On Human Rights Act repeal and preaching to the choir

In the UK, we’ve recently elected a new government, and the result was disappointing for many of us.  The Conservatives have now expressed an intention to repeal the Human Rights Act (1998), on the argued grounds that it protects criminals and terrorists.  To be fair to the Tories, they said they were going to before the election, so it can’t really be argued against on those grounds.  I have seen a number of pieces explaining the complications of repeal, generally talking about how it intersects with other legislation and treaty obligations, so to remove the HRA would require unravelling a Gordian knot.  I shan’t go into such matters, since I’m no expert in the legal niceties, except to observe what happened to the mythical Gordian knot; I’m not sure that Michael Gove won’t just forge ahead with his plan and worry about the consequences afterwards (look at Lords reform for a policy under a previous administration that was started without any idea of an endpoint).

So on the basis that, if they believe that it is the right thing to do, the Conservatives might just go ahead and repeal the Act and damn the consequences, their opponents need to make the case as to why this is the wrong thing to do.  Assuming that Her Majesties Opposition do their job (which may be over-optimistic given the last 5 years, but let’s hope the new Labour leadership is a bit more effective), and given the size of the majority currently held by the Conservatives, this looks like a matter of persuading a relatively small number of MPs, either directly or via their constituents, that to do so would be a mistake.  So far so good.

The problem is that while there are a considerable number of people, in both the traditional and new media, making what appear to be very reasonable cases as to why the HRA should not be repealed, I’m not convinced that those who either support or lean towards repeal will listen to them.  Obviously, this is at least in part because there is a lack of direct communication.  You can write as many letters to the Guardian as you like, and Telegraph readers are going to remain cheerfully oblivious.  This is even more heightened by the gap between the traditional and new media.  I love Twitter, but most of the country (certainly that part over the age of, say, 30) barely registers its existence, let alone considers that it might be the site of serious political discussion.  Of course the reverse is also true, as readers of physical media are probably relatively unaware of how irrelevant it seems to the younger generation.  But aside from the issues specific to particular media, I think the major problem is that the two sides are speaking in different languages.

The broadest issue here is that when the term Human Rights is used, different people hear completely different things.  For those of us who *believe* in Human Rights, their existence and nature is self-evident.  While we might debate their precise constitution, for us the fact is that a) there are certain rights that are common to all of humanity, and b) that these are assigned purely on the basis of being human.  For the other side, this is not the case.  At the extreme, there are plenty of people who do not recognise the existence of rights at all, only privileges.  In this case, ‘rights’ are something awarded in return for certain behaviours: paying one’s taxes, adhering to the law, etc.  Secondly, these rights or privileges may be specifically limited to citizens of a particular territory.  This is not an unreasonable position.  In fact, given the concerns over the repeal over the HRA, it is eminently logical: it appears that the rights we are talking about are created by the HRA and similar legislation.  Where we, as believers in Human Rights, diverge is in insisting that these rights exist regardless of the HRA.  For us, the law only recognises, and administrates for, self-evident facts.

So the challenge for those arguing that the HRA should be maintained, or at very least that those who wish to repeal it need to make a lot clearer what exactly will replace it (because nobody is arguing that it is without flaw), is in speaking in way that their opposite numbers understand.

Speaking across the line

So, having determined that we must talk in way that resonates with those we are trying to win over, we must begin by acknowledging who they are.  The first, small, group is ministers and senior members of the Conservative party who find themselves directly frustrated in their plans by the existence of the act.  I suspect persuasion here is a waste of everybody’s time.  The vast majority of people who support, or at least ambivalent to, appeal have far less personally invested in this happening or, more pertinently, believe this to be the case.

To appeal to this large body of people, I think we must make the case in terms of self interest.  To be clear, this is not to say selfishness, as they are as concerned with the good of those around them as are any of us.  But we must explain how the law benefits (and repeal would injure) people like them.  We’re broadly dealing with tribalism.  There opposition is based on what they believe to be right for their family, friends, and the country at large.

For the above group, the apparent effects of the act can be summarised in two broad categories: it protects and privileges criminals and terrorists, or at least people suspected of being such; it has no positive effects for ‘hard-working’, tax-paying, law-abiding citizens such as themselves.  That the former is, at least partially, the case is unarguable (the protecting part, not the privileging – if it gave rights to the accused that were not general to the population, it would indeed be flawed).  This is part of what it is supposed to do.  The idea that it does not do the latter, though, is attached to the notion that there are two distinct classes of people, which we might just call ‘criminals’ and ‘citizens’.  (by the way, I’m fully aware that I’m doing the dividing thing myself by talking in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’, but this is merely regarding temporary positions on a single argument, not a lasting classification)

So, I think the case needs to be built, or restated, given the fact that it is self-evident to many, that the division here is false.  That by committing a crime, still less by being accused of one, one does not suddenly move beyond the pale.  That a criminal, a protestor, an asylum seeker, is not in any way a different *sort* of person to any of the rest of us ‘law-abiding’ types.  As long as you can accept, or even self-construct, a narrative where there is the sort of person who this happens to, and the sort of person you are, it’s only a small step to believing that they deserve different treatment.  It’s not as naked as self-interest vs. not caring what happens to others, but the fact remains that we find it hard to empathise with people without a strong personal connection.  And that can be manipulated by those who control the narrative.  I think much of it is actually driven by our need to believe in natural justice.  We know we live in a world where some people are treated badly, and the idea that we are somehow complicit in that is deeply troubling.  So we listen to those who tell us that those who are in trouble must have done something to deserve it.

I think the case that needs to be made to save the HRA is based on asserting its benefits for all of us.  It doesn’t help that if you are, say, a white middle class professional, you do generally get treated well by the authorities if you should happen to come into contact with them.  You think, for the most part, that they are fair.  Your day-to-day experience shows you this.  And if they are fair to you, why wouldn’t they be fair to everyone else?  But while an unchecked state may start by treading on the smallest of us, it will see no reason not to extend the practice.

The case needs to be made that a state and a people that does not respect and protect the least of us, the disadvantaged, the criminals, those who do not have citizenship, does not in the end respect or protect any of us, except maybe those who are rich and powerful enough to buy their own way.  Only by showing that we are all the same, that Human Rights are exactly what they are called, are we going to be able to win over those who see the HRA as unnecessary or even bad.

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.

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: http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2015/feb/14/letters-censorship
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.

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.

Postscript

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

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/11/pope-francis-the-choice-to-not-have-children-is-selfish

How to be a good ally

Wish I knew.  I’ve not got any answers, just a few thoughts on how to avoid fucking it up (much).

I mean, I’m aware of the basics: not declaring yourself to be one like it comes with a badge, or viewing it as a permanent status – you’re only one as long as you’re doing the right stuff – listening, rather than making it about yourself, and that sort of thing.  (There are plenty of lists out there, so I won’t attempt to compile one) http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/09/no-more-allies/ is one of the best I’ve seen on what not to do.

It’s difficult to keep to these, and there are plenty of places to trip up along the way.  I guess the trickiest is that as a person in a position of privilege – in my case a white cis male – it would be far too easy to lean on that privilege.  Probably the most obvious is that as a guy it’s easy to go into white knight mode, throwing (metaphorical) punches to protect the damsel.  And I know I can do that safe in the knowledge that I won’t get hurt.  Whatever happens, my particular combination of characteristics mean that I’ll wake up tomorrow knowing that the world still laid in front of me.

It’s hard not to do this when we’re worried that people we care about are being hurt.  It’s hard not to do this when we see things that offend our sensibilities, and make us really, really angry.  It’s hard not to do this because we’ve been conditioned to think of this as a good thing, admirable.  But it really doesn’t help the situation.  It’s really just another way of making it about you.  You ride in, save the day, and (although you might not think that you’re doing it for this reason) get the ‘girl’.

And even if you do ‘save the day’, what then?  The same thing will happen tomorrow.  The same structures, and the same people, whether genuinely evil or just callous little shits, will be out there.

Instead, you’ve just got to be there, but giving your support from behind the scenes.  And dealing with your own crowd – maybe gently pointing out to other [men] when they don’t even realise the effects of what they say and do.  But otherwise only getting directly involved, and then quietly, when you’re asked to.

You don’t do it to be a hero.  You don’t do it for the credit (and you damn sure don’t go fishing for anything from those you purport to support).  If you’re serious about it, you do it just because it’s the right thing to do.

Postscript

I’m sure I get things wrong all the time.  I certainly do jump in sometimes.  Oh well, try harder.

SWERF and TERF

*CONTENT WARNING – OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE*

(I’m not going to star out letters in the particular words because I’m not going to pretend that it means they’re neutered somehow by that, I’m not J*remy C***kson or the fucking S*n, to tip the hat to Marina Hyde et al http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/lostinshowbiz/2015/jan/22/page-3-no-more-tits-in-the-sun-campaign-stop-the-asterisk )

Ok, time to weigh in on the matter of whether TERF and SWERF are slurs (spoiler: they’re not).  This argument has been bubbling around for a while, but seems to have come to the surface as a result of a Green Party candidate and spokesperson using the term TERF, leading to a demand for apologies from various persons both in and unconnected with the party.  Some people have even gone so far as to compare it to calling someone a Paki, as if they haven’t already offended enough people.  Pretty much everything here applies equally to SWERF, but I shall come back to that at the end.

This, relating as it does to feminism, obviously falls in the category of things somewhat outside my wheelhouse.  I identify as a feminist and male (I’d prefer that you didn’t call me a male feminist, because it brings up the notion of  the sort of people who could read the excellent Onion piece ‘Man Finally Put In Charge of Struggling Feminist Movement’ unironically.  http://www.theonion.com/articles/man-finally-put-in-charge-of-struggling-feminist-m,2338/  But I’m not going to object too much, in line with what I’ll say later, as it is factually true – I am male and a feminist – and it’s not really a hurtful thing to say.  It merely highlights that men need to be careful about how they try to participate in and support what is necessarily a female-led movement).  But I’ll try to keep things general, and I’ll again observe that nobody else is required to read this – I’m writing to practice writing.

What is a slur?

The ‘TERF is a slur’ crowd have been acting as if any term one would rather not be addressed by is automatically a slur.  This is disingenuous at best.  I’d rather you didn’t call me Dave, because it’s not my name.  I’d rather you didn’t call me a Male Feminist, for the reasons I outlined above.  Neither would be a slur.  A real slur can be objected to on two grounds: that it is untrue, and that it has significantly negative historical associations.  The latter is relevant because history determines the meanings of words.  We might like to pretend that words are unambiguously associated with objects/actions/qualities, but where they have come from, and thus how they are used, is essential.

To take the first point, it might be a slur to call someone a criminal, but only if they have not committed the associated crime.  It is pretty offensive to publicly refer to a person as a murderer – and they might sue you for slander or libel – but there wouldn’t really be a good objection if they had wilfully and maliciously killed somebody.

Similarly, any complaint about being called a TERF is undermined if that is, in fact, an accurate description.  A TERF is generally translated to be a trans*-exclusionary radical feminist.  Now as far as I’m aware, nobody being labelled a TERF objects to being called a feminist – this argument is within the feminist movement, and while some people might like them to be excluded, they don’t want this themselves.  The trans*-exclusionary is based on either explicit statements to the effect that trans women are not women – thereby ‘excluding’ them from feminism – or public association with people who have made such statements.  As it turns out, the only remotely questionable term within TERF is radical.  This originates with the label TERF was originally applied to certain self-identified Radical Feminists (i.e. those who see feminism as a struggle to overthrow the power system they call patriarchy).   So, er, you could object to being called a TERF on the grounds that you’re not radical.  But on to the second constituent.

(Note: various alternative suggestions have been made regarding the ‘R’, including that it stands for reactionary, or regressive.  This doesn’t change the thrust of the argument – these may be accurate, in which case it’s hard to see a problem, or not.)

The other thing that is essential to a slur is that it must be have some historical basis for being regarded as offensive.  I might not like being called Dave, but there’s nothing about it that makes it a slur.  I could ask you nicely to not do it, or even stop associating with you, but that’s my call.  Onto the most offensive part of the recent farrago.  Again *content warning for offensive language* Certain of those complaining about being called TERFs have compared the term to ‘Paki’.  I’m not sure what they hope to achieve from this; one is associated with centuries of violence and abuse, and the other… just isn’t.

This reminds me of the witless fools who try to argue that calling somebody of South Asian descent a Paki is no different to calling someone from a certain group of islands in the North Atlantic a Brit.  As if the important part is that they’re both shortened versions of the relevant demonym (we’ll ignore the fact that the former is also indiscriminately applied to Indians, Bangladeshis, etc.).  One is associated with racist violence, the other with mild ribbing about being uptight by Americans and Aussies.  (note how the second of these is again, not offensive).

To return to TERF: nobody has been on the end of violence as the result of being a called a TERF.  To the best of my knowledge, nobody has been on the end of violence as result of being a TERF.  Being excluded from debates yourself because of your insistence on excluding others is not violence.  Intolerance of intolerance is not only not a problem, but necessary to stop everything collapsing in on itself.  Rather, it is TERFs who cause violence against trans* people, ironically by supporting an aspect of the very patriarchal system they profess to oppose.  They will freely claim that gender is a construct designed to oppress [women]*, but then take upon themselves to police that construct, and extend that oppression.

*I’ve bracketed women here because RFs refer to a particular construction of what it is to be a woman, highly dependent on physical features.

As to SWERFs, which have not necessarily been part of the particular argument I was examining, but are seemingly omnipresent in feminist circles these days (and may often be the same people because if you’re going to pick on people at the bottom of the pecking order, hey, you might as well pick on all of them.  Also, for various reasons, trans* people are more likely to be involved in sex work that cis people).  The exact same conditions apply 75% of the way, the only difference being that it’s sex workers they won’t allow to be part of their ‘feminism’.  This is egregious because they generally consider sex work to be a matter of major concern to feminism.  Still, there’s no better way to to approach something that you regard as a problem than by ignoring the very people caught up in the middle of it (and who therefore might be expected to know what they’re talking about).  Anyway, if you refuse to invite feminists who are sex workers – and there’s no reason why the two should be mutually exclusive – to your ‘feminist’ shindig, you’re a SWERF.

Some SWERFs try to defend their position by embracing former sex workers, which they like to  refer to as ‘survivors’ (rather bafflingly, because I’m not sure what this makes active sex workers).  Unsurprisingly, formulating your opinion of a group by only talking to people who have left it creates a pretty skewed impression.  Anyway, this leads them to believe that all sex workers would rather be out, and those who deny this are either suffering under some kind of false consciousness, or are being paid off by some nebulous organisation they call the ‘pimp lobby’.  It also fails to distinguish between people who are trafficked or otherwise directly compelled into the industry, and those who are forced into it by more mundane matters, which is to say because they need/want the money.  For the latter group, it is probably true that in the loosest possible sense they would rather leave sex work, but only in the sense that the vast majority of us would rather like to quit our jobs if only we could afford to.

Postscript

As a side note I think that gender can also be pretty oppressive to men, particularly those who don’t fit the stereotypical masculine template.  Patriarchy is bad for all of us, apart from the elites who benefit most from the status quo.  This is why we should all be working together to dismantle it.  Which is not to dispute that it’s a hell of a lot worse for women, non-whites, and other ‘minority groups’ (not that either of the former is a minority on a global level).

“Hey! He lied to us through song. I hate it when people do that. “

It’s amazing how easy it is to lie to those around us.  Lying is generally regarded as a major moral failing, and we would all like to think of ourselves as good people, so we convince ourselves of our virtue despite the fact that we constantly dissemble and misrepresent.  As more than a few people have observed, true honesty is not socially acceptable.

I’m not thinking of of major untruths: the slandering of a rival, the concealment of one’s criminal actions.  Nor the petty viciousness a child might direct towards a sibling, or the way a gossip may massage facts to inflate their own importance (Twitter’s own version, perhaps, being reposting without attribution).  On the flip side, I equally don’t mean white lies proper, where one acts to protect from genuine harm, or shame.

No, the vast majority of the lies we tell are simply social lubricant.  A colleague asks after our health and we unthinkingly reply that we are well.  Or we avoid making a perfectly justifiable complaint in a restaurant in order not to make a scene.  Conversely one might pretend relative indifference to a topic of great personal interest, as we know that interest is not shared by others present.  As a Brit, I have been trained to take part in the great ironical game where a phrase like ‘mustn’t grumble’, which clearly is grumbling in itself, is used to suggest that everything is fine, regardless of whether or not this is the case in fact.  And none of this is to suggest that this is a bad thing.  If whenever one spoke on a matter, one felt obliged to point out every single little dissatisfaction, or to trumpet one’s delight, we’d probably spend most (or more, at least) of our time wishing everybody would shut up for a bleedin’ minute.

Although there is clearly a vast gulf between the way we would like to see ourselves, and how we actually are, there is at least one matter those who sing the gospel of probity have got right: small lies soon become bigger ones, and the few easily multiply.  Or at least this happens if we are not vigilant.  If we unthinkingly lie about the insignificant things, at some point we’ll slip and do the same about things that really matter, that require the truth.  As the title might have suggested, I’m thinking of when we say that we’re ok, but really are not.

Now I don’t want to come across as if I’m painting myself as a paragon, but I’d like to think that I’m particularly good at this.  While I hardly led a childhood of deprivation, I lost my mother at a young age, and yet I never complained.  When I say this, I don’t mean I never objected to anything, or protested about my treatment, just that I never stopped and said anything like, ‘I’m eight years old, and I’ve just had one of the most important people in my life taken from me.  I shouldn’t have to deal with this, and I’d like some fucking help, right now.’  It seems rather funny writing like this about my past self, because I really don’t remember it like it happened to me.  I’m not sure how everyone else looks back on their childhood, but for me it’s more like recalling the elements of a story someone else once told than sorting through my own more recent memories.  Anyway, I digress.

It’s possible that my particular case is exacerbated by my Britishness, middle-class background, or my being male.  I’ve certainly seen mention of the latter in regard to the poor record of men presenting themselves to a doctor when sick.  But it seems rather odd to generalise this way as I don’t see our public spaces flooded with women bewailing their many misfortunes.  Well, I don’t – some people seem unable to distinguish between the legitimate airing of political grievance, and ‘moaning’.  There may be minor differences in the extent, but everybody does it, at least most of the time.  And this may not always be healthy.

I’ll wrap up with the idea that this was just a very long-winded way of saying ‘I’m not ok’.  But I’m kind of ok with that.

Postscript

Maybe I have made an error in assuming that everybody lies.  If you feel that I have misrepresented you, I apologise.  I’d say that I admire you but, in an uncharacteristic moment of truthfulness, I’ll admit that I don’t.  Honesty has its place, but it can also be brutal, hurtful, and even malicious.  I might like to be more honest, but totally?  I think not.  I’d rather get on with those around me.