Isn’t nuance an interesting word?

Isn’t nuance an interesting word?

The dictionary definition is:  characterised by subtle shades of meaning or expression.  

Using a thesaurus, one comes up with :  fine distinction, subtle, shade, shading, gradation, variation, modulation, degree; subtlety, nicety, refinement, overtone. 

Okay, that works for me.  As an inkster who writes fantasy, I need to use language that, while still making a point, has shades to it so that it becomes believable.  To go extreme will merely turn the reader off and make the writer appear ridiculous.  

That’s what I was going to blog about.  

Then the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand happened.  

At the time of writing, fifty are known to have been murdered.  An almost equal number are in hospital, many of whom are suffering life changing injuries.  Let’s not mention those who love them and are equally traumatised.  Let’s not mention that this happened whilst the murdered and wounded were at prayer in their mosque.  Let’s not mention the hate speech that Twitter and Facebook enable.  Let’s not mention the legitimacy felt by members of the extreme right to feel it is ‘righteous’ to kill others due to the language of hate and division espoused by the populist leaders of this world whom they follow.  Let’s not mention the current occupant in the White House;  Steve Bannon;  Viktor Orbán in Hungary; Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil;  Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, (‘the only extremism that deserves attention is Islamic’).  Let’s not mention that, eh?  

Well, dear reader, fuck that.  (Yes, I am angry.)  Let us mention it.  

Let us mention that their utterances have made opponents into enemies, (you kill your enemies).  Let us mention that their utterances have delegitimised civilised debate and called it weakness.  Let us mention that their ill-defined populist utterances have stoked fear where there should be trust.  

These ‘leaders’, (I use the term so very, very loosely), must be held to account.  There must be no nuance in placing the responsibility at their feet, their mouths and their sorry excuse for a brain.  

No nuance here.  They are responsible.  Hold them and those of their ilk responsible for creating the environment where this can happen.  Let us watch them try to scramble away from having any responsibility for what has been done in their name, their beliefs, their utterances.  (It’s already happening.)  

Finally, I’ll end with mention of an article by Frans de Waal, a Dutch primatologist and ethnologist.  In other words, he studies animal behaviour and is pretty good at it.  Makes for interesting reading.  

In his article, ‘What animals can teach us about politics’, (herehe wrote about the link between our biology and culture, ‘no humans ever existed without biology, nor any without culture.’  

He also made numerous points about leadership, bullying and using fear as a coercive leadership tool.  Leaders that use the latter tend to reign for short periods of time.  Those using more enabling approaches tend to last longer.  It is within us all to wish for peace, to be able to get on with our lives without causing harm to others.  However, when people feel disenfranchised, powerless, they tend to respond to those who promise to deal with the society that caused that disengagement.  

Civilisation is not some outside force: it is us.  Social life is very much part of our primate background, as are cooperation, bonding and empathy. This is because group living is our main survival strategy.  

Primates are made to be social, made to care about one another and made to get along, and the same applies to us. Civilisation does all sorts of great things for us, but does so by co-opting natural abilities. It works with what we have to offer, including an age-old capacity for peaceful coexistence.

Peaceful coexistence.  Lovely phrase that.   

Couldn’t be clearer.  No nuance there.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.

Last week, the love of my life, LOML, and I were watching a television programme about the Lockerbie disaster.  Thirty years ago, on 21 December, 1998, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky killing 270 people, (243 passengers, 16 crew, 11 on the ground.)  As was said in the programme, it was the largest number of people killed in a terrorist incident ever experienced by the UK.  

Now, this blog is not about who did this or who did that, (there’s still debate as to who was responsible), no, this is about the people of Lockerbie and what they did.  How they opened their doors and hearts to those affected by this dreadful incident.  

The programme had softly spoken people talking about what had happened, what they had seen.  All said in an understated way that made what they were saying even more powerful.  No emotion apart from some once or twice having to stop talking as grief washed over them yet again.  You could sense their anguish and regret.  

The people of Lockerbie went further.  Once there was no further need for the clothing found scattered around the countryside to be retained for forensic purposes, everything was washed, ironed, packaged, and sent to those still grieving relatives.  It was all about respect and compassion.  

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

Then there were the people who queued for hours to donate blood after the attack on the Twin Towers, September 11, 2001.  Their wish to show they cared, were involved.  

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

The reaction of people after the two bomb attacks in London.  How people risked their own lives to save others.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

The response of those in London in 2017 doing their best to save lives, even if it meant risk to themselves, when a van deliberately drove onto the pavement, killing and maiming people.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

There are so many other examples since that dreadful event on 21 December, 1998.  Where people have given their own lives to save others.  Where people have done so without thought of their own survival.  Many have died unsung.  Unknown.  

It is their humanity, and those of us who care, that makes me retain hope in these troubling times.  

We must never, never, ever, allow those who wish to capitalise on our differences, (race, gender, belief systems, colour, whatever), for their own purposes to succeed.  We must needs see through the lies and fabrications used on those two irresponsible, immoral and shameless publishers, Twitter and Facebook, for what they are.  A mechanism for control.  A mechanism for creation of hate and discord.  We must needs see through all of this misdirection to the humanity that connects us all.  

Once we have done that, then my belief in the humanity of those around us will no longer just be a hope, it will be a reality.  

Continuing to show, to share, our common humanity is my (retained) hope for 2019 for you and yours.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

Train journeys can be so useful

Train journeys can be so useful

Sitting on the train as it left Edinburgh Waverley en route to London to celebrate the birthday of the Love Of My Life, LOML.  We had planned to visit a number of places, The Cabinet War Rooms, museums, have great meals, y’know, the kind of thing you do when in a city.  

The ride is smooth, it’s fast and you can stare at the countryside, thinking about how beautiful it is as it glides past, take photographs of each station that you stop at as you travel on your way.  It also allows you to mull over things, personal, whatever, just where your mind takes you.  

Looking out, you see people going about their business.  Cars travelling down a motorway.  Where could they be going?  What’s their story?  Let’s make up a story…  Time drifts by.  Thinking.  

A thread develops.  Thinking about the Cabinet War Rooms, the war, the reasons for the war.  The number of people who were killed, wounded, wounded psychologically.  The heroes and heroines on all sides.  Thinking about my next book, current title, ‘Kold Kronicles 3:  Deliverance.’  What can I use as a driver?  Well, there has to be conflict of some kind.  The cause?  How about religion?  People have written about religion and wars.  

I admit that history is full of wars of religion; but on this point we must be very careful; it is not the multiplicity of religions that produced these wars, but the spirit of intolerance animating the religion that believed itself to be dominant.

(Letter 83) Persian Letters, (Montesquieu)  

So, use intolerance as the basis for the conflict rather than religion, but what kind of intolerance?  Perhaps race?  There again, what head of state would use race to push his own toxic agenda?  I need to keep in mind that even though I’m writing fiction, it has to have some semblance of reality underpinning it.  So that might have to be worked on a bit but the world I’m creating is  now becoming toxic.  Great!  

Okay, let’s just stay with hate and intolerance.  Why do people cling to  hate so vehemently.  

‘I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.’  (James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time.)  

Okay, that might be worth keeping in mind.  Let’s develop it further.  I need to work around that a bit.  

So what I need is a faction that feels / is fed hate, wants a war and will use whatever they can to make an external enemy that is easy to identify.  Okay, what do I mean by faction?  Well this one works:  

‘a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community’.  (The Federalist Papers, James Madison)

adverse to the rights of other citizens…  Works for me.  

Right, now that’s sorted, what is the delivery system?  I know, let’s weaponise the internet.  That’ll work, after all it’s being used as a weapon already.  Not fantasy then…  

I now have my structure for the third Kold Kronicles.  It’ll be about bad guys who comprise a faction that use hate and intolerance against those whom they consider different;  utilising a weaponised internet;  led by a bigot who appears to want a war.  

What to call them?  How about, ‘the Myrmidon.’  (A follower or subordinate of a powerful person, typically one who is unscrupulous or carries out orders unquestioningly.)  Hitler had quite a few of them, as did / do other autocrats. 

Yes, the bad guy’s followers shall be called the Myrmidon.  

How’s that for fiction, eh?  Donchajustloveit?  

Train journeys can be so useful.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

‘Enough now, enough now.’

‘Enough now, enough now.’

Social media, eh?  The main platforms, as everyone well knows, are Facebook and Twitter.  Both have their benefits but increasingly, they have been having, and have been creating, problems.  Problems social, problems financial, problems of integrity, problems of transparency.  In sum, problems.  Big bastards as well.    

Let’s start with Twitter.  During the 2016 election, a number of female political candidates were threatened with rape, murder, being slashed, you name it, they were threatened with it.  Troll farms set up false accounts that created even more mayhem.  One only has to add that obscene waste of oxygen currently in the White House, and the anger and chaos he loves to create into the mix to see that the initial idea of Twitter to create open communications has become dysfunctional.  Read more

Turbulent times all round…

Turbulent times all round…

Well, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. Confusion and mendacity continue on both sides of the pond. In the case of the current President of the United States, he’s doubling-down via his early morning tweets. Over here in the UK, we continue to experience the confusion caused by the Brexit vote. The lie regarding the £350 million a week that would be added to the National Health Service should we vote to leave the European Union is now history. Those who promoted this calumny, this lie, attempt to ignore it and, to be honest, they’re being allowed to by the media that gave them resonance in the first place.  

Then add to the mix the undemocratic voting systems that enabled this chaos – First Past The Post, FPTP, in the UK and in the US, the Electoral College. The result is that in the former you have a Government with a majority in Parliament voted into power by a minority of the population, thus not fully representative. In the latter, the outcome is a President who lost the popular vote by almost three million votes and yet still became President, thus, again, not fully representative. Think about that, both systems created for historical reasons that no longer apply, and yet are still extant. That we need to change this is beyond doubt. That the vested interests do not want to is also beyond doubt. The result of this continuation of an undemocratic process?  Well, turbulence for sure.  And definitely anger.

In spite of the increasing questioning of the mental state of the current POTUS, aka 45, he still retains large pockets of support in the US. The same for Brexit in the UK, in spite of economic, social and cultural concerns becoming more clear.  Retained support in both cases, I would imagine, in no small part due to the privately owned media that has a vested interest in ensuring the millionaire owners and their coterie of sycophants remain in power and retain their wealth.  (Anyone have a story about a banker being made legally and financially responsible for the 2008 meltdown and being put in prison? Or a media organisation CEO charged with promoting hatred? No?  I didn’t think so.)  

With all this happening I feel we are coming to a tipping point. I have written before about what happens when people continue to feel ignored, mocked, taken for granted and so on – revolution of one kind or another. That I have trust in my fellow human beings makes me believe that things will improve – eventually.  

However, between now and then, it’s turbulent times all round…

J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Of Black Swan events and Revolution

Of Black Swan events and Revolution

Part of my previous life involved working with offshore drilling crews and training them in leadership and communication.  I found this group of people to be some of the most interesting and delightful I’ve ever met. If they didn’t like what you said you’d be left in no doubt as to their response.  I liked that.  I also met some whom I describe as muppets.  They were the ones you wouldn’t trust with a rowing boat on the Serpentine let alone a sixth generation rig working deep-water on a highly deviated well.  They tended to be known about and people worked around their incompetence, minimising their influence in ways that was sometimes subtle and, at other times, well, not.  

One of the concepts to which I introduced them was what I called a Black Swan event.  Developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, it’s a metaphor for something that appears to have come out of nowhere and then, as my former colleagues would say, ‘bites you in the ass.’  I prefer the British term, arse.  Anyway, same thing, same effect, same pain.  It was only when you looked back could you see that ‘it was obvious, really.’  You then have it rationalised by hind-sight.  Anything recently come to mind?

Let me ask you a few questions.  What do you think happens when people feel ignored?  What do you think happens when people feel disenfranchised?  What do you think happens when people see an elite continuing in its own way with no penalty for their previous misbehaviours?  (Bankers come to mind here as well as others responsible for the 2008 financial crash.)  What do you think happens when the party meant to be representing the ‘common man and woman’ is now just a big money-raising machine beholden to those whose money they’re asking for?  (Wall Street and Corporations come to mind.)  What do you think happens when someone offers a way out of this vicious circle, no matter that he’s a millionaire himself and known to be a liar?  I could go on but you get the picture.  The answer is simple – Revolution.  

In the UK we had the revolution of Brexit.  In the US the revolution was the election of Trump.  Currently there’s a sense of triumphalism in both camps.  There’s also the triumphalism of the Far Right in Europe, their expectations are quite high as I write.  Don’t count on it though.  It may now be the time of such beliefs but as the Persian Sufi poets would say, ‘this too shall soon pass.

The same with revolutions.  There’s something that I feel such people should remember, revolutions have a habit of devouring their own children.  History is replete with examples.  In the end, one ends up with more of the same and the saying, ‘Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss’ comes to mind.  When this happens, and it will, the reaction will be anger.

The outcome then won’t be a Black Swan, it’ll be something completely unexpected.

That’s when life has the potential to become a tad dangerous. 

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Pondering our destiny…

Pondering our destiny…

It’s a quiet day here in Edinburgh, blue sky with some beautiful cirrus meandering its way across the sky presaging a change in the weather in the next twenty four hours.  A bit cooler too.  Seems as though winter is starting to wake up and beckon the next stage of the year as our planet continues its journey around our sun, (one of many, remember, well, billions actually.)

So why the heading for this post? Simple really, it all started with a picture of the earth taken from the moon – yes, that famous one (Earthrise,  photographed by William Anders during the 1968 Apollo 8 mission.)  I was also reminded of our mortality by the news that a very good friend of mine is battling a life-threatening illness.  A decent, caring human being who makes a difference to all those who know him. He’s a former US Marine and brings that ‘can do’ attitude towards fighting this ‘irritation’ as he calls it. He’s blessed with support around him. He has friends who care deeply about him and a family that is as ‘awkward’ as he is regarding any form of illness.  He also has a dreadful sense of humour, (I’m smiling as I write that part.)  His sense of the ridiculous lightens some of those dark moments he has sometimes he tells me.

It’s only when you see pictures like the earth from the moon, (how small we are);  hear of close friends fighting an insidious ‘irritation’, (brings home your own mortality), that one can gain a kind of perspective.  You then think about some of those whose egos and monomania drive them to seek positions of power, be it economic or political.  The blowhards; the liars; the dysfunctional on so many levels; people in positions of authority and power, (not always the same thing), and you think, ‘Why are  you behaving like this?’  ‘Why are you promoting hate in the way that you are?’  ‘Why are you denying our common humanity?’  It’s done for power?  Really?  To repeat myself, really?

In centuries to come people looking back at these dysfunctional individuals might ponder  ‘What on earth were people thinking then?  Why did they fall into the trap of believing all the hate and vitriol that these people spewed into the body politic?’  

There again, if we don’t take control of our own destiny and see such people for who they are, then the next picture of the earth from the moon might well show a wasteland.  

 

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

The people have spoken – the bastards

The people have spoken – the bastards

This blog is being written on the Monday after the seismic events of the UK vote to leave the EU.  Cameron has resigned and the Conservative Party, (formal title the Conservative and Unionist Party – somewhat ironic), is now in the throes of a leadership election.  At the same time, Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, The Parliamentary Labour Party, has decided, whilst their opponents are leaderless and rudderless and at their weakest, to mount a coup against a leader they see as ineffective.  Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain – we can only imagine where that might take us.  I know it’s more complex than this, but I’m keeping it relatively simple for the benefit of brevity.

The dust still remains to settle on the decision of those in England and Wales to leave the EU.  However, it is becoming clear that many in the North of England and some in Wales voted to leave as a protest against what they saw as an unfeeling political and financial elite living in London and within the ‘Westminster Bubble’.  They felt ignored.  They’re right, they have been.  That is until those concerned need the people’s vote and do and say anything to gain it  For example, ‘The NHS will be better off by £350m a week...’ Interestingly, it was only after the vote we were told that such a statement was, ‘an intention, not a promise…‘  or, a good one this, ‘a mistake.’  Really?  Here’s another, ‘We’ll address immigration…‘  Post vote, ‘it may take time to fully address...’   Those who obfuscated or told downright lies, in many cases both, are now being held to account to deliver on what they promised.  

Fernand Braudel once wrote that ‘history can be divided into three movements: what moves rapidly, what moves slowly and what appears not to move at all.’  At the moment, it appears that we are experiencing the first.  There has been a societal seismic shift and that expectations have been raised is without doubt.  I am also confident they will not be met.  The result will be increased cynicism and the view that politicians are ‘only in it for themselves.’  Many are not, are totally committed to the community they represent and try to engage in the politics of the possible.  These politicians must have looked on aghast as they saw what was happening.  Like many of us, they must now be deafened by the sound of screeching brakes as the promises made during the campaign are being ‘moderated’.  However, the leaders of both campaigns need to be held to account.  Somehow I don’t think it will happen.  

I have written on this sense of alienation and frustration in a number of other blogs.  I have also written about the use of language that generates hatred and distrust of others.  When will those in power realise that there is always a cost to what they say?  When will those in power learn that people will sometimes vote in a way that shows their contempt and dislike for the body politic?  Especially when they feel powerless.  

The comment, “The people have spoken…the bastards,” is said to have been uttered by California State Senate Candidate Dick Tuck, who lost an election to Richard Nixon in 1966.  I would agree, they have.  Currently, the people ‘speak’ by voting.  We need to ensure the people are provided with a voting system that allows them to be heard more effectively. Currently this does not exist.  In the UK, The First Past The Post, FPTP, is a broken and discredited system.  In the US, you have a process that requires candidates to have deep pockets.  If they don’t they invariably become beholden to some whose views of democracy might be questionable.  If not addressed, then the people will ‘speak’.  They will ‘speak’ by electing those who espouse a world view that reflects their own anger and sense of frustration.  Thus come demagogues… 

Then the people will not have just spoken, they will have roared.  And if they do, it won’t be pretty.

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Let’s give it up for the person in the street…

Let’s give it up for the person in the street…

If I came from another planet and looked at all that was happening in the world today I’d be thinking ‘what insanity.’  There is this third rock from the sun which has stunning beaches, mountains, forests and seas.  We have cities of which we can be proud and others, well, not.  And, for the moment, we have a beautiful world that we need to protect and nurture.  

There are so many decent and kind people in this world of ours.  In fact, they’re the majority.  I have seen pure love in the smile a mother gives her child.  I have seen the bravery of an individual standing up for what they believe, even if they are in the minority.  I have seen compassion shown by one to another.  But do we hear about this?  Do we read about this? You know the answer as well as I, we do not.  We are fed stories of hate – hate of colour, belief system, sexual orientation, whatever, by those who ‘profit’ from this.  With the media, it’s all about ‘click bait’; it’s about subscribers; it’s about advertisers; and ultimately, it’s about the money that can be put into the coffers of those that are already rich and politically influential. With so many politicians, it’s about power and gaining office.  Currently some are using negative stereotypes in their attempt to gain that power.

So, before we think this world is going to hell in a hand cart, let’s give it up to those, the majority, who care about others; who put the interests of others before themselves; whose value systems prevent them from taking advantage of those less strong; to those who protect the weak; and those who dislike cruelty to human kind and non human kind. In other words, to the great majority of people who live on this bustling, argumentative, frustrating, loving, caring, and fabulous world that we call our own.

To the others, the greedy, the avaricious, the power hungry, the hate mongers, keep in mind that in those last thirty seconds of life that you know you have left to you, you will be naked to the reality of your life and the destruction you wove.  For me the saying, ‘there are no pockets in a shroud’, resonates.  The quality of the life you have lived can be seen by the regret of your passing; by the hole left in the lives of others; of the smiling, and sometimes laughter that follows when someone talks about you.  These, as I have said before, are the reactions of the majority to the majority.  And so it should be.   

So, again, let’s give it up for the person in the street – for that is us.  

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’