People talk about gut feelings, that sixth sense when something doesn’t sit well with us, about a situation or a person. They also describe people and places having a good vibe. These intangible sensations run like a river through our consciousness, every day, we can make ourselves feel miserable, just by thinking, or being subjected to negative situations. As Dale Carnegie once wrote, “We are creatures of emotion”
We, all of us, experience this, it’s part of being a human being. We assess situations with emotion and reason jostling in the balance and try and make sense of whatever reality is being presented to us. The ability to get to the truth of an issue, and to react appropriately is a highly desirable quality and will insulate, those lucky enough to have it, from manipulation, and bad decision making. People who have these skills, who are known to behave with good intuition and intentions, who make wise decisions, are rewarded with respect and often status. The reality we all share, on planet earth, is based on perception for sure, but there are objective truths, if there were not, story would not be possible. Without a shared understanding of life, and shared values, justice, a sense of fairness and morality, for example, how could a writer ever hope to emote a reaction from a crowded cinema or a theater? By the same token, humans, as they get older, become aware of the many shades of grey within human behavior. But perhaps, to be a mature adult is to understand that good people do bad things for a variety of reasons. Equally, there are people who are just plain bad, and this, in the minds of moral people is hard to understand. However, once we accept that there is more that unites us than divides us, we have a starting point, from which to discuss reality. But do not make the mistake that truth is the fundamental arbitrator of human behavior.
Story is the most powerful tool human beings have to organize their societies. This is not to say the stories need to be true, however. Western Europe was dominated by a religion, left behind by the Romans for reasons of expediency, for centuries. Communism promised people the chance of collective happiness and killed millions. History has shown that a large society can be controlled by small elites, using a story. And it get’s more complex when you consider many of those in charge, who saw first hand how corrupt things became, never lost faith in implicit goodness of the message themselves. From Stalin’s Ukrainian purges to the Spanish inquisition, people did unspeakable things, convinced of their own righteousness, inspired by clearing the way for some imagined utopia. The enlightenment was crucial in reducing the power of dogmatic religious structures, and brought democracy, science and reason to the western world. Niche declared God dead, as the 19th turned into the 20th century, and shortly after that, the most advanced continent on earth began two wars of annihilation based on various ideas some no more complicated than nationalism, others all together more vicious. And so history has shown us time and again, that people can be controlled, motivated and destroyed by lies wrapped up in a great story.
The truth matters but less than you think, and finding it, sharing it and reaching a consensus on it, within the realms of the subjective, and in an ever-increasingly frantic media, is fracturing consensus on many issues. There is no doubt that social media, and the destruction of the barrier to mass publishing has changed everything. But this is not to say that before social media, the established media was not engaged with telling stories.
Truths can be dangerous and sometimes better left unsaid. After the Holocaust, for example, the catholic church was compelled to tone down the Jewish involvement in the crucifixion story. As children, we were told that the Germans murdered millions of Jews because they were brainwashed by the Nazis. But this of course does not explain the persecution of the Jews all through history, and by countries such as Latvia during the war, whose people were not listening to german propaganda.
I have often watched a film, found it unsatisfying but could not quite put my finger on what I didn’t like about it. Then, later that evening I would read a review on it, the writer would accurately describe the failings of the movie. There would be an Aha moment. It dawned on me, that while I could not articulate what was wrong with the film, somebody else could, they described why the film didn’t really work, and I was happy they did! Sure, we just shared the same opinion but for me, it rang true. In the political sphere, this is what compelling leaders have in common, the ability to articulate their views, and make a point that resonates with their audience. Most recently, with the use of social media, and brilliant speaking, Nigel Farrage was able to convince millions in the UK to take a leap of faith, which could take a generation to resolve. But the underlying reason they leaped was of emotion, not rationality. There were enough people motivated by a general sense of disillusionment with life in the UK. The Brexit movement threw seeds on fertile ground, with a new story. A story of leave, a story of independence and going back to an England that has long since disappeared.
The great stories, the classics, strike a chord with what it is to be human there is drama, characters, emotion. Harmony is to be discovered not invented, symmetry and balance exist without us, our finest writers at their best, work all of nature’s principles into the story, and in doing so create art that resonates with people. This is the gift of the writer, the speaker or even the comic, they tell us things we already know but couldn’t quite put into words. They create meaning.
But meaning does not have to be based on the truth.
Fiction is of course just that, we know before the lights go down in a cinema that what we are about to see is not real, this is a fabricated fictional story, designed by humans, acted by humans to entertain humans. We know this and yet it is the job of the storyteller and filmmaker to make us forget this pronto, and our brains are only too willing fall under their spell, more than that we pay to be to be placed under that spell.
When viewing actual footage of people in real life doing real things, with real consequences, it is no less compelling, but our brains can generaly tell the difference. This does not negate the fact there is still a story here, cause and effect, hero’s and villains, and however muddy the water, there are reasonable deductions that can be drawn, there can be sense made out of it, however unpalatable.
And so when I saw George Floyd, with his face pressed against the concrete, as the knee of Derck Chauvin dug into his neck, my first reaction was not one of mixed feelings. For me and the vast majority of people, the urge to shout get off the guy! you’re killing him, was all that went through my mind! The witnesses mirrored my thoughts, and can be heard pleading with the cops to let him up. Besides the sheer cruelty of the act, the breathtaking stupidity must also be taken into account. How could the cops involved not know this could go badly wrong for them, and in the year 2020, in not very much time at all. And so, kicked off the latest and greatest incarnation of black lives matter. The irony being that, Floyd’s killing was probably one of the few moments of consensus in American media since Trump was elected. Republicans, Democrats, Fox, CNN, and Trump himself condemned the killing and demanded justice. The Mayor of Milwaukee who has subsequently shown to be weak as piss, dithered initially before charging all cops with varying degrees of murder/ manslaughter. Needless to say, they were all fired as well.
The rest, as they say, is history, mass protests fueled by boredom and social media, sprang up from Melbourne to Madrid. Black Lives Matter they shouted! Enough is enough. And now the power of story shows itself again. Those who protested, were motivated by a sense of rage against such a brutal killing. This is understandable, but after a few days with protest after protest, I had that gut feeling, this is bullshit feeling.
I needed to be honest with myself and my own prejudices first though. I see black lives matter as just another group on the far left, along with Antifa and Trans rights groups. They are a vocal minority nurtured on college campuses in the last 15 years who seem hell-bent on tearing down much of the established norms of the west. Black lives matter, are a leaderless rage machine that springs into action as soon as an event suits their narrative of white systematic oppression of blacks. George Floyd was the perfect martyr in this tale. This is what I believe to be true.
As somebody whose age has moved me towards seeing more grey than black and white, I was amazed at the simplicity of their message and how it was gaining traction. Black people are being, deliberately killed by the police who in turn is an instrument of racist governments. This is despite the USA, for example, being a federal system with 52 separate state governments and mixed-race police forces. And what’s more its not just happening in the USA it’s happening in the UK as well, and Australia while we’re at it. They marched in London, looted and burned in the New York and some media outlets, excused their behavior as justifiable, because of pent up rage after years of subjection under the whip hand of white institutions.
This is a great story! but how can anybody in their right mind not see it is a simplistic fiction. Yes there are elements of truth to it, slavery did happen, and racism does exist, worldwide, and between other races, but the story is just far too simple to be credible. The story of race and empire is the story of the creation of the modern world. The middle east and the Chinese both took their turns being the center of civilization in the last 5000 years. But it was Europeans from 1500 onwards who created the modern world as we know it today. They set up colonies in the new world, wiped out the existing populations, mainly with germs, and set up a vast infrastructure of global trade. This required an abundance of cheap or free labor. The origins of slavery owe as much to economic necessity as white supremacy. The trade was, inhuman, cruel, and was ultimately ended by pressure from good people of all races. But again the truth of Slavery bad, whites bad, is too simplistic for a world this nuanced. Firstly there were black people actively complicit in the sale of black slaves. Secondly, it was the riches from slavery and the accompanying trade that build the magnificence of Europe. From Dublin to London, to Lisbon to Madrid these majestic old cities with there, beautiful buildings and squares were built on the backs of slavery and empire. This is an inconvenient fact, and one to be considered. Those wishing to tear down statures might consider the large buildings surround them as well. And this is not to say European empires reserved their exploitation of workers to just the black race, the Indians and the Asians where both exploited and treated with racism by the British and the Americans respectively. This reveals another uncomfortable truth for the simple narrative of BLM. Slavery with all its cruelty and immorality had positive consequences for the descendants of the slaves, and for the descendants of the slave owners. Without Slavery, would the African populations have willingly sailed across to the North and South American and built colonies alongside the Europeans? would Africa have become a center of learning and innovation like northern Europe? The answer is almost definitely not. And so generations of black people grew up in the richest most powerful country in the world, and many had a better life as a result. The truth is stranger than fiction. This becomes obvious to anyone over the age of 20. And the truth is without slavery there is no Jazz or Rock and Roll music, there is no rap, there is not Micheal Jordan or Nina Simone, there is no Miles Davis or Martin Luther King. There simply would be nowhere near the level of advanced black, English speaking culture woven into the American 20th century and that would have been a huge loss for the world. So those who point to slavery being pure evil, yes it was, but you simply cannot deny the many unintended positive consequences.
Europe and American have had migration move to the top of political agenda in the 21st century. Trump is all about building a wall, and the liberal Europeans snigger up their sleeves at the stupidity of the man. Meanwhile, the EU faces a migration pressures on its Eastern and Southern borders. Many people seem unaware that a wall has already gone up between Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and governments espousing views of cultural conservatism are in power. Meanwhile, Africa, continues to be a continent of failed states with populations willing to risk life and limb to get to Europe. This is painted as a refugee crisis by some in the media, but it is plain for all to see that these are economic migrants. This is what makes it all the more absurd, the spectacle of people taking to the streets to complain about racist old UK, while native Africans and middle eastern men risk life and limb to get onto the island. This fact is not lost on most people in the UK, and I am confident the BLM marches garnered little sympathy from white middle England.
The specter of slavery is the most commonly weaponized tactic by BLM supporters when rationalizing the problems in the black community in 21st century American. White people are racist the state is racist, Slavery. It is like bringing up the Holocaust to a german, it immediately reduces the argument to a point of binary injustice. But if people cannot move on from the past then grievance weighs the whole society down. This can be seen from Northern Ireland to the middle east, as parents hand down the story of grievance from generation to generation. After the Asortocites of the Spanish civil war, there was a concerted effort the bury it’s history. The story of what had happened was deemed just too destructive for society to move on from it. The various separatist movement still bubbles under the surface, but broadly speaking, Spain has been peace ever since.
Now I could get into making an argument based on data etc, but that is not the point of this aricle. It is about story, and how powerful a force it is. And black lives matter is a story. When the UK last experienced mass protests for the Iraq war or the poll tax, the protesters had explicit demands, that they could articulate, and that could be delivered by the governments they were protesting against. The black lives matter crowd are against Racism and other abstract bad things, like police brutality and inequality. This is like taking to streets to demand an end to unfairness, cruelty, and prejudice. Things we all good people are against, try to curb in ourselves, and other people, but accept are part of life. How do governments even begin to tackle these issues with policy? This is before you take into account the BLM movement, unrelenting refusal to acknowledge the black communities’ contribution to interactions with police forces in the UK and the USA. Crime, poverty, fatherless homes can all be explained by systematic racism. Again, a great story, deviously simple!. Meanwhile, the western world has made real progress in inclusivity for minorities since the turn of the century. Statistically speaking it has never been a safer time to be black in the USA, and gay people are afforded more equality than ever before. This progress seems to be irrelevant when confronted with the story of black lives matter.
One truth is that areas of deprivation have higher rates of crime. So let’s take race out of this for a moment and agree that this is accepted by most people. Children of any race who are born into stable environments with access to education and resources will be less likely to pursue a life of crime. This is what makes corporate backing of BLM more galling. From Amazon, to Air b and b, to Starbucks, these corporations who deliberately avoid giving back to society via taxes, are only to eager to jump on the bandwagon of Black lives matter. The sheer cynicism of their position is apparent, as they get behind the low hanging fruit story, and lecture us all on ethical living. What is more disturbing about these self-satisfied corporate drones, is the absolute resoluteness of their position. The reason they flagrantly bring politics into the workplace or commerce space is that they do not see it as a political issue. A political issue would have many different sides to consider and would require, debate and could even cause division among people. Black lives matter, on the other hand, it is just the truth. How could we not get behind this incontrovertible truth? On a recent visit to the website indeed, I noticed the CEO had seen it fit to post an email he wrote to all the staff, telling them how WE at indeed stand behind the BLM story and stand against racism, etc. When did it become ok for a workplace to become a place where politics can be brought inside and shoved down employees’ throats?
And so, in an empty stadium in Manchester, the premier league in their wisdom compelled all the players and staff to take a knee, and wear BLM jerseys. And no, not for just one game, for the rest of the season. It would have been very interesting to see how a full house would of re-acted to this spectacle. The knee was first taken in a sporting context by Colin Kaepernick an American athlete a mere 4 years ago. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”. The reaction to his stance was emotive and divisive, as would be expected. He was entitled to make his protest, for his beliefs but way back in 2016 this was not considered to be a man pointing us all toward an inalienable truth. Fast forward to 2020 and the spectacle of this taking a knee is now orthodoxy.
The Premier League, again so convinced of the Black Lives Matter story, compelled their workers to partake, and viewers to witness, this spectacle of something that a mere 4 years ago was a symbol of a highly contested world view. Again, who do these people think they are? The absolute conceit of their position is reminiscent of the puritans. To make matters more absurd, in the premier league black and mixed players are thriving, and this extends up to the England team with a massive over-representation of black and mixed-race players. It is not inconceivable that in the next few years white players will be in a minority. Does this point to a rotten racist system hell-bent on oppressing the black people of the UK? Players such as Raheem Sterling have been active on the subject of racism, it is clear he has a legitimate grievance here. Firstly however it is fair to say that all players get personal abuse from crowds in England, and football has spent years trying to stamp out racist abuse. Yes BLM aims to stop systemic racism, but what has this really got to do with football. The most popular league in the world was naive at best to involve itself so fully with BLM.
Back in the studio, the panelists, former footballers, are required to applaud the optics and point again to the obvious righteousness of BLM and their story. Then something happened off-script, a ripple of opposition to the prevailing narrative in the form of a little plane flew overhead with a message WHITE LIVES MATTER BURNLEY. Not the most eloquent of protests but it did perhaps epitomize the sheer frustration of a huge amount of people who are sick and tired of having childlike stories shoved down their throats, while they book a hotel, buy a coffee or watch a football match.