vessels of hate. The higher mind and the narrow mind intersect. 

It is true that the world doesn’t have enough charity, in the sense of which I speak of it. Yet charity is also a luxury.  If I will exercise charity it will be towards those who are in most need of it. The powerless. The blithe, polite, and comfortable who carelessly reinforce ‘the order of things’  in a world short on justice are not just. Power and its preservation are often unconscious. 

The sadness I have is that they who require the most charitable interpretation of their actions are not always able to reciprocate, and – oppressed and fighting for rights and acceptance, in great want of charity towards myself – I do not have the resources to fight them too. 

Interpreting with charity is not simply a matter of intention. This is another sense in which my visionary state was an illusion. Goodheartedness is meaningless without acuity. A simple example should  suffice: If I were to say “I will be leaving the house in five to ten minutes but I will phone you from the train station.”,  a socially perceptive interpretation might be that no assumptions should be made about which train I am getting until I call from the station. The second piece of information overrides the first, pointing to it as a form of polite reassurance, probably an underestimate. Especially if you already know that it generally takes a little longer for me to leave the house than I estimate.  In that most polite (and deferent) of societies, that of Japan, to be told that you will have to wait ten minutes can be meaningless. They do not wish to tell you that you will have to wait longer. Of course, one should be careful  to be neither too polite nor vague. The world is hard enough to navigate. Good intentions can thus backfire. 

In an unjust world, who deserves charity? A Marxist might develop their thought along class lines, and there is something in this. Yet social class is a fine grained thing, in practice, and class alone is insufficient to encompass the nuances of the injustices of the world. 

It is sadly often the case that certain people cannot negotiate through the minefield of social interactions. There are just too many mistakes, too much history, perhaps cultural differences, and not enough resources of charity between them.  This is just one reason the people en masse fail to align their interests in bringing about revolutionary change. 

I think I would wish to be mindful of my compassionate revelation, to accept my mistakes, to forgive everyone, even as there are some who must be overcome or diminished. We are frequently unjust to one another, but being the most charitable in our reaction is not always for the best if we do not have the advantage. If we have the advantage, then perhaps altruism demands the greatest charity in order to redress the balance. That rather depends on one’s ego not being dependent on having the advantage, and that is much rarer than almost everyone thinks. 

*

The Buddha’s Fire Sermon

Amor Fati

​The history of “SJW” (“Social Justice Warrior”)

There is close association between the American atheist and skeptic movements. Tensions between progressives and everyone else, especially atheist economic Libertarians,  have exploded over the last three years, after a number of high profile incidents at  conventions involving thoughtless casual misogyny, harrassment, and even rape. An alarming, very ugly,  anti-feminist backlash has emerged centred around a handful of well known figures on either side of the rift and two websites. The only person you will probably know is the blithely privileged and  ever more reactionary  Richard Dawkins. 

As for the web,  Freethoughtblogs.com is an illuminating site. Slymepit.com  not so much. Here you will find links, human and hyper-, to Breitbart, Donald Trump’s favourite news source.  I’ll leave it to you to work out where SJW gained popularity. 

There is further overlap between anti-feminist gamers and anti-feminist atheists. Gamergate, which was a non-scandal aimed at silencing and shaming females in the  gaming world, further popularised the use of “SJW”. 

A little glimpse into the online festering of American middle class prejudice that has exploded into public consciousness via Trump.   

When Women Were Lady Fish

By Miles O’Hairspray

​I miss the good old days. The glory of the sea, when men were fish and women were lady fish. Not Angler Fish. The female is a huge predator and the male is a tiny parasite whose testicles are absorbed into her body as he becomes a lifelong sperm factory. She can accommodate several males in this way, in ostentatious mockery of the sanctity of Western marriage.

Not Sea Horses either. Manly, normal fish, like Bass and Trout and the magnificent Salmon. I regularly swim several feet the wrong way up the white water rapids in Lea Valley, because that is what women want. Stamina. Admittedly, I don’t literally do this, but if you have ever been forced to send thousands of online messages complimenting a woman on her breasts before one bites, you’ll understand  the principle remains intact. 

Peter Rabbit

Men these days are expected to be completely unnatural. When we lived in caves, all a man had to do was catch bison with his teeth, ignore the kids, and complement the women folk on their crocheted Peter Rabbit nose warmers. I for one am sick of pretending I care about crocheted Peter Rabbit nose warmers. How did I end up with this simpering doormat? I’m expected to show an interest in Sebastian’s awful finger paintings too. What happened to real women who would agree to leave their kids in the forest to fend for themselves in true Spartan fashion?

It was much simpler when I was head boy at St Edna’s*. The women would cook all our meals and no-one told us we couldn’t play rugby. In fact, we weren’t allowed not to. I was not the biggest child, but thanks to boys being allowed to be boys, I spent many happy hours in the infirmary as Nurse Lovett, a female doing natural female work, read me Enid Blyton stories. 

My mother only let me read those silly stories of animals in waistcoats until I was eleven. Then she gave my entire collection to a charity shop in the village. It was time to be a man. 

All of this serves to illustrate my central point. Women are whores who should never be in any position of authority. 

*Miles was never head boy at his boarding school – Ed.

On The Psychology Of The Centrists

​In the twenty-first century, as society becomes ever more complex, so conservatism, born of  a normalising instinct that evolved in small groups, goes into overdrive. Compliance becomes an acceptable goal. Then, Assimilation.

The political “centre”, a self-reinforcing coterie of sheltered and often awkward socially liberal elites, attempt to accommodate everything that has given them their advantages. This includes the very worst of capitalism. 

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch

The attempt to encompass all they know, to reconcile the oppressive with their socially liberal attitudes, they interpret as “realistic”. After all, living with these tensions is especially real to them. 

Interventionism, being a political “reality” (or, behind the screen, a continuation from colonialism) is justified with falsehoods, from fabricated evidence to the rhetorical appropriation of Socialist principles. The centrists even begin to pander to the racism of the voters they have lost to the right, always convinced that triangulation keeps them on course between two sirens. As suits, they can look to the right and feel ethical, or to the left and feel “in touch with the public.”

https://twitter.com/ProgressOnline/status/803684565621600256.

They defend, or ignore, the indefensible. They justify atrocities as “pragmatism”. They have the contempt of the left for their lack of principles, their hypocrisy, their authoritarianism, and – ever more- their silence. The public hates them for their hypocrisy and their failures. They must fail after not too long, because the containment of capitalistic excess through appeasement is not achievable: They flatter themselves that they have influence through their alliances with the powerful and unscrupulous. It is they who are corrupted. 

http://huffpost.com/uk/entry/7794120

The lesser lights, at least, are aware that the centrist faction is both reactionary and at the mercy of bullies. They say to themselves that they are flexible, cognisant of political complexity, when in fact the constant turning of their heads ensures they allow the plight of the vulnerable to worsen in the long term. 

“If only we still had power” they say, unaware that their self-interest and lack of integrity can justify anything and will always lead to rejection. 

“I believe I did the right thing.” The narcissist’s excuse. As if faith and self-justification were morally relevant. 

And for the pleasers, who will always find themselves in the centre with sore necks: deep down, they don’t want too much to change. To be a part of the heady club prevents them facing their awkwardness. The cowardice behind their complicity is hidden from them. They fit in, after a fashion. They even have a little power. 

I see them as a grotesque magnification of tensions that of course we have to face on the left. How much are we ourselves prepared to let go of? Where and when we do need to step aside? 

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