In the last couple of years I've spent quite a lot of time trying to discuss serious issues on social media, which actually forms the main thrust of what I'm going to talk about at length in a minute. In between photographs of people's lunch, narcissistic parents showing off their kids like they're fashion accessories and tales of 'off again, on again' relationships, you might find the occasional exchange of ideas that was actually worth having. If the cap fits, well, thanking you kindly.
You might also find shouting matches, tribal nonsense and idiots who essentially participate in a rather strange team sport called 'politics', where everything is an argument as opposed to a discussion and the aim is to win, humiliating their 'enemy' in the process if at all possible. Disagreement is met with personal abuse, ad hom attacks and the general mentality of an oversized toddler as opposed to logic, reason and some sort of coherent explanation.
Don't shout 'bullshit' or call me something unrepeatable (especially seeing as I didn't do that to you), please actually tell me why you think I'm wrong, be a part of my education if you will. If you can't express such disagreement without turning into the evil clown from the Child's Play movies then I'm not sure I want much to do with you anymore.
Social media is an interesting mirror to general society and, while I found if fascinating I eventually realised it was making me impatient and prone to losing my temper with people. I don't want all that narcissism and childishness to turn me into someone I really don't like, so it was better to cut all ties with Facebook. I occasionally re-tweet music videos and stuff like that from Youtube, but spend zero actual time on there. It actually strikes me as quite insulting to think that you should stop what you're all doing and read my incredibly profound 47 characters, then re-tweet them.
If I want you to take me seriously then I should meet you halfway, make a bit of an effort and write something meaningful, surely?
Speaking of which...
During the summer I had an eye-opening trip to deepest darkest Wigan to watch a resident comedian who enjoys a sort of 'local cult' status. Now the show itself rather resembled time travel, with most of the gags being the sort you might hear while watching an re-run of 'the Comedians' from the 1970s. If that's your thing then knock yourself out, but to be honest I found it rather dated and not especially funny at all. That said, I was there with and on the suggestion of a friend so we ended up having a brief chat and becoming 'friends' on social media.
A few short weeks later my comedian friend made some comments on Facebook regarding a Gay Pride rally in his hometown. Now I never thought I'd hear of Pride coming to Wigan and I laughed momentarily just because the place always struck me as a tad, er, provincial in its outlook and the sort of town where "get your head down" might be as good an instruction to a 'person of difference' as any. Perhaps things have really changed in the decade or so since I used to visit regularly, I dunno.
Anyway, my friend's posting was to the effect of (and I'm paraphrasing, but sticking faithfully to the spirit of what he said) "look, I've nothing against gay or lesbian people whatsoever. If you're gay then good for you and get on with it, but your sexuality isn't an achievement or cause for celebration just as my being straight isn't. If you write a great piece of music, or come up with some inspired architecture or painting, then that's worthy of loud celebration. Standing on a milkfloat wearing leather pants and waving to the crowd just doesn't cut it"
I distinctly remember the bits about the milkfloat, the pants and the references to art or architecture as alternative sources of pride, and am happy with that as an accurate enough representation of what was said. Absolutely no threats were made, no really nasty or derogatory language was used and while it might have struck some as a tad on the abrasive side, I struggle to see how any lasting offence could have been caused. You might not agree with his point of view and that's fine, but that should really be the end of it.
However someone, somewhere decided that they were going to be 'offended' by this, perhaps on behalf of him or herself or perhaps this was a heterosexual 'trendy' deciding that poor, pathetic gay and lesbian people needed protecting from anything that might 'offend' them and that they were also incapable of turning their computers off, or shrugging it off as one of those things, muttering 'wanker' under their breath and getting on with something more important.
And..the thought that there might be real gay or lesbian people out there who don't participate in these rather infantile 'Pride' marches, who might actually think "to be fair, this guy has a bit of a point doesn't he?" never occurs to this metro crowd at all. Well, that actually happened - once our friend's Facebook account had been restored after a brief 'suspension' a gay man joined the discussion to add that he was sick of militant campaigners trying to define him by a single aspect of his life, that being gay wasn't the totality of his existence. Well said.
It was during this conversation that I had quite a profound shift in thought, a moment of epiphany at least to some extent. I'm generally loathe to putting people in boxes or groups, but in the broad sense there seemed to be three different types of response to what our friend was saying. The first was the irritating 'respecting diversity' bullshit you hear from that pink rainbow crowd which I mentioned earlier and will return to. The second was basically the nastiness of people who, regardless of what they claimed, were quite blatantly homophobic.
And the third, well, I think there weren't that many of us but we seemed to be the ones who actually got the point and the essence of what had originally been said. Surely the question about whether or not I approve of gay, lesbian or bi (we'll discuss transgender later) people is a bit of a trick question? In reality, is there no approval for me to give or refuse to give? Am I not being a bit of a self-obsessed tosser simply by thinking my 'approval' of other people's harmless and legal behaviour is either significant or necessary?
This is the thing - both of the other 'sides' of this 'argument' that we should not really have been having in the first place are totally self-obsessed, they think it's all about them. Homophobes clearly think that their view of other people's lifestyles and choices are oh so important and most would introduce new laws to make it more difficult (potentially impossible) for people to either be or continue being gay/lesbian going forward. That people bitterly opposed to others having anal sex could be so far up their own arses has an amusing irony to it.
But then...the metrosexal 'trendy' crowd, hopping aboard the pink rainbow bus with their 'I LOVE LGBT' badges annoy me just as much and perhaps slightly more. In the last few years I've been heavily involved with a spoken word event which I hope brought enjoyment to all involved. That said, my own enthusiasm waned slightly (and perhaps permanently) when one month they decided to attach themselves to the local 'Pride' festival. I vocalised this and certainly felt like I was being regarded as a potential bigot to be treated with suspicion.
Firstly, I'm no bigot and anyone who's known me for any length of time will surely confirm that. Secondly, attaching yourselves to an overtly political rally like 'Pride' without consulting people first strikes me as a slightly authoritarian thing to do. Thirdly, the non-sequitur that you are either an enthusiastic LGBT campaigner or some sort of vicious would-be London nailbomber is ridiculous and absurd. When I tried to explain my "surely it has nothing to do with me?" stance on the subject I got some rather strange looks and realised the scale of the minority I was in.
This Facebook row got me thinking about the subject again and an interesting question pops into my head. Suppose Karen from Telford, a married heterosexual woman, comes out loud and proud as an enthusiastic supporter of the LBGT community. Good for her. However, like all 'support' for any cause Karen is free to change her mind and withdraw her previous goodwill, state that she no longer supports the LGBT crusade and has now crossed to the other side of the road, for whatever reason or absolutely none. Let's say Karen has that change of heart at some point.
What then? One of the god-awful consequences of representative democracy is that people start to believe that their personal opinion, or even just a binary expression of which side they are on, should somehow be considered significant and worthy of discussion. It conjures up a mental image of a gay man ringing his partner and saying "sorry Ray, but Karen in Telford doesn't approve of our lifestyles anymore. I suppose we're going to have to end it". Karen in Telford, and people like her, really need to get over themselves and realise they're not that important.
Now we're having the same conversation about 'trans people' and the same self-obsessed nonsense is being spewed by both 'sides' just as they have on issues like gay marriage for years. One tries unsuccessfully to hide its nosiness and its bigotry, the other uses the historical suffering of others to hop aboard the train of some trendy cause and give themselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back. And both are absolutely pathetic. Rather like Henry Kissinger discussing the Iran-Iraq war, I hope both sides lose.
This and other musings about what democracy does to people have formed the basis of a book I'll be working on in 2018. I'll be back with a weekly piece most Sundays going forward, so please feel free to suggest and nominate subjects for discussion and I'll get round to those that might be of interest to a wider audience. However, next week's has the working title of 'that Islam thing' so I'll leave that dangling for now, depart with some appropriate music and catch you soon. Thanks for reading.