Labels

Once upon a time there was a language in which words had meaning.  And then came the devil Ambiguity, along with his minions, Politics and Religion.  From that moment forth, meaning became as cloudy as a shower of piss.

When contentious events unfold, anywhere in the world, there is a scramble to gain control of the narrative.  It is commonplace for businesses, governments and individuals on occasion to hire people to manage the flow of information and colour it appropriately to try to morph the story into a predefined version.  This behavior affects all forms of media, stretching from newspapers and magazines, all the way down to simple memes which people share online.

One of the key strategies in public misdirection is the inappropriate use of labels.  When a news story becomes attached to sometimes a single word, or a single idea, the public’s attention is driven away from considering what truly happened and instead the public become recipients of a ‘manufactured’ intrepretation.  A recent example is the shooting in Paris.

For those of you that have been hidden under a rock for the past week, two gunmen entered the office of a satirical magazine and murdered a number of people.  Various ‘labels’ for the shooters were flung around in the beginning such as ‘terrorists’, ‘extremists’ and ‘Islamists’, before they were quickly replaced by an ideology so important to Western European societies that almost immediately the crux of the problem was forgotten.  At some point it stopped being a terrorist attack, we were all mistaken, it was in fact an attack on free speech.  Except that it wasn’t.

There are always few bare facts in a story.  In this case the one fact that is crystal clear – a satirical magazine was attacked for cartoons which satirized Islam.  It was not the office of journalists without borders.  It wasn’t an association against censorship.  It was a targeted attack against one magazine.  To claim that this attack has anything to do with free speech makes as much sense as blaming it on cheese, or blaming it on religion.

In France there are an estimated 4.7 million Muslims.  There were three gunmen involved in this spate of attacks.  If by any chance this was genuinely caused by religious beliefs the result would have been significantly different.  And yet there were no riots or large-scale protests like we’ve seen in the past.  There is only one conclusion any rational person can draw from this.  What is the label that adequately describes men such as these, that purposely acquire weapons so they can murder people who create cartoons?  Mentally ill, perhaps?

Last weekend people marched in solidarity and didn’t really seem to know why.  They felt the very human urge to say that they are not scared, that they believe in free speech and that violence will never win.  Despite the fact they weren’t really sure of what they should be afraid of, nor were they sure of what precisely free speech is or who is threatening it.  The important thing is that ordinary people marched arm in arm with the free-speech (not so) loving leaders of the free world to send a message.  And the message was thus ‘we are blind’.

This ‘wave of feeling’ which has ridden across the western world is not going to be a catalyst for change.  Therefore it is meaningless.  The idea that doing absolutely nothing is going to stop further terror attacks is absolutely mental.  If anything they will only increase, as every single example only further demonstrates what sitting ducks we all are.  The worst thing is that whilst we all focus on the European narrative, while we raise our pens and proclaim ‘Je suis Charlie’, little by little our freedoms and our rights are going to be stolen from us piece by piece.

How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?

On either side of your body, starting somewhere(hopefully) by your shoulders are a set of bones which you most likely know as your arms.  At the ends of your arms, are five pointy collections of bones which you will probably refer to as your fingers.  If you do, you are wrong.  Not wrong as in incorrect, but wrong is absolutely, unequivocally, unquestionably entirely NOT RIGHT.  It is quite possible that I have never ever met you.  It is likely that I have never even seen a photograph of  either one of your limbs.  Yet somehow, I can say with utter certainty that you have absolutely no idea about what is happening at the ends of either of your arms.

Picture the scene – it’s a crap day.  It is raining, the sky is greyer than a monk’s underpants.  It is lunchtime at a Primary School.  There are dozens of children filling a miserable concrete playground with enough kinetic energy to propel a small rodent to Saturn.  Two young boys get in an argument about a bench.  Although some other kids see parts of it, nobody sees all of it.  When the kids go home that evening the first boy tells his Mum that he was bullied.  The second boy tells his Dad that he got in a fight.  Nobody saw either boy strike the other, yet there were many witnesses to the first boy pushing the second.  Was it a fight?  Was it bullying?  Who was the winner?  Who was the victim?  How is possible that two small children that cannot possibly grasp the concept of advantageous lying  somehow do?  What if the first child is an only child?  What if the second child has two big brothers?  Who was right?  Who was wrong?

There are three conclusion we can draw from the tale of the two boys.  The first is that there is no such thing as a single truth.  The truth is pliable to the facts which weigh upon it.  The second is that our truth changes shape to accommodate any information we gain access to.  There isn’t such a thing as a certain truth, a pure truth that can never ever change.  The third is that a snapshot of a moment is so extremely misleading that only a fool would believe that they are privy to the whole story when they have only caught a glimpse of the truth.  If these conclusions are indeed valid why is it that so many people share images that have no other purpose than to shock, often alongside a hastily assembled slogan intended to draw a sense of guilt for a single event that took place within the myriad of  atrocities that are being carried out in the countless number of active war zones around the world?  Are we really that much more foolish online than in the real world?

There is an easy way to test this.  Extend your arms in front of you.  Now extend your fingers.  Now count them.  How many fingers are you holding up?  The answer dear friends, is eight.  And you can’t argue with that.  After all, it’s reality, isn’t it?

I Told You He Was Kim Jong il

This week the world has lost one of its most colorful, revered world leaders and most charismatic despots in the shape of Kim Jong il.  I am saddened by the news.  Not because I am a fan of tyrannical style, nor because he was human but because he was an inspiration.  I suppose I better explain myself.

I was fifty something pages through my first novel when I went to Denmark to visit my god-daughter and her family.  I was troubled by the fact that I wasn’t convinced that writing a novel about a fictional dictatorship was a valuable use of a thirty year old man’s time.  It wasn’t only that, there was a plot point to consider.  I did not want to create a dictator based on someone who existed.  I was stretching the boundaries of reality in an attempt to create a leader so unique, that there would be nothing more a reader could do other than believe in him.  Due to the nature of this exercise, I remember feeling as if I was trying to hard to make the reality of my fictional country too distorted when my Danish friend pointed me in the direction of an article about Kim Jong il.  Suffice to say I have not been able to find the very same article.  What I learnt from Kim Jong il if anything was that the shackles of reality only exist to be broken.

There are innumerable legends regarding the life of the great dictator that its near on impossible to separate fact from fiction.  The fact is that it is marvelously simple to write an article about the Great Leader because there is almost always absolutely no way to verify the facts.  Some of the most famous legends include the fact that he is the best golfer in the world, a fashion icon, a miracle birth, that he has never taken a shit, that he owns 20,000 dvds, that he spends half the gdp of North Korea on cognac, that North Korea won the football world cup and most impressive of all is the fact that he could reputably change the weather by altering his moods.  The question which arises is where exactly these rumours come from.

The first thing to consider is the nature of the press.  North Korea is a totalitarian state, which means there is no free press.  Which immediately means that any press reporting is speculative at best.  The second is that what reports there are mainly from dissidents or based more exclusively on translation.  The third thing to consider is that Western media never promote any other way of life than ours.  Therefore they are almost always more likely to print stories to the detriment of any different system.  Which means that we should take each of these stories with a pinch of salt.

Where are the positive stories?  How many North Korean banks have been bailed out during the global recession?  What is the tax rate?  What about the unemployment rate?  Is it not troubling that when you google ‘North Korea unemployment statistics’ the very first website it finds is the one belonging to the Central Intelligence Agency?

The much labored point I am trying to make is that we often take reality for granted.  Life is easiest when we assume that people all over the world live the same way.  When we are confronted by alternative realities rather than examining the ways in which they differ, we prefer to paint them in a barbaric light.  We often read about people being enslaved by various systems, yet we never consider that there has to be others who support the same system.  Is it more mental to believe that a man can live seventy years without defecating or that giving banks more money to stop a recession caused by banks reckless investing can stabilize the global economy?  Among all the smoke and mirrors we rarely catch a glimpse of our true reflections.

The final thought I shall leave you with about the great dictator and leader of North Korea Kim Jong Il is one of the few verifiable facts.  Kim Jong Il was born in Russia.