Work songs in food retail

So here’s something to prove how much I dislike working in retail: I have been singing work songs to myself whenever I can get away with it, and composing them in my head.

But I thought I’d share the “magic” with you anyway.

After the store has closed to the public, we do what is called “pulling forwards”, which is basically, pulling stock items from the backs of the shelves to the front to make the shelves look nice and full, and better-presented. On my first day, I composed the following:

Forwards, I’m pulling forwards
Forwards at the end of the day
Forwards, I’m pulling forwards
To earn an hour’s pay. (or “a measly wage” or similar variant)

Stacking, the shelves need stacking
Stacking at the end of the day
So I’m here stacking
To earn my hour’s pay.

A friend on another site tells me that in the store where she works, this is known as recover and it wasn’t long before I had a “Recovery” ditty as well, which may well get lyrics related to my workplace as well:

Recovery
Oh, recovery
For the items in the store

Oh, recovery
Drains the life from me, and I
Just can’t do it any more

I programmed the melodies (and a bass line) for them on Garageband, and they can be found on Soundcloud.

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My letter to my MP about Universal Credit

Since there has been some discussion of this, and my recent change in circumstances, I finally found the impetus to write to my MP regarding the many problems with Universal Credit and its implementation. I see in my Twitter feed that there is a new article online from the Guardian discussing the many failures and problems, so decided to add my story out there:

* * *

UNIVERSAL CREDIT DIFFICULTIES

I am writing to you today to give you my view as a Universal Credit claimant for the last 9 months of the difficulties that the system has presented me, and the ways in which it fails to help or live up to the claim of ensuring people are “always better off in work”.

First, I would like to thank you for your continuing work on the issues around Universal Credit, and particularly the 6 week waiting period. As a voter in your constituency, I make use of social media to follow your twitter and your website, so I am aware of the work you have been doing in this area. I am disappointed that you abstained (even if you viewed it as only symbolic) in the Opposition Day vote in October, but appreciate your closely working with the Prime Minister. I also saw that you tweeted a page from the Resolution Foundation’s report on Universal Credit – a page that I believe is relevant to many of the issues I am experiencing.

As regards my situation at the moment: I currently sign on at the [nearest local] Jobcentre, and have recently started a fixed term seasonal job at a major department store on part-time hours. [snip personal details] In terms of mental health, I deal with anxiety, depression and Aspergers syndrome.

My previous job, and my current seasonal job, were both paid on a weekly basis. When my last job finished, I had been saving money to put towards my business plan for marketing my writing and music. After the 6 week waiting period, even living as frugally as I could, my savings were gone and I was overdrawn on my current account. The money that might have been able to launch me into something new straight away, I had to use on basic living expenses instead. Not only this, but my last paycheque (because I was paid weekly in arrears for the job I had been doing) was deducted from my first Universal Credit payment, meaning that for the next month I was living on less than the amount normally paid. I was therefore in financial difficulty not for just 6 weeks, but for a total of 10 weeks after losing my job.

I have a history of depression, and the added stress of this period of financial instability was extremely bad for my mental health. This, in turn, has a negative effect on my efforts to find work or to produce a plan for self-employment and execute it effectively.

While Universal Credit was explained to me as being more flexible than Jobseekers Allowance, my experience has not matched this. Ever greater regulation and threats of sanctions have proved to be destructive to mental health and to my efforts to support myself either through self-employment or finding a job.

I mentioned earlier that I have started a part-time job. This job is not one that suits my abilities or aptitudes, and clashes heavily with my mental health needs. I feel very deeply that I am a very square peg being hammered into a very round hole. However, the rules about having to take any job offered, and having to attend any opportunity presented by the jobcentre, mean that I could not choose or ask for, a more suitable option: having been required to attend interview, and then been offered a position, I had to accept.

While financially, I may be better off (although after travel expenses, this is not by much), overall I feel like my life is worse now than when I was seeking work.

More broadly, the restrictive nature of the targets and regulations and rules that hem in not just the jobseekers but also Jobcentre staff, have a far more pernicious long-term effect on jobseekers. I believe that these produce a tendency towards learned helplessness, because they produce the impression that the individual jobseeker has no control over his or her outcomes. They are stuck in a situation with negative effects, and threatened with even greater negative effects so that even making an effort to escape or find new ways of dealing with the situation seem discouraged or even punished. I certainly feel that every time I try to come up with creative ways of escaping the benefits system and either finding work or creating an income from my own ideas, that the way that JSA and Universal Credit are structured, I do not have any support to do so but am instead penalised for not doing things in the “proper” or “expected” fashion.

The threat of sanctions is also counter-productive in another way. It has the undeniable effect of focussing a jobseeker’s attention on “avoiding sanctions” rather than on “finding a sustainable job”. It may seem as though taking the actions required to avoid sanctions would lead to a job, and that this is the purpose of enforcing such measures. However, while the distinction may seem subtle it is still significant. The reason is that jobseekers focussed on finding a job can give more care and attention to the process of applying. But jobseekers who are focussed on avoiding sanctions will constantly be looking over their shoulder and mentally calculating, “Have I done enough to convince those threatening me?” In the same way that torture rarely produces good intelligence, the threat of sanctions does not produce good jobsearch activity.

A system that was truly interested in ensuring people were always better off in work would look first to ensure that people were getting the right sort of work, and not on hammering square pegs into round holes. It would ask not, “How can we punish people for not being in work?” but instead, “How can we actively make it easier and how can we actively give them what they need, to find work?” While the rhetoric around Universal Credit (and JSA) is the latter, the experience I and everyone I’ve ever met while on JSA or Universal Credit, has been that we are made to jump through hoops in the hope of tripping us up.

The last point I would like to make is about the Minimum Income Floor and how this affects my ability to make a serious attempt at self-employment. In general, the rules around the MIF seem to be based on a curious notion of self-employment as being like a small business in the venture-capital sense. The language used is that Universal Credit should not prop up “failing businesses”. But most people seeking to support themselves through self-employment are not running a business, but rather, seeking to find an income that gives them at least some level of independence from the benefits system. For such people, the benefits system should be there as a safety net for those periods when cashflow is insufficient, so that they are able to earn with confidence rather than being trapped into claiming forever.

This is certainly how I feel about my attempts to produce income. What I have to sell is my creative output and the creative arts are unreliable, with no guarantee of the level of income from one month to the next. But I want to be able to take at least some of the burden off the taxpayer by generating my own income. The year’s grace offered by the current rules is helpful in terms of time to build an audience, but sales will never be guaranteed from one period to the next, because commissions and calls for submission are periodic. The suggestion by the Resolution Foundation to “Allow self-employed workers to report their income in line with the tax system, at present annually in arrears, and apply the MIF on the same basis” would be a very good first step to helping with this. I also feel it should be lowered or made more flexible to take into account the type of work and the individual needs of the claimant rather than applying a rigid formula.

In conclusion: I would like to ask that you continue your work in trying to improve and remedy the problems with Universal Credit. I would like you to continue to push for the recommendations made in the Resolution Foundation’s report and, further to this, to press for a relaxation of the rules and sanctions regime in JSA and Universal Credit. A more flexible, and compassionate, system that is not bound up by rigid requirements but that can take into account the many and varied circumstances of those who find themselves unfortunate enough to need support from public money, can only lead to better outcomes and a greater chance that they will be able to help themselves back into work.

Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

[real name]

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Help me choose a cover design!

I am so close to being ready to launch my novel.

I have a limited budget so I want to do everything myself that I can, and that includes using photos I’ve taken to create a cover design that hopefully won’t end up on Kindle Cover Disasters (although it hasn’t done any harm to some out there!)

But I’m not confident yet that I am any good, so I’d like to get some feedback and find out which of the two ideas I was able to put together, works best – or if I should pay a professional after all.

The blurb is as follows:

To most people, Jo Eversey is a store manager who lives in the suburbs, tends her garden, and goes to church. But in private, she is a willing and obedient slave to Thomas, her husband and Master.

When Jo meets feminist assertiveness trainer Pat through work, a friendship blooms. But deeper currents stir, making Jo question her sexuality and shaking the foundations of her relationships. Caught in a clash of values, swept by turbulent emotions and betrayed at her most vulnerable, Jo finds she must risk everything to stand up for her truth. But who will be there for her, and what will be left for her to choose?

So – which of these looks best and evokes the right sort of response – or should I get someone clever with cover art and design to do something different for me?

The Suburban Sky

The Cuffs

* * *

Let me know in comments what you think!

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Work and other depressing truths

[CONTENT NOTE: Depression; Brief discussion of suicidal ideation.]

Things change apace for Yours Truly.

I have been forced into a seasonal contract to work in the Food Hall at a well-known department store.

I say “forced” because some 25 years ago the concept of the welfare state as a safety net was dealt a fatal blow when Unemployment Benefit was scrapped and replaced with “Jobseekers Allowance”. Ever since, the understanding that someone out of work was an unfortunate victim of circumstance and economic forces has been steadily replaced by the notion that people on benefits (particularly if they’ve been out of work for a while) are lazy, feckless scroungers who need to be punished and forced to labour.

Technically, I’m in an area that’s already converted to Universal Credit, which is no better.

The fact is, I have to accept any offer of employment, otherwise I will have my income cut off. I have to attend any event or interview that my Work Coach suggests, regardless of how it fits into my actual skill set or how suitable it is for my circumstances.

So, I could not say that working as a retail assistant in a food department was likely to be a problem because ASD and introversion and generally not being comfortable that environment for a host of reasons.

I also could not be too obvious about trying to flunk the interview (especially as it was in the jobcentre and someone might have noticed!) I did my best anyway, but the way the interviewer deliberately coached me through the answers and didn’t write down what I actually said but what she said proves that they were desperate to hire and would take just about anyone.

Today I have received the official offer of employment. I cannot, at this point, refuse that offer and expect to get away with it.

I have, ever since the interview and sign-up at the jobcentre, felt the clouds of depression closing in. I hate this, because I know it is more about the apprehension and anticipation of a bad experience, than the experience itself, at this point. I am having to expend a lot of mental energy on talking myself down from the position. And in some ways, it is not nearly as bad as it could be.

There are some distinct positives:

  • It’s a part-time contract, which will leave me time to work on my creative output and on monetising what I do with it.
  • It’s also an evening shift, which may take me away from some of my family time but will fit in very nicely with my delayed sleep phase syndrome – a problem that concerns me sometimes about some full-time jobs.
  • It pays more per hour than my last job – which was an admin role for a government body. I can’t help but feel it’s come to something when a bog-standard department store retail assistant job pays better than a government job processing people’s payments but whatever! Because it’s part-time, my take-home pay will be lower – and when I factor in travel and that I’ll probably have to buy takeaway food to get an evening meal after work, I won’t have a huge amount of spending money left (although probably a little bit more that the equivalent JSA/UC payment, after tax).
  • It’s only four hours a day and I’ll probably get a short break halfway through, so I can probably manage the stresses and demands for long enough!
  • Similarly, it’s a seasonal contract – only two months long. I know (because it’s the record I actually managed in the past) I can survive even the worst job for my mental health for that long! I know that however bad it feels, I can count down the hours and the days until I am free again. And knowing when it will end makes anything easier to bear, in my experience.

It may be the case, therefore, that this will give me what I need to be able to launch my online earning and get me to a place where I no longer need JSA/UC. That would be good.

It may also be the case that it takes me to a place where I have only enough energy to fight off the suicidal ideation and do the essentials to go on living. That would be bad.

One way or another, though, it’s not forever and I will still be here after Christmas.

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BIG NEWS! (But not as big as I’d hoped – thanks a bunch, Patreon!)

I have HUGE news. It’s colossal. Like, really really big. Monumental. The best news. Trust me, you’ll love it.

Okay, enough with the Donald Trump impression.

Here it is.

I FINISHED MY NOVEL, GUYS!

As in, I wrote it. I rewrote it. I went through it twice more doing my best impression of an editor until I am actually prepared to sign off on it and say it is a product I am happy with and I want to share with the world (in exchange for money!)

“Not To Choose: A Novel of Feminism, Faith and Kinky Sex” is actually done, finished, complete.

Well, I mean, apart from having no cover art or anything. (If any of my most famous followers wanted to read it and give me a cool cover quote endorsement, I’d love you forever!)

But the point is, I am ready to sell my work. I could make my approaches (or “queries” as they are called in the trade) to the traditional publishing routes – get an agent to hawk it around the publishing houses, get paid an advance and all the rest of it.

I don’t want that. That feels too much like sending my CV to company after company and getting rejection after rejection. I did that with my (admittedly amateurish) demo tapes and the A&R departments of record companies back in the day. Now, with both music and writing, I am ina different place and the commercial self-publishing web is Out There in all its glory, and I could try to make use of it.

Now, I suck at marketing and sales. And self-publishing even on the biggies like Amazon and Smashwords is probably 95% self-promotion – i.e. marketing and sales. So it would be a huge risk and quite likely a stupid move to even go for it. BUT I would at least be in control of my own destiny. I don’t have to wait for some suit somewhere to say “we’re just about desperate enough to give Valery North a shot” – I can succeed or fail but at least I get to TRY.

And if I’m going down that route then I’m not just doing it with Not To Choose. I’m doing it with all my creative work: my music, my other writings, and my talent for erotic text-chat roleplay, and everything else that I’ve been doing for free or as a hobby for the last 10 or 20 years and because I never stopped doing it, I somehow became good at doing it. (Even if my self-taught guitar technique is all over and I have a different sort of vocabulary and skillset on the guitar than most musicians in the same genres.) I might even get people to support my 3d rendering (although some of the models/props I have are non-commercial only so I couldn’t offer those for sale, they might be part of a website I’d love to set up for all my creativity.)

And with that intent and that in mind, as I finally reached the culmination of a decade of writing and editing, I decided it was time to put the finishing touches to the Patreon page that I never went live with yet – actually come up with some serious and actual rewards I could offer and start selling my stuff. Get to that first goal of being able to fund a dedicated website for all my stuff. Then build towards the goal of no longer needing to claim benefits to have a living income.

I suck at the marketing and sales, so maybe I’d never get there. But dammit, I was ready to go and give it my best shot, maybe get tips and advice from those who’ve gone before. Leverage the few communities where I have any presence. I don’t know.

BUT!

Some of you may have heard (if you follow my twitter feed, you probably will have!) that Patreon in the last week or two changed their policy of adult content.

For more on that policy change, read Pandora/Blake or Girl On The Net. You should also check out the Open Letter To Patreon page (and the update response below the main letter) and, if appropriate, co-sign the letter with creators, patrons and “concerned parties”. You can also read more at Engadget.

Now, it is entirely possible that the majority of what I wanted to do with my Patreon would be totally unaffected. I wasn’t planning to offer any video/webcam stuff. I might have picked out some of my nudes and attempts-at-being-sexy photos as a reward but mostly it would be offering to create stuff to commission – a 3k word story, or a 1-2 minute piece of music specifically written for the Patron would be the higher end rewards. I wanted to use serialising my new novel project “Dragons Dragons Fairies Boobs” as a lower priced reward, and maybe a mid-range thing would be “rushes” or demo pieces of any musical works in progress as mp3 mixes.

But here’s the thing: those short stories would almost certainly be primarily intended as written-word porn or erotica. Both “Not To Choose” and “Dragons Dragons Fairies Boobs” are unashamedly sexual in content. NtC is a novel about kinky sex. It has a BDSM relationship at its centre and there are detailed sex scenes showing how the couple fuck (There are also passages showing other couples fucking or having kinky interactions).

Dragons Dragons Fairies Boobs is a fantasy novel with an intersex sexworker as the lead character who fucks for money and for pleasure (not always at the same time), creating a fantasy fiction world where LGBTQ is accepted or at least a normal part of society, where sexwork is viewed as work just like any other. And it will be unashamedly sexual, with sex scenes of a certain level of explicitness from time to time.

Is it porn? Almost certainly not, but I’d be ashamed if I thought none of my readers wanked even once to a passage I wrote in either of these novels!

And regardless of that, a website where I posted my erotic 3d renders (or posted links to them hosted on sites unaffected by UK censorship laws), and where I hosted a chatroom for paying customers to enjoy my chat roleplay services where I don’t have to be my assigned-at-birth gender but can adopt any gender and persona of the many I am able to inhabit online (From the magnificent genderless deity Miste to the proper and respectable but actually secretly submissive tomboy Kitty or the masculine Dominant and stern Val – among others!), and sell that side of me as a partner? That seems like it would certainly violate the “adults only website” clause in Patreon’s new “clarification”.

The things I wanted Patreon to make possible seem like the things they would like to discourage now.

Even if that weren’t the case, I don’t want to make money for them now that they have turned their back on the adult creators that I used them to support. If I sell my stuff through their site, they get a cut and now even if I restricted it to my music and my fiction writing, to stay within the rules, I would still feel like I was doing business with a company that I viewed as less than ethical and as having betrayed my friends.

Make no mistake – I don’t “need” as such, to use Patreon. I can claim benefits, get a “proper” job in the meantime and work out some other way of selling what I do eventually. I might be able to find musicians to join me in a band and take my music live (I want to do that anyway, actually). I can use BandCamp to sell those rushes and demo tracks, or share them through Soundcloud. I can write DDFB and then sell the finished work on Amazon and Smashwords.

Patreon is a good thing because it’s a regular income that I’d be able to rely on if it got going. But I don’t want to do business with them if they don’t roll back the threat to adult content creators. Because, whether or not I sell it for money or just share freely, I am an adult content creator too.

* * *

I wanted this post to be announcing the launch of my Patreon page. Instead, it is me officially registering my protest and refusal to do so for the time being.

As GOTN puts it:

However it’s not something anyone should continue to rely on. I would strongly advise any new bloggers/pornographers/anyone creating adult content to avoid setting up – and investing a lot of time or money in – Patreon. It’s gone from being a great platform which allows us to make money where others just offered slammed doors to being a very shaky and unstable base on which to build a secure income.

I am a new blogger/pornographer/crerator of adult content. and I was on the verge of putting some effort into getting my Patreon live, but now it does not seem like such a good idea.

PS: Also, please let me know in comments or on twitter if you like/love/wantwantwant the type of rewards I suggested I could offer, above. Because for some of them, at least, I could arrange ways for you to pay me for bespoke music/erotic fiction.

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What would Straight Pride look like anyway?

After reading Karen Pollock’s piece about the “Straight Pride” trope, which covers the usual (and entirely accurate) analysis of why there is no need for such a thing, I got to thinking about the question from a different angle.

What would a Straight Pride actually look like, and what would it involve?

More pertinently, suppose that Straight Pride was not, in fact, a shroud or figleaf for homophobia and transphobia, with the intention of campaigning to silence those minorities, but a genuine way to affirm those who are cis and het as being valid in their own right.

The arguments in Pollock’s piece notwithstanding, I can see how some people might feel that validation or affirmation might be something they need. I will say that this probably has a strong element of class bias, in that the people who will most be exposed to per pressure on these questions are more likely to be middle class than working class. On the other hand whether in good fsith or not, I have heard the same sentiments expressed by those I would identify as from working class backgrounds.

Put simply, there is sometimes a perceived denigration of those who fit the norm. For example, the term “vanilla” is seen by some as derogatory, implying “boring” or “unimaginative”. In the same way, there are plenty of people who put out a message suggesting that those who are not at least “bicurious” are simply repressed, or dishonest with themselves so that to be cishet is automatically a lesser state of mental awareness or enlightenment. (We see the same narrative presented in some Poly communities as well.)

To be fair, this is often a phase people pass through while exploring their own gender and sexuality, and most come to a less judgemental conception of their differences so that it isn’t a genuine position of LGBTQ activism. But the narrative exists out there and because there are always people at that phase, it doesn’t just fade away.

So maybe there is a reason (though I would stop well short of saying a need!) to say “it’s okay to be straight” or “it’s okay to be cis”.

So what would Straight Pride look like, and what would it involve, if it wasn’t about saying “Straight is the best” but rather “Straight is okay like all the rest”?

I haven’t been to a Pride event yet, so my impression of the parades is based on media representations and descriptions by other bloggers. But the impression I get of the parades is that they are very celebratory. There are less flashy parts, of course, but it’s about being visible. What would be the lifestyle/identity elements of straightness that would match that? What would a straight person wear to say “look at me, I’m straight and comfortable with it”?

To be honest, I’m struggling to think of what that would look like. You couldn’t have wedding apparel because marriage is not restricted to cishets any more and using it would seem like claiming same-sex marriage would be wrong. The best I can picture is perhaps showbiz event gear: tuxes for the straight cis men, frocks for the straight cis women – although that doesn’t really scream “I’m straight” either. This is the problem: straight as the “norm” makes it hard to point to the best of looking straight, since everyone else is likely to have those things too.

Maybe the costumes aren’t the biggest point. Maybe the point is just to express being out and confident in one’s straight, cis identity? So what sort of placards and slogans would you choose for that?

Here’s the thing: in order to make it about “straight is okay” rather than “gay is not okay”, and to make it about claiming the cishet identity, you pretty much have to acknowledge the other in whatever you say, because you have to take “normal” out of the equation.

That means you need to not just be “going with the flow” but to have actually paused and considered who you are and what makes you straight; what makes you cis? It needs to be something that declares “This is me” rather than “This is normal” with the subtext of “This is what I see others doing.”

Unlike being gay, the “have you considered not being cishet?” question is a real one because cishet is what we see everywhere and (personal disclosure time!) for me that was a big part in my not realising I was bi and nonbinary/trans/genderfluid. I only learned that when I stopped to question the assumption that I was straight. But a person who is gay, or trans, is someone who has at some point (possibly very early in life) gone against the dominant heteronormative narrative of binary, exclusive gender and heterosexuality. Their life has been about trying to be cis or het, but the pieces don’t fit that way.

So to be Straight and Out is to declare oneself to be straight despite the pressures to be straight, not because of them. It is a radical declaration to say “I choose this” over “I was taught this”. (Another reason why “Born This Way” as a slogan is weak to campaign for LGBTQ rights, incidentally.)

So a Straight Pride march with placards saying “I Realised I Was Straight” or “I’m Happy With My Assigned At Birth Gender” would challenge people to look beyond the “obvious” reasons and think about how they identify, rather than just assume they conform. It would acknowledge the existence and possibility of being the other way as an equal option.

Such a confident declaration should also undermine homophobic and transphobic tropes that keep men (particularly) from associating strongly with one another in warmer ways, and seeks to exclude those who aren’t cishet from spaces. It would undermine the homophobic and transphobic trope of “trans panic”, for example. If a person is confident in their own sexuality, they don’t need to destroy that which is other and comes into contact with them, because the other will not change them.

* * *

But this is not how the idea of a Straight Pride works when it is raised. Its purpose is not to prompt a more mindful association with one’s cisness or straightness, nor is it simply to say that straight and cis are okay things to be. The point even of raising such things is to re-establish cishet as “normal” and as a space to which nothing is denied.

When that changes, and mindful cishetness is a thing that people actually do to engage with themselves as themselves, then we can talk.

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On violence and punching Nazis

So yesterday, with reference (one assumes) to the antifa vs neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and the antifa vs alt-Right in Boston confrontations over the last few days, someone posted on twitter a text/postcard image of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and a quotation attributed to him (I’m not saying I doubt it’s by him; I just don’t recognise it so hedging my bets!):

Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

There is no particular statement in the passage with which I directly disagree, and yet the apparent or implied conclusion is at odds with my own instincts and feelings. There was a time when I believed that violent resistance was wrong, and only non-violent, pacifist, protest was legitimate. But over the last 15 years or so, life and learning have shown me that sometimes a pacifist approach is not sufficient.

I have also been troubled recently that the methods used to threaten or silence trans folk, sexworkers, and other marginalised groups (including vocal women) such as doxxing are also being used against the neo-Nazis and White Supremacists and the same old question arises: if these methods are unequivocally evil, and should never be used, why are we making an exception when it comes to certain opponents? And if we use them, are we not admitting that they are tools that can be used against us in the same way?

I gave an answer (though it feels incomplete to me) in a twitter message: When you doxx a White Supremacist or Nazi, that person fears for their lifestyle. When you doxx a trans person or a sex worker or a woman, that person is in fear for their life.

As I say, it feels incomplete, and doxxing in general still makes me feel uncomfortable as a tool or weapon. But it is enough of an argument for me to not automatically oppose those who are doing it to the neo-Nazis.

To try to address these qualms and quandaries, I’m going to see if I can pick apart that MLK quotation to find where the dissonance lies and resolve it.

In the following, by “Nazi” I mean the regime that ruled Germany in the 1930s and 40s. By neo-Nazi, I mean the entire complex that would prefer to be known as “alt-Right”, which includes White supremacists & racists, transphobes, homophobes, MRAs & male supremacists, “g*m*rg*t*rs”, and so on.

Violence never brings permanent peace.

It’s hard to argue with this statement as it stands. But there is one way that violence can lead to permanent peace, which is if one side completely wipes out the other in an act of genocide. The peace of the grave is not much of a peace for the side that gets wiped out!

Leaving genocide to one side, however, it is reasonable to accept that violence does not bring “permanent peace”. As the Fallout games are fond of reminding us, “War never changes.”

But violence might be the first step, and necessary to give you the chance to do the things that can build a more lasting peace. Which leads me on to the next point:

It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.

World War 2 lasted 6 years and saw new and greater methods of doing violence than ever before. In Britain, it became a struggle first for survival and then to tear down the Nazi regime so that the fascist ideology could be replaced by something more constructive.

I am not well versed in the history of the post-1945 reconstruction of Germany, or the partition into East and West, or any of the problems that have arisen from that. Neo-Nazi groups have emerged post-reunification, and there have been other economic and social issues arising. Perhaps in this case you can argue that the violence of WW2 did indeed only create “new and more complicated” social problems.

But in Britain, there is a different perspective. In Britain, though Winston Churchill is credited with having won the war through his charismatic leadership, the people rejected him as leader as soon as the war was won. Instead, they elected a huge majority for the Labour Party, led by Clement Attlee with a vast mandate for social reform including nationalisation of key industries, a full welfare state including a National Health Service, public housing projects, and education.

Violence didn’t produce these things, but the violence of WW2 was a necessary step to make these things possible. While violence did not solve these social problems, it cleared away the obstacles that would prevent their solution. And let’s be clear: the British fascist groups of the 1930s had to be opposed by force, even if there had been no imminent threat from Nazi Germany, if we wanted to achieve these things.

So it is possible, even reasonable, to suggest that violence can produce a situation where social problems can be solved, while not directly solving them itself. If you have a violent group determined to maintain the status quo and perpetuate social problems (either as a consequence of, or a means to, achieving that goal) then perhaps violent opposition is sometimes necessary to make solving those problems possible.

Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.

Retaliatory or retributive violence is certainly a descending spiral: as the saying goes, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and soon the whole world will be blind and gumsy.” Feuds have a way of escalating (USAian readers will probably think of the example of the Hatfield-McCoy feud to illustrate this).

But not all violence is of this nature. There is a classic list of four “theories of punishment”, which is a classification of the reasons for punishing a criminal: retribution, reform, protection (of society) and deterrent. We can look reasonably at violence through this lens (although, as the next part of MLK’s statement indicates, there is no reform element to violence). A show of force or violence might be expected to deter an enemy from attacking or using violence against us. It might also be used as a defensive measure, to prevent a hostile enemy doing harm or being able to do harm to us.

And a hostile force might attempt to use violence to: take things away from us; force us to obey their instructions or conform to their ideals; destroy us entirely if we resist either of these aims or are completely against their worldview.

Not to oppose such a violent intent is surely even more impractical. The fabled pacifist campaigners of the 20th Century, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, had the benefit in both cases of media coverage and of other organisations who were less pacifist operating at the same time and for the same causes. Compare them with the campaign by the ANC in South Africa, where non-violent protest only increased the violence use against them and eventually the ANC felt that peaceful protest offered no hope of success and switched to sabotage, escalating to guerilla warfare and terrorism (source: Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk To Freedom”).

If the alternative to violent resistance is to allow the perpetual oppression or destruction of your community and group then to say that violence is a “spiral ending in destruction for all” is to say that one should prefer to see one’s people destroyed and allow the aggressor to persist in their aggression.

It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert.

When I oppose a neo-Nazi, in the immediate term my concern is less about his “understanding” and more about making sure he doesn’t destroy me, or people like me, or indeed, anyone. But I am not in any way seeking to humiliate him.

Equally, I am not trying to convert him in that moment. However, I am not trying to annihilate, but rather prevent him annihilating others.

Converting, persuading, and helping to understand can happen and Lord knows there are some amazing people out there who set out to befriend or reach out to people who are ideologically committed to their destruction so as to convince those detructive people to change. I myself believe that no one is beyond redemption and that it is possible to change and become a better person. A neo-Nazi need not forever be a neo-Nazi but can see the error of such a position.

(That can work the other way as well, however: in Jon Ronson’s book “Them: Conversations With Extremists” he talks about how he made friends with a radical Islamist, until it became clear that the Islamist was only trying to get Jewish Jon Ronson to convert to Islam and join the violent struggle against the West. As an aside, in the same book Ronson also outlines how the KKK was starting to build its base in 2000 and laying the foundations back then for the alt-Right rebranding and the neo-Nazi rallies we’re seeing today)

Violence cannot provide that redemption or transformation, of course it can’t. But it is not possible in all cases to reach out. When a man attacks you with his own violence, it isn’t possible to offer dialogue: before dialogue must come survival.

This part does touch on my unease with doxxing, even when used against neo-Nazis. Doxxing is a tactic that can have various outcomes, and I outlined how the fear for those doxxed by neo-Nazis is physical violence against the person (assault, rape or murder), while neo-Nazis when doxxed tend to face less direct harms such as loss of employment, or of social standing/connections. But a big aim of doxxing seems to be to humiliate the opponent, and when I see people talking about doxxing neo-Nazis, the glee that seems to come across feels related to that. While there is a practical argument to making it unsafe to perpetuate and propagate the hatred that neo-Nazis rely on for their praxis and ideology, and by making it explicit that these views and methods are unacceptable, I worry about the humiliation aspect.

Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.

This is where my unease with MLK’s statement becomes most acute. In this, and the next, sentence, the statement appears to paint an equivalence between the aggressor and the defender that I just don’t accept. A neo-Nazi turns to violence because he is driven by hatred, and thrives on it. But antifa people resort to violence in response to the violence directed at them, and not out of any particular hatred for the one they oppose. Indeed, many stand up to neo-Nazis purely out of love for those who are the targets of neo-Nazi violence.

My hatred is not towards the individuals, nor even particularly towards their general group, but towards an ideology that says certain people should not be allowed to exist or be free because of their skin colour, ethnic grouping, sexuality, gender or gender nonconformity, or any other axis of oppression that motivates the neo-Nazi tendencies. Inasmuch as a group of neo-Nazis is an implacable embodiment and instrument of that ideology and directly seeking to bring about the destruction or subjugation through violent means then my hatred has to be channelled against them, but I have no particular animosity.

It is possible to accept that violent resistance to neo-Nazis is necessary without feeling any emotional engagement towards them; but rather, as a result of my deep and abiding love for others I say: “They have to be stopped, and violence is necessary to stop them, so that those who wish to live peacefully in acceptance of others’ differences can do so.”

I feel passionately about protecting others and opposing hate-based ideology; and sometimes that can feel like anger towards those who perpetrate violence against those I care about (including those who pass laws that do harm) but when it comes to the actual application of violence to oppose oppression, it is mostly a calm, balanced, decision about necessary measures to prevent greater harm. Yes, occasionally, I might punch a neo-Nazi in a flash of anger (cf. the Doctor in Doctor Who episode “Thin Ice”) and that can be justified because if he’s made me that angry then it’s likely that he won’t shut up and is doing significant harm with his words.

The point being, that a neo-Nazi starts from hatred and a violent ideology built on that hatred, as the reason for violence. But an antifa needs no hatred to motivate opposing neo-Nazis, and to provide a cause for violent resistance to them.

So it’s true that “violence thrives on hatred” in that without the hatred that fuels the violence of neo-Nazis there would be no need to violently oppose neo-Nazis, but given that neo-Nazis exist and are motivated by hatred and violence, then the violence needed to oppose them is not formed from hatred, or at least, not the same vicious will to exterminate the Other.

It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible.

Neo-Nazis destroy communities and seek to break apart all solidarity and brotherhood other than their own hate-filled group.

The aim of those opposing such aggression is first to survive it, and then to rebuild.

Again, while violence itself cannot make brotherhood, and while brotherhood cannot be made while the fight continues, the fight is necessary to create a space in the aftermath where brotherhood can be rebuilt.

Again, there is no equivalence between those who turn to violence and those who are pushed to it. The former tear apart communities regardless of what anyone else does, but the only chance of rebuilding the community is to oppose and drive out those who bring the violence. That can require turning to violence oneself.

It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.

Again, there are those who actively reach out and seek dialogue with individual neo-Nazis and try to rehabilitate them away from the hate-based ideas they espouse. But as a general rule, neo-Nazis are not interested in dialogue. If you know a vocal woman with a blog then you know someone who has faced the sort of “dialogue” that neo-Nazis are interested in, if any: dismissal, browbeating and assertions designed to wear down the other, and reinforce their own sense of superiority rather than any actual back-and-forth or exchange of views.

In such a case, a dialogue is not possible and may even be counterproductive if attempted.

How can one have a dialogue with a person who believes that you and all people like you, should be destroyed? There is no dialogue to be had between “I have the right to exist” and “No you don’t.”

Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

I’m going to put it out there: neo-Nazis, without ever being actually the victims of any form of violence, nevertheless have a HUGE amount of bitterness already, and exhibit plenty of brutality even before they destroyed anyone.

On the other hand, antifa really is not about either. The people hated and targeted by neo-Nazis are survivors already but is any of the fight about bitterness? No. It’s about surviving again. While there are some brutal measures (again, doxxing springs to mind), the urge is just to find an equilibrium where there is no need for brutality, but the chance to rebuild afterwards.

* * *

After picking the statement apart, and looking again at the role and methods of fascists, I haven’t really addressed “punch a Nazi” (here meaning neo-Nazi) but I have made clear to my own satisfaction just why I feel that violent opposition is sometimes a necessary evil even when my instincts are to resist turning to violent measures.

The other point I feel I haven’t addressed is the methodology of neo-Nazis, and indeed, all fascist and racist groups in the last 100 years or so.

Neo-Nazis occupy space until they are opposed directly. Their presence and possession of spaces, social and geographic, grows and, as long as no one directly stands and forces them to stop, they continue to grow until they control that space by assent or by oppression, threats and violence. This is why it was important in Charlottesville that there was not only the verbal opposition offered by the politicians, but a direct, physical, on-the-ground confrontation as well.

It’s also why it’s important to punch a neo-Nazi when he imposes his ideology into your space whether by word or by deed. The opposition has to be direct, forceful, and unequivocal. Mere words and “dialogue” allows him to believe he can not only get away with what he did and said, but that he can get away with more, and more violent, imposition upon you and those you care about.

In this instance, violence is the opposite of what MLK described.

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How the BBC should approach a female Doctor (not entirely serious…)

Jem @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar has summarised some important things that the new season of Doctor Who will need to get right with introducing and portraying a female Doctor. They are serious points.

I thought I would write my own “The Doctor is now a woman. Here are the things the BBC needs to get right” piece.

This is not quite as serious…

  1. The Doctor still likes and plays cricket: The Doctor, particularly 4 and 5, were keen cricketers and while that hasn’t turned up quite as much in NuWho, it would go a long way to reassuring fans that it is the same character. (Also, the Women’s World Cup cricket tournament is taking place now and the players prove that they have all the skill and competitiveness, so the Doctor as a woman should definitely still be into the game.)
  2. The Doctor has big pockets with Useful Things in: Many previous Doctors have kept useful things in their pockets, such as jelly babies, a sonic screwdriver, various forms of alien currency and whatever is actually useful to escape the situation in this week’s episode. These things should definitely NOT be in a handbag!
  3. The Doctor still punches Nazis & other racists, jerks, etc: and they expect it even less because those types usually turn out to be sexist as well! I mean, this is kind of what the Doctor does, ever since the first ever Dalek story…
  4. The Doctor still flies the TARDIS badly, except when helpful for Plot Device: Because that’s pretty much how a large number of stories get started, or used to be. (Also, the show should neither pander to, nor explicitly acknowledge in rejecting, the stereotype of “bad women drivers”. River Song already showed she can handle TARDIS)
  5. The Doctor still loves getting that “It’s bigger on the inside!” reaction: and generally showing off what the TARDIS is/can do. Jodie Whittaker should definitely get to have that moment from her first companion!
  6. While the sonic screwdriver plays the role of a “magic wand”, it should definitely NOT be a Magic Wand: I’m looking at you, Steven “Curse Of Fatal Death” Moffat!

As I said, this is a very tongue-in-cheek take on the issue, but I hope that a few serious points are detected in the underlying thoughts.

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Generosity and failings: thoughts occasioned by the Queen’s Grenfell Tower visit

Today, HM Queen Elizabeth II visited a relief centre for the Grenfell Tower fire victims, and there praised the bravery of firefighters and the generosity of the volunteers now helping out.

Hardly controversial, but I want to explain why generosity is, nevertheless, a failing – or at least, a sign of a broader problem.

I am, as part of my project to become familiar with classics in a variety of subjects, been reading Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, and the infamous author explains that a prince should not be afraid of a reputation for miserliness, since to earn a reputation for generosity he must overspend and then impose burdensome demands on his citizens, who will then resent him. Far better to spend wisely and give only what is needed, so that when a crisis occurs one has the resources available to meet the demands: thus, he will gain renown for the right reasons.

But the people whom the Queen praised were not princes. They were ordinary citizens responding to the crisis.

So I turn to another great, though this one of an altogether different reputation and era. Clement Attlee wrote a pamphlet explaining the leftwing thesis that charitable giving is a form of selfishness, whereas accepting higher taxes is the truly virtuous form of giving. The core of this logic is that, when a person gives to charity, they do not give to those with the greatest need, but those that apease the individual’s emotions: it is a reward for being “proper” in the eyes of the person giving. Sadly, nearly 40 years of Tory and tabloid pressure to push the idea of a “deserving” versus “undeserving” poor (and you will see already the tabloids *ahem* The Scum, The Daily Fail, painting the victims of Grenfell as undeserving – this is their SOP) have made people feel as if charity is the better course, because they wish to reward the “deserving”, when the focus should be on helping all the poor, regardless of subjective value judgements about virtue or “deserving”.

But the generosity of the people helping at Grenfell relief centres, is not “charity” of this nature. I am sure that the assistance being offered survivors is not offered with any kind of conditions, the way charitable giving is. These are likely not the same people whose votes put into power those who opted for low taxes, who made the decisions that led to this disaster, and who have pushed the shameful attitudes described in the previous paragraph. Their generosity is not a failing in that way. The only way it meets that category is that it should never have been necessary. Which is to say, generosity here is a symptom of a failing elsewhere.

Which leads me back to “The Prince”. This time, I ask, who is the Prince in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea? Well, it is the council itself! We could try to pick out one person to play the role, but the council as a whole is the body whose decisions have acted as the decisions of Machiavelli’s Prince would have done.

And what path have they followed here? They have sought to be generous to the wealthy and ignored the citizens, being miserly where they should have been generous.

The belief in charity and generosity as the solution to problems is what allows poverty to continue, and as such is a part of the problem. Poor people have to be generous to one another because that is the only way they can survive when society allows the wealthy to choose whether or not to be “generous”, and to let them claim it as a virtue when they choose to do so. Disasters happen when preventing them depends on generosity, instead of on the proper collection and use of taxes in a progressive system.

The generosity of volunteers should not be required. The council should be dealing with it, they should be spending money regardless of charity or generosity, because their citizens are in need.

So generosity gets praised, and the wealthy think they can get away without doing anything except what makes them feel good.

Generosity is a sign of failure.

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Finding principles & faith: thoughts on Tim Farron’s “conflict”

Tim Farron has quit as leader of the Liberal Democrats, claiming that he couldn’t negotiate the conflict between his faith and the liberal principles as regards LGBT rights that the party espouses.

In some ways, I am sympathetic. As Farron presents his case, it seems like a conflict between private beliefs versus the collective position of the party, and that is something very familiar to us Lefties from seeing how Jeremy Corbyn’s personal opposition to renewing Trident is counter to the Labour Party’s official policy. In my favourite political fiction, The West Wing, there’s a scene backstage before a public debate in which Democrat nominee Santos and Republican nominee Vinnick discuss their personal views on abortion rights (IIRC) with Santos being “pro-life” but standing for a pro-choice party and on a pro-choice position, while Vinnick is in the opposite situation: pro-choice but standing for a party whose position and supporters are “pro-life”.

Some of these positions can consistently be held: people have argued (incorrectly, as it turns out) that Farron has voted for LGBT rights and therefore his personal views are irrelevant to his political position.

I can accept that sort of argument when it comes to the legal status of abortion: as long as a person votes for the right to a personal choice regarding abortion, and allowing personal conscience to govern the woman’s choice (I can’t stand by personal conscience on the part of medical personnel whose job may include providing abortion or contraception services).

Similarly, Trident is a passive thing (or at least, we hope sincerely that it should always be so) so feeling personally that we shouldn’t have it is a matter of personal choice, so long as the Party line is allowed. Mr Corbyn spoke against Trident in parliament, but in this he did his duty as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, to put the government’s position to the test.

But a private belief that homosexuality or transness is a sin is not like the other positions. Merely tolerating such differences is to say “I will put up with your wrongness”, and that is a position that will affect interactions in many more ways. People have many reasons for being the way they are, whether choice, “born this way”, some kind of unconscious post-natal influence, or any other, and none of these reasons is any more or less valid than any other.

It is legitimate, therefore, to look at the ways in which tacit, implicit or otherwise subtextual pressure exists in the position that homosexuality is a sin (however “accepting” one may be of the sinner) and to judge someone’s character for taking such a position.

As Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Just a Cigar outlines, there are many ways to be a Christian and not all of them include an exclusion of LGBTQ people, so it is a choice for Tim Farron to hold to that article of faith rather than to the principles of LGBTQ equality.

I, too, am a Christian. I found my own way to Christ and along the way picked up one or two variant beliefs that are not found in the orthodoxy, certainly of the Western churches. This meant that I didn’t have the same pressure on me that some did.

I also found my own way to my sexuality and gender identity, as a sadomasochist Dom-who-switches, bisexual, genderfluid nonbinary person. My belief is that this is not a “choice” for me; but that God has called me to this and for His(Her/Its/Their) reasons and purposes, and that I try to be the best I can be and to serve as best I can to help others and love others the way Gospel calls believers to do. I hope that I have done this well.

But to reach this point, I did have to look to Scripture. I was gratified to find in Paul’s epistles text that reflected my own view, painting the old Mosaic Law as raw and blunt, able only to condemn, and that adherence to it was no longer required because the Spirit was a true guide: that the Law has not been erased but rather superseded, a guide for wise men rather than for the obedience of fools. Anyone citing Leviticus or Deuteronomy has not accepted the Spirit, but condemns themselves! But Romans 1 still seems to condemn homosexuality, even after Paul makes this eloquent case for freedom from the Law.

But I noticed something. You can take that verse out of context and portray it as condemning homosexuality, but when read in context with the other admonitions, I find it says more about Paul’s beliefs about homosexuality than it does about LGBTQness. Taken in context, the meaning is much more about sexual acts that do harm to others, or that lacks care or compassion or conscience. That can go equally for selfish straight sexual behaviour (I’m looking at you, PUAs and MRAs!); equally, homosexual love and acts within a caring relationship are never covered.

“All things are permitted, but not all things are beneficial”, says Paul in 1 Corinthians. The Spirit, not the Law, is a guide to what is beneficial, and as I wrote above, this is what I strive for in all my interactions, including sexual ones, whether they are short-term, intended to be longer term, or even “no strings attached”, as is the case with one partner now.

I had always struggled with the orthodoxy that said homosexuality was a sin. How could a form of love no different from any other, be a sin when so much of the Gospel seemed to be about love? But in studying the teachings, I found I could make sense of it: as ever, humans bring their own prejudices.

So Tim Farron claiming his faith as the basis for his anti-LGBT beliefs is putting the cart before the horse: the homophobia comes first.

But the most important commandment is “Love God”, and the second is like it: “Love your neighbour”. In the words of Jemima, “Every Christian has to decide for themselves whether they think queer people are merely something to be tolerated or simply people, to be loved as we are called to love all.”

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