How to enter a New Year

Hello.

In the last post, I expressed my fear over the potential for Boris Johnson to secure a large majority in the then upcoming general election. My fears were confirmed, and I am genuinely concerned for what the future holds. Anyone who knows me from Twitter knows that I have been expressing this a great deal, often in colourful language. And for good reason – already, the far-right figure Tommy Robinson has joined the Conservative party, and all early signs indicate that Johnson himself is going to do very little to protect workers rights and the environment when Brexit makes itself known, among other things.

After several days of tweeting, retweeting and liking posts in a kind of cathartic rage, it eventually became clear to me which tweets I liked the most. Not those that reflected myself, spitting like a Visigoth, but those assurances to any concerned people reading them that things can still be OK if we try and work through it, or declarations of solidarity with those marginalized groups most worried for their safety under this new regime that was invited in on the back of right-wing populist rhetoric.

I imagine this probably betrays an overly sentimental edge on my part – I mean, how do I know the future’s going to be OK? The fact is, I don’t. 2019, on reflection, is shaping up to be nearly as bad as 2016, and even though I resolved to feel better at the end of that year, things still went pear-shaped the year afterwards. I can’t guarantee that won’t happen again, or even worse. The world appears to be becoming a less friendly place, even within the context of getting older, and yes, that and all the things that are causing it does make me angry. Anger is a very natural response.

It’s also a given. What isn’t a given is what I choose to do with it.

A bit rich, perhaps, given my catharsis overload on Twitter recently. OK, fair enough. But anger’s omnipresent, and has driven our species since the beginning. Oftentimes it’s a rightful response to some great injustice, and in those circumstances it can be amazingly healthy. But that response is so well-known, that anyone can manipulate it for their own purposes. It doesn’t seem coincidental to me that the alt-right in the West rose shortly after the crash of 2008, just as fascism reached its peak in the wake of the Great Depression. People who were promised the Earth suddenly lost out – with no jobs, no future prospects, they looked for someone to blame. Those who could channel such anger did, and the rest is history. Now, I’m not defending fascists – indeed, most of them weren’t driven by the anger of the mob, but their general detachment from any kind of human empathy and compassion, making their emotional responses to others inadequate shells in comparison to what normal humans feel. But they disguised it, and continue to disguise it, and those who are angry sometimes don’t notice the worst signs because they aren’t thinking straight, and how do they react when people accuse them of being hateful? By doubling down and becoming convinced in their view that the entire world is against them, and all must be sacrificed to fight back.

The drive to anger is not the problem – as I said, it’s often a healthy reaction to a great injustice (indeed, like the massive injustices perpetrated by fascism and the alt-right), but if you seek to right a wrong, be it a perceived wrong you were deceived about, or a genuine wrong that exists, how will you change it? Yes, spreading awareness is a good thing, but if you channel your anger at the figure of it, it’s unlikely to stick. At worst, you would have just reinforced their belief.

The blunt fact of the matter is, there are a lot of people it’s difficult not to be angry with. There are also people it’s difficult not to hate. For the absolute worst people, it may be impossible not to hate them, but leaving them aside, when you find yourself faced with someone whom you have heavy disagreements with on issues you think are important, it’s up to you to decide which route you’re going to go down. If you choose to confront them about it, it’s important you make sure they know exactly why you feel as strongly as you do – it’s not enough for them to know why you feel so strongly about it. In the same vein, if we are ever going to eradicate, and I mean, truly eradicate the worst kind of prejudices that exist in our society, some held with malice, others just through sheer ignorance, it’s important to know why individuals come to hold them. How can people be so full of hate? For limited beings who are used to seeing themselves as the only sensible person in the room, it might be easier than you think.

Looking back on this year, there’s been a lot of anger – from the righteous anger involved in my political activism, to the less righteous (but surely justified to themselves) anger involved in some other people’s political activism, the irritation that occurs when celebs you admire disappoint you, the times when genuinely righteous anger gets taken to a level you’re uncomfortable with, and even anger at oneself, for continuing to be a wretched disappointment to everyone. Lots and lots of anger. Anger is easy. Patience and understanding much less so – but I feel that in most cases, mobilizations by anger should be a last resort.

I will certainly continue to be mobilized by anger, probably for the rest of my life, but sometimes, I do really get tired of it. I (usually) can’t make the world better by shouting at it, or myself better by shouting at myself. For this Christmas-time, and for the New Year, I want to focus on being nice. Why? Because I want the world to be nicer. When you’re motivated by anger, it means you care about something, but often that recognition seems to get lost on the way. How many times have I seen people, motivated by righteous anger, condemning our species as being corrupt, depraved and hopeless, failing to realize that the ability to make the judgement comes from a place that is clearly not entirely corrupt, depraved and hopeless. And the more people choose to unleash their anger in response to wanting the world to be nicer, they are avoiding that chance.

Though currently looking for paid work, I’m also looking for opportunity to volunteer, particularly in local charities, because I want to give something often missing from everyday interactions – just someone taking the time to be nice, altruistic, friendly, compassionate. I have often failed to make that case, and I don’t want it to be a consistent feature.

I get the feeling some people I know might be annoyed at my approach – and that’s fine. I’m aware of the common things people throw out when the call for civility is made. It is, for example, difficult to talk civilly to someone who has their boot on their neck. And as I’ve said, those in such situation should absolutely fight back with everything they have. But for those not quite in that situation yet, it might be worth trying to focus on what we have in common than what makes us distinct. A recognition of common humanity often makes people question the biased, prejudiced beliefs they hold – that, at least, is the testimony I’ve heard from people transformed away from their bigotry.

This will probably be the last majorly political (sort of) post I’m going to make for a while. I want to use this to talk about the things in writing I find interesting, or the stuff I read that I like. Or maybe I won’t post on this again for a while in general, because I’ll be busy with other things. Therefore, when faced with uncertainty (of which there is a lot), it’s important that you remember this:

You exist. You didn’t have to, but you do. Use that. Make someone else’s existence brighter. There are already plenty who do that for me, so it’s about time I did that too, in my own befuddled way. So, have a great Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

One comment

  1. ChanAtkins · December 20

    Lovely piece, Toby. It made me smile and almost cry… Full of warmth and hope and love. Massive well done to you for coming back from a tough week with such a positive attitude. Lovely sentiments going forward into a New Year too. I hope it is a better one for everyone.

    Like

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