iDrone About iPhones

Children seem to have grown out of the simplicity with which their forebears could be amused. Since ancient times, in nations from Africa to Asia, through empires Byzantine to British, simply rolling a hoop along the ground with a stick was a popular pastime, or even sport, depending on the culture.

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To somebody whose childhood hand-me-down book on technology could only predict the telephonic watch, this is thankfully still imaginable. It’s as charming as it is inspirational to behold how creative children become in conjuring their own games, as my mother once did, by persuading her sibling to jump on ‘dried’ cow poo, or as my mate did by blowing up big piles of the stuff with petards on our a Grammar School French exchange. (Why those were the first two examples to come to mind I do not know.)

As things advance, childhoods are changing. I daresay they are becoming more sterile—maybe for the best, moo-poo considered. Quite magically, but very literally, at the flick of a finger we can read about and watch and learn to play any game or instrument ever made on a bloomin’ watch. All of the information and all of the potential in the history of the world, yet the upcoming generations will find this sort of thing so normal as to be unworthy of comment, much like the mobile phone today. It’s a sad paradox, the iPhone, it contains an infinitude of potential but produces a uniformity of outcome. Give a boy an iPhone at eight, and it’ll give you the man.

Much as it nauseates me to have noticed, it is a standard procedure to satisfy/subdue the curiosity of pram-dwellers with iPhones. Confining the blossoming consciousness of a child to five-inches of screen showing some banal software developer’s creation seems to me to be as much expedience as entertainment. But that’s coming from somebody who has implicitly favoured exploding excrement to Angry Birds.

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Children aren’t changing, per se, but childhoods are. That many will grow up glued to screens, increasingly right from the get-go, will have an effect on society, one we can plainly see already. Everyone is aware of it, because (almost) everyone is on the bandwagon. As we ‘progress’ to buying the newest iPhones for the youngest members of the family, the formerly taboo becomes tiresomely normal. But I still reckon or hope that most my age would or should agree that it is rude to repeatedly use one’s phone in company (let alone the new normality of photographing and filming and Facebook-flicking). Who wants to go to a meal, a birthday party, a wedding, at which people constantly refer to their phones, as if to something more important, more meaningful, more interesting?

I found myself at a festival last year, sporting my great-grandmother-in-law’s floral peach of a dress, more flustered by cameraphones than flattered by compliments. Then I knew something was up. Kids filmed me unelicited for social media rather than talk to me for chirps. Then they watch the acts they’ve paid to see through said phones. Why not save yourself the money and watch it on a bigger screen and with nicer toilets at home? Your facebook feed’ll be full of twats like me you might have missed on your snapchat spree.

iPhonerism is as stark a reality at university. When hacking my first hungover lecture in first-year, I receded to the back of the hall to rot out of eye-and-nose-contact. This gave me a panoramic view of the attending students below: all phone and laptop screens, undoubtedly more looking at them then not. Given, some of the laptops would be used for taking notes. But, even then, really? I don’t complain just because my bugbear of hearing rat-a-tat-tat-tat when trying to listen to a lecturer. Knowing that these feckless wretches are costing themselves and their parents several tens of thousands of pounds to watch videos on facebook and play stick-man games—that bugs me more.

Distracted is what we are becoming. Overwhelmed by understimulating bollocks. We become distracted to the point of becoming distant. This distance is almost absolute here in English society, though it is rumoured that talking to strangers persists among the savages up north.

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Maybe you’ve noticed this distance at work, or with friends, or even in your family. You definitely won’t struggle to remember the last time you spoke to somebody whilst they were on their phone. You probably won’t have thought it abnormal, either. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “What is so feckin’ urgently interesting that you can’t suffer granting me your undivided attention for the sake of an afternoon/meal/conversation?”

It’s two years since I deleted Facebook. I never wrote about it because, who am I to preach? So I shan’t. (Now. Much.) But it opened my eyes to things and I made meaningful decisions thereafter. I was clocking myself still thinking things like, “That’ll be a good picture/status,” and, like a tic, whipping out my phone and going for facebook. I thought to myself—really thought, different to thinking whilst distracted—that this is actually sad. Can you not enjoy XYZ on its own account, instead of feeding it through facebook? I will understatedly term it an epiphany, which I can’t and won’t do justice by attempting to summarise it here. I will try, with a question. Am I going to die thinking, “Oh boy, do I wish I’d spent more time in my one and only life on this dear phone!” Don’t die thinking precisely the opposite. My dear phone now remains mostly at home and on flight-safe mode. The queer relationship that I had with it, unnecessarily and excessively posting/texting/photographing, was terminated; life is better, brighter and simpler because of it.

Yet it is smartphones that make life simpler, so they say. But I don’t reckon life is better, brighter or simpler for kids who are growing up in intimate relationships with them. Life’s not better if one can’t suffer company without referring and reporting to social media, it’s not brighter experienced through a camera lens, and it certainly isn’t simpler if your online persona, ‘likes’ and text messages come to matter as much as real relations with people.

I said I shan’t preach (much!), but—dare you look up long enough to see that this is actually happening?

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My partner—fiancée!—and I returned to our hostel in the woods outside of Münich after a long day walking and whiskeying about the place. I cooked up some grub and and we went to the wreck room with some vino, presumably to eat and drink alongside other happy holidayers. The room was large, with loads of seating, a ping-pong table and music. There were twelve humans in total and including us. Ten were on their God-forsaken phones. A sofa of young guys manning the music station, all heads bowed down, a sofa of young girls the same. The place was without chemistry, and if not for the music, would have been quiet. It would not have sounded as eerie as the scene looked to me. A Spanish teacher, to whom we were talking, shows us some funny videos on YouTube. It’s rude of me to not to look. He tells us that his job is unthinkable without technology; all of his students use iPads. An older American couple, who had been to the wonderful English Gardens in the city that day, grunted at each other without looking up.

Looking back at the scene, I can hardly help but think—perhaps they would have all had more fun by simply going outside, and playing in cow shit.

 


As I’m not on social media, my writing is only read as much as it is circulated by readers like you. So if you liked this piece, please share and share alike, it would be greatly appreciated. Liam.

 

Tips for University by a Reformed Homeworkaphobe

I left school at seventeen. I never did so much as a shred of homework that wasn’t punitively extracted of me in ‘detention.’ The education at school was, to me, useless and boring; the thought of taking more of it home with me, after spending a thirty-hour week in small rooms stuffy with hormones and tedium, was out of the question.

But I would bring home with me, always and to varying degrees, guilt and fear at knowing that I had homework: that I wasn’t doing it, I wasn’t going to do it, and I would again be subject to a bollocking for having not done it. It’s not a nice feeling, knowing that you’re due a telling-off, deservedly and constantly.

One can clear this cloud of guilt feeling at university, but there is a right way and a wrong to do it: you overcome it, or avoid it. I went for the latter at school, but it was terrible tactics, attempting to avoid all of one’s teachers when you see them every weekday. But at university, one doesn’t have this problem. Lecturers and seminar tutors don’t have a bollocking-spiel at the ready: if you don’t go, you don’t go; if you don’t read, you don’t read; if you don’t learn, that’s your own fecking problem. You are, formally at least, a ‘responsible adult’ and ‘independent learner.’

These words, independence, responsibility and learning, are foreign until further education. Until then, your responsibility is to learn, whereas ‘learning’ means actually retaining masses of information so that your capacity for regurgitating it may be examined in a series of stressful and stupid examinations—you don’t attain knowledge for yourself, you remember stuff for exams. Your independence is naught, you are given the lessons, the timetables, the teachers; you are told what to do and what to think, where to be and when, and you’re punished for any transgressions.

So university is as much unlearning primary and secondary ‘education’ for examination as (newly) learning how to learn for knowledge, for development, for you; this is difficult, involving a change in the objective sphere of education. But this task is tough on multiple levels, moreso on the subjective, as you tackle for the first time living independently, learning and researching independently, prioritising independently; in short, tackling university independently, without a teacher or a parent to kick your ass into gear or provide that cloud of guilt which spurs some to study.

What follows are the thoughts of a reformed homeworkaphobe approaching his third-year of studying something which interests him at university; points on living, learning and prioritising independently; additionally some personal points which don’t constitute universally applicable advice.

 

LIVING INDEPENDENTLY

Do different things with different people.

Having heard and seen some of the states to which houses and student accommodation can deteriorate, my first advice regarding independent living is to make friends. Don’t stick with your clique from back home or pair off with that dude you met on the open day, meet and speak with as many people as possible. Don’t allow your living situation to regress such that everybody bitches about everybody else, complaining, fighting, stealing and poisoning the food of others, all of which can be nauseatingly commonplace if a balance isn’t struck. And if it can’t be, for it may well go sour with or without your input, do not involve yourself, do not ally yourself and make enemies, rise above the bollocks and work around it. Worse come worse: move. But bear in mind, you may move but you still bring your own attitude with you, make sure it’s one that makes you tolerable to live with.

Avoid inscribing bad habits.

Yes, it can initially be an exhilarating novelty to drink in a bar full of fellow students on a weeknight, to have fast-food and weed delivered to your door, to avoid exercise and sports because, well, nobody is there to tell you otherwise. I’m not for a moment saying don’t do any of these things ever, just know that there is more to be gained from the first-year university experience than savings on Jäger-bombs at the SU and pizza at Dominoes; indeed, there’s much to be lost in habituating the consumption of junk-food, drugs and alcohol.

University life teems with other opportunities; you can join just about any society you can think of, like the Kung-Fu Society, the Beard Society, the Surfing Society, and the Philosophy and Literature Society (examples from my uni). Join a band, start a club, get a training partner or a study buddy—this support can be invaluable in routinising your life and motivating healthy habit formations. (Disclaimer: British university societies are much like British society at large: they revolve around alcohol and you’re likely to have more ‘socials’ than society meetings, beware…)

Help is always at hand.

There are government and university and student organisations dedicated to student welfare, for people struggling financially, academically, personally, etcetera. There are plenty of genuine people about who have the experience to help you—don’t be shy, they’ve seen worse situations.

 

PRIORITISING INDEPENDENTLY

Get your priorities straight.

If your top priorities are beer and the opposite (or whatever) sex, at least make university your number three, because one, two, ten years down the line, you’re going to be prioritising differently: don’t make future-you despise current-you. At university, enjoying yourself should be secondary, or at most equal, to enhancing yourself. What does this mean? That lecture and seminar attendance and reading should not repeatedly fall victim to hangovers and munchies and sheer lack of will.

You are in a superlatively privileged position, able to access the pinnacle of our culture’s knowledge in an institutional tradition the likes of which people around the world would and do quite literally die trying to reach. You could come out the other end a podgy, pot-smoking piss-artist with a few funny stories; or you could emerge an enhanced, humbled and learned human endowed with indispensable knowledge and experience, and yet still have a few funny stories to boot. In a nutshell: you will have to make the jump from doing what you want to do, to what you ought to be doing; if those align, which they seldom do without a mature work ethic, so much the better.

 

Your first year is about winning knowledge, not arguments.

You will go to university with your conceptions of and ideas about how the world is and ought to work, but, if you are fully surrendering to what education is, prepare for them to be shattered into a thousand insignificant pieces. Think of your little brother or niece and how they say things with total conviction—‘I’m running away!’ and ‘They’re disgusting, I’m never having a boyfriend!’—but we know, even if they don’t, that they will grow out of such silly opinions. What makes an eighteen-year-old different? Coming of age seems to me to be a period in which one should challenge oneself rather than others; especially if you don’t know what you are talking about, which you don’t.

What I am saying here is this, that you will invariably laugh at how stupid you were last year, and if you don’t you are either totally perfect or doing something wrong; if you sort yourself out and attempt authentically to learn without politically predisposing yourself to any outcome, it’s wholly likely that you will look back and laugh at your stupidity several times a year, and that’s a good thing.

So, one should go into a lecture ready to be immersed in the viewpoint professed by the professor; one should enter the seminar room not as a political gauntlet, but a philosophical roundtable, around which blossoming critical thinkers can bounce ideas off of one another without fear of consequence. Fellow students aren’t your competitors and still less your enemies—chill, be proud to be willing to learn and be open about what you’re struggling with, if somebody’s immature enough to scoff at your intellectual courage, fuck ‘em!

 

STUDYING INDEPENDENTLY

Again, know that you are stupid.

Socrates said, “I know one thing; that I know nothing.” Your first year should be spent revelling in and remedying this stupidity, but knowing that there is no endpoint to knowledge, you will never know everything and indeed will still border on knowing nothing when you’re done. The point is a little more profound than ‘you are destined for dumbness’: it’s about an attitude, a perspective: humility is prerequisite to learning that which you don’t yet know. Christ knows it is awkward and annoying to have somebody in a seminar, who has for some reason deigned to descend to university education, who knows everything already and need not be told anything by anyone. The thing is, one can see through it. If your outlook is ‘I know nothing’ rather than ‘I already know everything,’ you’ll go further than those for whom lectures are tertiary, lecturers are clueless and seminars are for deploying one’s intellectual smack-downs.

DO SOME FECKING READING.

This is key advice, sacred for those who give more than a toss about learning at university, so I implore you to heed it if you would like a challenging experience as opposed to a debilitatingly stressful one. First week, no excuses; as soon as your fall one week behind, you’re buggered. Playing catch-up might’ve worked for GCSE and A-Level, but say you’re knee-deep in Descartes then balls-deep in Hegel, you can’t feasibly race through and cram an understanding of both in a week. Readings, for my course at least, are usually extracts of several works, sometimes with a primary text with secondary materials supporting it. If you read but one of these, enough so that you can explain what you think they are saying to somebody, then that’s enough to ‘wing’ a seminar. If you want to ‘boss’ a seminar: read it through, no notes or underlining, then read it through again, noting and underlining key or difficult passages, then write on a separate sheet of paper what you thought it was on about, what you had difficulty with and what you would like to discuss further.

 

Read widely.

After historic sociopolitical upheavals, the likes of which are unimaginable to our most recent generations, society decided to carve years out of production time so that those who wish to pursue professionalised modes of education can do so. In the past seven years the cost of this time has been raised, in financial and the corollary personal terms, to a degree that precludes many potential students or leaves them and their parents shouldering unmanageable debts—is it even worth it? Well the answer is in your action, the proof in the pudding. Again, it can be a hazy, hedonistic blur of beer and bifters and late-night cramming on Sparknotes; or you could read. It’s hard to sell, and I’m not going to try, just merely say that these three years could be precious, priceless, if you can spend it wisely, reading some of the richest wisdom that has been retained in word form. It might not seem it at first, but is infinitely more rewarding than Twitter, and tequila.

 

PERSONAL POINTS

Write essays that you want to write.

Again, these are subjectively informed suggestions, some might be seeking the highest score possible for their degree; some the easiest essay for, well, their ease; a few others the hardest essay for a challenge. I find picking an essay question that I am interested in, rather than one I already know a lot about and can answer well, was most rewarding in terms of both satisfaction and marks. And sanity.

Get the whack hair-do’s over and done with.

 

Read philosophy and history.

I came to university to learn about politics. I ended up being immersed in a study of philosophy that eclipsed my interest in bollotics and precipitated a total disengagement with its vulgar and distractive manifestations in news media. At university you will be given fragments, tasters, essays and chapters to read; but it’s up to you to pursue a school of philosophy or particular philosopher as if you’re interested; if you keep doing so, you will inevitably find philosophy that interests and suits you—remember beer didn’t taste nice before you started drinking it all the time?

This study will allow you to don the philosophical-historical goggles worn by preeminent human beings: you see the world through the eyes of Saint Paul in the Bible, through those of Plato in Athens; Marcus Aurelius and Cicero of the Roman Empire; you see through Hobbes’ during the English Civil War, Jefferson’s during the American Revolution, Burke’s during the French; through CLR James’ on history’s only successful slave revolt; through Hegel’s during the Napoleonic Wars, Trotsky’s on the Russian Revolution, the list is as exhaustive as it is fascinating.

Which leads me to history: one can discern how ideas influence events, how philosophy affects history. Our ideas bring reality into being at least as much as reality stimulates our ideality; reading the philosophies alongside the histories of an epoch will elucidate this mutual transactivity.

One more suggestion, philosophy needn’t be going balls deep and, for your first year, may be totally out of the question. For example, Hegel, the philosopher on whom I will write my dissertation, has not the knack for pedagogical clarity:

“The infinite is in this way burdened with the opposition to the finite which, as an other, remains at the same time a determinate reality although in its in-itself, in the infinite, it is at the same time posited as sublated; this infinite is the non-finite – a being in the determinateness of negation. Contrasted with the finite, with the sphere of affirmative determinatenesses, of realities, the infinite is the indeterminate void, the beyond of the finite, whose being-in-itself is not present in its determinate reality.”—Hegel, Science of Logic

Balls deep is too deep, one will go into shock. So start by dipping a toe, read a Wikipedia article, watch a video on Youtube; advance to ankle-depth by reading an entry-level introduction; go up to your knees and attend a lecture, then attend another, then find some on Youtube; raise the level gently past the knee by advancing to secondary literature, then perhaps get back to ball-depth by reading it alongside a key passage or two by the author himself.

Meditate.

I bear in mind whilst writing this that not so long ago I would’ve scoffed at this suggestion.

Say, if you spent three years working on a building site, you’d make time in which you stopped physically working completely. It’s a little more difficult on the academic side of things, because your mind doesn’t stop whirring quite like your muscles stop working. But such is meditation: thoughtlessness. Without meditation, I would have burned out so much quicker than I did on days waking up to reading before attending four lectures on different subjects and then sitting down to write an essay; by which time I could either be too frazzled to concentrate, or, because I’ve meditatively calmed my mind, ready to read and write some more. Try just ten minutes, first thing in the morning before breakfast and coffee and phone, focusing on and slowing your breathing, do nothing else. There are plenty of meditation tips and guides about the interweb; Alan Watts is my recommendation.

Make a routine, make it sacred.

Make time by routinising it. I know I have lectures on these days, I’ll do reading at these times on these days, ready for seminars on these days; I’m going to exercise at this time on these days, go to these societies on these days, etcetera. Stick to it like it’s a job, which it is: it’s your job to become a conscientious and competent human being, not one forever ready to shirk the smallest of responsibilities. Keep a diary, keep a calendar, keep one or both handy.

Be wary of political organisations

I’ve come to find it amusing, that an education costing £28,000 can still churn out morons who go about sticking these stickers on university property. I mocked them in a seminar last year, because ‘ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS’ was stuck outside the building, and I had somebody defend it on the basis that “you can’t sacrifice a good slogan” to explain that, in fact, not every cop is a bastard, just the overwhelming majority. Another confronted me outside, rather less compromising, saying that all cops are bastards, to which I replied, “My friends and family are not bastards, actually.”

An apt aphoristic peach from Hegel will make my point: “Mark this well, you proud men of action! You are, after all, nothing but unconscious instruments of the men of thought.” And indeed you can become an instrument if your ‘enemies,’ be they UKIP supporters or the police, are assigned to you as part of whatever prepackaged political ideology you were sold by such nutjobs.

 

Education is outside the lecture hall and library.

Learn to cook. Which also means: learn to buy food. If you have a market, shop there, for they’re invariably cheaper than cornerstores and supermarkets. Then learn to cook the food: it can start easy and it’s fun. Then do the dishes afterwards. Then feel exhilarated at becoming a bog-standard adult; it’s really quite something.

Sort your bills now, or pay for it later. You will have to confront these kinds of responsibilities at some point, avoiding them and hoping somebody else will sort it is dishonest—because you know you should do something—and immature.

Learn to self motivate (read philosophy and history). Historical heroes and philosophical giants like Solzhenitsyn and Nietzsche, CLR James and Hegel, will change the lens through which you interpret the world. There will no longer be insurmountable but avoidable obstacles, there will rather lie challenges, out of which you will emerge a better human; eventually you will compare your pathetic excuses for not attending a lecture or writing an essay to the inconceivable feats of humanity’s toughest, and they will inspire and motivate you.

 


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Schoolyard Scrap

Year 12! The first year of Sixth-Form, in which you are told that you are an adult, now—one obliged to continue wearing a certain uniform, abiding bollockings for untucked shirts and imperfectly knotted ties. For want of any compelling alternative, many wander directionless into this educative, social and sexual gauntlet when at their spottiest, stupidest and angriest, so sparks flew; here’s one.

My friends and I went to play basketball down the courts one lunchtime, and started jamming with some lads in Year 10. They told us that a guy assaulted a friend of theirs the weekend before, twatting him over the head with a skateboard. This I found enraging: the dude is harmless! He and his mates roundly surpassed my skill level on the court; I outplayed them by outshoving them with shoulders bigger than they had to shove with. It’s not fair: exploiting your age and physicality to win, especially so when it comes to violence. I was angry. So, what does an angry seventeen-year-old do?

I took to Facebook, that evening, which back in the day was a wild interwest as yet unpolluted by parents; full of posing and pissy teenage arguments and ‘tag a friend who…’ photos. I went on the culprit’s Facebook page and gave him some jip. The next evening, after having had a beer or five, I saw his understandably jippy replies. So I posted a ‘status’ saying some spectacularly cringe-worthy things to the effect: “Such and Such says he can kick my ass?! He is a pussy c**t t**t etcetera.” The next day or so a plethora of irretrievably embarrassing things were said each way, I cannot recall (only Facebook, the NSA and God have such power), but the gist of his response was: fight me, then.

And so it was. With every Facebook friend of each of ours as witness and soon-to-be audience, we were deigned to dance at 1 o’clock in the Sixth-Form car park. Some friends of his posted on my wall commiserating my loss and friends of mine congratulating my win in advance. I just remember a local and successful boxer’s comment that he would ‘bow down’ in front of my foe before fighting him, that streetfights are his game as boxing is his. I clearly remember thinking: fuck. Equally clearly: too late, now. I had an opportunity to ask my Dad to teach me how to punch, as he had done with my sister when the need urgently arose, but thought that my request would give it away. How so many people had wind of this over so many days in an open domain without a parent or the school being informed is beyond me and doubtlessly wouldn’t happen nowadays.

The day of the scrap was a school day, which started as one usually did. My friends mentioned the fight constantly and my nervousness was unwillingly fed by their excitement. Morning lessons were a blur, until the bell rang. I nabbed by sports bag and went alone to the changing rooms. I put on my Ireland football shirt, blue basketball shorts and trainers. I haven’t prepared, have no clue how to throw a punch and am about to fight with a purported street fighter in front of his and my friends. What the feck am I doing, I thought, making my way to the car park. I am fit and strong and play rugby and basketball, but I’m hardly going to punch him with a jump shot or rugby tackle.

Crossing the road from Sixth-Form, I caught sight of people, loads of people. My stomach dropped. I felt sick. My mind whirred impotently as I turned the hedgerow to enter the car park, seeing a legitimate crowd. People older and younger, some people I recognised from St Sampson, La Mare. I made eye contact with an older guy with tattoos I’d never seen before. I hope that’s not his friend. A mate approached me and passed me a cigarette, which I took and dragged on heartily, still walking, heart pounding sickly in my throat. I spotted my foe, stood with a group of his friends, smoking too. Not the nutter warming up boxing shadows like I’d imagined. Maybe this could be amicable, maybe he’d apologise for his actions, we all make mistakes, maybe—oh, no, he’s turned and is now sprinting dementedly toward me across the car park.

Pivot on my left foot, load it, left check hook in to the right side of his jaw, pivot out of his way as he falls unconscious to the floor. Precisely what didn’t happen. I’m glad I didn’t box then—feck me I’m glad he didn’t either. I was stood square on, didn’t think to set myself and didn’t throw anything as he jumped at pace to head-butt me. Being a head taller and going backward with his momentum, his forehead harmlessly hit the lower part of my chin, and we fell to the floor for a scrappy, gravelly grapple. I think it would look hilarious to watch, now. He managed to pin an arm as I attempt to get up with the other, and he bites the lower part of my neck. I remember yelping, “He’s biting me!” More a cry of ‘foul’ than anything else. A friend of his shouted back, “No rules!” I manage to get to my feet and he goes to rugby tackle me. I set my feet so he can’t get me down, but he continues to try, driving in to my midriff. I stand awkwardly and decide to start punching, throwing one, two, five, ten punches into the side of his head until he gives up the grapple. My turn to rugby tackle: much more successful, lifting and ragdolling him on to his back. He gets up a little slowly and as he goes for me again I swing a couple of punches, loosely and sloppily from the hip, stopping his advance. Christ I don’t like fighting, and I’m shit at it. I offer my hand, as much to end it for me as him. His mates offer more uninspiring slogans, a couple of fuck you’s, and he goes once more. I throw another couple of looping punches, one of which makes a horrible sound on his forehead, whether it’s my knuckle or the sound of impact I’m unsure. He looks dazed, bloodied and tired. I offer my shaking hand again, and he shakes it. Thank feck.

You hear the crowd when you’re fighting, I’ve come to learn through boxing in later years, but you don’t often see them. Looking at the scores of possibly underwhelmed but indubitably entertained students filling the car park, I finish a mate’s cigarette and walk toward the school. It’s all over in less than ten minutes. Walking past a teacher, who has obviously seen the commotion, she asks me what’s going on. “No idea”, I say, rushing off. She thought I should be suspended. Another teacher shook my hand.

The sort of thing I might fantasise about being able to gloat about on Facebook, when it came to being able to, I didn’t want to and decided against it. I felt humbled, and frankly scared by the whole ordeal. The dude and I made up and have chirped since. My girlfriend at the time, as all good women have a tendency to do for men, tended injury but not ego. “Nice camp boxing skills there, Liam”, she says as we watch a grainy video of my undeniably and flamboyantly camp attempts at punching, throwing from my leg in awkward arcs, before extending my hand to shake on a ceasefire. As scrappy and silly as educative and humbling, I haven’t had any car park contests since. Perhaps because I deleted Facebook, though.

 


After deleting Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which I used to publicise this site, visits dropped considerably. If you enjoyed this article, I’d really appreciate your clicking the title and sharing the web address on social media. Peace and chirps, Liam.

A Mythical Madcap Marxist Missile

Discussing and dissecting the national news was a first-daunting but wholly enjoyable way to spend the fourth week of my final first-year semester of study. Below you will find 300 (requested, a few more written) words that: “Compare the treatment of the same news event in two different newspapers published on the same day.”

Perhaps for not having read any news since the new year, the first and only headline that pounced to service I recalled from walking into an offie back in January: it practically barked at me, so I indulged in more than my usual few seconds glance and was generously rewarded … Enjoy:

The headlines discussed in this piece represent views expressed by Jeremy Corbyn on 17th January 2016: confirming his personal convictions in respect of nuclear weapons (ideally, unilateral disarmament), the British colonial territory off the coast of Argentina (bilateral discussion with a view to deal-making) and the then-burgeoning threat of the ‘Islamic State’ (wildly, proposing attempts at discussion before bombing).

Off_His_Warhead

The Sun’s headline, which earned hard(ly)-reserved laughter when tabled on the BBC News, depicts Jeremy Corbyn’s head within the warhead of a missile tellingly emblazoned with a radioactive sign on its side (Corbyn’s cheek), a flat cap sat atop its peak (a sign of the proletariat, thus left-wing politics); with a consonant subheadline of ‘CORBYN’S LATEST BOMBSHELLS’ (assumedly a continuation) and headline, ‘OFF HIS WAR HEAD’.

Irony and paradox sit comfortably on the page: the potential of the ideas in Corbyn’s head are tied to a warhead (classic Sun pun), signifying the danger they pose as tantamount to that causable by a nuclear bomb. The ‘cherry on the cake’ is the hat atop the (his) warhead, correlated to and indeed ‘topping’ the apocalyptic power of the bomb with a sign of his relatively left-wing political orientation. The Sun’s ideological alliance sees it crudely parry paradox by painting him as posing thermonuclear danger when his goal is antipolar: the doublethink required: to correlate the danger of nuclear armaments with his wacky idea of nuclear disarmament.

The Sun’s headline smacks of friendly or familial fear: declaring in a colloquial, innocent manner that the guy’s just plain mad. The ‘evidence’ proffered underneath (‘Take nukes off nuke subs/Do Falklands deal with Argies/Start talks with I.S. fiends’) settles the a priori condemnation of his views, represented in statements that, unlike the headline and sub, are framed in such a way as to appear his. In the words of Roland Barthes (Mythologies), the Sun here “…mimics silliness in order to make the public protest in one’s favour, and thus carry it along advantageously from complicity in helplessness [‘I don’t know the first thing about the ramifications of armament or disarmament…’] to complicity in intelligence [‘…but I know this guy is nonsensical and dangerous, a veritable dalek]… The reality behind this seasonally professed lack of culture is the old obscurantist myth according to which ideas are noxious if they are not controlled by ‘common sense’ [‘nukes off nuke subs’ is nonsensical!] and ‘feeling’ [the man’s a fecking missile]: Knowledge is Evil, they both grew on the same tree.” The gross simplification and misconstruance of his suggestions shreds nuance for maximum effect: this guy is a loose cannon, a ticking bomb, a ‘madcap leader’ who just (well, back in January actually) ‘blew up Labour’s last traces of credibility’.

Corbyn_39_s_Big_Idea

Then there’s The Daily Telegraph, shunning pretty pictures and punny funnies for barebones business and politics: thus, ‘Corbyn’s big idea: Trident subs with no nuclear arms’.

Flattering the readership by delegating them the task of decoding the senselessness of the proposition all by themselves (nuke subs – nukes = nonsensical), it provides more mature misdirection from engagement with the proposition and its justifications and invites them to juxtapose the magnitude of upkeeping a subaqueous transcontinental thermonuclear arsenal with clueless ole Corbyn, and his ‘big idea’ to decouple ‘nuclear arms’ (notice the premium double-barrelled terminology) from the subs. The dismissive and disparaging referral to his ‘big idea’, plus the wholly unnatural suggestion of separating a sub from its nuclear cub, is all the Telegraph reader requires: they decode that he may well be off his bloddy (war)head.

 

Apathical Politaphy – Apathy and the Impenetrability of Politics

I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate – it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn ― Leo Buscaglia

We may have found a cure for most evils; but we have found no remedy for the worst of them all, the apathy of human beings ― Helen Keller

Hailing from an island as small and sheltered as Guernsey has its pros, most of which I acknowledged without having fully appreciated until flying the nest, and it has some subtler perks that one mightn’t notice without travelling or living abroad.

One such pro is the high standard of living, providing a vantage point from which one can easily discern the cons of foreign lands.

One such con of the UK – and I stick with the term ‘con’ for good reason – is the endemic political apathy, especially among its youth; that young adults live lives void of political engagement cannot be by anything but design.

The disinterest is at least as strong in Guernsey, but almost unperceivable: the role played by the supremely cushy lifestyle lived by many on the island negates the will and need to politically engage oneself. The (informed) cynic in me says that this is deliberate; the optimist (or apologist, as the oh-so informed cynic in me calls him) says that Guernsey’s too plush a place for politicking to be popular – what grave injustice would there be to rail against?

Guernsey Seafront

(The first article I ever wrote was of Guernsey’s chronically politically disinterested youth but, being politics, I had to water it down (and down and down) to a meaningless mush.)

But for the sake of, say, a biannual lesson in politics, I mightn’t have made it past my teens without knowing the name of a politician in my own island, let alone on the world stage (assuming Bush, Obama and Blair don’t count of course!). This mightn’t matter on an island that can and does squander money as if it were a perishable product, but when you live in a society as unequal, unfair and uninterested as the UK, it starts to make sense that political apathy isn’t remediated…

 

Politics

Politics is an Asshole.

I take my own political engagement for granted. I’m so far departed from the hours spent trawling through Wikipedia trying to make sense of wars as depressing as WW1, issues as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and terms as opaque as ‘austerity’ that I forget just how much of an asshole politics is to a person – any person.

It’s because of this that too many people don’t know of the greatest threat to the UK today: it’s not immigration, it’s not ‘the terrorist threat’ and it’s definitely not Jeremy bloody Corbyn – it is political apathy and the corollary poverty of political engagement.

To be blunt: politics is important but it is effing boring.

If apathy wasn’t this endemic disease we see today, we mightn’t be the only Western European charging tuition fees, the highest fees in the industrialised world  (currently capped but due to be uncapped à l’Américaine); or have a secret spy agency known to be snooping (unlawfully) on its citizens whilst the Home Secretary pushing for increased powers; and, I’d like to think, we wouldn’t have a Conservative government if people had any clue what that entails, and has entailed, in reality.

uk poverty

Apathy

The apathetic seem staunch, immune, even – they’re not.

Without a catalyst and cause, the apathetic will remain politically disengaged.

Example: your uncle Roy has always been on the large side, but thought nothing of it – why would he?

Since retirement last year, Roy has ballooned and suffered for it in terms of his health, self-confidence and mobility. So, Roy educates himself as to the reasons behind the issue: he identifies his diet and lack of exercise as causative and takes action in respect of such, overhauling his relationship to food and upping his physical activity accordingly.

Before his life was made uncomfortable, internet-searching ‘how to lose weight’, swapping his breakfast baguette for an omelette and taking a brisk walk every evening had never occurred to him. Old uncle Roy might’ve taken the mick for you suggesting so.

Such is human nature: to not give a fiddler’s feck about something that doesn’t directly affect you. We’re selfish. It’s not a ‘damning indictment of society’ to say so, as ole uncle Roy so aptly demonstrates. It’s simple: if you don’t know better you don’t know better.

apathy grafitti

Activation

Why would you willingly involve yourself in politics?

It is not the case that people only get ‘into politics’ because they fancy it or feel they should, though many obviously do. Some are born with a parentally proffered political education. It’s difficult to be politically apathetic if politics is a constant topic of familial discussion, though danger lurks where parents paint their offspring a political stripe without allowing them to decide their views independently – political self-discovery is a (if not the) crucial component in becoming politically engaged.

Oftentimes political activists only become such due to a political activation: scores of formerly comfortable families collectively looked up from their iPads, leaving unfinished rounds of Angry Birds to go and get real-life angry at the ‘tough decisions’ taken by the Etonion automaton looking to slash benefits of employed, unemployed, abled and disabled alike. (Such is the Conservative slant on equality: an equal shafting for all… but the richest few.)

Some emancipate themselves from political apathy with self-education. People want to find out more about what their politicians are doing in their name with their tax pennies. Again, danger lurks with the advent of freely available information: the forces of extremism and reaction are ever present (see Islamic State media strategy) and mis-, dis- and non-information is as freely available as information – a veritable minefield of dangerous ideas and plain bullshittery.

Others are enlightened by higher education. Sixth-Form colleges, or what’ll be left of them anyhow, offer A-Levels in Politics (so I’m told, though I don’t doubt they teach as biased a narrative as is taught in secondary school History) and the option* of a university education (*still at the bargain rate of £9,000 per annum!) is available to those willing to learn. And financially enslave themselves.

tuition fees protest

(The humanities (politics, philosophy, art, etc.) – for which funding has been pulled completely by a Tory government hell-bent on quashing free thought – looks to cultivate the critical thought that challenges dogmas, promotes political engagement and therefore menaces the Establishment’s monopoly on knowledge and power.)

There are worse examples of (pseudo-)political activation, often spurred by a mainstream media that should have other priorities but know better than to broach sensitive issues that might actually matter to their readership, such as the legion of newly self-declared animal rights activists that inundated social media in the wake of a lion being killed in a legal hunt when, perhaps and in my opinion, the British press should’ve had other priorities. [Disclaimer: I by no means endorse or condone big game hunting, it’s barbaric and deplorable, I just think the mainstream media might’ve done better to focus on any one of the plethora of crises affecting millions of their readership instead of distracting them with a big Zimbabwean cat.]

Many will continue to live lives void of political impetus and they can, to an extent, be excused for doing so: modern society is designed in such a way that the least interesting thing just so happens to be the most important thing.

If you’re preoccupied and/or comfortable (distracted), why willingly enter a world in which regurgitated catchphrases are impenetrably articulated by insufferable nonpersonalities, sporting vacuums where their hearts and faces should be, claiming to represent the people without a fucking clue what constitutes reality for the overwhelming majority of their countrymen?

The most important thing is packaged and delivered as the least interesting thing.

A general view of the House of Commons, London, as MPs gather for the first time since the General Election.

Emancipation from Apathy: Political Engagement

How does one escape apathy and become a ‘politically engaged person’?

Why would one willingly engage themselves in politics? I don’t pose the question purely for rhetorical impact – think how unappealing a proposition this is.

Why aren’t there more people politically engaged? Aside from the clear governmental interest in preventing political engagement and its action in suppressing or misdirecting such, what’s stopping people from just waking up and doing something?

What are politically engaged people doing to engage the apathetic? Or, should that be, why aren’t politically engaged people doing something?

I shan’t be attempting to answer these questions in this piece, thought I intend to so in a future piece.

So, let us wrap up these woolly uncertainties and finish with a hard and hateful truth: Kanye West and Taylor Swift (or any other vacuous, meaningless, manufactured celebrity) matter more to more young people today than the future of humanity does.

celebrity obsession

Please, please don’t read this as an uppity and holier-than-thou know-it-all railing against ‘the youth of the day’ (I’m flitting between watching boxing on a laptop, reading click-bait on my BlackBerry and writing this) – just take a second, think. Is it appropriate that iPhones and Frozen are ‘bigger’ than, say, the irreversible destruction of our planet, rampant but rectifiable inequality, unnecessarily extreme poverty and perpetual war perpetuating all of the above? Think.

A slightly softer truth: it’s not their fault they’re ignorant. In the same way it’s not old uncle Roy’s fault. Apathetic people comprise but one component of the institution of apathy – they (and we) are victims of a social construct contrived to preoccupy every second of our lives with work and consumerism rather than reflecting on the humanity as a whole, showing solidarity or entertaining any prospect of actually changing things for the better (of humanity, just not ourselves and/or the West).

More than one and a half thousand years ago, Aristotle wrote ‘that man is by nature a political animal’. He’s right. We’re just distracted; politically neutered. It’s no coincidence.

It’s no coincidence.

The onus is on the government to ensure inclusion and engagement, but that’s clearly never going to happen. So, on falls the onus to the politically engaged: to shove a political firework up the apathetic asses of family, friends and peers alike.

 

You can’t be apolitical. It will come and get you. It’s not that you shouldn’t be neutral. It’s that you won’t be able to stay neutral ― Christopher Hitchens

 


 

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