Sunday, 25 September 2011

Added bonus: "The Problem with Favouring Women"

Continuing on the fine tradition of writing after getting angry at something someone said on Newsnight… I ended up writing a guest postfor The F Word.

That’s right! I have published something on The F Word. I have only been trying to do it for 5 years… YAY ME!

The point I was trying to make was that since women are socialised to be the carers in society, any attack on the jobs that provide the “care” will constitute an attack on women. And an attack on what we could even call “women’s values”. Not because women are intrinsically more caring than men, but because patriarchy has decided that they are, and socialised them accordingly. Throughout the world, “caring” is seen as something women do, more often than not, for free. So any attack on the “caring” jobs will be an attack on women’s labour and women’s values.

And that is how you explain the Tories’ cuts as “ideologically motivated”. They are driven by the assumption that caring is expendable, certain in the belief that if caring is needed, women will step up to do it, for free. Women’s work is therefore devalued and made invisible.

This is just a template to understand the cuts; it is not enough to explain them. For instance, police services are being cut as well, and these are not “caring” jobs, and neither are they more popular with women than men. So this “template” has its limitations; but I believe it’s useful anyway.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A Magical Door to Beat the Corporation-Gods

So here I was, reading “Castle in the Air” (“An exotically magical sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle”) when I came up with this handy analogy for how corporations work. And why we can’t beat them in their own game.

Imagine you work in a country where the wages are highest, say The US. But you also live in a place where taxes are lowest, like the Cayman Islands. While at the same time you are domiciled in the country with the best welfare state, so you get lots of quality stuff for free, like Sweden. Yet, when you do your shopping, you go to the country with the weakest currency, like Vietnam.

It’s easy to see how you’d be pretty minted. You’d be earning lots of dollars (cheers, US), you’d give up none of them (cheers, Cayman Islands), you’d get education, healthcare, safety net and the like for free (cheers, Sweden), and you will be spending peanuts on life essentials (cheers, Vietnam).

Unfortunately you, and I, and the vast majority of people in this world, can’t do that. On account that we are a single human entity and cannot live in more than one place at the same time. Most of us have to live where we work, which means that wherever we are we end up spending as much as we earn just to live.

Corporations, on the other hand, are not single human entities. They are human “creations” and they are allowed to “live” in as many places as they like. Notice my use of the word “allowed”; at any given time we could stop “allowing” them to do anything we didn’t want them to.

So corporations make their products where wages are the lowest (Vietnam), then come to rich countries, where they can sell those products at tens of times the amount the cost to produce (US), while at the same time they are domiciled in the Cayman Islands and pay no taxes.

I believe this means that they delay the well known “Marxist crisis”. (Though I could be wrong).

We have created these entities which are larger than us. In a different epoch, we would have justifiable called them “Gods”. This is probably the first time in history when colossally powerful entities have been brought to life, by humans, without at least the pretence of acting for the benefit of all.

In order to compete fairly with corporations, we would need a magical castle like Howl’s. A door with access to different worlds, and different places within the same world, would mean that we would have at the very least the same rights as a corporation.

Without Howl’s door, however, we become mere pawns in the chess game played by the Gods that these corporations have become.

And the reason why I will be one of the best political writers out there is because I can hold simultaneously in my head the world of politics and the universe of fantasy.

Note: Do read the books if you haven't. And watch the movie "Howl's Moving Castle". Really, you won't regret it.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mock Their Ignorance

Did you hear what happened today in “Mock The Week”? Me neither. But I have twitter, so I don’t have to know.

Apparently they made some sexist jokes. I know, knock me over with a feather.

At any rate, feminists on twitter called them out on their crap, and a “twitter-debate” followed. I caught this much:

Mock The Week: “we're just saying that gender does not matter to us when we book a comedian”

Ellie Cumbo: “It should matter. You are failing to cater to the experiences of over half your audience”

Mock The Week: “are we? We've millions of female viewers who keep watching”

Let’s put aside the, frankly, unjustifiable claim that “gender does not matter when we book a comedian”. So, how do comedians audition? Behind a screen and with a voice distorting machine thingy?
If gender really didn’t matter, there would be more female comedians. End of.
Speaking of which, why doesn’t Shappi Khorsandi have her own programme already?

What I want to focus is on their defence “argument” that “we have female viewers who keep watching”.

It turns out, for those who may not be aware of it (like me, 10 minutes ago), that “Mock the Week” is produced by an independent company and is then broadcasted on BBC 2.

Allow me to make a huge mental leap here and conclude that the show is, effectively, bought by the BBC. With taxpayer’s money.
Now the BBC is a “public service broadcaster”, supported by the public. Which means that it’s there to serve the public. And the public should have the ultimate say into what goes on.

So if the public is saying “oi! Sexism!”, what should the BBC do? That’s right: it should respect the will of the public and do as the public says. At least that is what should happen if we truly lived in a “democracy”.

See, I talk endlessly about the “free market” and nobody listens because it’s not a “hip and cool” topic. Unfortunately, though, it’s precisely what underpins most of our problems with mass culture.

So despite the fact that MTW is, effectively, financed by the public, Mr MTW Twitterer has the nerve of coming out and defending its sexist actions under “well, customers buy our product”.

No. It doesn’t work that way. Because the BBC is a public service paid by the public.

For a similar example, imagine what would happen if we all complained about sexism in the NHS and Mr NHS representative came out and said “well, customers keep coming”. We would probably laugh in his face. The NHS is a public service paid by the public. Which means that the public gets to decide what happens with it. NOT THE “CUSTOMER”.

*sigh* I really don’t know how to make this clearer.
Public service: paid by the taxpayer because we all agree that it’s a public good. And because we pay for it, we decide what happens with it.
Private service: paid by “customers”. What happens with it is somewhat decided by whether customers buy a certain product or not. If they don’t, the company loses.


Now there will be people who try to apply a “private service” or “free market” mentality to MTW and try and defend the show on the grounds that “female viewers keep on coming”.

Here’s the thing: the public not always knows what is best for themselves.

Does that sound paternalistic? Perhaps. Unfortunately, under the current political system, the choices are either “free market” or “estate paternalism”.

The NHS is supported by the public, and it’s the public who (ideally) has the ultimate say. However, not everyone’s opinion will carry the same weight. For example, it doesn’t matter if most members of the public smoke: the NHS’s approach is to treat smoking as a silent killer. That’s because there are doctors and specialists who know better than “the public” what is best for “the public”.

And we are all cool with that. Because, ultimately, we can’t all be doctors. And so we trust doctors to know what’s best for us.

Similarly, there is one group of people who are experts in what constitutes sexism. They may not be regular consultants for the BBC, but they should be. Can you guess who they are?

That’s right: feminists. It matters little whether most women “don’t notice” the sexism in MTW. Because if they did, they would be feminists. And they would be calling it out, like we do.

Most women may or may not be “feminists”, but that shouldn’t be here or there. When it comes to noticing sexism, feminists are experts. And if we say “oi! Sexism!”, it’s because it’s there.

And it shouldn’t be.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

New NHS Bill - Who will be responsible for the NHS?

I have just made it my goal to explain one aspect of the new NHS Bill and give it some political context. Why? Heaven knows.

This is what I’ve learnt. At the moment, and in accordance to the “2006 National Health Service Bill”, the Secretary of State for Health has the “duty to provide” health services for people.

Yet this new NHS Bill making the rounds removes this “duty” from the Secretary of State for Health. They are no longer “legally and constitutionally responsible” for providing these services.

So who will be responsible for providing these services? “Clinical commissioning groups”.

You may be wondering, “does it matter who is responsible for providing these services so long as the services are provided?”. I’m glad you asked.

It matters because it has to do with “accountability” and “responsibility”.

Under this new bill the “duty to provide” will be passed on to unaccountable “clinical commissioning groups”. What does “unaccountable” mean? It means that we don’t vote them in, and, correspondingly, we can’t vote them out. That’s the trouble with taking roles away from elected officials and passing them on to unelected groups.

And as for “responsibility”. Try to take your mind back to the boarding school you never attended, and picture an authority figure towering before you after you have done something naughty and booming “who’s responsible for this?”.

If this new bill becomes law, nobody will be ultimately responsible. The people in charge will be “clinical commissioning groups”. Not people who can be held responsible for their actions and brought to a court of law if need be.

Do you know who these groups are? Me neither.
Granted, you may not even know who the Secretary of State for Health is. But at the end of the day, Mr Andrew Lansley had to be voted in by the citizens of this country before he was given this “duty”. And we know his name. He is a real person, alive and everything. Ultimately, the ball stops at his feet.

This whole situation reminds me of this documentary I saw a few months ago. These female hotel cleaners in London were trying to get their wages raised to the London living allowance.

But they were caught in the middle of this “lack of accountability” dance. The workers would go to the hotel and say “raise our wages”, only to be sent back with the excuse that “the hotel doesn’t manage your wages, it hires an agency”. Then they would go to the agency and say “raise our wages”, only to be sent back with the excuse that “the hotel doesn’t give us enough money to raise our wages, nothing we can do, go to the hotel”. Three years on, and they keep dancing.

This is what the “lack of accountability” dance looks like. You may have found yourself caught in it more than once. We often experience it as “the failure to get anything done because nobody seems to be responsible for it”. So, for instance, you call a phone number and ask for something to be done only to be told that “we don’t deal with this issue, you have to call somewhere else”. After they gracefully give you this other number, and you call it, you find almost the exact same response from the person at the end of the line “we don’t deal with this issue, you have to call somewhere else”. At its most ludicrous, the second “somewhere else” may in fact turn out to be the first place you called, which instantly sends you into a spiral of rage, confusion and hopeless frustration.

And this is what corporatism does: it dilutes responsibility to the point that nobody can trace it any longer, and nobody is found responsible for anything. Above all “Nobody” is responsible. Which means the ball never stops at the feet of a real, breathing human being.

This also means that when things go wrong, they go very very wrong indeed. If I can direct your attention to the Grand financial crisis of 2008… Who caused the crisis? The banks, of course. But “who”? Well, “nobody”. Of course, when it came to paying for the damage, “Nobody” was nowhere to be found, and the taxpayer had to foot the bill. Also, when it came to taking responsibility for the damage, “Nobody” did not make an appearance. And nobody else did either. The Government couldn’t be held responsible because the Government has very little responsibility over banks.

For yet another example you can look at the Oil Spill in the Golf of Mexico.

Now, the Grand financial crisis of 2008 was bad enough. But can you imagine what could happen if some shady “clinical commissioning group” messed up somewhere? What would we do? We would understandably rise in anger and point our finger at the government. We would ask the Secretary of State for Health to take responsibility for what happened under their watch... And then we would see the Secretary of State shrug their shoulders and say something akin to “we don’t deal with this issue, you have to call somewhere else”.

That is what happens when you remove accountability. The ball no longer stops at a person we all know because we elected them. Instead, some group or other is in charge of things, which means that when things go wrong and we confront this amorphous, inhuman entity, the response we get comes from its PR department is something like “measures will be taken to avoid similar outcomes”.

Yet when it comes to matters of Health, “similar outcomes” could be personal tragedies.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Meaning of Politics

I wonder why keep going back to politics. Surely if the ultimate goal was finding “truth”, I could choose other fields to go about it?
Nicer fields, more popular, more “people friendly”… more compatible with earning a living and actually living a life. More “womanly”. Like history of art, or literature. Or even philosophy.

I have a complex about not being more “womanly”. And my obsession with politics doesn’t help. When I say to people that I want to be a writer, they inevitably ask me “what do you want to write?”. And at that moment I know that I would have a much easier life if the answer was “well, I want to write about nature and surrealism” or “postcolonial history” or “romance in Victorian England”.

But no. What I want to write is politics. And to make matters worse, my answer never takes the form of “well… *whispers demurely* politics”. Oh, no! What I say is “Politics!”, with a strong emphasis on the “P”.

It’s not that I’m not interested in other fields. I’m passionate about philosophy, and I really enjoy Fantasy. That’s all well and good, but when I go back and read something like this, clear, to the point, and aimed unapologetically towards changing the world, I get a feeling of “THIS! THIS! Say no more!”.

Other fields are… you know… interesting. And you can read about them for ages. It’s all very instructive; you do expand your mind and your consciousness and as a result you can better appreciate the world around you. This, I believe, may be the reason why we humans have this compulsion to learn, to understand: because it allows us to experience more of the world. It’s like opening new eyes and seeing something for the first time, even though you may have seen it many times before. Now that you understand how trees grow in forests, you don’t see those trees you passed everyday in the same way. They are now richer, fuller.

Yes, learning is fascinating. I could easily spend my life doing it.

But politics? Politics puts “humans” at the centre. And I mean “humans” with an “s”. Politics has a very clear goal “we live better”. I’m not speaking Tarzanian here. Politics is the language we use to say to God, the Universe, those in Power, ourselves, that “we” are going to “live better”. No apologies.

As fun and enriching as learning is, politics is not learning for learning’s sake. It wants to change things, and unlike other fields, it measures its “usefulness” by how much it cares about people, and how much it improves their lives. It is the practice of medicine on society.

It has a strong moral component: it says “this is wrong”. And it’s not interested so much in finding “absolutes”. Politics says “this is wrong because it’s bad for people, see?”. What guides us is a moral compass we are more interested in using than finding and defining.

Too often politics is about saying what we all feel and know, but no one has the guts to spell out loud. As such politics is intrinsically “honest”. It is the direct articulation of our wants and needs in a social level. It is the demand for our wants and needs to be recognised and met.

And that takes guts. It’s one thing to say “I need this”; quite another to say “we need this”. And another still to say “we need this and you better give it to us”.

As for why I keep going back to politics? I have been blessed and cursed by a childish ingenuity and hopeless outspokenness to point to the Emperor and denounce his absence of garments.

And that’s why politics has chosen me as one of its many writers.  

Note: Re: this whole post. Don't ask. It was midnight, I suddenly get the urge to start writing and this is what comes out. 'Cuz, ya'know: I'm a writer.