Friday, 16 January 2015

Daily Mail Inflammatory Misinformation – 1

This is not the first time that the Mail has written inflammatory nonsense, it is the first time I have decided to remind myself of it in a blog piece.
The article in question is this one, published on 16 January 2015 : Less than one migrant a week sent back to Calais
‘The new £6 million centre – which will provide 2,500 migrants with beds, showers and three-course meals cooked by a Michelin-trained chef’ What’s a Michelin-trained chef. I didn’t know that Michelin trained chefs. In fact no, they don’t, this is nonsense.
Later on in the article it says this: ‘One of the four chefs is Christophe Duchene, who worked for two years a trainee chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Auberge Du Dun near Dieppe.’ Oh, that’s it then. Disgraceful reporting!
‘The fact that only a tiny number of migrants has been sent back is being blamed on EU rules, which make it difficult to establish where a migrant is eligible to claim asylum.’ Complete and utter nonsense. The EU rules on this are very clear, as the article actually points out later, so why put that and then contradict yourself? Oh, I see, to wind people up, OK then, that sounds morally justifiable, since it’s the Mail.
There’s something fundamentally illogical about this article, too. The people getting into the UK are illegals, right? Therefore they are sneaking in behind the backs of the authorities, right? So how do you find them, in order to send them back? The Mail, of course, and logical thought are an oxymoron, so I suppose that’s a rhetorical question.
The tone of the article is gratuitously inflammatory, with not an ounce of compassion for people. Archbishop, where are you? Oh, not there, pity!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Pride and Privilege

I have been reading Mind, Society and Behavior 2015, published by the World Bank, it’s a paper about poverty, or how those in poverty might be encouraged to lift themselves out of it. It is in the interest of the World Bank to reduce the number of people who are poor, for it is to countries with a significant number of poor people that the World Bank directs the major part of its bounty.
It’s a sizeable document, 236 pages, since lifting people out of poverty is not something to which there is a simple, or single, answer. The paper pulls together research from many sources, and as we all (should) know, academic research is bounded by its own parameters, which can sometimes be a little narrow.
It is pretty-well universally agreed that the way not to lift people out of poverty is to unconditionally give them money; that has at best only a transient effect. Rather, it takes a change of attitude or mindset of those who are poor, to take steps towards making themselves poor no longer. It is also widely acknowledged that this lifting mechanism may in many cases take more than one generation and involves among other things people taking firmer control of their lives.
An example that intrigued me was a self-affirmation experiment among people who received lunch services in an inner-city soup kitchen in the United States. Some participants were asked to take three to five minutes to describe a personal experience that made them feel successful and proud. Compared to other groups that described only their daily meal routines or watched a funny video, the affirmed group performed significantly better on cognitive tests of their executive control and fluid intelligence (the document explains what these are). In contrast, self-affirmation did not increase the cognitive function of more affluent users of a public library. These results suggest that the intervention helped alleviate the distracting stigma of poverty rather than simply improving general feelings of confidence, or that’s what the researchers believe anyway.
But that made me think: can I describe a personal experience that made me feel successful and proud? I’m not sure I can. Perhaps I don’t do pride.
The experiment on self-affirmation was undertaken in the United States, and I am British, and Brits have a cultural tendency towards self-effacement. And also I am not in poverty. It has been a knife-edge sometimes, but I’m not, and that will colour my approach to life.
But maybe I could do pride. Hilary and I often remark on how privileged we feel. We do not have debts, we understand most of what we care to read, we can do mind puzzles and work things out, we are not still trying to make it in life, in other words we do not feel we have failed to achieve anything, and we feel neither intimated nor threatened in almost any type of company. Perhaps we should feel proud of ourselves for having engineered all that. Being privileged is passive. Let’s hear it for the puffed-out chest!
Of course we are privileged as well through no efforts of our own, we are privileged to have been born in a time and place where our health, education and a large part of our safety have been looked after by the state. But there are lots of others in that position who do not feel themselves privileged in life in general like we do.
Though still, a particular personal experience of pride to describe? It’s a hard one.
Certainly in my case nothing to do with work. Mostly with work I have managed to somehow muddle through. Earning plenty while bluffing plentier. Ducking and diving. Nothing lasting really achieved there.
Relationships? Nothing to feel proud of there either. In with a rum lot of friends from the start!
Creativity? Nothing.
Altruism, metaphorically helping old ladies – aside from Hilary – across the road? Nothing comes to mind.
But perhaps that is too grandiose. Perhaps success in tracking down the solution to a programming conundrum is enough. Perhaps seeing the oddity and peculiarity in that which most perceive as everyday and humdrum is a mark of success, something to be proud of. And I do both those things most days.
So yes, now I think about it, if I were asked that question I can say that I am proud to be able to see awe in the aisles of Asda. That would be a genuine answer, certainly, though it just as certainly took me more than five minutes to come up with.
I also feel satisfaction, if not raw pride, that I seem to be able to see about me many things that others do not appear to see. Things that are there, they are not ghosts or illusions, but I see them while others don’t, and that feels like a privilege to me, a self-affirmed privilege.
And I have interests that no one else in the world seems to align with. No one I know of that is.
I was discussing the issues around self-affirmation and poverty over a gin and tonic with Sue, who as well as being a wonderful person to share a gin and tonic with is also an experienced psychotherapist. ‘What!’, she said, ‘You say that you have interests that no one else in the world has, and you cannot find anything to be proud of!’
But I replied that it is lonely at the top. The fact that I cannot find anyone else with interests parallel to mine is not something I am happy about, I would rather it were not so and that others could be found who would join the club. Sue laughs. I get on very well with Sue.
Although I get on very well with Sue I do not find her and never have found her physically attractive. I have not told her that – to do so would be rude and unkind – but I do not. And that I do not sets me apart from the majority of heterosexual men. Sue has long, straight, once blond now ash-coloured, hair, she is tall, slim and symmetrical and with regular facial features. I like her very much, but I don’t find her sexy. I have no idea what she thinks of me, notwithstanding a clear empathy over glasses of gin and tonic, which even extends to cups of tea and coffee sometimes.
Maybe that’s something else I can be proud of. That my taste in women is above the run-of-the-mill too. The more one thinks about this . . .