Freedom And The Divine Right Of Kings

“We live in capitalism. It’s power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of Kings.”

So said Ursula Le Guin in her acceptance speech at the National Book Awards back in 2014. And, as ever, she was right. Capitalism, as the prioritising of money over everything else, and the toxic cultures it creates has resulted in the deaths of millions of people, pushed countless people into poverty, sent countries to war, corrupted democracies, eradicated species and destroyed so much of the earth. Hand in hand with authoritarianism, racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, imperialism, aristocracy and a whole host of other unjust power structures the grip of capitalism is agonising. But beyond despair Le Guin believed in the possibility of change.

“Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

However, as the UK endures another Conservative majority government so change is harder to imagine but, for those of us that can, we must do our best to try. We must imagine a time beyond systemic racism, beyond rape culture, beyond the devastation of public services, and beyond capitalism. We must imagine a time where the leading values aren’t selfishness, greed, prejudice and violence but compassion, empathy, kindness and resilience, the exact values we’ll need as we build the worlds we want. And if you need any tips on how to exercise and expand your imagination, Le Guin has more advice to offer:

“Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling.”

Taken from her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, this quote reminds us that however sure we are of our truths – that all people are equal, that everyone has a right to free healthcare, that no one should face violence – we still have to communicate them well. Whilst the facts are vital and telling them is crucial so too is transforming those facts into stories which will engage people’s imaginations and emotions, allowing them to see and feel the change we care so passionately about. Stories are the bedrock of empathy, which facilitates our ability to care about others.

And the more of us that care the more of us there will be to take action and challenge the racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism and other forms of discrimination that are on the rise. The more of us there will be to question our privileges and redistribute them so as to increase equality. The more of us there will be to actively resist the oppressive and dangerous policies of this bigoted government. Change and resistance are possible, we must never forget. Indeed, for many who lived during the reign of King Charles I of England and Scotland it might have seemed impossible to imagine a time when this divinely appointed despot wouldn’t have so much power over their lives. And today, it might seem impossible to imagine a time when Borish Johnson, who rules with all the arrogance of someone who has been divinely appointed, doesn’t have so much power over our lives. But, following two civil wars, Charles I was found guilty of high treason as “tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy” and beheaded on 30th January 1649. And I don’t think it will be long before Johnson is metaphorically beheaded (probably by his own party) as he fails to deliver on the lies he promised. In the meantime, we must keep imagining, keep hoping and keep doing the work that needs to be done so we, like Le Guin, can be the recipients of that most beautiful of rewards: freedom.

I Call Bullshit: Bored Of Being Polite To Bigots

“I call bullshit!” It’s my favourite post-referendum phrase at the moment and basically it’s a catch-all for whenever I hear someone chatting a whole load of bollocks. Whether it’s Theresa May promising greater equality in Britain, or Borish Johnson saying you can contextualise away his many racist and sexist slurs, or anyone saying Britain can be great again without even the semblance of a back-up plan. I call bullshit to all that. But there’s something I call even greater bullshit to and that’s intolerance.

I was brought up to be polite. Very polite. In many ways that’s a good thing, I always got on well with my friends’ parents and I tended not to go around brazenly offending people. On the other hand it did mean I avoided conflict and internalised the majority of slights I suffered only to let them fester and reappear as passive aggressive comments or sudden outbursts of anger, neither of which were particularly helpful. So, I think there’s a balance to be struck between being polite enough – i.e. not being a total wanker to people – and being blunt – i.e. being honest to call out bullshit when you see it. A bit of conflict is healthy after all.

So, this is one for all the casually bigoted people I know – the sort of people who profess to not being racist but crack the odd joke about people of colour; the sort of people who profess to being tolerant but don’t really like Muslims; the sort of people who profess to not being homophobic but call bad stuff ‘gay’; the sort of men who profess to not being sexist but tell women to get back in the kitchen; the sort of Tory voter who genuinely thinks a party wedded to the banks and neoliberal capitalism can get us out of this mess; the sort of Brexiteer who doesn’t like the democratic deficit in the EU but is blind to the democratic deficit in the UK and the sort of privileged cynic who criticises society and the people in it whilst selling out to be a banker. Basically, I call bullshit to any of the crap that undermines equality and diversity in this country.

I believe in a plurality of values: I am happy for people to practice different faiths, I am happy for people to vote for different parties (e.g. between Labour and Green), I am happy for people to have differences of opinion but I am not happy if any of this promotes hostility and hate. For the sake of Britain being great again we must be intolerant of intolerance. It is not true that anything goes and I will fight tooth and nail to combat prejudice. So, yes, I will throw off the shackles of over-politeness and call bullshit to bigotry. Bigots beware (and while you’re at it, just piss off and get a life)!

Keep Calm