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Friday 3 September 2010

Liberal Guilt

As the New Order song title goes, and oddly my mum's advice to me most of my life: Guilt is a useless emotion.

My mum's reasoning was simple, "guilt is about something you've done, now you either did it on purpose in which case there's no need to feel guilty because it was a calculated decision, or you did it by accident, either way you can't change it you can just make sure you don't do it again."

She's pretty smart my mum. Though admittedly some of her advice does read like it comes straight from the mouth of Hannibal Lecter.

"Liberal Guilt" though that's a weird one, It doesn't come from something that you've done, it seems to come from something that "we've" done to "them" whoever "them", it's a collective guilt that in spite of our best efforts to not be bigotted, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic etc etc we still find ourselved occasionally falling foul to our natural instincts.

Some people would argue they're natural instincts therefore they're not wrong and we should just accept them. I don't hold with that, I suffer from compulsive thoughts and if I was to live my life without impulse control I'd do far worse than Cat Bin Lady, in fact thinking about it it would probably be the quickest way for me to get famous.

I can't talk to people who've got some sort of perceived authority ever without my brain going "you could spit right in her mouth whilst she's talking, go on go on go on go on." like some internal Mrs Doyle, or on other occasions "you could kick him right in the balls right now, he'd not be suspecting it, wouldn't be able to stop you." But I don't do it, well I came close with my bank manager a couple of times.

They're not always violent, sometimes they just involve shouting swear words out at people. But I don't I keep them all under control and pretend I'm a human being, it gets me through the day without too much incident usually. But I put them in the same bracket as those occasional bigoted thoughts that creep in, often because they creep in in the same way.

I suspect it's the compulsion to do whatever is exactly the wrong thing to do in that situation. I also suspect that it's part of being an alcoholic and addict, I spent most my life just acting on the self destructive impulses.

Anyway I'm getting off topic.

Liberal guilt is a funny thing, because if you don't feel it that's often because you think you deserve every leg up that life has dealt you, as if by the luck of whichever vagina coughed you out on the day that you were born the rest of the benefits which that entitled you too was almost some divine right. And if not divine then got through generations of hard work on the part of your family, or in the case of A friend's Gran though thinking during apartheid "I know I'll go to South Africa, they know how to treat white people there!" There's nothing quite like a proactive racist is there? Most of them just sit round complaining "They come over here..." not her, she went over there, she gave them some jobs (menial and under-payed and probably beat them if they didn't do it well enough).

My own Grandfather who wasn't the most culturally sensitive person in the world was once arrested in South Africa, I'd assumed it was for something incredibly racist as he was a bit of an old scouse Alf Garnett, for the whole 1980's I suspected he was the only Scouser who voted Tory. But as I said I found out after he'd died that he'd been arrested in South Africa for breaking the apartheid law by getting on a bus that was for black people only.

At first this changed my opinion of the man, but only briefly, because the more I thought about it the more I thought it probably wasn't out of a sense of injustice, or rather it was but out of a misguided sense of injustice, he's not around to ask and I'm scared if I did that he'd say "well it was unfair wasn't it? That was white man's petrol they were burning."

I think partly it comes from the fact we surround ourselves with people who roughly have the same opinions and backgrounds as ourselves, it's an evolutionary trait that made us as a species more likely to survive, so we end up with people who think the same way as us and it's often the reason why liberals (with a little 'l') and conservatives (with a little 'c') think that the other is nuts, and can't understand how they can't see it.

It's simple they don't surround themselves with people like us and we don't surround ourselves with people like them.

The other thing that throws it all up in the air is that certain areas of the right wing press, an establishment with more money and power than any Judeo-Christian God tell people that they're speaking from the voice of the rebellion, that they're the little guy, that they're telling the "truth" that "The Man" doesn't want you to hear.

It's the greatest trick they ever pulled. That along with the argument that I've heard so many otherwise lovely people put forward:

"I'm not a racist, but... I don't see how it's fair that they're making us be really careful around them not to offend them but it's not the same the other way round." In this the "them" is an amorphous mass of vaguely foreign, often having come over here they then keep to themselves and go around telling "us" in "our" country how we've to behave now.

I've started asking questions.

"When you say "they're making us be really careful" who's they?"

"well they're stopping us from being able to say Christmas, and Blackboard and Black coffee now aren't they?"

"No, no, they're really not, but who's this "they" that you're talking about?"

"The government"

And no it really isn't, no one's telling you what you can and can't say, except oddly certain areas of the press, such as The Sun, The Mail and The Express, they're telling you that some people are telling you that you can't say anything anymore because of "political correctness" And no one is, it's just that if you get people a little bit scared they're easier to control if you look confident.

It's why you never see a Daily Epress reader out after dark, they're scared that Gay, black, illegal asylum seeking immigrants will descend on their neighbour hood feeding their hoodie wearing binge drinking drug taking computer game addict stabby teenagers on alcopops and genetically modified fast food causing gypsies and Poles to eat swans whilst paedophiles fuck your children so full of cancer the houseprices fall.

Much better to stay in an play sudoku.

The other side the the above argument, is "you've got to be so careful? Careful in case you say what? Something racist? Do you find that you often do? Is it like me with the spitting in people's faces kicking them in the fanny thing? because that's just impulse control."

And essentially that's all Political correctness is, it can be summed up like this "Be polite."

That's all it is, Politeness. You'd think that the "let's get back to the blitz spirit, wasn't it better in the good old days when everyone was polite, not like now where they'll stab you in the face soon as look at you" spouting classes would have figured that one out and gone.  Political Correctness is just the Blitz spirit with people of different races.

It's ok to not understand things fully, and when you don't it's ok to ask, in fact it's better to ask, because asking furnishes you with knowledge and gets rid of prejudice.

About a year ago, in an event that wouldn't be repeated in this age of Austerity, I attended an event that would have made the Daily Mail and Express readers and members of the Tax Avoider's Alliance have a koniption fit.

I was a guest speaker at a Diversity Training Conference for Greater Manchester Police, and I was on a panel with a spokesman for the Roma Gypsy community and a woman with severe Autism, there were about 300 police officers at this conference. I could almost smell the headlines. "PCs in PC gone Mad!"

And whilst I was there I made the above point, it's ok to ask when you don't know, but ask politely, it's never out of order to ask questions unless the question is "how can you look yourself in the mirror you freak?"

I try, and sometimes I fail and people use that as an example as to why it's stupid to be a liberal, and why "you're as bad as us but at least we don't try to hide it like you do."

Because this notion of liberal guilt does appear come from a slightly patronising "we're better and we must some how lower ourselves to level the playing field" Which is something I don't agree with it's not about lowering the playing field, it's about recognising some of the advantages that society gives to me because of my age, class, race etc, and leveling the playing field by not treating anyone differently because of any of those things.

I do fail. And when I fail I hate it. I beat myself up over it. I've got two examples of my instinct overriding my principles, and I'm not proud of either, and both made me look at myself long and hard in the mirror.

The first was a year ago in London, it was just after the commemoration of the 7/7 attacks and the papers were full of stuff, and I got onto a crowded tube train at rush hour.  Now I hate enclosed spaces, I hate crowds, I hate trains and I hate the dark.  I say hate, I'm actually just scared to death of them.  As we went along the Victoria line a young Asian man got on carrying a backpack, he looked sweaty and terrified and my brain convinced me that he was a suicide bomber, and that was the first thought I had, and then I rationally tried to argue that thought out of my head and it wouldn't go, it was simple blind prejudice, all the logical arguments fell away and I was exposed to the true horror of my personality.

This guy had got on the tube, it was a warm summer evening so he was sweating, we all were, he'd probably just changed tube trains and was contemplating the journey home, since 9/11 and 7/7 he probably gets stopped and searched frequently and seeing a crowded tube train the anguish on his face was most likely "Oh fuck, another full tube train filled with idiots who think I'm going to blow them up."

There.  That's it I'm not proud of it, but considering the number of times that that particular stereotype gets bandied around in the press is it really surprising that I'd think that?  I wish I didn't, and that's why I felt guilty then, and in that instance it is a useful emotion.

Last week.  I was walking home from the shop round the corner from my flat with my Mrs, down a side street that the local students refer to as "Rape Alley" its a side street that's just muddy ground were there used to be a house too many years ago for anyone to remember, but it's high sided walls and it's dark even in daylight, but it shaves 5 mins off the journey.  I wasn't feeling particularly good about myself on that day and when I don't feel good about how I look I get paranoid about how the world will react to me.

It's a Trans thing, basically in the 9 years since I transitioned and started living as female I only tend to get "read" about once or twice per year, and it's always mortifying and leads to about a fortnight of self hate, mainly it's because I'm gay and often have bits shaved out of my hair and the result is that some neanderthal seems to think that this is in some way a sexual threat to him and so I get abuse in the street.  It happens fortunately it's infrequent, but the fear of it happening is there and it's very real to me.

So when we're walking down Rape Alley I'm already not feeling my best and two teenagers come walking from the other end of the alley, and I get scared and go into protective mode, I make myself look bigger, I stride with confidence, I have a look of "Don't fuck with me" on my face and I keep my line walking down the street.  There's no way I'm moving out of my path they can move out of theirs.  I'm so scared and so focused on showing that I'm not that I've actually raced on ahead and left my Mrs trailing behind me.

Suddenly these teenagers had stopped being teenagers, and started being "youths"  My Mrs always knows how to handle them, there was a big gang in the centre of Manchester about a year ago all being loud and shouting at things and I'm middle class so I got terrified, and my mrs went over and asked them if she could borrow a lighter and they all suddenly went quiet like in Kevin and Perry when Perry's talking to Kevin's mum.

Walking away from the alley my brain suddenly went "you did that because they were black" and whilst I'm about 99.9% sure I'd have been just as scared no matter what race the teenagers were, the thought was in my head and I hated myself for it, and next time I'll probably over compensate.

In one of my earlier Blogs I told the story about being at a cash point in Moss Side at 2am and a black guy came and stood behind me and the first I knew of his presence was when he said "Don't worry love, I'm not going to mug you."  My brain went mental, first thinking "That sounds like he is going to mug me, and then that same part of my brain from the Alley and the tube train kicked in, and I thought "he's seen me being overly protective of my PIN number and thinks I'm only doing that because I'm being racist, shit!" so I turned to him and said "Oh, no, I didn't do all that because you're black."  I could have phrased it better I know.  He said "I didn't, what? Hang, on I didn't say that because I thought you were worried because I'm black, I thought you'd be worried because it's after midnight and you're a woman on her own at a cash point."  Which does make a lot more sense than my thought process.

It was awkward as hell, but I got out of it by pointing out that as racist as I'd just been, he was just as sexist.  we both had a laugh and moved on.

The reason I bring all this up and the reason for the whole blog today comes from another incident like this from last night.

I was in the Tesco Garage just round the corner from my flat, up by Manchester Royal Infirmary, if you know Manchester, you probably know where I'm talking about.  I was in there getting some soya milk for I am every lesbian stereotype.  And I was talking to the Eastern European girl behind the counter, I don't know where in Eastern Europe she's from but she's a good laugh and I'm there frequently enough for us to exchange pleasantries and so I asked her how she was doing, and what she'd been up to and then she said "I've decided to go home soon."  So I asked "where's home?"  Thinking I'd finally find out a little bit more about where she's from so have a bit more of a picture to who she is.  her reply was "It's just round the corner."

And suddenly I went bright red and felt so guilty, not that I should have done, based on how she'd worded the exchange it was a logical supposition, but from the outside looking in it basically makes my opinion out to be "you might live here but it'll never be your home."

But to be fair, that's how I feel about myself trying to interact with people.

Bloody hell that was a long blog.  Tomorrow will be shorter I promise.

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