This one stops a bit early, well not early, I used too many words before I got to where I meant to.
Not enough lengthy diatribes spoken in pubs, around camp fires or at political conferences end with the words, “and when I say that, I should make it clear that I have no idea what I am talking about.” I think of once US presidential candidate candidate Michele Bachmann. She said the HPV vaccine caused “mental retardation” in a major TV interview, then, when confronted by the lack of evidence, she just said that she wasn’t a doctor or scientist and she heard it from someone or other probably, so you know, that’s the way it goes. Sometimes I am not certain why exactly I take the actions I do. Are they based on the dim memory of something I saw or heard or hypnagogically imagined? For instance, I don’t use Starbucks. This might be a fairtrade issue, or the way they dominate and destroy hight street choice, or staff treatment, but mainly I don’t because I find their coffee shoddy and bitter, so I haven’t needed to investigate any other atrocities as I am not going in there anyway. Oh, and their bun things once reminded me of a confectioner’s iced tumour. I don’t use Amazon, I think it’s about the tax issue, but then again, it is no great sacrifice to stop buying things as 2am sleepless comfort. Why not use that time to read books rather than order more.
Striding through London this afternoon, and I do stride, I am too impatient for ambling, I am reminded how we are followers. After politely ransacking the shelves of Gower Street Waterstones’ remainder department (The Dictionary of Homophobia, What It Means to be Human, More Than Darwin, if you want to know, which I presume you don’t), I went to the pedestrian crossing and watched as the followers started crossing the road as someone else had. The cars honked and the startled followers realised the green man was yet to appear, brief panic and giggling as the furious faced driver sped on, tutting to the point of sonically cracking his windscreen. At Oxford Circus, one escalator had no feet falling on it, it had become the escalator of suspicion as the leaders, though unaware of their leader status, had chosen the left-hand one. It would take a confident human to risk the escalator of suspicion, was that the Demon Seeded metal that would devour us to our knees and beyond?
It’s not easy to pay attention, much easier to see who is in front and follow their footfall or choice of main course or opinion on legal aid reform. How many things do we believe just because, well, that’s the way of it isn’t it. Every few days, it is worth mulling over why you think what you think, especially if you plan to use it in an argument.
When I watch discussion shows or listen to Radio phone ins, the question that doesn’t seem to be asked enough is, “why do you believe that?”
We are very good at offering opinions and not always so good at explaining why. Sometimes once we offer the evidence of why we believe what we believe, we reveal that our facts are jumbled and war may not be required quite yet. During my hullaballoo afternoons on Twitter, which I am trying to ration after my disastrous attempts at giving up teatime to dos, I notice that responses that required reasoning were often overlooked and instead the next stage of “but what about genocide/child abuse/British imperialism in the 1930s” is thrown in to up the emotion and act as a Grand Guignol distraction, a conjuror’s panicked trick of setting fire to a dove so you don’t notice the rabbit is dead.
This used to be, and probably still is, the method of creating the level of emotional conflict required for TV interest. Have a panel of drug experts and drug takers explain risk and experience, but once the white heat of passion is dowsed by cool statistics, ensure that someone who has lost a beloved relative has the last word, and all the evidence is now deemed callous in the face of tears and a human story.
I have found myself arguing and then be nagged by some interior homunculus who dismissively points out that, if I am honest, I have no idea what I am talking about. This normally happens in second or third stage conversation. You were comfortable on stage one as you had recently read a Guardian editorial, but then a plucky and combative friend took it a stage beyond your four paragraph knowledge. You bluff, you rely on a general instinct on the evil of Western foreign policy/legal aid legislation or the current cosmological viewpoints on big bang theory. By this point, as some of the major ethical dilemmas of the world are being rent asunder and rebuilt, you are all bluffing. You all have four paragraphs of different editorials and an angry energy to imagine the wrongs of the world as you wish them to be. Thank goodness this is just a pub fight, not a cabinet meeting or UN debate, though I fear they may grow out of less knowledge and more desire for the fictions required than we might hope.
It is important to question the received wisdom, but don’t believe because you are contradictory towards the generally accepted version of events, you are a smarter cookie than the flannel-faced idiots you mock. Being contrary is not enough. A popular sleight is to declare those who agree with any “official version” are Sheeple. It is not easy to be a freethinking, there are those free thinkers who are just freely thinking the version of events that they wish to be true. “my freethoughts have been freely supplied by David Icke/Nigel Lawson’s thinktank/an alternative newsite run by a hallucinating post modernist in lives in a Zepellin”
It is good to be sceptical, but to be sceptical also requires you do the reading and you ask the right questions. There are those who ask questions to prove their right and those who ask questions because they want to find out what is really going on. No one likes a smart arse, maybe that’s why self-loathing is on the up.
The new Cosmic Genome is here, with many speakers added, including Jim Al-Khalili and Josie Long, plus usual stalwarts Helens Czerski, Keen and Arney, Brian Cox, Ben Goldacre and about 54 more. Find information HERE
I am on tour, to Oxford, Bath, Southport and East London w/ Josie Long and Grace Petrie, and Brighton, Manchester, Sheffield, Havant, Birmingham, Powys and many more with my Darwin/Feynman/Red-Lipped Batfish show. details HERE