The Problem with Libertarianism.

I’m a liberal.  Depending on where you are in the world and your own political background, that might read as a okay, great, or terrible thing to be.  And within the tent it’s pretty complicated: gentle hippy types, hawkish republicans, and avid consumers can all be heard describing themselves as ‘liberals’.  But the root idea is that everybody should be free to live their own life as they choose, and in turn leave others to do the same.  If only it were that simple in practice.

,Within liberalism, though, there are two broad trends, connected to two conceptions of liberty: negative and positive (when exactly these were defined is a little disputed, but Isaiah Berlin may have been the first to formally do so).  Putting aside the possible implications of those labels, they are pretty simply formulated: Negative liberty is the absence of constraint, while positive liberty requires that one be empowered to act to carry out what they will.  The former is pretty simple, and contained within the latter.  Positive liberty is more complicated, but its necessity might be argued for by observing that, say, a small child alone in the wilderness is free from constraint, but still lacking in ‘freedom’.  I think most of us would have at least some sympathy for the idea that children should receive some education and basic healthcare even if we feel that as adults it should be ‘every man for himself’.  Of course if negative liberty is callous, positive can tend to overstretch its roots and lead to the ‘nanny state’.

Those who lean towards negative liberty are libertarians, as they see personal liberty – in the sense of freedom from constraint and interference – as the ultimate goal.  And those, like myself, who believe that positive liberty is fully a good thing, rather than a necessary evil, might call themselves social liberals.  Nonetheless, the two groups should really be able to get along, sharing the same ultimate aim.  As long as the libertarians have got their own spaces, we more socially-orientated types should be free to organise our selves, and we shouldn’t mind if they don’t want to participate, cos they’re not asking for anything either.

However, there is a big problem: [most] Libertarians are arseholes.  I’m not saying that social liberals aren’t an issue too, but social liberals don’t misrepresent ourselves in the same way.  We admit that we think we or the state should interfere in people’s lives.  There’s a lot of debate to be had about how much interference is too much, but at least we’re not pretending that this is not what we’re up to.

Why ‘Libertarians’ are arseholes

The first problem with people who call themselves libertarian is that most of them aren’t anything of the sort.  The second is that even those who ostensibly are have no idea how it would work in actual practice.

An example of the first type would be those better described as small-government conservatives   To put it briefly: it’s not libertarian to not want the state to meddle in your life (cos that’s true of pretty much everybody), it’s only libertarian if you don’t think the state should interfere in everybody else’s life too.  These are the people who would like the government to butt out when they abuse and discriminate against certain other races/sexualities/religions/etc., but at the same time demand that it act to prevent access to abortion and block same-sex marriage (they’re kind of accidentally half right on the latter, as a true libertarian should be opposed to any form of state-sanctioned marriage).  Everybody thinks that the state should do less of some things and more of others, but its not an ideology.

But you’re an arsehole if you can mentally juggle the idea that the state (and everybody else) should totally leave you to do what you want, while insisting that it stick its nose into the business of other people in the most intrusive fashion (and you don’t get much more intrusive than some of the rules that have been introduced to limit or discourage access to abortion).

The second major bunch of pseudo-libertarians who seem to be cropping up of late have given the matter a modicum more thought.  And they take their cue from people who are as close to actual, practical libertarianism as possible: survivalists.  The odd thing is that this new bunch are placed in a polar opposite situation: the techno-utopians.  I’ve been seeing a lot of these around Gamergate and the New Atheism (there’s a not insignificant overlap between the two of these, either).  Anyway, the common factor here is that these groups maintain that they can manage without the state, so they’ll be just fine if it goes away.  With your survivalist types, this might just about be possible.  If you’ve got the skills to not just cope in the wilderness, but to maintain the tools (and weapons) that you need to do so, then maybe you don’t need society.  It still seems a little churlish to ignore the source of your education, but if you want to bugger off, so be it, and best of luck to you.  The techno-utopian types are far more laughable.

I said that these people have given it a modicum more thought than the small-govt conservative, and I do mean a modicum.  They seem to think that if you magically removed all of the structures that support our modern global society, it would still stand in the same place.  They sit behind a computer and genuinely believe that either a) they have the basic skills to survive in the wild, because they play enough CoD; or b) that they’d be able to trade their coding skills for the necessities of life.  Somehow or other, the internet, the power grid, the roads, the markets, etc, etc, are going to be maintained in the absence of government, to allow them to barter off their amazingly specific skills.  It’s a really weird combination of a primitivist ideology with total dependence on high-technology.  So, again, these people are in effect demanding that all the things that annoy them personally are removed, while maintaining all of the associated stuff that they enjoy the use of.

Thing is, I’m totally a fan of the idea of dismantling current structures and systems of power.  States, corporations, institutions can all be torn down.  You just have to consider what you want in their place.  And nothing at all is not really an option, at least if you want access to running water.


It might be observed that I haven’t really answered my question.  Rather than explaining why libertarians are terrible, I’ve pointed out that most people who label themselves thus are mistaken.  So a last point to maybe help explain why real libertarians are arseholes: it’s an ideology overwhelming dominated by white affluent types, frequently male, and who display an amazing blindness to how much they benefit from the status quo (and the state).  It’s easy to maintain that you can do as you will, when you have grown so used to the safety net that you can’t even see it any more.


On Taxation

We have a bad attitude to taxation in the UK.  I suspect the same is true in virtually every other country in the world (Rentier states have a whole bunch of their own issues).  It’s not just that we dislike paying tax ourselves, although that would be a good starting point, but it’s the way that – most of the time – we celebrate people getting one over on the Inland Revenue.  At the same time, when we do pay tax, we are ever conscious of how much we think we should receive in return.  This is not a good recipe for long-term stability – if nobody wants to pay for more than they *think* they receive in return, there’s no room for people in need to, even temporarily, rely on the state’s largesse.  At some other point I’d like to talk about the difference between how much people gain from the state compared with how much they think they do, and how this is the foundation of the abuse heaped on people who claim benefits, but not right now.

(of course this isn’t true of absolutely everybody.  I’ve recently noted my admiration for J K Rowling for her refusal to move herself or her assets overseas, since she maintains her admiration for the welfare state that supported her before she struck it lucky.  At the same time I observed, with no disrespect meant to her, that this shouldn’t really be the sort of thing that needs to be celebrated.  I’m also sure that there are a good number of regular salaried people who simply pay what they owe without grumbling)

This fits into our wider view of the state.  Unlike some countries, the state is never of us.  It is always other, and slightly hostile.  I say slightly hostile, because we’re nowhere near situation in the US, where the federal government is seen by a good number of people, egged on by state-level administrations, as being the enemy of the people.  But conversely we rarely seem to consider that the UK government might do anything simply for the good of the population at large.  This is probably helped by the impression, not unjustified, that most people get into government to satisfy their personal ambitions.  But the effect is that when we hand over a money as taxpayers, we think of it as gone, spent, even stolen.  We fail to consider that at least a portion of it will be spent to benefit us all, as citizens (I know we’re technically subjects, but I don’t see that as incompatible with citizenship, even if it is horribly anachronistic).

Of course this is bullshit.  For all of the bad decisions, inefficiencies, and vote-chasing policies, the state does a huge amount for all of us.  Of course much of this may be down to the civil service rather than elected members of parliament, but it stands.  Feel free to argue about any single area you disagree with, but it still stands.  Just don’t pretend that just because you don’t receive what you consider to be ‘benefits’ (and I know a considerable number of people won’t count Child Benefit, because ‘everybody’ gets that), you don’t get anything from the state.

Framing taxation

If we don’t like paying tax, and have had a long series (a long, long series) of governments who reward their friends, allies, and potential voters with breaks and rebates, it follows that tax itself, and especially an increase therein, is punitive.  Carrot for some people, stick for others.  This is not healthy.

This probably isn’t helped by the way some chancellors use rates, particularly on things like alcohol and tobacco, in an attempt to steer people away from ‘bad’ behaviour (and I realise that things are more complicated than that, but it is framed that way).  This means that those who wish to indulge must pay up in some kind of penitential gesture.

If we’re being punished regardless of merit, this automatically pushes us towards favouring those who flout the law.  In a police state, petty criminals are heroes, and those who escape ‘justice’ to be lauded.  People can feel no personal connection, or affection for a body they believe to be coercing them.

Anyway, I’m tired so I’m not going to fully develop things now.  Suffice it to say that I think that we need to rethink how we think about tax.  It needs to be a part of our civic duty, of how we participate in society.  But I’d like to be able to achieve that without going down the nationalistic road.  It’s not about being better than other countries, although a little healthy competition might help.  It’s about making our country better in itself.  Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening while we’ve got such an unimaginative bunch of wasters in charge.  Can you think of anything sufficiently inspiring that the coalition have achieved?  In little more that five years the Attlee government built the NHS and modern welfare state.  Even Blair oversaw the introduction of the minimum wage before he fucked it all up by dragging us along on his military adventures.  But Cameron and Clegg?  Sod all to show for five years except a shit-load of people reliant on food banks.  Ah, fuck it, I’m too annoyed to make a coherent point.


Please note that I’m not arguing against criticising the administration of government, where and how it spends money, or the tax rate.  These are separate and narrower points.  But realise that if you think the state is wasteful, that needs to be fixed before you can demand that you pay less.

On Transience

I am cis.  I am not trans*.  I have no idea what it is like to be trans*  I’m not going to attempt to speculate about that.  But I will say that I find the attitudes of many other cis people very strange.  Particularly their insistence on the concreteness and physical determination of their nature.

I am not my body.  My body is just a collection of cells, tissues, organs that I happen to be situated in.  It is something that allows me to exist in, and interact with, the rest of the physical world.  Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I hate it.  But it is not me.

I am not an enduring thing.  I exist in the present.  The me of the past is like a relative, or somebody I have heard many stories about.  There is a close bond, but it is not identity, at least as philosophers describe it.  The future me will also not be the me I know now.  Maybe the future me will be closer to the ideal I’d choose.  I hope so.  I hope that the world can help me realise this.  I hope the same for everyone else.

On Freedom of Speech

There’s been a lot of bullshit talked about freedom of speech lately.  There’s been a lot of bullshit talked about freedom of speech since it became a concept.  But perhaps the most frustrating thing about the recent spate is that people are talking at cross-purposes, and generally agree on the basic principle, just not how and where it’s applied.  This is not an argument about whether there should be a free press or government monitoring of what people say.  As such, I shall try to be charitable towards those I disagree with, as I think they’re generally well-intentioned but mistaken in their apprehension, rather than malicious.  Or at least most of them: some are awful trolls and haters (I’m not sure if I like the word ‘haters’ in general use:most people don’t hate indiscriminately – they do it directedly and for reasons, good or bad – but it’s about right here).

First, some pedantry.  When people talk about freedom of speech, they mean a whole range of different things, from being able to express an opinion in (what they regard as) private, up to the maintenance of a free press.  And this is the root of much of the disagreement at present.  But when one is talking about freedom of speech as a formal right, it must refer to the state, and nothing more.  The right to speak freely is the right to not have your speech arbitrarily monitored, limited, or controlled by the government.  It doesn’t stop other people from ignoring you or shouting you down.  It doesn’t mean you get to speak in any particular place.  It doesn’t entitle you to say anything you want without consideration for the possible effects.  The classic example is shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded room, causing a stampede.  It certain doesn’t entitle you to a platform, or any other means of amplifying your voice over those of others.

This is not to say that many of these things aren’t desirable.  Those with something to say should be heard.  But that comes down to matters of opinion about who should be heard, and who ignored.  What isn’t helpful is people framing any suggestion that a certain individual doesn’t deserve a given platform as censorship.  Especially when that person has access to all sorts of alternatives.  Most people in the world have little outlet (and probably nothing before the advent of the web), so let’s not get distracted by a few high profile people encountering a little resistance at universities.

The limits of free speech

Look, in an ideal world, everybody would have a public voice.  This sort of thing – a blog – is a pretty good approximation.  Of course, most blog content might as well be shouted into a well.  A few friends and family might read it, but unless you hit something zeitgeisty, or have contacts, you have no expectation that it will reach many people.  The thing is that the ‘free speech is everything’ people aren’t focussed on the right to speak, so much as the right to be listened to.  I think they make two major oversights.

The first is in trumpetting a simple multiplicity of views.  The more ideas and opinions we hear, the better.  In an ideal world…maybe.  It’s certainly good to consider contrary opinions, even if they do only lead to us strengthening our own.  Debate is a fine thing.  But to suggest that ignoring any given person  – generally someone the arguer agrees with – is a mistake is itself folly.  There are simply too many voices in the world, and we are all necessarily selective.  You should certainly temper your Fox News with some BBC (and vice versa), but you cannot possibly listen to every single position.  So people are very rarely just saying ‘don’t listen to this person’; rather, they are saying that you should give time to someone else you maybe haven’t considered.  To give a specific example: when a group protested against Germaine Greer speaking at the Cambridge Union, they didn’t just argue that she shouldn’t be listened to (on the grounds of her attitude to, and treatment of, trans* people), but they offered their own event and speakers, Roz Kaveney & Sarah Brown, to provide an alternative.  Oddly, this has been presented by some as ‘no platforming’ despite the fact that both events went ahead.

The second error is in ignoring the fact that speech can have negative consequences.  It is odd that they present it as being neutral, ideas as if they are completely objective prior to their application, when they are so determined as to the good that can be done.  If the world can be changed for the better by a speech, it can just as well be made worse.  We know that some things can be harmful if said in the wrong place and time.  The aforementioned shout of ‘fire’.  The use of abusive language directed at certain people.  This is all about context: a word is neutral when spoken in a vacuum; it is not in any circumstance where it has meaning.

The thing is that virtually all of those calling for more free speech know this.  I doubt many of them want to give neo-Nazis an opportunity to recruit at our institutions of learning (because even *wrong* words have power).  I’m sure they all repudiate hate speech.  But then who decides what hate speech is?  Denial of a genocide?  The suggestion that only white people can be British?  Arguing that women are inherently inferior?  Insisting that sex is purely physiologically determined and fixed at birth, and that trans* people are trying to fool the rest of us?  Of course, where you draw the line is a huge messy argument in itself.  This has long been the debate around the rise of UKIP to apparent ‘legitimacy’, but even Nigel Farage appreciates that there are some things that should not be said in public (even if he’s only kicking people out for reasons of expediency).

It’s odd that the one type of debate the arch free-speechers don’t want to hear is the one about what sort of public debate we should be having.  They like to pretend that the line between the acceptable and unacceptable is generally agreed and immovable.

Anti-corporate activity

I have accounts with HSBC, and I’m not feeling too comfortable about it right now.  In the last week or so, there have been a couple of stories that don’t exact leave my bank looking squeaky clean.  To be fair, as far as the Daily Telegraph business goes, I’m far more concerned about the newspaper’s actions – I expect advertisers to try and get coverage that suits them, and journalists should be fighting against this.  But then that’s a point I shall pick up on.  I’m going to refer directly to this case, but most of my points with be general and highly theoretical, as I don’t know the specifics.  I’m a philosopher, not an economist or lawyer.

Of course this is all a bit ridiculous, as it’s hardly a secret that a corporation like HSBC has been involved in ethically questionable stuff for years.  It’d be nice to think that when a company we buy from, or use the services of, does something wrong, we could immediately decide to stop using them.  And to an extent, that is possible.  But it’s complicated by a whole bunch of factors.  For a start, not buying from a particular shop, say, is a lot easier than cutting off a long-term relationship.  And then there’s always the matter of finding somewhere else that isn’t up to the same stuff.  Which in many sectors is easier said than done.  Linking these is how much difficulty it’s going to be for me, balanced against the effect it will have on the companies in question.  I would like to see change, but want to avoid just cutting off my nose to spite my face.

What to do and when?

So, I guess the first point is deciding when it’s time to do something.  I guess this is one of the biggest hurdles, built of inertia and cynicism.  Disengagement with capitalism tout court is just not really viable, at least not without a like-minded community around you, but it feels odd to single out a single company without picking on, say, an arms manufacturer, or a chemical company that is directly poisoning the water supply.  But then that’s the point, I’m not saying I want to get out of HSBC because of one evil thing they’ve done; it’s the whole shebang, amoral at best.  To be fair, against that is the other side of the inertia coin: it’s not like they’ve been great to me.  If I’d made a fortune, it wouldn’t make their behaviour acceptable, but it would at least provide a personal, selfish reason to stay with them.

Anyway, so let’s take it that their crimes are significant enough to outweigh any good they’ve done me.  What then?  I could go into HSBC tomorrow (well maybe not tomorrow, as I’m in the wrong country, but soon) and ask to close my accounts, and I hope it happen pretty quickly.  But then what?  For all sorts of reasons, I can’t really see myself living without a bank at all, at least not for the foreseeable future.  So I need to find a suitable alternative.  A little while back, the obvious place to start would be something like the Cooperative, but they’ve been tainted too.  Still, I’m not sure if they’re beyond redemption, so I need to do some research.  Failing that, I need to do more research to find somebody else.

Obviously, when I say research, it’ll largely be looking at websites that discuss these things, and balancing them against my practicalities, including how much inconvenience I’m prepared to put up with.  The latter is something I came across when trying not to use Amazon any more.  It was fine when in the UK, but getting English language academic literature at short notice in the Netherlands is more difficult.  So I don’t think I’m going to be able to commit to that until I return home to London.  Unfortunately, lecturers aren’t that forgiving of failure to get the texts, however principled the reason is.  And I’m obviously not yet prepared to bugger up my studies.

On the plus side, boycotting Amazon is an established thing, so I’d be adding my action to that of others.  Of course there’s the fact that these others haven’t yet achieved their aims, but somebody has to be the one who pushes things over the limit.  And we know that these things can have an effect – you don’t kill the company off, but you can make them change their policies.  On my return to London, I am going to take a little time to look at where I shop, and commit to being a bit more selective.  It’s a small thing, but I hope a good one.  And, of course, there are various other forms of pressure one can get involved in putting on.

Low expectations

Another factor that feeds the inertia is that most companies are only doing what we expect of them.  We might think of small companies as being, or trying to be, ethical, but once they’re big enough to hire professional managers, that goes out of the window.  In fact, as I understand it, such managers and directors were legally compelled to behave as they do: they could be found negligent or fined if they failed to act in their company’s best interests (which sounds reasonable), in terms of maximising stock price.  While there are certainly issues around this – social responsibility – it can work in the long term.  But it all started to go horribly wrong as the view got ever shorter and shorter – directors running a company in a way that will kill it in 5 years, in order to maximise for the current financial year.  Even very pro-capital types have seen that this is untenable.

In the HSBC/Telegraph case, the accusation is two-fold: first, that HSBC is using its financial clout, through advertising in the paper, to affect the editorial position; and second that the Telegraph is accepting this, and modifying its behaviour in line with the client’s expectations.  Of course the Telegraph denies that this is the case, but how this pans out remains to be seen.  Anyway, there are broadly three ways we can view this apparent transaction: either as a straight up trade for a service, as something more informal akin to a gratuity, or as a bribe (the implication from the coverage being that it looks closest to the latter.

If HSBC is simply paying for favourable coverage, then the transaction would be legitimate, and our concerns, from a social point of view, directed at the system that allows this.  The more laissez-faire position might be simply to complain about the price and the openness – it’s not that either party is doing anything inherently wrong, it’s just that they’re getting a lot of benefit for not much outlay, and they’re doing it in an underhand fashion.  From this point of view, the system is damaged rather than irreparably broken.  Some form of regulation may be needed, but the issue is with this specific case (and possibly many others), rather than with the concept.

At the other extreme, there will be people who look at it as a straight-up bribe.  In this case, there is a clear need for legal action, which will no doubt be messy and expensive, but is entirely justified.  However, the Telegraph is not a public body, so this looks untenable.  We may not like it, but there’s no reason in principle why it should be treated this way.  Notwithstanding the legal details of the particular transaction, it’s hard to say, as things stand, that a private business shouldn’t be able to sell its credibility if it chooses to do so (and its shareholders support the move).

So it looks like we’re somewhere in the middle ground, where you might consider the advertising payments like some form of gratuity.  There’s no formal expectation of return for the money – other than the actual advertising space – but an unspoken, um, thing.  It seems entirely natural that a company should act slightly favourably towards its best customers, if it can be done without breaking the law.  I guess this is because ‘everybody does it’.  So why is this case unacceptable?  The easy solution would be to push it towards one of the prior positions: either to completely legitimise the transaction (thereby opening it to regulation), or to ban it completely.  But I don’t really see either happening.  It suits too many people to have something like this, in that grey area.

So, who’s done wrong?

I think most people will agree that, if this situation pans out in line with the accusations, that the Telegraph had certainly acted in an undesirable fashion, if not an illegal one.  Readers of that particular organ, as well as society at large, see the value of a free press.  Of course, like free speech and the free market, this is always going to have some limits, but freedom of the press is at least something to aspire to.  But this is the ‘easy’ part.  How to solve the problem is much less so, but at least having some parameter makes it viable in principle.

More complicated is the matter of the advertiser, and this is where the problem of low expectation kicks in.  We expect our newspapers to be free-ish, or at least open about their influences.  It’s ‘fine’ that each paper tends to have a party affiliation, as long as we know about it.  And of course we tend to choose our reading material on that basis.  Our expectations of another type of company, especially a financial one, are equally simple: that it do whatever it can – within the law – to maximise its profits.  As long as the wider capitalist system works, this seems fine, as a company’s takings and profits should be broadly derived from two factors: whether it provides the right service, demanded by *the public*, and how efficiently it does so.  This is how the private sector is supposed to work, and is the basic argument for its superiority over the public.  The problem is when we have two conflicting sets of expectations.  We expect a company to behave as specified, but we also expect it to behave with some degree of social responsibility.

And this gets us to how we act to get a result that we want.  The straight-forward way we should act, the way within the capital-based system, is that we withdraw our custom.  If enough of us do so, any well-managed company will modify its behaviour.  After all, the customer is always right.  And we know that this works to an extent.  McDonalds didn’t start sourcing their meat more rigorously, and selling salads, out of the kindness of their hearts.  But it is also extremely limited.

The alternative is a wholesale rearrangement of our social system.  I have no idea how to do this, but I reckon its got to be worth looking into.  We don’t have to accept the status quo just because it’s been like that a long time.  Let’s not make what is essentially the naturalistic fallacy writ large.


I’m  not entirely sure I want to tear down capitalism in toto.  It’s a massively flawed system, and often does a huge amount of harm, but it also allows for much good, if properly regulated. A lot would argue that it’s not that capitalism is bad, just the particular form of it we seem to have evolved of late.  I’m not entirely convinced by this.

At the very least, some consideration of what to put in its place is needed.  A lot of people will shout for communism, but I can’t help recalling how that worked out last time. Which is not to say it should be ruled out, but at the very least the vanguard business needs to be sorted.  Leaders are too easily convinced of their own importance and necessity to not be corrupted.  If we are going to make anything else work, it needs to be built from the ground up.

But I think the biggest problem to overcome is a lack of *imagination*.  Capital has been the dominant system for a considerable amount of time, taking over from militaristic monarchies and aristocracies (I’m aware that it’s been a while since we expected our kings to lead troops into battle, but this was the foundational premise).  I think that at least part of the problem with communism as it panned out is that it found itself working within the same framework.  In the same way that monarchies rested initially upon might, then some kind of traditional claim (which may have been institutionalised as divine right, but was essentially: we should rule because that’s always been the way), communism is built on the same premise as capitalism: that power goes with control of capital and the means of production.  The only difference is that the state claims these, rather than private individuals.  No wonder the same problem remain.
So if we’re going to build a new sort of society, what do we start with?

A response to Mary Beard

Yesterday an open letter was published by the Observer, composed by Beatrix Campbell, and signed by a substantial number of academics, activists, feminists and others.  Although a number of points are made in the letter, the central claim is that there has been a recent trend of restriction of freedom of speech at our universities.

Many people have written responses of varying length to this letter (mine is copied on this site), from articulate criticisms of the individual points to in a few cases, I am sad to say, more personal harassment of some of the signatories (more on this later).  Despite the existence of the latter, the vast majority of what I have read is polite, coherent and well reasoned.  The essence of these is that, firstly, some of the claims made by the letter are manifestly false, and secondly, that the broader situation described is at best misleading of the actual facts.

I shall resist the temptation to elaborate on the content of the original letter more that is necessary, both for reasons of the volume of other responses and because there are others far more qualified than I to speak on specific matters of content.  However I do want to focus on one particular detail of the ever-expanding furore.  One of the signatories who has received the most attention is Mary Beard.  I think that there are a good number of reasons for this: her general popularity and articulate manner, the fact that as a woman of a certain age she elicits more sympathy than certain others, that she has previously been the noted target of online abuse, and that she has not – to the best of my knowledge – been tarnished by direct claims of trans- and whore-phobia (matters of association being considerably more complex to unpick).  As a result, various of the responses to the original letter have identified Prof Beard as the reasonable person to whom their objections can be directed.

Professor Beard has now provided her own thoughts, on her website, and it is on these that I would like to make a few comments.  I’m going to address them personally to Prof Beard.

A response to a response to a response…

1.  You state that you have a long-held view that ‘no-platforming’ unpopular views is counter-productive.  While I understand the general position, this rather depends upon what is meant by ‘unpopular’.  There are, of course, things that people don’t want to hear but really need to (generally anything critical of themselves and their beliefs).  Then again there are those who simply preach hate, and who we do not stand to gain anything from hearing.

You acknowledge that we all draw a line somewhere on the matter of free speech, but this doesn’t mean that we need to be relativist about the matter: some people take permissiveness to an extreme level, while others will attempt to shut down anything outside their comfort zone, and both of these positions are wrong.  There is room for debate over the middle ground, but the essence of the disagreement between you and various of my co-correspondents is that we think that at least some of the examples cited in the open letter fall into the actively harmful beyond any redeeming quality category.

(the most egregious example being the various transphobes.  These people are not trying to negotiate with trans* people about the niceties and etiquette of trans*/cis daily life.  They are arguing that trans* people should not exist.  You cannot debate with somebody who refuses to acknowledge your essential nature, let alone your right to speak on related matters)

2.  You acknowledge that the Smurthwaite business may not be ‘as it has widely been reported’.  This is rather disingenuous.  There has been a sustained campaign of misinformation – beginning with Smurthwaite herself – and before you signed a letter like this, you should have made the effort to acquaint yourself with the basics.  Various people at Goldsmiths have published their view of the matter online, since they’ve not been permitted a national media platform, and it is pretty clear that Kate Smurthwaite exaggerated the situation, at the very least.

3.  You observe that Julie Bindel has been no-platformed by the NUS for several years.  I am afraid that you are mistaken, albeit to a lesser degree, on this matter too.  The LGBT campaign has done so, but not the wider NUS.  I mention this only to highlight the importance of accuracy in your response.  More pertinently it is odd that you fail to acknowledge (or were unaware) that Bindel herself is a keen advocate of ‘no-platforming’.  She and her affiliated organisations commonly refuse to allow trans* activists or active sex workers to speak.  She recently publish a ‘press pack’ for journalists that advised them against speaking to grass-roots sex workers organisations on the spurious grounds that they are a mouthpiece for pimps and the sex industry.  More generally, many feminist conferences fail to provide a platform for either trans* or sex work activists, despite the fact that matters of direct concern to them are commonly debated.  It has become commonplace to see panels on sex work lacking a sex worker, despite the fact that sex worker-led organisations routinely put members forward for these.

4. You appear confused, rather embarrassingly, about the notion of democracy (modern, of course, I wouldn’t presume to inform you on the ancient varieties).  Of course democracy must always be more than simple majority rule, but to suggest that democratically reached decisions made by democratically elected groups (and I realise the uninspiring nature of student politics means that people are commonly elected unopposed, but that is another matter) are undemocratic is strange.  And that they should be externally overruled (and by who?  The faculty?  The vice-chancellor?  The government?) is just perverse.  Democracies get things *wrong*, but it’s not because they’re not democratic enough.

5. You observe the difficulties of signing alongside unconfirmed others.  I sympathise somewhat, but this is the nature of the open letter.  The whole premise is built upon the notion of a group of people coming together from different backgrounds, to express a shared opinion.  You cannot have your cake and eat it: you chose to sign alongside these people in order to make a point, so you can’t complain when some of them turn out to have views which you would not whole-hearted endorse.

6. Having noted the above, you do mention a number of people with whom you are unequivocally happy to share a platform.  You then go on to suggest that anyone disagreeing with them would be a real reactionary.  This is nice rhetoric, but rather overstates their credentials.  Caroline Criado-Perez, for example, may have led a few well-meaning campaigns, but also has a track record of (literally as well as figuratively – I have heard her on the radio) talking over WoC.

7. You observe you think there is something very weird going on if me and Peter Tatchell (never mind the other 130 people) are held up as the enemy of the SW and trans community when (whatever the micro arguments are) we are on the same damned side.  Oh if only things were so simple.  For a start it is perfectly possible for people on the same side to disagree on certain matters, just as it is possible for enemies to see eye to eye.  More concerningly, this line is itself a method for stifling debate.  The idea that one can’t criticise one’s allies is to ignore the temporary and pragmatic nature of alliance.  At the very least I think it is uncontroversial to observe that (white, cis) gay men have at times left behind the rest of their allies in the LGBT+ community.  And that mainstream feminism has a huge problem acknowledging the experience and expertise of WoC.  There are not two clearly defined sides here.

8. I am sorry that you were upset by the nature of the response to your signing of the letter.  And I think that we can all agree that the individual who messaged you sixty times in one hour is not helping either ‘side’.  But, as you acknowledge, this is nothing on the scale of what many people receive on account of their gender (or indeed other aspect of their identity).  Many of those who wrote back to you, or blogged or tweeted about the matter will expect to be the subject of abuse, threats, doxxing and the like on a daily basis.  And I am afraid that the actions of you and your co-signatories help to legitimise this.  By painting yourselves as the victims, you make those who disagree with you out to be the aggressors, when they are the ones who really lack a platform.

9. Your final point: you can see why a lot of women (and there is a gender issue here) might choose not to put their heads above the parapet, cant you?  It is true that women face being the target of abuse, and that the public arena is dominated by (white) men.  But the fact remains that white, middle-class cis women are still the second most privileged group on the planet.  I don’t want to seem uncharitable, but at least the abuse directed at this demographic gets acknowledged: I am thinking of the recent Guardian front page story ‘Twitter chief takes blame for failure to act on trolls’ (6th of Feb, I think, as for some reason I’m having trouble negotiating the archives), which was illustrated with the pictures of seven white women – including yourself – and Matt Lucas.

The remark also rather glosses over the fact that women can be the source as well as the target of the abuse.  If high-profile white women are afraid to speak because of the negative attention, harassment, and threats from (largely) men, just consider what is like for female sex workers, for example, who face not only that, but the added opprobrium of their fellow women.


Many of the objections to ‘no-platforming’ pretend that it is a stand-alone form of action: a person is invited to speak, under pressure the organisation or society takes a vote, and the invitation is withdrawn.  The person has been ‘silenced’.  This is to take an entirely negative view of the process.  In actual fact, to take the earlier manifestation of the phenomenon, upon withdrawing an invitation to somebody of fascist sympathies, one would expect their place to be taken by a more liberal speaker, even a confirmed anti-fascist.  Similarly, when a campaign is formed against allowing a transphobe to take advantage of a prominent public platform, this will be in combination with a desire to allow actual trans* people to speak about their experiences.

The trouble with being opposed to no-platforming (as a matter of principle) is that it means that while one is openly supporting the right of anyone to be heard, it has the effect of degradation to a ‘state of nature’ where the loudest shout over everybody else.  If there is no active attempt to regulate balance and amplify certain voices, white men – already the receptacles of most public power – will continue to dominate discourse.  Below this will come the expected hierarchy: ‘respectable’ white women, and ‘articulate’ BME males (the above all being cis, of course), before anybody from a more oppressed background even gets a look in.  And this effect will be increased by the, already common, practice of allowing people from these preferred groups to speak for those in the tiers below.

Letter to the editor

This was a letter I wrote (in anger) to the editor of the Guardian following the publication of an open letter:
Haven’t heard from them, so I guess they’re not going to publish (I’ve about a 50% hit rate, but this one is probably too long anyway).  Hope it’s because they’ve chosen somebody more articulate than me. 
I was extremely disappointed to read the list of signatories beneath today’s letter (14/2/15) regarding censorship at universities; some names were to be expected, but I would have hoped that others would have looked more closely at the situation.  At the very least, a number of different circumstances have been conflated here to create the appearance of an orchestrated campaign against free speech.

It is striking how one-sided the reporting of the Smurthwaite affair, which seems to have occasioned this particular outbreak of hand-wringing, has been.  As anybody who has bothered to listen to the Goldsmiths comedy society is aware, there is no ban, and was going to be no organised protest.  The university feminist society declined to jointly present the gig, at least in part of the basis of certain of Kate Smurthwaite’s expressed opinions, but there is a lot of blue sky between deciding not to endorse, and calling for a ban.  They also voted against a picket.  It is possible that certain individuals may have decided to act privately, but this is both unclear and irrelevant to the stated case.  The main source of information regarding the probability of a picket has been Smurthwaite herself, who has conveniently managed to use her reported ‘no-platforming’ to acquire, er, a substantial media platform.

There has also been a deliberate juxtaposition of the original ‘no-platforming’ against fascists with the current movement, as if to suggest that those involved are claiming equivalence.  To be opposed to the institutional endorsement of those – such as Julie Bindel – who insist on objectification and denial of the agency of sex workers, for example, thereby indirectly perpetuating violence against a marginalised group is not to equate with groups who advocate direct violence.  Nor is it a reason to fail to act against such an unconscionable position.
Most disturbingly, there has been an attempt to reposition student feminists as those with the power, against those so voiceless that they are barely able to get onto Newsnight.  Presumably most of the signatories would support a grassroots (student or otherwise) movement against certain organisations – maybe Shell, UKIP, or BAe – so one wonders why the recent action has caused such consternation.  Maybe it’s because it has achieved a modicum of success; everybody thinks that students are supposed to protest, but the idea that they might be listened to is apparently beyond the pale.

The Novelty of Extremism

Another week, another attack attributed to ‘extremism’.  At least in the West – the rest of the world expects these things far more frequently, to the point where the lack of coverage by the (Western-owned) news media is actually kind of logical: news is defined by novelty.  In this sense, it’s not ‘news’ that another car bomb, attack on a rival sect, or the like , has occurred in Iraq or much of the surrounding region.  Of course it’s pretty fucking important to the people living there, but as far as the West is concerned, this is awful business as usual.

ISIS (or IS, ISIL, etc.) and their ilk have apparently broken through this apathy by apparently raising the brutality to another level.  I’m not entirely convinced by this notion, not least because it’s pretty much impossible to come up with something to do to another human being that hasn’t been done before.  Burning alive?  While not perhaps as common as certain tales about witchfinders might suggest, the practice dates back millennia, was in the playbook of the Catholic church – and others – for centuries, and was still on the statute book of European nations well into the 19th century.  Of course we don’t do it now (at least not as a directly-mandated method of execution – incendiary weapons are still in use), but when you’re in a state of war – something that various of the involved parties seem to agree on, if not the implications of this – you don’t get to choose exactly what methods and techniques are permissible to your opponent.

Rather, the outrage seems to be at the particularly public nature of the crimes.  This again is not, in itself, a novelty: every historical nation appreciated the (apparent) value of making executions public.  The difference here is the nature of publicity.  Rather than making everybody head off to the town square to watch a hanging, we can now sit at home, click on a few links, and be exposed to the horror.  And the nature of the web is such that it is ISIS who are largely in control of this process.  Of course it is the choice of an individual to watch, or to decide that being aware of the crime is sufficient without requiring first-hand viewing.  But the role of the formal media, literally to mediate between the public and the world, has been reduced.

This presents a problem for the media establishment, and thus for the state, of which it is a part.  This is not to suggest that the mainstream media is under direct control in the Soviet style, or even in the more subtle fashion of the BBC (I am not attacking the BBC here , as I think it’s fantastic for all sort of reasons, but the nature of the licence-fee funded system is such that it works under certain constraints).  Nor is this to confuse the state with the government of the day.  But the variations between the press in different countries show how each nation tailors its own media.  In the greatest part this is determined, if unconsciously, by the public, but the powerful are able to steer more deliberately.

Given the fact that they (and by ‘they’ I mean both the mainstream media and the wider state) can’t control the release of these videos, of the wider news of atrocities and killings, they are seemingly left with two options.  Either to ignore them, to try and distract by focussing on other events elsewhere, to make their own bigger, better news.  Or to try and make more out of these horrors in an effort to regain control of the narrative.  You might think of it like their being the driver of a vehicle that has been forced out of control and is skidding.  either they try and fight against it and return to the normal course, or they turn further into the skid (which is apparently what one should do in the actual situation, although I guess it requires a certain level of cool and concentration).  And in the most part it looks like they’ve chosen the latter; these atrocities are a ‘new thing’, and worse than anything we have seen before (and therefore require an equally unprecedented response).

One of the problems with this tactic of escalation is that it’s never enough.  Each new act needs to be (or be seen to be) worse than the last, just to require our attention.  Once one expects novelty, the same just won’t do.  So the tag of extremist needs to be attached to ever more items.  If terrorists are threatening our very way of life, why should the police be bothered about environmentalist activists?  Perhaps these people are also extremists, albeit of a less immediately frightening ilk.  Soon, any person or organisation outside the mainstream risks being branded as extremist.  And this is not entirely inaccurate, if extremism is only ever defined against a notion of the ‘moderate’ that is hyper-conservative.  Which is what seems to be happening over the last few years, with the result that the label of ‘extremist’ has ceased to mean anything of significance.

Placing the blame

The nature of the term extremist is such that it requires more specification.  One could be an extremist knitter, or stamp collector, but this is unlikely to make one a threat to the public.  However an extremist Muslim, or even atheist – as belatedly reported by some in the case of the Chapel Hill shootings – is a different matter.  This could expand to political and other ideologies.  However the effect in all these cases is to definitely locate the individual within a particular group.  Muslims have long been aware of this – the way that every attack is followed by the demands for ‘moderate’ Islam to express its regrets, to apologise, and above all to own the crimes of its extremist adherents.  Much of the response (at least on Twitter, as the mainstream media initially saw a non-event) to the Chapel Hill shootings was to turn this expectation onto atheism.  I entirely understand why this happened, but I’m afraid that two wrongs do not make a right.  There may be cases when a wider group needs to be held responsible for the actions of one of its members, but to cast the net so widely is not only a mistake, but is ultimately extremely negative.

Most obviously this is a Bad Thing in that large numbers who are entirely innocent of the original crime are drawn into its wake.  And this can lead to waves of retaliation and escalation.  One of the saddest aspects of the Charlie Hebdo attack was the moment I realised that not only was the response seemingly inevitable, but that it would only lead to further innocent deaths.  As many in the West, including its leaders (seeing obvious political capital, if you’re feeling cynical) praised the idea of a new issue collecting yet more offensive images related to Islam.  Now I’m not questioning their right to publish these, or weighing it against the offence felt by many Muslims entirely innocent of the shootings, but I knew that this was going to lead to more deaths.  I’m not sure of how these numbered, not least because they didn’t fit the narrative, but at least ten people were reported killed in Niger at protests against the new edition.  Without wanting to go into further detail on this matter, I’d note that the reason I’m broadly against the likes of Charlie Hebdo is that it seems so indiscriminate in its targets: for me, satire is meant to be directed solely at the powerful; kicking those worse off than you is bullying, not free speech.

Anyway, returning from that tangent, I’d suggest the other problem with locating specific extremisms is that it leads to looking for the causes – and hence the place to begin preventative activity – in the wrong place.  If Islamic extremists are responsible for x, then we must go to the mosques.  If an atheist extremist shoots some believers, we must demand that Richard Dawkins explain himself.  And so on.  And this means that we miss, possibly wilfully, any possible common causes, and also significant differences.

We ignore the fact that, even if we do pretend that the Chapel Hill shootings were over a ‘simple’ parking dispute, Craig Hicks appears to have been a singularly angry man in a country that permits such people easy access to lethal weaponry.  And we ignore the backgrounds of those involved involved in attacks such as those in Paris this year, London in 2005, and even 9/11, beyond that they were extremist Muslims.  We may think that we are exculpating other ‘moderate’ Muslims, but in fact we are further locating the blame within their community.  And I’d like to look more closely at this.

In describing someone as an Islamic extremist, we don’t question their belonging to the religion.  Other Muslims may be quick to point out that they can’t be ‘real’ Muslims and commit such crimes, but we all too easily brush this aside as a formula, and one that is really just a variation on No True Scotsman (an informal fallacy, where one modifies an assertion on an ad hoc basis to suit emerging data or claims).  But this is to, crucially, miss the importance of the assertion.  To put it bluntly: many of those involved in ‘Islamic’ terrorist acts are rubbish Muslims.  Plenty of accounts have noted that, contrary to what one has been led to expect, they don’t become especially devout, start attending mosque more frequently, or studying the Koran.  Rather, they drink alcohol, take drugs, and engage in promiscuous sex.  Now I might regard it as possible to be a Muslim while failing to adhere to every requirement (I’m afraid my knowledge of the specifics is lacking), but I’d be hard pushed to describe these people as devout.

Rather, these behaviours have more in common with gangs and drug dealers.  And wouldn’t you know it, it appears that quite a few of those involved have exactly this sort of history.  A little reading around suggests that it’s far easier to find people already on the edge of society, already engaged in criminal activity, give them a dose of a highly distorted version Islam, and persuade them to focus their already extant rage at disenfranchisement, than it is to get ordinary Muslims to attack anybody.

To cut a long argument short, focussing on Islam (or atheism, or any other broad ideology) in the wake of a terrorist attack by those claiming affiliation is not only counterproductive in various other ways, but it is a complete waste of time as regards trying to identify the cause.  And we won’t prevent further attacks by treating Islam (even if we tip-toe around our point by attempting to differentiate ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ varieties) as the root cause.  Terrorist attacks, for all of the scale and horror, are criminal acts, and share the same broad source: poverty, disenfranchisement, oppression, exclusion, and the rage that results from these.  The fact that religion or ideology may help to direct, to choose targets, is to misunderstand its role.

And on that note, I return to the Chapel Hill shootings.  Craig Hicks may have shot three people because they were Muslims.  He may even have done it over a parking dispute (although I would be extremely suspicious of anybody who tried to claim that there was nothing more to it).  But to attribute his actions simply to his professed ideology is to miss the point as much as it is to blame the Charlie Hebdo shootings on Islam; he was as far as we can tell, an angry, angry man with a gun.  And one of those is just waiting for a reason to kill somebody.  Any reason.


Having laid out in my usual roundabout fashion, I guess I’ll offer my idea of a ‘solution’.  Firstly, terrorism is a criminal act or acts.  Nothing more.  The moment we treat it as such, not only do we cede power directly to the terrorists, but we degrade our ability to prevent it happening further.  Secondly, you don’t deal with crime without dealing with the causes of crime.  Of course this sounds worryingly like an early Blair soundbite.  But for me this means, most simply, trying to reduce inequality, and lack of employment, education, and political engagement.

No Children

Yesterday evening I eavesdropped, as it were (I’m sure there’s appropriate terminology, but I don’t know it), on a conversation between two people I follow on Twitter.  One has just had a child, and was remarking on how amazing being a father is, and the other concurred.  Rather than interrupting their shared reverie, I thought I’d ramble on about how I don’t entirely get this, and also how society’s attitude to the production and raising of children is rather odd.

Let me start by saying that I’m not criticising the fathers I was reading, nor parents in general.  If you want to have a kid, and believe that you can raise them to be a good person and have a decent standard of living, go for it.  Although these caveats touch on some of my thought: now it’s not my place – or anybody’s as far as I’m concerned – to make decisions for prospective parents, but I do wonder how much thought people give to having children.  Not, of course, that they don’t think about when to do it, and how they’ll reorganise their lives, but the pressure of expectation is so great that the idea of, y’know, not doing it at all doesn’t come up.  And of course there should be nothing wrong with saying ‘no thanks, having kids isn’t for me’.  Yet this is treated as a strange, or even radical position.

Nor am I interested in the purely biological imperatives to have kids/perpetuate one’s genes, etc.  There are fundamental reasons why other organisms reproduce – if there weren’t we wouldn’t be here – and I get that these contribute to human nature.  But this still doesn’t explain why society fetishises parenthood – human civilisation is one of the things, for good or ill, that differentiates us from the rest of nature.  As an aside, this is one of the reasons I don’t understand the pull of evolutionary psychology: trying to explain everything in terms of our hunter-gatherer past rather misses the point of what we’ve been up to for the past few millennia, and at best it’s a long distant starting point.

So you’re thinking about having a baby

Great, many people consider it to be the most rewarding experience of their lives.  You might too, but don’t count on it.  You’re about to invest a huge amount of your time and energy, to say nothing of money, in this project, so it’s probably worth giving it some thought.  Probably best to at least put your plans on hold if you’re only doing it because you think it’s something you should do, but without knowing quite why.  Ditto if you’re doing it because your partner, family, friends, colleagues say you should do it.  These people’s opinions are all important, to varying degrees, but they’re not you.  Most difficult is going to be the case of your partner, but if they want kids and you don’t really, it’s probably best to part ways amicably now.

Oddly enough, I reckon that the most commonly cited factor, that of money, is the least important factor in making this decision.  Plenty of people, generally those with money, will go on about making sure that you’re economically stable and comfortable.  Quite apart from the impossibility of knowing where you’ll be decades in the future, there is no such thing.  People manage on every conceivable income, and expectations tend to fit the circumstances.  For example, I have been amazed to read about a number of people who cannot even imagine not sending their offspring to a private school.  I remember reading a piece in the aftermath of the initial banking crisis which tried to give some perspective on the modern class system, and which featured a banker who genuinely believed that it was impossible to raise a family on a salary of less than six figures.  I guess he might have made some concessions for people living outside London, but he listed off various expenses as necessary, apparently oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of the population live without them.  Which tangent brings me to a real requirement: empathy.  If you can’t think of other people, you probably shouldn’t have kids, cos they won’t just be extensions of your self, however much you might like them to be.

Anyway, if you reckon you can muddle through, and genuinely want to, then go for it.  Billions of people have managed it before, which is not to say that it’s not challenging, as they’ve met with varying degrees of success.  But it’s not a completely outlandish idea.  Quite the opposite, which is my real issue here: why does society at large see the need to continually celebrate parenthood as if it’s the greatest thing in the world?

I get why politicians do, as there are a lot of votes in it, but that’s merely a function a) there are lots of parents, and b) that they think that what they do is worthy of recognition.  So that get’s us nowhere.  But as a broadly political matter, it makes no sense, as people kind of do it anyway, and besides the world is already full enough (in terms of the current infrastructure – I’m not suggesting that there’s an arbitrary limit).  I might make exceptions for people who take a narrowly nationalistic position and who’s national populations are in decline, but this is already a piece with the idea that a growing population is a Good Thing.  And besides, anybody who doesn’t view immigration as a viable solution to this is at least latently racist.

So if there’s no wider incentive, why get so much more excited about it than almost every other possible human activity.  I agree that we should celebrate people who do a good job of it, but no more than we should congratulate those who produce good art.  But in both cases we should withhold the praise from those who do it badly.  It’s true that the very attempt at either might be good for the person or persons themselves, but that’s no reason for the rest of us to weigh in uncritically.

Anyway, for all of the above reasons, and also because I don’t want to, I shall not be having children.  Good luck if you plan to, but don’t think you’re special.  Billions have done it before and more will after; some will do a better job than you, and many will fuck it up a whole lot more.  I hope that wilfull childlessness will gain something of the status of modern atheism – but without the Dawkins, if you please – it may always be a minority choice, but is a viable one where neither side gains any special moral currency from making what is simply a personal choice.


One final point about the oddness of people who regard producing children as if they’re doing a favour to the rest of society.  The whole business about providing for the future of the human race is about the most spurious argument you can make.  Firstly, it doesn’t look like we’re in any danger of dying out from this.  Through destroying the environment, maybe, or even a massive nuclear exchange.  But there are plenty of people already having kids, and many millions of young people who could do with food, shelter, and dignity first.  Let’s look after the children we have before we start thinking about having more.

And this last brings me to my second and final point: it’s odd how those who go on most about looking to the future of the species here, and are most pro-‘family’ – which is to say conservatives – give the least consideration to others in the rest of their lives.  Anybody who has or wants to have children should really be a green (more-or-less, and I’m thinking of the ideology, rather than the party itself, as you can disagree on specific policies).  If you’re looking at the future in one fashion, you should really be looking at it in every area.  It makes no sense to want ‘the best’ for your offspring, while cheerfully screwing up their future.  And this isn’t really about people who deny anthropogenic climate change – that’s a scientific discussion that I’ll leave elsewhere – but the fact that even if you don’t think the science quite holds up, any ethical parent should probably at least be thinking about the, in no way outlandish, idea that we might have some effect on the world of our children, and adjusting their behaviour accordingly.

Stop Press: Fuck the Pope

Code: Panic

Good morning; today’s feeling is panic.  Not a full on attack level, although the very thought of that is not unlikely to trigger as a result of the feedback loop that thinking about it produces.  But if it had hit that point, I wouldn’t be typing this.  Nah, thus far it’s just a constant background hum.  It feels a bit like I can hear my voice (it’s always my own voice, which is, maybe, a good thing) pointing out all sorts of terrible things that might be about to happen, and so I can feel the adrenalin just waiting to trigger the fight or flight response.  And it’ll be flight, not least because you can’t fight something so nebulous.  Anyway, my heart feels like it’s pounding, and has all day, and I’m struggling to concentrate on anything else.

Obviously this isn’t directly caused by external world events, but they might not be helping.  And that includes ‘good’ stuff – got a nice weekend away planned for Valentine’s.  Which I know will be lots of fun.  But it’s something I have to do, so it’s just adding to the pressure.  Not sure how I can fuck it up, but…