Monthly Archives: June 2011

You do realise that anyone can apply?

In the United Kingdown people have free will and the right to pursue whatever career they wish. Not everyone will have an equal chance of getting the job that they want because people will be limited to different extents by inherent ability, social class and means and of course the education that is made available to them. If you are following the growing demonisation of the Public Sector you would think that to be in the employ of the state you have to win some kind of lottery or you inherit your position through some kind of birthright.

The truth is that there are many reasons why people prefer to work in the private sector. I’d like to receive an honest answer from those working in the Private Sector about whether they fancy some of the key positions available in the public sector.

Hands up who would like to be a Police Officer? And I don’t mean, hands up who would like the right to retire at 50 on a decent pension (length of service dependant or course) because surely we would all hold our hands up to that. I mean, who really, deep down, would like to perform the role of a Police Officer? The long shift patterns, dealing with the very worst aspects of society, the social stigma that goes with the role and the fact that to attain any kind of position in the Police you must do your time on the beat.

Then you ask yourself: are you adequately qualified to perform the role? Are you fit enough, can you pass the physical aspects of the application process and then can you pass the lengthy role-play sessions and interviews. Do you have a degree, have you any experience – most likely gained whilst as an un-paid (or at the very best low-paid) and essentiallly powerless Community Support Officer – and can you deal, in a non-judgemental way, with people from every possible background?

Getting into the Police is not easy, but neither is it a random lottery in which people are selected irrespective of personal qualities. It is an application process and anyone can apply. You just might not want to.

Hands up who fancies being a teacher? And no, I don’t mean who fancies the summer off, a pension at 60/65 and short working days. I mean, who fancies spending most of their working life in the glare of 30 school kids, who they have to get to a certain level each year irrespective of the quality of kids that turn up. Who fancies spending much of their time at home marking, planning and worrying about constant observations, grading and inspections?

It is the easiest thing in the world to suggest that the Public Sector is one big gravy train full of incompetents living the high life just waiting to retire on a huge pension. But it isn’t true, at all. The average Public Sector pension is just £4,000 a year, for example. As for the suggestion that every position is filled by simpletons who couldn’t survive in the Private Sector, then why don’t the whingers apply? If working in the Public Sector is such an easy ride, why isn’t every single post advertised deluged with millions of applicants all desperate for their slice of the easy pie?

Could it be that not everyone wants to spend 4 years training to become a teacher. Not everyone wants to go back to college to complete an Access to Nursing course (1 or 2 years, unfunded) only to face huge competition for a very limited amount of Nursing degree places (which is a further 3 years if they do get a place) – a large number of Access to Nursing students will simply not be accepted onto a university course.

You will never become rich working in the public sector. You can in certain job roles become very comfortably well-off (Headteachers, deputy heads, senior police, senior civil servants etc) but these are a tiny tip at the top of an pyramid in which the vast majority of public sector workers occupy the lower base. Teachers, nurses, fireman, admin VAT advisors, tax workers, call centre workers and everyone else working in the public sector knows that their earnings will always be clearly finite and relevant to the role they perform, which in turn is governed by their qualifications.

I don’t think it is unfair to expect to live in a country in which teachers, nurses, fireman, police officers, social workers (and who wants the grief that they get for working in often impossible situations?) etc should not have to worry about being poor, either during their working life or in retirement.

And, if you still think it’s easy, then why don’t you get a job in the Public Sector? No one is stopping you, it is not an exclusive club (although it is becoming harder to get into thanks to media-driven government cuts), anyone can apply. You just have to be qualified, experienced and prepared to put up with all the flak that most of the jobs entail.

Abuse and defamation, part 2

So, I’ve heard back from the lawyers representing Associated Newspapers and it turns out they’re not satisfied with the action I have taken so far (see here and here for the full background). You see, although I deleted the original post and replaced it with a short explanation as to why – in which I was very careful not to be at all defamatory – what the lawyers really want me to do is change the title of the post and the meta description. This is because when you type ‘Paul Dacre’ into Google you currently get this as the second result:

Paul Dacre must dieNow, Roy Greenslade believed that Paul Dacre would have had no knowledge of the legal action being taken in order to remove the ‘seriously abusive and defamatory’ material about him. Obviously I have no way of knowing either way, but what is clear is that the lawyers do not want anyone searching for ‘Paul Dacre’ on Google to be greeted by my considered musings on him. The lawyers have therefore contacted my webhosts for a second time, this time stating that:

We note the page has changed which we are looking into. In the meantime the title and meta description of the site still seriously defames our client.

We require that this be changed as a matter of urgency.

As many people have pointed out: the title and meta description (whilst abusive and arguably completely tasteless / out of order etc) is in no way defamatory of Paul Dacre. It kind of staggers me that they are still claiming otherwise. In defence of my webhost, they are in a tough position, they don’t like asking me to edit this post, but at the same time the lawyers are leaning on them with the threat of legal action if I don’t.

The worst thing is that as the author I have had no direct contact with the lawyers (I don’t even know their name) taking umbrage with my words and my request for a contact email address for them has been turned down by my webhosts – although they have offered to pass on my email address to the lawyers. It is plain to see that the UK system of libel law is completely broken when it comes to Internet content. My webhosts did not write, edit, publish or even know about the existence of that post. They were my words, chosen by me, published by me and I should be responsible for defending them. Any defamation or abuse or offense was caused by me and should be answered by me.

Therefore, the lawyers should be required to contact me as the person solely responsible for that content (as in the US). Instead – and this really works in the favour of the financially powerful – they can simply send a nonsensically vague threat to a webhost who doesn’t have anything invested in the post or the subject who will simply ask the end user to remove it in order to avoid being sued (no matter how unlikely or unrealistic this outcome is). They can just claim defamation where none exists and they know the webhost is highly unlikely to call their bluff. Essentially the rich and powerful media organisation can silence any UK hosted blogger without even needing to contact them directly.

Isn’t this an awful long way away from what the Press Complaints Commission is able to do when it comes to real defamation carried out by newspapers? Indeed, the Daily Mail have editorialised in the past about the importance of separating the PCC and indeed newspapers from any being on the wrong end of any kind of legal restraint or financial punishment:

The all-party Commons Culture Committee report is to be commended for accepting that self-regulation is the best way of policing Britain’s newspapers and for identifying many of the threats to Press freedom.

These include the scandalous fees charged by lawyers in no-win no-fee cases, the libel tourism that stains the reputation of British justice abroad, and the Kafkaesque world of secret super-injunctions.

True, we disagree with the MPs’ suggestion that the Press Complaints Commission should impose fines on errant newspapers.

This would inevitably involve lawyers and result in protracted, expensive disputes rather than the quick, cheap service the Commission now provides

Indeed, Paul Dacre has argued that no-win no-fee lawyers are extremely damaging to press freedom because it encourages people to sue newspapers for recourse rather than seeking out the useless PCC (although Dacre laughably argues that ‘self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation’). Dacre argued that the Conditional Fee Agreement system was being ‘ruthlessly exploited by unscrupulous lawyers’ and as reported by the Press Gazette:

He said the risk of being faced with a huge costs bill had forced newspapers to be more risk-averse. CFAs, he said, were a “lethal weapon in crushing press freedom”.

“Every day we are not going quite as far as we used to and we are settling things even at the expense of paying disporportionately high damages not to go to court,” Dacre said.

“The problem is the provincial press – they do not have the money to do any of this. The money we could lose in one case could bankrupt a provincial newspaper chain.”

And here I am, so powerless in the face of a legal action threatening my webhost that I cannot even be in the position to be bankrupted by an unnecessary libel case because they won’t even contact or sue me directly. My freedom is being crushed by forces I cannot even engage with. Even if I had the honour of being directly sued then Associated Newspapers know full well that I don’t have the funds to pay for a lawyer to defend me and I certainly could not afford to lose.

If Paul Dacre does know anything about this case – or he finds out about it somehow – then if he doesn’t tell the lawyers to back off then he could be accused of acting with astonishing hypocrisy. Unless, of course, you look at what Paul Dacre has said in the past about Conditional Fee Agreements (the no-win no-fee system) and believe that his problem with such a system is not its impact on freedom of speech, but rather that it effectively enables – for the first time – ordinary people the chance to take newspapers to court for libel because they can afford to lose (as the lawyers take on the financial risk rather than the client). This means that the little guy can bite back for a change, which is obviously bad for an industry that repeatedly makes stuff up about people. If this is his viewpoint then of course he is going to have no qualms sending in the kind of lawyers who he might describe – when acting on behalf of the little guy – as ‘rapacious… greedy, I think they are unscrupulous.’

CFAs are only really bad because perhaps the Daily Mail thinks that only the rich and powerful have the right to intimidate people and ‘crush’ freedoms?

Anyway. I have decided to amend the title of the troubled blog post and change the meta description to something I hope the lawyers find acceptable:

Paul Dacre will die

Paul Dacre will one day die. When this day comes, we can finally write what we like about him.

No defamation – not even any abuse – just statements of fact. If they do not find this acceptable I will consider switching my hosting to the US, putting the original blog post back up with the original title and meta description and I will then wait for the lawyers of Associated Newspapers to contact me directly.

[PS: any donations gratefully accepted]

Johann Hari: not angry, just disappointed

I know lots of people have already written about Johann Hari’s confession that often when he writes up his interviews he includes quotes that were not actually said by the person he interviewed. For example:

After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: “The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”

The text in bold is Hari’s dramatic fictionalisation of a conversation that didn’t really go like this because the following quotation is lifted from another interview conducted a while ago by somebody else. Essentially, it is as if I claimed I had interviewed David Cameron by merely lifting stuff he has said in the past that has been covered and pretended that he was talking to me in a nice quiet room. All I’d have to do is make up some cliched descriptions of how he looks and sounds when he talks and bingo, a wonderful interview by me has been conducted without me having to leave my cosy little study. As @ropestoinfinity puts it: ‘I’d like to see Hari do a TV chatshow where he asks questions and then it crudely cuts to archive footage of interviews from other shows.’

Amazingly Johann has defended this blatant act of deception, arguing that:

When I’ve interviewed a writer, it’s quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing – and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech. (I know I write much more clearly than I speak – whenever I read a transcript of what I’ve said, or it always seems less clear and more clotted. I think we’ve all had that sensation in one form or another).

So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech.

And that’s fine, as long as he make it clear to the reader that this is what he was doing. But he didn’t. He purposefully dressed it up as being spoken directly to him.

Now, a few people on Twitter are making the argument that there are far worse crimes than this in journalism (true) or that Johann is kind of a good guy (also true – in my opinion) as if this somehow excuses him. I know that in terms of bad journalism this is pretty tame, but we expect bad journalism from tabloids who employ people precisely because they have absolutely no interest in the truth and are happy to push any agenda that sells (Littlejohn’s column today for example is another crime against good journalism). However, can we not expect something a little better from someone who has regularly written against dishonesty, propaganda and tabloid fictions? It is one of those occasions where you are not angry, more disappointed to discover that someone like Johann could think such dishonesty not important or worthy of any criticism.

The sad fact that far worse journalism exists does not defend Johann’s dishonesty. It’s a silly argument that sadly even Charlie Brooker is wheeling out, which seems odd because this is really the sort of thing you would expect him to criticise.

I respect Johann as a writer and I do think that he has written an lot of powerful and important pieces in the past (heck, he’s even linked to this blog in the past when I wrote a few pieces about Richard Littlejohn). This makes me understand why such sympathy exists for him, and why so many people want to look past this deception and instead focus on how other writers are much worse. However, we shouldn’t forgive him quite so easily, nor dismiss the way in which he nonchalantly bats away any suggestion that he was being dishonest. In many ways we should be extra critical because Johann set himself up as a champion of truth in an inherently dishonest industry, only to be less than honest in some of his own articles.

You cannot demand honesty and accuracy from others if you cannot apply it to your own writing.

‘Recycling’ or how extreme capitalism works

One of the frequently recycled stories that appear on the Mail website that really bothers me is the one where person x wears item x of clothing for a second time. Sometimes this is referred to as a fashion ‘faux pas’ (one of the favourite phrases of Mail hacks), sometimes as recycling but it is always looked at as if such behaviour is absolute madness. It seems to me that the Mail Online team must have a massive database of celeb photos that they check each day to see if the new photos coming in demonstrate any clothes matches. If a match is found the Mail Online team have some kind of twisted Eureka moment and start hammering away at the keyboard about how celebrity x also wore this item of clothing whilst opening a village fete in 1995 so they’re some sort of freak for wearing it again.

I’m not quite sure what pleasure people get from reading this kind of article – again, it comes back to this modern freak show in which we are encouraged to laugh at such fashion faux pas (for in order to sell endless tat fashion must always change way before one season’s clothes have worn out from any kind of wear) yet surely we wear our own clothes more than once? How can people not see the extreme version of capitalism that jumps off the pages, slaps you around the face and calls you a disgusting pauper if you dare even think about wearing the same item of clothing a second time? As the world heads swiftly into the complete destruction and depletion of natural resources it is an insult that a: the Mail Online exists solely to deliver an endless stream of celebrity drivel and b: that this comes with huge helpings of obscene consumerism.

Today’s pointless story is this: ‘First Kate Middleton and now Katherine Jenkins is recycling her clothes. The classical star dazzles (again) in a stunning red gown’. The idea that wearing an item twice is ‘recycling’ is just obscene – even more so when you actually consider the cost of such clothes in the first place. The mocking tone of the article and the idea that in wearing an item of clothing twice:

She clearly wants to get her money’s worth out of the stunning floor length dress

Is just strange. Yet it seems to work.

Paul Dacre, Abuse and Defamation

As some of you might already be aware if you follow me on Twitter I received a rather dire warning from my webhosts today informing me that I had breached their terms and conditions. I immediately logged into my account to discover whether I had accidentally hosted any hardcore pornography or broken any superinjunctions. But no. It turns out some big and powerful lawyers working for Associated Newspapers had threatened my webhost and myself with legal action over an article I posted on my old blog way back in November 2009. You see, as much I try to write considered, thoughtful and sometimes philosophical posts occasionally I reveal the side of me that best represents the anger and frustration of constantly wading through the fetid mire of tabloid journalism, and the post that so upset the Daily Mail – part of Associated Newspapers – was one of these occasions.

You see I’m one of those lilly-livered liberal-lefties who kind of gets a bit annoyed when newspapers make stuff up about people with different colour skin just to appeal to the basest, most ignorant desires of their readership and this particular Mail article really pissed me off. So, naturally I wrote some unpleasant things about Paul Dacre because I assumed he’s the kind of tough-talking, thick-skinned adult that probably expects – editing the torrent of hatred that is the Daily Mail – to get a lot of stick. Indeed, this is the man who – according to Nick Davies in Flat Earth News - calls so many of his colleagues ‘cunts’ that his morning daily editorial meetings were given the name ‘The Vagina Monologues’.

But sadly, currently using Google to search for ‘Paul Dacre’ reveals my lowly little blog post as the second result:

Paul Dacre must die

And the lawyers for Associated Newspapers decided that the above blog post was ‘material which is seriously abusive and defamatory of Mr Dacre’. Hence they felt the need to rush off an email to my webhost giving them 3 working days to remove the offending article or face being taken to court – an event they kindly illustrate with a case ‘which ultimately resulted in a six-figure settlement’. I un-published the post immediately to placate my Webhost and Tweeted about it. Thanks to a lot of advice both on and off the record I slowly began to realise – along with a little bit of reading up on what constitutes defamation – that their threat was utterly hollow and that abuse in itself is not libellous (hence the continued ‘writing’ career of Richard Littlejohn who abuses the living and libels only the dead). It was the idle threat of a bully that knows it is too rich and too powerful to be challenged by an individual like myself who will choose to remove the article rather than invite them to sue and see where we all end up.

In the end, thanks to choosing a UK webhost, the decision is not really mine to take, the webhost has nothing to gain by defending me and everything to lose, they will simply point to their Terms and Conditions which cover no defamation / libel and will suspend your account if needs be. I understand their position, they are effectively hamstrung by a legal system that favours the powerful.

Anyway, putting that aside, let’s just take a few seconds to consider what I actually wrote. Firstly, you can read the post here because it has been cached by Google and logged by others on Twitter (thanks to therealsim_o for this). Secondly, you can read this post by Unity over at Ministry of Truth who goes through the post bit-by-bit and concludes that:

In short, there seems to be next to fuck all in Kevin’s article to warrant a claim of defamation – abuse, of itself, is not defamatory – if it were, then Dacre would, based on his reputation, spend half his life defending actions for slander from his own employees.

Having put what I wrote into context, I can now give you some clues on what is and isn’t defamation by looking at some of the stuff that the Daily Mail prints and can provide you with some simple tips to avoid receiving such scary emails in future:

  1. Be a well-paid columnist for the Daily Mail. Take Richard Littlejohn for example. He can call Gordon Brown a ‘sociopath’ and provide a list of ‘evidence’ including that he displays ‘Glibness and superficial charm; manipulative and cunning… Grandiose sense of self and entitlement… Pathological lying; absence of remorse, shame or guilt; callousness and lack of empathy… Authoritarian; secretive; paranoid; narcissism; grandiosity; an over-inflated belief in their own powers and abilities… Prone to rage and abuse; outraged by insignificant matters.’ and so on. If you are well-paid columnist this is not abuse or defamation; it is ‘opinion’. Indeed it is the kind of stuff we should all cherish as a wonderful example of a free press.
  2. Don’t mention individuals stupid! If you want to do a good ol’ bit of defaming pick a big group of people that you can just slag off in its entirety. Say like gypsies or immigrants, then it’s fair game. Go on, check with the Press Complaints Commission, they’ll tell you that yes: being hateful towards one named immigrant and you’ll get a slapped wrist (sort of, the PCC doesn’t really have enough power to do even that) but just slag off every single immigrant in one go and the PCC will give you a big thumbs up and possibly a badge.
  3. Don’t pick on on the kind of hypocrite that – for example – runs a national newspaper bemoaning the sexualisation of society whilst at the same time arguing against privacy laws that prevent him from reporting on ‘acts of unimaginable sexual depravity’ (which is, by the way,  bit of an oxymoron. How can they be ‘unimaginable’ if you are certain they actually took place?). Or who fights for the right for the press to be free of fines (i.e. stick with the powerless PCC exactly as it is now) and scrap no-win, no-fee libel cases because they don’t like being sued for honest mistakes or what in most cases is simply being caught making stuff up. Don’t pick on him because it seems to me that this sort of person would have no hesitation using the libel laws he finds so restrictive when they are aimed at his newspaper.

I think the main lesson is: don’t criticise the critics because they only like to dish it out. Dacre’s argument for invading the privacy of Max Mosley was that he was kind of in the public eye and had been up to no good, therefore invading his privacy to break the story was justifiable. Well, surely Mr Dacre is just as much in the public eye as Mr Mosley and certainly Mr Dacre holds substantially more influence and power. So why does he not expect – when he edits a newspaper recently described by John Bercow as a ‘sexist, racist, bigoted, comic cartoon strip’ (I wonder if Mr Bercow received a nice letter from the Associated News lawyers?) – to receive public scrutiny for what he does and the kind of insults that I aimed at him way back in 2009?

Whatever insults I could write here now aimed at Paul Dacre would always pale into utter insignificance when compared to the carefully constructed and energetically maintained media narratives about immigrants, single mothers, the public sector, asylum seekers, gypsies, gays and the disenfranchised in general that the Daily Mail has printed under his stewardship. My feeble words – which were only really a demonstration of how little recourse we have against institutions like the Daily Mail, so all we are left with is to wish those in charge of this offensive mess an early death – result in a threatening letter. Whilst Mr Dacre continues to exist as a highly-paid editor.

I think what bothers me most about Paul Dacre – and this applies to a lot of the Mail writers as well – is just what a coward he is. It’s that expectation that the Daily Mail can print the most horrific, made-up shit just to sell a few copies and stoke the fires of Middle-England rage and if anyone doesn’t like it they’ll just send out threatening letters. It’s Paul Dacre’s insistence that the PCC really works and that any criticism comes from people who are too stupid to understand how it works. Paul Dacre, chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, edits the newspaper that consistantly breaches the code more than any other newspaper, yet he still insists that the PCC works.

If freedom of the press exists then it should extend to all writers. As the Daily Mail – and most of the mainstream press – have demonstrated over-and-over again the informal code of ethics followed by most bloggers is incomparably superior to the moral vacuum in which most journalists exist, yet somehow the official label of being a ‘journalist’ somehow gives you the freedom without any of the responsibility.

Anyway, that was a disorganised ramble, so let’s try and wrap things up. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a lot of people think Paul Dacre is a piece of shit, not everyone wishes him an early death and a few people probably think I was stupid or going too far by even writing it. However, let’s not pretend it was libellious. It was just a frustrated insult aimed at someone who I see as being at the heart of a very evil newspaper, but someone whom the general populace is powerless to challenge because he will not engage with us.

1 in 25 adults buy the Daily Mail

And every single one of them should be ashamed of themselves:

Daily Mail Scum

This is a headline that is printed every other month by the Mail along with the Express, as if each time it is somehow shocking and new that children with different skin colours attend British schools. That national newspapers can regularly print stories that are essentially just pure racist outrage against primary school children is a disgrace.

If the out-and-out racism doesn’t offend you, then you might be interested in some examples of how these stories are rarely backed-up by the statistics they claim to be drawing on:

The Mail’s article kind of ends with something that is an ambivalently extreme example:

An extreme example

On the one hand the short article underneath demonstrates that the school is doing brilliantly and it’s actually on the surface a tale of racial harmony being achieved by young people who aren’t as bitter, blinkered and scared as your average Daily Mail reader. However, clearly this is an extreme example that hasn’t been chosen for this purpose, but rather as a great photo for readers to start frothing at the mouth to as they play their favourite ‘spot the white kid’ game. The headline figure says ‘1 in 5′ are ethnic minorities, the picture shows (as far as my eyesight can tell) that white kids are about 2 in 27 – and who knows, even the white ones could be ethnic minorities (This kind of highlights the stupidity of xenophobia and racism really. What is an ethnic minority? Is it a white Australian child in a class? Or is it the child born in Britain but who does not have pasty white skin?).

Who cares? They’re children, in school – innocent of every crime apart from looking slightly different to one another.

Then you scroll down to a seperate article tagged on to the main article:

Oh, I get it now.

I see, more ethnics means less places for white kids and white parents are left scrapping for their chosen schools. It all makes perfect sense now.

Then you scroll to the comments, and – knowing perfectly well what you will find – you click on ‘Best rated':

Bloody Daily Mail readers

I just have to keep reminding myself that Daily Mail readers are just an unpleasant minority – and people who think Peter Hitchens is right about anything even more so.

‘A lower standard of person’

I knew one of the Daily Mail’s overpaid columnists wouldn’t be able to miss passing judgement on the vulgar lower classes who dared to attend Ascot: ‘Death of civility and the rise of the vulgarians‘ [istyosty.com link], is the headline for Amanda Platell’s latest brain-vomit. What I find strange is the assumption that the ‘eight men’ brawling just must have been lower class. I’m pretty sure that from a photo of men dressed in suits you cannot really identify their class – unless such suits are just very common when they should be dressed in top hat and tails. Perhaps I’m just showing how lower class and vulgar I am by not being able to engage a proper class radar to determine with any certainty what seems to be so obvious to every Mail hack.

Anyway, Amanda Platell is absolutely certain that such a fight was caused by people who are -irrespective of class she claims – inherently much worse than those with a bit of cash, the trouble is, bemoans Amanda:

The fact is, when you lower your standards, you get a lower standard of person.

I wonder if Amanda might ever wonder about the standards of the tabloid press and the newspaper that she writes for. They have been lowering standards in a race to the bottom for years now in a calculated attempt to get as many of these ‘vulgar’ people as possible to buy their hate-filled propaganda rags. It might seem strange, therefore, for the newspaper that has been appealing to this lower-order through employing ignorant buffoons like Richard Littlejohn and making the Mail website a veritable ode to celebrity-shit-TV-culture to criticise its primary target market. But that’s the great thing about the class system in the UK: we all like to look down on others and we can do this because we consider ourselves a class apart or at least to some extent classless.

So, the poor people who save up their pennies to buy the Mail (or read it for free online) will be looking at these pictures and pointing out that money cannot buy you class. Whilst the middle and upper classes will be looking down and saying isn’t it disgraceful. The readership will not identify with these pictures anymore than they would identify with the obscenely wealthy celebrities that the Mail is so obsessed with, or the council-house single mums with 8 children by 100 different fathers. It’s all just some kind of Victorian freakshow where the audience screams abuse or roars with laughter whilst somehow never catching a reflection of their own lives as they look on.

Knowing the Not Known

This is a Sponsored Post

Since 2010 Tiger beer has been running a campaign called ‘ Know The Not Known‘ in which it has tried to provoke curiosity and reward engagement through a series of media partnerships ( Vice and Empire) and a range of bespoke events and creative content creation projects.

Image-1Possibly the most interesting partnership Tiger Beer has formed is with Vice who have just created 3 pieces of bespoke video content to reward consumers curiosity. The 3 videos are known as ‘The Found Series’ and hosted on Vice’s VBS. TV channel as well as Tiger’s YouTube channel. Each film explores the creation and use of a creative space and its impact on the local area and culture.

The first film – Lightship95 – tells the story of Ben Phillips who bought a 500 tonne moored vessel in East London and turned it into a practise space, recording studio and production suite. The film has a bit of a ‘Grand Designs’ feel about it, but instead of charting the creation and use of a living space the film instead explores the creation and use of a creative space. In the true spirit of life as creation Phillips also lives in the boat along with the Lightship95 crew. The video is in interesting journey into a unique studio, as well as a strange tale of maritime conservation and – as Youtube testifies – it is a project that has forged a new direction for the East London music scene.

image-2The second episode – Off Modern – discovers a creative space in South London that sprung up because, quite simply, there was nowhere for creative people to meet up and exchange ideas. From a simple concept has grown a space for young people to produce music, art and create unique club nights.

The third episode – This is it – introduces us to a collective of 12 young creative people based in London, including Film Makers, Graphic Designers, Set Designers, and Animators who have come together to create short films showcasing their talents from their railway arch studio in Shoreditch. Known as ‘This is it’ they are constantly transforming their creative space into imaginary worlds. Their most recent Video “Bad Things That Could Happen” was posted to Vimeo in December 2010 and received over a million views in less than a week.

Each short video is a reminder that creative projects do start and do flourish in a variety of places. Although the videos only focus so far on London it will be interesting if Vice and Tiger Beer can uncover interesting creative projects or partnerships in other places. Perhaps these short films will inspire others to form their own creative projects. Certainly this is something that this blog has talked about in the past, trying to assimilate all of the varied media blogs into something bigger than the sum of its parts. The difficulty with blogging is that it remains on the whole a very individual process and resists overt collaboration. However, as social media has demonstrated, blog traffic and recognition grows when bloggers stand together and publicise the work of other bloggers in their general field. Although informal, this is a creative partnership and as such when one media blog is discovered it generally leads the reader to also discover the others.

This – it seems to me – feels very much in keeping with the spirit of the Tiger Beer ‘Know The Not Known’ campaign.

Viral video by ebuzzing

Just a quick point

The Daily Mail (and Peter Hitchens) do like to drivel on about the ‘thought police’ and how apparently no-one is safe from them. Today the Mail has posted this story online: ‘The ‘coconut’ hate crime investigation that shows NOBODY can escape Britain’s Thought Police’. And again, the story does not relate to what someone thought, but rather on what someone actually said out loud and was recorded saying. It wasn’t a personal thought, it was a public comment that happened to be recorded.

Can the Daily Mail and Peter Hitchens please try to understand the vast difference between thinking something and saying something out loud. It really shouldn’t be difficult to tell the two apart: the thought is not heard by anyone, whereas when something is said out loud people can hear it (if you look at the person speaking you would normally expect to see their lips move).

The problems with ‘diversity’

Since this blog began it has covered in many ways the idea of ‘diversity’ because it is a buzzword that has gained a very negative resonance with the right-wing press, whilst at the same time it is a word that anyone in the workplace is familiar with as organisations draw up diversity policies and so forth. However, it seems to me that not many people have really tried to explain what it is that we mean by diversity and why it is important enough to warrant policies and such anger from the right-wing press – with Littlejohn frequently referring to ‘diversity Nazis’ as if people interested in diversity policy are fundamentally evil.

It is also necessary to look at what diversity means to people who actually encounter it in terms of an event either in work, in education or in the wider world. Although Littlejohn’s oxymoronic description of those working in the field of diversity is silly, he is for once actually referring to a phenomenon that actually exists: people do organise events to try to aid diversity in some way. This post will examine the logic behind such events and will discuss whether in truth such events are counter-intuitive and counterproductive when analysed rationally.

I’ll start but looking at what is essentially meant by diversity.

Essentially diversity is a term that is best understood by looking at how it is used in a wider context. Bio-diversity, for example, is a term used to describe a complex system in which many different species of animal, plant, soil, insect, bacteria and so on interact in relative harmony. It is commonly understood that human impact which has reduced bio-diversity reduces this harmony and can lead to species extinction as well as broader micro (and wider) climate changes.

For example, intensive farming destroys bio-diversity by replacing mixed plantlife with regularly tilled soil and set crops. Such land sees a dramatic drop in the diversity of wildlife and the removal of surrounding plant life can lead to dramatic soil erosion as top soil is stripped of natural elements and the protection of year-round plant coverage (indeed the planet’s capacity to produce food is rapidly decreasing due to unsustainable top soil damage – I referred to the very real phenomenon of ‘peak soil’ the other day).

Diversity when applied to humans therefore describes the interaction of many varied people in a complex system (society). Diversity as a buzzword is an attempt to recognise that differences exist between people but that this is not a bad thing and is underpinned by the belief that an increased awareness of diversity is an aid to social harmony. Diversity events therefore focus not on the commonality of humanity, but rather the obvious cultural differences.

However, when rationally assessed this approach seems counter-intuitive. For example, if a diversity event focuses on the differences between two cultures does it not just serve to reinforce the idea that any two given groups are fundamentally different from one another? Take as an example some Indian dancers booked to perform in an FE college. Such a narrow representation of the Indian culture through the demonstration of a very specific activity in which a limited amount of Indians participate in might easily be viewed as a rather shallow, stereotypical way of approaching diversity.

Anyone attending such an event might just leave with an increased sense that people from India are just as exotic (a very loaded term used to describe anything vaguely different to Western norms in travel brochures) and different as lazy stereotypes would lead them to believe.

Would it be a fair reflection of British society if a British dance troupe performed ballroom dancing or Morris dancing in foreign climes? The danger with diversity events that attempt quick introductions to different countries or cultures is that they have to rely on national stereotypes to a large extent. So, the Scottish stand would have some Haggis, a kilt, some bagpipes and perhaps some shortbread and whisky. You can probably complete the stands of most of the other countries in Europe with a few items in the same way.

It seems to me to be impossible to condense diverse cultures into anything other than a few stereotypes when planning a diversity event and this is inherently dangerous. Diversity as a term is now loaded with negative connotations thanks to a concerted effort by the British media to create the narrative that diversity is an attempt by ‘politically correct’ politicians to ‘promote’ other cultures at the expense of British sub-cultures (English, Welsh, Scottish etc). Furthermore, diversity is often accompanied by that other much-maligned buzzword: equality, which adds another layer of tabloid outrage. The idea that diversity promotes ‘foreign’ cultures above British cultures therefore also encourages the view that ‘equality’ is actually guilty of making some cultures more equal than others.

So, a diversity event is put on to explore a different culture, the event fits nicely into the media narrative because it is seen as promoting other cultures whilst often ignoring our own. The real problem the tabloid press has is that they rely on division and fear to sell newspapers. If their readership understood that actually, all Muslims are not evil terrorists intent on ‘destroying our way of life’ then they might no longer sheepishly swallow the media narrative that this is so. The constant lies about Muslims printed in the media might then be met with a different sort of outrage.

The real question is: are diversity events – in their current form – actually effective at increasing social harmony?

The problem is our minds are naturally inclined to perceive ingroups positively and outgroups negatively. Repeated experiments across cultures show that when human beings are put into groups – even in the most arbitrary way, such as at the toss of a coin – they will always display ingroup bias and a desire to maintain distinctiveness from other groups. This means that we inherently see difference even when it is minimal or completely arbitrary.

Social psychologists have suggested that in order to reduce prejudice between groups (and this can apply to any of the varied social groups that exist) the groups require ‘equal status contact’. In a sense a lot of us lead very isolated lives when we consider how many people we actually interact with in a more than superficial way (see also my post on the Monkeysphere) and we therefore only ‘know’ different cultural groups through information we gain from secondary sources (the media, parents – who likewise are probably regurgitating the media and so forth). The theory is that any notions a person might have about a group of people cannot really be challenged without them actually interacting with said groups. This interaction needs to take place for any individual to ‘reality test’ the information they are given by secondary sources.

Some of the most pervasive myths currently believed by the general population involve immigrants. The common belief is that immigrants receive priority when it comes to housing and benefits, that they accept lower wages (subsequently lowering average wages for all workers) and that they ‘steal’ jobs from British-born workers. All of these notions have no evidential basis – indeed, they are all provably false as detailed research demonstrates – but they are powerful nonetheless. The BNP therefore at the last election had an active policy of targeting constituencies that had a large ethnic population, believing that because of these drivers they would be successful in attracting votes.

What actually happened with voting patterns seems to support the contact hypothesis because those living in areas of high immigration were less likely to vote for the BNP. Indeed, the lower the percentage of ethnic minorities, the higher the votes for the BNP. It seems that those people living alongside migrants had access to the reality of what an immigrant is: a fellow human being with the same problems, desires and needs as the rest of us. When we have the opportunity to humanise individuals within a group we can see that the media narratives or general stereotypes are not applicable. We learn to see the same variety in out-groups as we instinctively recognise within our own groups.

And this is, I feel, the crucial point about any successful ‘diversity’ activity or event: rather than focusing on how others are different to us, we should instead focus on the similarities that we all share. Each human being is 99.9% genetically identical to every other human being in existence; if you have a gene that is 1,000 bases long, only 1 of those bases will be different from each of the other 6.92 billion people currently occupying the planet.

I’m reminded of Bill Bryson who attempted to put this into context:

Every living thing is an elaboration of a single original plan. As humans we are mere increments – each of us a musty archive of adjustments, adaptations, modifications and providential tinkerings stretching back to 3,8 billion years. Remarkably we are even quite closely related to fruit and vegetables. About half the chemical functions that take place in a banana are fundamentally the same as the chemical functions that place in you. It cannot be said too often: all life is one. That is, and I suspect will ever prove to be, the most profound true statement there is.”
- Bill Bryson in “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (2003)

After having delivered an Equality and Diversity workshop for a couple of years now to a huge variety of students it was impossible to ignore an underlying theme of students being badly mislead by media narratives and negative stereotyping – which is one of the drivers behind this blog. Because tackling prejudice head-on is so difficult (you cannot just inform people of the facts and expect them to change deeply held beliefs – which is why tabloid newspapers still thrive) I instead developed the idea that if only students could learn some very interesting things about how their brains are naturally inclined to rely on stereotypes and form strong ingroup / outgroup bias I would be able to subtly unpick the causes of prejudice rather than seeming as if I am merely describing them as prejudiced and lecturing them as to why they are wrong.

Prejudice is a mental construct and should be tackled in a way that acknowledges this.In general we spend very little time analysing the fact that we are actually very irrational creatures and that all that really separates us from other animals is our ability to recognise that we are irrational. However, this recognition is not often automatic when it comes to how we deal with ingroups / outgroups and how and why we form stereotypes. Education needs to recognise the importance of teaching people about the importance of active thinking. It staggers me that we expect students to educate themselves year-after-year without explaining to them how their minds actually work – and how their own thought patterns and natural cognitive processes can hinder them. We can all change our patterns of thinking and be more successful if only we were taught how to recognise when our natural cognitive miserliness lets us down.

Likewise, if people understood how prejudice is aided by such cognitive processes they might just look at the world in a different way (thinking actively, rather than passively – which should surely be a fundamental learning objective within education). Rather than being fearful of a world that appears fundamentally different and difficult to understand, they might instead realise that the world is actually wonderfully and inconsequentially different – with such differences quite literally being only skin deep.

In short, diversity events as currently delivered are actually in danger of reinforcing isolation by unnecessarily concentrating on inconsequential differences. If an individual – with a vague grasp of a difficult and wide-reaching term (diversity) – attends an event and is merely shown how much difference exists (whether dance, food, religion, lifestyles etc) they will merely be completing a negative mental cycle:

Diversity diagram

Thus the event attempts to function as a ‘contact’ situation in which groups mix and stereotypes / fear are broken down as a consequence. However, such events often fail to recognise the importance of such contact being ‘equal status contact’. For example, the group of Indian dancers given above are not making contact with students in an equal way; the dancers are there to perform for the students, the status of the contact is therefore the very unequal relationship between audience and entertainers. This is likely to reinforce ingroup / outgroup perceptions rather than lower them (indeed, a post-colonial analysis of such an event would be very interesting indeed). Contact without equal status has little impact on group harmony, hence why the landed gentry could happily order servants around for hundreds of years: they had plenty of social contact, but with interactions limited to very unequal contact only it was easy for the dehumanisation of the lower classes to remain (they existed to serve you, nothing more).

This isn’t to denigrate such events per se, it is merely to point out that real social interaction can only really take place in a natural way that diversity events just cannot recreate. This is where Littlejohn’s notion of the ‘diversity Nazi’ stems from: diversity events force us into unnatural situations with people / cultures that are alien to us. The ‘Nazi’ idea stems from the fact that such events are often mandatory within education or the workplace. Obviously, this is not a defence of Littlejohn’s utterly moronic label – indeed, it actually demonstrates that Littlejohn is so xenophobic and socially isolated that he sees being forced to acknowledge anyone different to himself as such an evil act that is must be committed by the byword for evil: the Nazis.

With regards to the notion of ‘celebrating difference’ (something else the tabloids hate) I think this is a worthy idea, but should be secondary to focusing on similarities and shared goals (which also links into the reality that the whole of humanity currently stands on a precipice in which the only way back is for global cooperation) which help to reduce prejudice. After all, enjoying different aspects of a culture is not a indication that prejudice does not exist. Hence why xenophobes and racists will happily order an Indian or Chinese takeaway and take holidays abroad whilst simultaneously wishing to have nothing to do with such groups (or Littlejohn hating foreigners whilst living in a foreign country).

Diversity is, then, a word that has been picked up by both those with good intentions and those whose only desire is to continue the division of humanity. Whilst the tabloid newspapers may talk about ‘integration’ when they refer to immigrants this is actually the last thing that they want. They rely on fearful division to sell newspapers and social disharmony is crucial in maintaining the social status quo. If true harmony existed between the bulk of the populace we might start casting our eyes upwards a little and realising who our real enemies our. Instead newspapers ensure we always target the disenfranchised groups within society and essentially we squabble amongst ourselves in a way that is very much against our own self-interest.

Those who – with the best of intentions – are currently driving diversity policy are mistaken when they focus on celebrating difference or arranging events in which we have unequal status contact with outgroups. Such an approach is doomed only to maintain the notion of fundamental difference between groups and provide the tabloid press with easy fodder for their media narratives about what diversity and equality is in their eyes: the promotion of other cultures / religions at the expense of our own. Thus, when a council tries to celebrate other cultural events the press try to create narratives in which these events are actually taking the place of ‘our’ cultural events – hence the importance of the Winterval myth.

We need to take a step back from diversity and assess a better way of increasing social harmony. This is not going to be achieved with the current ideas of what a diversity event should be because the thinking behind how such events function is fundamentally flawed. Instead we should be focusing on our similarities because we are one human race and addressing the fact that the problems we perceive as being ‘not our concern’ (foreign aid) or not worth pursuing because others might not follow (climate change) are problems facing the whole of humanity and can only be tackled if we do all work together in pursuit of these common goals.

The continued existence of the human race always seems to be worth fighting for in Hollywood movies where nations seem to be able to come together when the crunch time arrives. Well, the crunch time is here, so how about we replicate what happens in Hollywood and set aside inconsequential differences to ensure our survival. In terms of having a valid common goal I think this can be considered one. Then we might naturally celebrate difference because we won’t view difference as merely being another word for fear.