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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Meanings of forgiveness

I have an issue with forgiveness.

More accurately, I have an issue with understanding what people mean by forgiveness, because I keep running into articles or blogposts about forgiveness and what roles it plays, that say that the thing that I understand as forgiveness is not forgiveness, but leaving me unclear on what the distinction is between what I think it is and what other people think it is.

I’m put in mind of this again because someone whose writings on counselling and emotional development I really respect, Karen @ Counselling In Northumberland, writes Is Forgiveness Necessary? and says that the thing I think of as forgiveness is an important step, but then says that forgiveness isn’t necessary but a personal choice.

I am left wondering what it is I’m missing about “forgiveness” that other people understand in it that goes beyond:

Recently I wrote a piece for Welldoing which discussed letting go of resentment at failures our parents had made. It is important to understand that this is not for their benefit, but for our own. We let go so we can look more dispassionately at the past, and so anger and resentment do not eat away at us, like the invisible worm of Blake.

Working on this anger, finding a place for it, an outlet, can be incredibly healing.

Forgive and forget

The obvious place to start, it sees to me, is to look more deeply at how I construct forgiveness in terms of my own emotions and attitudes.

For me, forgiveness is that state at which it is possible to say that, when I see the person who wronged me in trouble, I would help them the same way I would help a stranger in trouble. It means that I no longer feel a desire to do them harm in retaliation or retribution for the wrong done me (though I may feel that there should be protection against them). It does NOT mean that I welcome them back into my life, or in any way mark down as insignificant to me the harm that they did, and it doesn’t mean I would ever give them the chance to do harm to me in future. It is a state of saying that I am emotionally freed from the harm without dismissing that harm or how it felt.

There is a well-worn cliché of “forgive and forget” and, it seems to me, some people conflate the two into a single concept of forgiveness.

But for me, my position is “I forgive, but I never forget”. Some people might view my attitude as one of bearing grudges, because my not-forgetting means that the past harm does change my relationship with a person, but for me, I have forgiven them because I have no ill will towards them. I just am not going to pretend that they didn’t hurt me, and I’m not going to give them another chance to. I am, however, going to say that I will not feel anger, hatred, or violence towards them. (These things lead to the Dark Side of the Force, don’t you know?)

Letting things go

Karen describes how the social norm of “sorry/that’s okay” is taught from an early age:

Many of us will remember as a child being told to say sorry, and mouthing the words with little understanding of what they meant. It is one of the first sets of rules we teach toddlers to help them navigate the world. If you hurt someone, say sorry. If someone hurts you, they must say sorry, then you both must put the hurt away. Sorry is an ending, a line drawn, and must be accepted.

This certainly sounds familiar, but I remember how frustrating it was, too. You had to say sorry even if you didn’t mean it and felt your action was justified. You had to act as though the sorry was enough, even if deep down you felt it was anything but.

I remember vividly from when I was 5 years old and I knew I had done wrong, I had hurt another child. The teacher stood us opposite one another and told me to say sorry. I said to the teacher, “Okay, but go away first”. This was because I knew that if I said sorry while the teacher was standing over me, then it meant nothing. But I really was sorry. So I needed the teacher to go away so I could mean it.

I tell this anecdote this time, to point out that the effect of this “If someone hurts you, they must say sorry, then you both must put the hurt away” rule was that you weren’t allowed to act on it, but I would feel it anyway. If anything, I learned, get your retribution in before they make you accept the apology!

It’s easy to see why you need that rule for young children: there needs to be some way of preventing hostilities and retaliations going on and on forever. Just as a peace treaty doesn’t wash away the bitterness between two peoples, the “sorry/okay” formula simply prevents fresh hurts from piling up when children have to share the same spaces day after day. But, as Karen expounds, this is not always a healthy or rational approach for adults. It is also not, in any way that I understand, forgiveness.

But we do get this narrative of “letting things go” or “moving on”. Politicians who have fucked up and want to escape the consequences of their fuck-uppery are always talking about “moving on” (it was a perennial Blairism, for example; now we have a very similar thing with May and “the national interest”). Similarly, “letting things go” is more often used to mean, “Let’s pretend that didn’t happen”, or, “That is the past and has no relationship to the present”.

Again, I don’t see any of this as necessary to forgive someone. Because I don’t ever forget, I don’t process things as ever being “let go” in that sense. With “move on”, it only has relevance when there is some kind of fuck-up and the problems the team were working on still remain, at which point it makes sense to say rationally, “Now is not the time for recrimination, now is the time to rescue what we can from this catastrophe.”

Saying ‘I forgive you’

Karen writes:

It is rare that something which harmed us in the past stops ever causing hurt. It can fade, like an old scar, which we forget most of the time, but it never goes away. This can actually be reassuring to some survivors, who do not want to feel that their past is closed off to them. … Finding a path which acknowledges the past without overwhelming us can take time but it is possible.

This feels to me like the definition of forgiveness, but many disagree. For instance, Karen follows it with: “We can let go of anger, move forward with our lives without saying ‘I forgive you’,” as if these are two different things.

The interesting point for me here is the wording: “without saying ‘I forgive you’.”

This frames forgiveness as a transaction, as something that passes between people when it is communicated, rather than a state of being or feeling for one person. Is this where my understanding differs?

For me, to feel forgiveness for someone is more likely to be expressed as “I have forgiven you”, something that happened in the other person’s absence.

Perhaps, hypothetically, I would have this conversation:

MOTHER: “Why haven’t you forgiven your brother?”
Me: “I have.”
MOTHER: “So we’ll see you at his party?”
Me: “I’ve forgiven him, but I have no wish to be around him again.”
MOTHER: “That’s not fair if you’ve forgiven him.”

(These are not my real relatives, I hasten to assure you!)

I would feel absolutely that it was perfectly fair and perfectly consistent with my having forgiven my hypothetical brother. It seems that some people would think that I could only claim to have forgiven my brother if I continued to go to parties and other social events with him.

If my hypothetical brother called me and apologised and asked for forgiveness, then I would say I forgave him, but if he then expected me to change my behaviour back to what it was before the hurt, he would be disappointed. (An apology intended to pressure a change of action is, in my mind, no apology at all.)

Conclusions

Karen says there is no obligation or necessity to forgive, but then defines the process of healing as including the thing I define as forgiveness, so the question is, what is there that I think there’s no obligation or necessity to do?

There is no necessity and no obligation to welcome someone back as if they never hurt you. There isn’t even any obligation to have any future contact with them beyond what you may need to do in life (say if it’s a workmate). I don’t think forgiving someone requires you to say anything to them or act as if they didn’t hurt you. It is not a clean slate or status quo ante, but rather, a detachment from the hurt itself, and from vengeance or animosity.

I have a different definition of forgiveness, and I still don’t know what the reason is. I am sure that there is nothing in terms of the intent of Karen’s piece that I disagree with, the only reason to mention it is the way the word “forgive” is used, and how it exposes a difference with the way I use it.

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New Project! “Dragons, Dragons, Fairies, Boobs”

(It feels good to be talking for once about ACTUAL writing, rather than politics and depressing stuff like that. Although this is still sort of politics because… well, you’ll see.)

So last week on The Last Leg, Sue Perkins summed up Game of Thrones for Josh Widdecombe as “Dragons, dragons, fairies, boobs.”

I immediately decided that should be the title of a kinky, queer, hot, inclusive fantasy novel and thought , who better to write it than me? Probably lots of people, to be honest, but if I let that stop me I would never do or create anything so the idea has been stumbling round my brain gathering concepts and themes and ideas from various corners until finally characters and direction have started to coalesce into something that I want to write. Something that is just me writing stuff that I find hot and fun and people I want to see being brave and bold and doing hot and fun things in between.

I don’t want to give the whole thing away too soon, but I do kind of want to squee about the characters who have sprung naturally into the worldbuilding and who make me so excited to write this.

The first thing I looked at was, “Why would there be two ‘dragons’ in the title?” and that was my route into the central worldbuilding concept around which I could start to build a lead character. And I thought, “What if there’s a type of people who are called dragons, or related to dragons somehow, by analogy more than by magic/type?” I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim recently so obviously I want to steer clear of anything too similar to a “Dragonborn” character, but maybe I could do something else with that? Another thing I wanted to do was to challenge heteronormativity in my fantasy world and because I am NB myself, I wanted to find a way to make trans and nonbinary genders normal in my world. So maybe dragons are nonbinary, and there are people in this world who have or acquire nonbinary characteristics, so that people liken them to dragons? Maybe the term is not always meant well and can be derogatory? The term I came up with was “Child of dragons” or “Dragonkind” to rhyme with wind, not mind (i.e. German “Kind” meaning child) – and Dragon from that is more derogatory. But in general the concept of being a dragonkind is totally normal and broadly accepted, with some caveats. (For example, my lead character hides hir dragonkind-ness to better cater to most sexual partners’ tastes.)

Because of how much I love and absorb the writings of Jemima of Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar on things like sexworkers’ rights and so on, I also wanted to write a world in which sex work is treated as normal and a positive career choice, equal to any other. Something (I forget what) that she tweeted tonight made me think again of sexworkers as protagonists and I thought, “Why not make my lead character be a nonbinary sexworker who goes off on a more-or-less traditional fantasy quest adventure and the sex work is just kind of a part of the background of how the adventuring team go along? I was planning to have plenty of fucking between the party’s members anyway!” There can be sexual relationships aplenty without going down any of the “saved from whoredom by love” routes.

So then I started thinking about other characters. Some of them have to have boobs, because that’s in the title. There’s also the ambiguity of “fairies” and, well, I already knew I was going to have gay sex in it (gay, bi, whatever – lots of varied sex, basically) so the play on words was a bit too much. So there will be fairies as in supernatural magical beings and whether or not “fairies” also refers to the derogatory term for gay men is up to the reader to decide.

All of this is all very well, but of course I stumbled when I realised that by making my NB characters “dragonkind”, was I implying a “born this way” narrative? What space in this world for trans people or people who are born with more binary-tending physical traits but who feel themselves to be more dragon-like? Well, I decided I would have to put those people into my world and see what happens. In my opening passages so far, I have tried to show that dragonkind-ness is something of the spirit, not really physical (maybe some form of magical process helps blur gendered bodies?) but that still leaves transness as a question and I figure the best way is just to plonk someone trans into the story and let the world react to them as “normal” – with the existence of dragonkinds (Dragonkinder? Hmm, I need to work out what I want the plural to be!) then I imagined the scene where my protagonist meets a trans person (who’s probably going to join the quest) and asks if they’re also dragonkind, like hir. I imagine that some trans people would get that a lot in that world and it probably doesn’t go down well, at least when cis folk do it.

All of which gives me a party of at least the following:

  • a nonbinary sexworker
  • a trans person (whether trans man or trans woman not yet decided)
  • a man who has sex with men (bi, gay, or IDs as straight but does it anyway – yet to decide) and is probably pretty “camp” but still a badass warrior and accepted as such

I probably will have a couple more characters in the team, probably cis male and cis female, if only to give plenty of pairing opportunities for the above. All the characters will be kinky as fuck, into all manner of BDSM, fetish and other non-normative sexual behaviours, of course.

Why? Well, a wise writer who offers advice on such things said, “Write the book you’d want to read” and, while I’m not sure I’d want to read it, I’d damn well want to tell the story and get super turned on by doing so, and above all writing is fun and this story feels fun.

Oh yes, I’ve decided that a key element will be some kind of book, and the quest starts in a library, and probably the cis woman is a librarian who joins the quest. The quest for the book leads them to intervene in a plot that threatens to tear apart the world, or society, or otherwise suitably cataclysmic consequences.

I suck at coming up with Fantasy names and places and such so I’ve decided that I’m going to take British names and cycle vowels, so my lead character is called Enne (Anna). (Maybe hir second name will be a homophone for “B”? Or would that be a bit too clunky and obvious?)

* * *

So, yeah. I’m excited by this new idea. There will come a time when the excitement wears off and the hard graft starts but I love the idea I have, I already feel warmth and affection for Enne and the other character I’ve started writing so far, so when that time comes I will have what it takes to keep going with them and guide them to their outcomes.

Posted in Gender, Kink, Writing about writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Digging into the pollsters (GE2017)

So a few days ago I remarked on the YouGov article about how the different polling companies are all using different methods to weight their samples this time around, after the generally accepted model they all used in 2015 led them to make inaccurate predictions.

It occurred to me after the latest round of opinion polls were published that the “rolling average” graphs of voting intention being used by most media outlets – which present a mean average of the polls in the last 14-day period, or of the last 7 polls published, for example – were pretty much meaningless in this context. [CORRECTION: The BBC average uses the median average of the last seven polls, not the mean average] The results are so different from one another that they are outside of the error margin – if a poll predicts 33%, it could be anywhere from 30% to 36%. If another poll predicts 40%, then its error margin is 37% to 43%. For context, the range of results from the polls over 1st-2nd June for Labour has a high of 40% and a low of 34%, and for the Conservatives a high of 47% and a low of 40% – which is to say, they are outside of the error margins allowed.

There is no grounds for assuming that an average of the different methods will in any way be more accurate than any of the individual polls. The results aren’t comparable and the point (as outlined by that YouGov article) is to test the different methods to see which works. A rolling average tells us worse than nothing about what’s going on.

More useful would be to see individual graph lines for each of the different polling companies.

I haven’t found a source that offers this, but the Guardian’s poll tracking page does allow you to filter poll results by company, meaning you can get a crude (if annoyingly unscaled for time) graph representation of the changes in the polls and indicate what trends the polling companies indicate each in turn. (You just have to keep in mind to watch the dates of the polls and try to compare even time periods.)

Ipsos-MORI and ComRes have only published 3 polls since the election announcement, so they don’t give much of a sense of trends and changes. Most of the other companies have polled at least once a week so it’s possible to get a sense of how things are changing. Bearing in mind that the error margin is around 3%, I’ve assumed that a variation of 1-2% doesn’t mean anything but larger moves might indicate genuine changes. I’ve looked at polls taken since May’s 18 April announcement of a general election.

Panelbase shows the Tories staying level (within error margin) until their 1 June poll, where there’s a 4% drop from the previous (23 May) result of 48%. For Labour, while no individual change from week to week was outside the error margin, the trend has been consistently upwards so that overall their numbers have climbed from 27% on 24 April, to 36% in the latest.

YouGov shows something different: a gradual trend downwards for the Conservatives (with a blip on 12 May of a 3% jump up, before returning to the level predicted by the downward trend the week after). From a high of 48% on 2 May (and that off-trend result of 49% on 12 May), the Tories were on 42% in the 2 June poll. Labour, meanwhile, stayed within margin of error around 31% until a sudden jump to 38% for the 25 May poll, and subsequent polls have remained within the margin of error of that result.

TNS BMRB (who don’t seem to be included in the BBC’s results) show a mix of these two. Their results for the Tories vary up and down within margin of error, but both top and bottom of that range have trended downwards overall so that the low result of 46% for 25 April and high of 48% on 2 May, is now compared to 42% on 22 May and 43% on 30 May. Their results for Labour show two jumps outside of error margin: from a start of 24%, a jump to 28% on 8 May, and then another jump to 34% on 25 May (2 June showed 33%).

ICM poll shows Tories staying within margin of error of their 47% result on 1 May (and 22 May). The latest result on 1 June was 45%, which is within the margin of error I outlined above. Their results for Labour stay at 28% or occasional results within margin of error until their 22 May poll, which shows a big jump to 33% (their latest shows 34%, which is margin of error).

Opinium have the Tories consistent since the General Election announcement, on 46% or within error margin of it, until their 31 May result of 43%, a jump downwards. Labour trended upwards consistently from 30% on 26 April to 37% on 31 May.

ORB put the Tories on 45% in their 1 June poll and this is consistent (within a 1% error margin) of all their results since the announcement. Labour trended upwards consistently from 31% (4 May) to 36% (1 June) with a blip of 38% on 27 May.

Survation is one of the most intriguing to look at. I’m leaving out their most recent poll because the BBC reports that this used a different methodology (internet vs phone polling). For the Tories, their 22 April poll showed them on 40%, but the next poll after that showed a jump to 47%, which remained consistent until their 22 May poll, when the Tories dropped to 43%. On Labour, they show a consistent 30% level until 20 May, where they jump to 34% and remain there until a week later (27 May), they show another jump to 37%.

* * *

Out of seven companies, the division in the types of movement are split evenly: on Labour, three show a general trend upwards, while four show Labour’s result moving in occasional large jumps. On the Tories, two have them staying level, two have them trending downwards and three show a big jump downwards.

Now, judging by when the polls show big jumps, a big change happened, it seems, between 20-22 May. There was a big event on the evening of 22 May but I would absolutely not say that that was the cause. The change must have taken place before the suicide bombing in Manchester. A quick search for news around that date indicates that a possible cause was the launch of the Conservative manifesto on 18 May! Those that show a later jump for Labour, I suspect, would correlate with the Sky leaders’ “debate”.

The questions are: whether the Tories will remain steady or drop again before election day; and for Labour will the steady trend upwards continue until polling day, or are the “jump” graphs accurate, indicating that they will probably stay level from now until polling day?

There is no consensus on the shape of both graphs: the only thing I can say is that neither company that showed a Tory trend downwards also showed a Labour trend downwards: both of them indicated a sudden jump rather than a gradual change.

With less than a week until polling day, there isn’t much time for there to be further changes.

The range indicated for the Tories is 42%-45% in the most recent polls (leaving aside the recent Survation poll that put them on 40%, and that I said one of those 45% was in a margin of error range from 47%). This is quite tightly bunched and the question is, does the Survation internet poll indicate a new drop, or continuation of a downward trend, into the last week? Perhaps it indicates that the methodology is closer when it comes to modelling Tory turnout. As I noted from the YouGov article before, the big difference seems to be how they model youth turnout.

The Labour Party range is 34%-38% (again, leaving out the Survation internet poll, and also not including the Ipsos-MORI poll on 1 June which put them at 39% and 40% respectively). That looks neatly bunched with the Tories, but with Labour there is a gap in the range so that it forms two groups, a low group and a higher group, with more results in the higher group. These results have changed more over time, too, which adds a greater variability to frustrate attempts to draw conclusions.

There is still no way to use this analysis to predict the result on polling day. The behaviours are too different. But I hope it does give a better idea of what might really be going on.

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Question Time, Nukes, and Jeremy Corbyn

In the wake of the apparent eagerness of the BBC Question Time audience last night to unleash nuclear holocaust on the world in a pre-emptive first strike against the middle east and North Korea, I have a few thoughts to express.

Before I get into this, I’d like to point out that, unlike a lot of the Corbynistas, lefties and socialists out there, I believe there is value in retaining a nuclear deterrent for this country. I am not convinced that Trident is the best option for Britain, but that is the sort of thing that a strategic defence review would look at in detail. I am not ever likely to be in the position of making policy on this sort of thing, let alone having the responsibility of writing the “letter of last resort”. I wonder if a more useful weapon might be a tactical rather than strategic warhead, but then I worry that if the full horror is lessened somewhat by that sort of decision, would it make nuclear war more rather than less likely? To put it mildly, I feel very strongly that any decision about nuclear weapons should be taken as carefully and with as much deep reflection as possible.

Consequently, it’s not the sort of thing that sways my vote overall. I am not competent to make such big decisions. I have a well-read layperson’s understanding of the history, politics, science and so on, concerning nuclear weapons. Were I to be Prime Minister, then I would have available far more expert sources to advise me and inform me. (The competence of a PM might be measured by how willing they are to listen to those sources. Theresa May fills me with no confidence she even asks them in the first place.)

So, I am in theory in favour of retaining a nuclear capability.

Mr Corbyn last night made a few statements that he essentially rejigged each time the audience badgered him on it:

  • He would seek through diplomacy to avoid a situation where the use of nuclear weapons seemed imminent
  • Any situation where nuclear weapons were likely to be used meant it was already disastrous for the world and this country, regardless of whether nukes were used or not
  • He would not authorise first-use (i.e. no pre-emptive strike)
  • He would send a “Letter of Last Resort” to Trident commanders if he was made PM
  • He would seek to negotiate multilateral nuclear disarmament (in line with our commitments as signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)

The first point seems uncontroversial. To paraphrase, “to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war”. The pacifist, liberal, pinko, commie Britain-hater who uttered those words was, if I recall correctly, one Winston Churchill. Corbyn is only saying the same as Churchill, although how much Churchill meant it is another question!

To support the second statement, I will turn to that other pacifist thinker, Sun Tzu. Oh, wait, did I say pacifist? I meant author of “The Art of War”. This classic document includes the immortal phrase that if you have to fight, you have already lost. This is the statement that Corbyn made.

I’ve watched a few “war games” programmes on the BBC: either dramas or simulations. A drama is where it’s scripted and the participants are actors; a simulation is where the events are scripted but the people responding are professionals or retired professionals and demonstrating for the viewers how our leaders would make their decisions faced with a crisis. The one thing that all these make clear is that, by the time you get to a situation where nuclear weapons use seems imminent (regardless of whether you’re considering a pre-emptive strike) then conditions must have reached an appalling humanitarian and military crisis, regardless of who the enemy is or why you’re considering it.

By the time you even start thinking about the big red button as a response to a situation, it must already be so bad that this country has already objectively suffered a huge loss.

My next thoughts are about the nature of the weapon we have, and cover Corbyn’s third point as well.

Trident is designed as a retaliatory strike weapon to deliver strategic warheads designed to obliterate major industrialised cities or centres. It’s designed this way because it was designed and built for the Cold War, when we thought that Russia was the most likely aggressor and that the aim would be global domination of one mindset over another.

The fabled “4-minute warning” was always a myth in those circumstances. That was closer to the flight time of the Russian missiles to Britain, and the general public would have less than a minute’s warning, if that. The only people with time to reach shelters would be those directly informed: the generals, the PM, and a few others.

That’s why the Letter of Last Resort was so important, and that’s why Trident was so important. Our aircraft bomb delivery systems (the “V-force” bombers) were obsolete – the planes would be annihilated on the ground before they even had a chance take off.

So for Corbyn to say that he wouldn’t authorise first use, all he’s really saying is that the weapon we’ve got is intended for retaliatory use, and since last night he didn’t rule out authorising such use (though in the past he has said he wouldn’t authorise it) all we really have is that he wouldn’t use Trident in a way that it wasn’t designed for.

Trident is a strategic weapon designed to obliterate industrialised cities. It’s a multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicle (MIRV), meaning each missile carries several warheads, each of which can be aimed at a different city.

It is not designed for tactical targeting or to take out smaller sized targets. It is a weapon intended to reduce several cities of 100,000 or more people each, to rubble and ash. It is not designed to hit military targets, or precision targets. It’s designed to kill civilians, en masse. It was a part of the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD (and the acronym was deemed sickly appropriate) by which the threat of nuclear war was deterred by the fact that if ever one side launched against the other, they could be sure that a massive retaliatory strike would obliterate their entire population, leaving nothing behind and ensuring that they didn’t gain anything by the attack.

I grew up in the 1980s, when all these acronyms were flying around: MAD, MIRV, ICBM, and so on. The threat of potential nuclear annihilation in a Soviet/USA showdown or accidental launch was ever-present (it’s why I relate strongly to the line about “For we who grew up tall and proud/ in the shadow of the mushroom cloud” from Queen’s Hammer To Fall). I watched the scene in Terminator 2 where Sarah Connor has a brief vision of an H-bomb being detonated in a major US city, and being incinerated by the fireball. I worry that people a few years younger than me don’t remember what that was like – they don’t have that emotional connection to the issue that I do. My parents were part of the Peace Campaign, and CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and that was a part of my upbringing. I still believe in principle in the things we campaigned for back then although, as I said, I take a somewhat more bleak view such that I feel that a nuclear deterrent is a sad necessity.

My point is, facts like those above are a part of my background in a deep and emotional way. They mean things.

I cannot imagine the circumstances under which I would actually launch nuclear weapons. The consequences of such an appalling act would be horrific and, as a Christian, I would not like to face my Lord Jesus on Judgement Day and try to justify the weight of those deaths on my soul. My support for a nuclear deterrent is on the hope that it would never have to be used, and that sadly, the past 20 years or so of diplomacy and world actions seem to show that the USA only listens to those countries it thinks have their own nukes (and even then, not always). The aim should be to change that situation, though. (Another reason why Trident might not be right for us: although we build our own warheads, they are useless without the missiles, and those come from the US, and effectively have a veto built in so that the US can stop us launching unless they approve.)

To return to the point that we all lose if nukes are used. I remember the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, in which a reactor meltdown released huge plumes of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere. We think these days of the heavily-irradiated landscape immediately around the city as being the aftermath, but at the time for a few years afterwards, there were much higher levels of background radiation found far away, in the UK as well. These were most noticeable in sheep in the highlands of Wales and Scotland – the radiation entered our food chain! (One of my favourite CND campaign images was a protest march: two men and a sheep, “Nuclear-free UK!” “Nuclear Free Europe!” “Nuclear-free lambs!”) The consequences of a nuclear warhead being detonated in anger would spread far beyond the target nation.

Jeremy Corbyn’s position, as outlined last night, was responsible and appreciative of the full consequences of what it would mean if Britain ever felt it had to deploy a nuclear weapon. He spoke of honouring our treaty obligations and seeking multilateral disarmament, helping to get rid of nuclear weapons worldwide. (The NPT requires signatories including the Big 5 at the time it was written, to disarm as soon as is practicable. None of the Big 5 have taken steps to do so…)

I am in favour of multilateral disarmament.

* * *

In summary: while I am no longer in favour of unilateral disarmament, I cannot find anything controversial about the position Mr Corbyn outlined last night and feel alarmed that so many people – even people old enough to have lived through the threat of nuclear annihilation – seem to view the prospect of using nukes almost with glee.

It is reasonable to seek to avoid nuclear confrontation by early and determined diplomatic negotiation and action. The pre-emptive murder of many hundreds of thousands of civilians is a strange thing to contemplate, and to judge someone willing to do it as more suitable to lead the country seems absurd.

And this country signed up to a worldwide pact to get rid of nuclear weapons as soon as may be achieved, so saying that is an aim is just saying that we honour our commitments.

And, because I mentioned the song in the post – Queen Live at Wembley performing Hammer To Fall:

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Polls, youth, and experimental weighting

There seem to be very widely different predictions from the various polling companies in the run-up to the 2017 General Election, with some much closer than others.

I was curious as to which polls I should put more trust in as the general Election approaches, and remembered how in the aftermath of the 2015 election, some polling companies had been more accurate than others in predicting the final result.

So I went on DuckDuckGo to search for whose poll was closest.

I didn’t really get back a useful answer to that question in terms of which polls to trust. But I did find a fascinating piece from YouGov published today about why the results seem so widely varied, and what’s going on in those companies.

Two points stuck out for me strongly: the first is that, as the title of that piece says, this election is being treated as a testing ground for different fixes made in response to the opinion polls’ 2015 failure (although many polls there were within margin of error). Different companies are using different methods to weight their samples and try to model the outcome based on their answers.

The other was this observation:

The reason the polls got the 2015 election wrong was down to sampling, particularly among young people. The sort of young people who took part in polls were too engaged and too likely to vote, meaning polls ended up with too many young people voting. Polling companies have taken different approaches to solving this, but they broadly fall into two categories. Some have tried to improve their samples to reduce the number of people who are very interested in politics. Others have changed their turnout models so that they assume the same low level of turnout among young people as happened in 2015.

Generally speaking, the polls that continue to show a large Conservative lead are those who are basing their turnout models on the pattern of turnout in 2015. Those that show smaller leads are basing turnout on how likely people say they are to vote.

The author concludes that there are two possibilities on election day: either the younger voters turn out, and Labour do well; or turnout by age matches 2015 and the Tories have a strong win.

My conclusion is that, perhaps more than ever, young voters are the key to this election and have a real chance to shape the world they want to live in.

Incidentally, YouGov’s most recent poll showed a 42-39 split (which is a statistical tie – it’s in the margin of error) and this was based on a weighting “recruiting more people who are less interested in politics and weighting by political interest and education” and also “we weight down people who didn’t vote in 2015.”

I refuse to have hope. The closest I will come to “hope” is to imagine that May will have a smaller majority in Parliament. I don’t want to jinx things by for even a second imagining that Corbyn could win; I don’t want to risk the utter dashing of that hope if I do start to believe it’s possible.

But please: vote. Vote Labour. Let me hope again!

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