Hell in a Handbasket: Thoughts on Order, Chaos and Control

Looking back, I’ve written a number of posts that take aim at the comments sections of online news articles. In the back of my mind, I know that the Internet is riddled with hate-spewing trolls, but I still find myself drawn to them. I guess I’m hoping for that one comment that falls under the banner of honest debate – the “Holy Grail” of comments. It can be quite fun poring through the randomness that is troll logic, but it’s also quite concerning that others will see the volume of troll posts and believe they represent a consensus; adopting their views rather than engaging with them.

When I shared a link to my John Lewis article on Twitter, a couple of fellow musicians replied. Within their short discussion, it was asserted that, when things change, people don’t feel in control; however, nobody has control – it’s just an illusion created by civilisation.

It’s funny how something as simple as a tweet can inspire complex thought. Do we really have no control over anything? Beyond our own absolute position in time and space, I don’t think so either.

Think about time in terms of order and chaos. The past, I believe, represents order. In computing terms, it’s like a file that lacks random write permissions: it can only be read from or appended to. The future, on the other hand, is chaos: a vast void of uncertainty. We have knowledge of the past to inform and help plan for this future based on probability but, morbid as it may seem, we are always aware that the future holds just one certainty: we will die at some point in the future; we just have no control over when. With this in mind, the future can be frightening.

This fear of death is not necessarily physical – one can fear a social death where inflexibility leads to irrelevance, invalidity and isolation. When non-trolls proclaim that the world’s going mad or the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, I believe what they are referring to specifically is a possible future with little to no precedent to base it on – a future they either can’t envisage or a worst case scenario. Going back briefly to the subject of gender, by replacing the long-held concept of a monochrome binary with a more colourful alternative, we are causing chaos in the form of incompatibilities with whatever we built upon it – hence the hostility over things like sports, bathrooms etc. Because we have no control over the future, those who lack the flexibility to adapt to it become defensive, fighting for their own social survival.

But remember: there are no guarantees. This worst case scenario could be one of a billion possible outcomes with equal probability. You can, however, address the incompatibilities and stack the odds in favour of a more acceptable outcome. How you do so is up to you: do you reject any responsibility and insist the other party just “deals with it”, or do you collaborate on a more inclusive solution?

The answer, I believe, lies in how far you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone; to open a dialogue you cannot control with those you perceive as a threat? It’s a gamble, but life is full of gambles.

Every once in a while, a small bet on long odds leads to a big payout.

I didn’t know what the term “Special Snowflake” meant… now I think Katie Hopkins is one!

Two words I often see hurled around on the internet form the term “Special Snowflake”. The term gets flung around whenever I watch YouTube videos on gender issues – the people in those videos tend to be in their teens or twenties, and the comments tend to come from more conservatively-minded people who dismiss their views as ‘unimportant’; that may be true on a global scale, but we all have different personal priorities.

I might just be showing my age or ignorance here, but I had no idea what one of them was. Of course, I had to go and look it up.

Based on the definitions I read, and the people often referred to as so-called “Special Snowflakes”, I can’t help thinking it’s a rather loaded, pejorative definition that doesn’t so much describe someone’s attitudes, but amplifies them. From what I read, Special Snowflakes:

  • Are ‘difficult’ people
  • See themselves as unique
  • Demand attention but won’t earn it
  • Have an overblown sense of entitlement
  • Are offended very easily
  • Often complain about being oppressed or victimised

Is anybody really like this, or is it just an overblown caricature used to fling at the younger generation? Are these attention-seeking ‘snowflakes’ drawing attention only to themselves, or are they using their own experiences to raise awareness of something important to many others? Has anybody even tried listening to and empathising with them to understand the nature of their offence or victimisation, or have they just dismissed it as “complaining”?

However, based on those definitions, I’d argue that one prime example of a “Special Snowflake” is conservative tabloid columnist Katie Hopkins. I know she’s not the kind of person the term usually gets applied to, but based solely on her public profile, she fits most of the definitions quite neatly:

  • She’s not been known to back down from her position, even when presented with verified evidence to the contrary; she’s also not been known to apologise whenever such comments cause mass offence. I’d say that blinkered stubbornness would make her quite a ‘difficult’ person.
  • Her extremely conservative views can be construed as an attempt to appear unique and special – particularly as they provide that ‘love-to-hate’ persona that perpetuates her car-crash celebrity.
  • Looking at her history, it appears she’s not done much to earn the attention she gets. Oxford University wouldn’t accept her, she was not commissioned to join the army due to an epileptic seizure, and prior to her public appearance on a reality TV show, she worked for the Met Office. Where’s her talent? Where’s her expertise? What does she provide to the public besides outspoken opinions?
  • As for being easily offended – in 2013, she admitted on daytime TV to a dislike of “lower class” given names and that she’d prevent her children from playing with anyone who had one. In addition to her rather callous comments about migrants, refugees and Muslims, I’d say she’s offended by anyone who is not of the same social class as herself and is probably upset at her tax contributions being used to provide services and assistance for these people.

I reckon you’d have to be a really unstable and inflexible person in order to meet the criteria of a true “Special Snowflake”.

In fact, come to think of it, it is possible that it is those who use the term to demean others who are the real Special Snowflakes. Think about it!

A Pledge for 2017

Instead of tweeting or writing stuff on this here blog type thing, I’ve spent most of Christmas building things, inserting batteries into things, installing things and listening to a myriad of Prog Rock LPs I’ve received over the holiday. With Christmas over and done with, and a new year fast approaching, I’ve taken a few moments to reflect on 2016 and make a few (realistic) aims for 2017.

First and foremost, I plan to use my online presence – small as it is – as a force for good. I paid a fleeting visit to a few public forums earlier today (I won’t mention their names) and was astonished at how much bandwidth was being wasted moaning about or regurgitating vitriolic rhetoric towards other people. I feel that some people are quick to complain when they don’t agree with something, but very reluctant to compliment when they do. I plan to use my online space to credit and compliment wherever I feel it is due.

I also recognise that, while I have made significant progress in this area, I need to do more to stop worrying what others think of me. My views, opinions and behaviours may not be in line with the wider British culture, but I shouldn’t censor myself so much.

Although it’s not 2017 yet, I’m going to get a head-start by proclaiming the following:

I like Phil Collins.

I realise I may lose some “Prog Cred” for saying so, but I I feel a lot of malice has been levied towards Phil. I must admit I got on board the Collins = Bad bandwagon over the years, but revisiting his 1980’s solo and Genesis work in recent months has proved to me that he wasn’t the sell-out he’s often made out to be. He just came from a different background and had different influences – as such, no solo or Collins-era Genesis album is totally devoid of merit if you take them on face value (no pun intended).

Not even Invisible Touch!

The Story of the Modern-Day Samaritan

One widely-used quotation spread around the internet comes from Dr. Milton Diamond:

“nature loves diversity, society hates it”

I don’t think it’s as much society that hates diversity as the media, although the two do kind of go hand-in-hand.

You probably get the picture by now that I get a little worked up by people who feel it is their business to discriminate against others simply because they are different. It’s one of the main reasons why I don’t read any print media – without even touching a copy of one of the British Tabloid newspapers, I can see how they persistently poison us against “the enemy” – whether that be migrants, gay people, transgender people – anyone who is not “normal”; in other words, anyone who doesn’t conform to the profile of the majority.

Reality paints a rather different picture. Despite the publicity given to views not unlike those of ultra-conservative groups like Britain First or Westboro Baptist Church, their views are by no means mainstream. The UK’s more extreme political parties have no real power, and any open protests against such minority groups rarely come without a much larger counter-protest.

Britain First are, on the other hand, home to one of the biggest ironies in politics. In among their policies rallying against immigration and Islam (and the one ‘better support for the NHS’ policy that’s a complete no-brainer), you’ll find the one where they want to promote Christianity. I was a church-goer for several years, and studied the Bible in depth during that time, and I can honestly say that the Christian philosophy is almost diametrically-opposite to that of Britain First. I think the only reason Britain First actively promote Christianity is due to the widespread influence of Anglicanism and its historical origins in Britain.

I’d like to see how they explain away the parable of the Good Samaritan – a story of how the more “high-class” people in society neglected to help a man robbed and left at death’s door, yet it was the “low-class” Samaritan who stopped to help. It’s easily the strongest and most prolific anti-discrimination stories ever written.

Let’s put it in a modern context…


A man was walking down a quiet side-street on his way to work, when a gang of thugs grabbed him, threw him to the floor, kicked and stabbed him repeatedly. When they’d had their fun, they took his wallet, phone and anything else of value, and left the man bleeding to death on the street.

The first person to walk past was a Stockbroker. The man weakly turned his head to face the stockbroker and whispered “please help me”. Just then, the bell at the London Stock Exchange rang; the stockbroker simply replied “sorry – I’m needed somewhere else” and went on his way.

The second person to walk past was an MP. Again, the man turned to him and, in an agonised whisper, asked “please can you help me”. The MP asked him “where do you live?”; when the man told him, the MP replied “sorry, you’re not one of my constituents – I cannot help you” and walked off.

The third person to walk past was a clergyman. Surely a man of the cloth would help someone in need? Once again, the man turned and asked “please can you help me”. The clergyman looked at how beaten and bloodied the man was, and took pity. At that time, the bell at his church started ringing and the clergyman simply said “sorry – my congregation need me. You’ll be in my prayers!” before hurrying off.

The last person to walk past was a refugee from Syria. One last time, the man asked him if he could help. The Syrian didn’t understand English, but he could see how badly hurt he was. He called to his friend, and between them, they lifted the man up and carried him to the nearest hospital.

Outside the hospital, the junior doctors were calling another strike. The MP had been to see them just moments before to tell them about their new contracts, which would have them working longer hours for less pay. One of the doctors looked at the man and could see he was in immediate need of help. He threw down his placard and ushered the Syrians towards A&E where he would be waiting with his team. The junior doctor and his team cleaned and disinfected his wounds, and replaced the blood he lost. They took care of the fractures in his ribs and skull.

When the man was in a stable condition, they moved him on to the ward. A Polish nurse made sure all his dressings were clean, a Romanian lady from the kitchens brought him the food and drink he needed to regain his strength, and the Syrians who stopped to help him came to visit every day – the patient in the adjacent bed spoke fluent Arabic, and translated for them. The man expressed his eternal gratitude towards them for saving his life when nobody else would. A life-long friendship began that day.

Watching from a distance, a journalist witnessed the whole incident and wrote the whole story down. He told of how the Stockbroker, MP and Clergyman all passed him by. He told of how the Syrian refugees stopped to help him, and how the junior doctor abandoned his picket to help save that man’s life. When his story was complete, he went to see his editor. His editor read it, screwed it up into a ball, and threw it away. Shocked, the journalist asked “why did you just throw my story in the bin?!”. His editor swiveled his chair to face the journalist, put on a serious face and said…

“The owner of this newspaper netted a cool £20m thanks to that stockbroker, the MP is voting against further regulation of the press, and the vicar is a very respectable member of my country club. I can’t print anything that tarnishes their reputations.”

The journalist wasn’t impressed. “It’s never stopped you before. Go on… what’s the real reason?”. The editor returned a knowing smile and replied:

“We can’t have the plebs thinking refugees are good people. We don’t want to look like hypocrites, now do we?”

Are people “objects”?

Another day, another YouTube video, another scroll-down to the comments section and yet another question I’m left asking.

The video I was watching told the story of a young couple, both of whom are transgender – not that you’d know that unless you knew them personally or had watched the video.

I scrolled down to the comments section, and there were at least a couple of people asking:

“So what are they?”

Not who, but what! Did this make them gay, straight, pansexual…?

It got me to question why some people feel the need to label other people as if they were objects. I came to think of it this way:

20161029_135638

This is commonly known as a Vinyl Record. It is a disc made of polyvinyl chloride with an etched spiral groove from which analogue sound can be reproduced.

20161029_140401.jpg

This can also be described as a vinyl record as it has the same characteristics as the one above. The grooves look identical to the casual observer but there is a major difference between the two – one plays a recording of Scoundrel Days by a-ha, the other Legion by Mark Shreeve. We can verify this by listening to the original master copies of each recording and comparing them to the signal etched in the grooves.

They are objects. They also have labels telling you what they are, so you can easily tell at a glance whether you are about to listen to a-ha or Mark Shreeve. Vinyl records are static and not sentient – the a-ha record will always play the same music every time, as will the Mark Shreeve record. Vinyl records come in all shapes, sizes and colours but, as long as they are made of polyvinyl chloride and have an analogue signal etched into a spiral groove, they will always be Vinyl records.

These are humans. Unlike Vinyl records, they are sentient and not static in that their behaviour is not so accurately predictable. Talk to either of them about a subject, and talk to them about the same subject a month later, and you may find that their two answers differ. Their sentience gives them what’s called a personality, and this personality will be significantly different when compared to other humans.

They can be divided into sub-groups called male and female based on their respective biology, but in terms of personality, the distinction is not so clear. Ryan and Jasmine have biological differences, but there will be areas of their personalities that they share with the other.

But all that is a rather long-winded explanation.

Unlike Vinyl records, human beings are not produced to serve a single, predictable function. They are not cut to spec, nor are they mass-produced – no two humans are entirely identical, ergo they are not objects and cannot be labelled as such.

So, to answer the question of what they are, just so you can give them the appropriate label, there is only one answer:

Humans.

Transgender Children: They exist. Get over it.

I don’t know why, but whenever I view or read something online, I feel the desire to scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the comments. I’d been watching another TEDx video, one about a parent coming to terms with the unexpected revelation that their middle child, assigned male at birth, wanted to be a girl, and wondered what the public’s reaction would be towards it.

I’ve watched a number of these TEDx presentations, and they’ve all been pretty progressive on the topic of gender, validated by presenters who were speaking from experience rather than opinion. For the most part, the comments posted were positive or at least supportive, but there’s always the odd few that post a negative reaction. Whether they’re speaking from the heart or just engaging in trolling remains to be seen, but there were common threads running throughout.

They weren’t speaking from experience

Unless you’re the parent of a transgender child, comments are superficial at best. The same applies to me too as neither of my children are transgender as far as I’m aware, so I can’t speak from experience either. The difference is that I will happily listen to and learn from other people’s experiences rather than jump in and add my 2p worth of bigotry.

They believe it is their business to determine how another person raises their child

Again, the same applies to me too – it’s none of my business either – but if you’re willing to give unsolicited parenting advice to complete strangers, you should be willing to accept advice from them in return; given that neither parent would act on the other’s advice, it’s just a complete waste of bandwidth. Besides, all children are unique and a parenting style that works for one child would not necessarily work with another.

They won’t leave the Bible out of this

There’s always the one über-Flanders type who dusts off their Bible and starts quoting cherry-picked verses out of context as a means to accuse parents of raising an ‘abomination’. Speaking as someone who has done his fair share of Bible study, I’d like to point out that Jesus had no real interest in the so-called “holy people”, preferring to reach out to those marginalized by society: tax collectors, lepers, women and so on. Based on that information, if Jesus came back tomorrow, would he be more likely to (a) visit a conservative church and give them all the thumbs up for enforcing conformity to Old Testament laws, or (b) visit a transgender child and tell them that, despite the teasing and bullying they receive, they are very much loved?

They’re ignorant of history (but they’ll try to prove otherwise)

“You never heard about Transgenderism until recently, which must make it a relatively new thing. There are no examples throughout history, so it must be some kind of modern (mental illness/liberal lunacy/Satanic work)*”

I always find this kind of talk rather amusing since it ignores the very meaning of recorded history. A lack of historical evidence supporting Transgenderism does not implicitly mean that it didn’t exist in previous centuries – gender dysphoria was neither as widely-reported as it is in this internet age, nor as widely-understood. It’s equally plausible that those who did experience gender dysphoria back then suffered in silence.

*Delete as applicable


Let’s say, for example, that one of these YouTube pundits finds themselves in the same room as a transgender child. What is the worst that’s going to happen to them? The risks are exactly the same whether the child is trans- or cis-gender: you may be subjected to a conversation about Pokémon or One Direction. Why? Because children are children. End of.

Ultimately, such comments are prejudiced, plain and simple; and there is no excuse for prejudice. My nan was quite conservative in many ways, but quite liberal in others. As a religious person, she was always conscious of the parable of the Good Samaritan and what it says about holding prejudices. When you’re in a life-or-death situation and somebody is standing in the middle, you’re not going to refuse their help on something as trivial as their sex, gender, race, religion or nationality.

Critics, Trolls and Keith Emerson: The Negativity Must End

mag_005The first few months of 2016 have been quite brutal. In just two-and-a-bit months, we’ve lost David Bowie, Terry Wogan, Glenn Frey, George Gaynes (yes, I like the Police Academy movies – even the later ones) and now, sadly, Keith Emerson.

When I got the news, before all the details were known, I was quite shocked – he always looked quite fit and healthy even into his 70’s. A day later, when all the details were revealed, I was both devastated and concerned: devastated at the tragic end to a musician I’ve admired since my late teens, but also very concerned about at what drove him to it.

In case you haven’t read the news, Keith’s ability to play the keyboards was hampered by a number of operations on his arm, resulting in increasing pain and discomfort. He’d got performances in Japan on the horizon, and another keyboard player was brought in to help him out, but he was very worried these injuries would result in poor performances and disappointed fans. I can certainly see how that would upset a man like Keith – he’d been one of the premier rock keyboardists for the best part of 50 years, and still had a legion of adoring fans who loved to hear him play. From what I’ve read about him over the years, he was always very passionate about his craft, and to have that almost taken away from you would really knock you down.

What concerned me was this revelation from his girlfriend, Mari:

“He read all the criticism online and was a sensitive soul. Last year he played concerts and people posted mean comments such as ‘I wish he would stop playing’.” — Mari Kawaguchi

mag_041I’m a huge advocate of our right to freedom of speech, but while we have the freedom to express our opinions and dissent, it doesn’t automatically infer that we can say what we want, when we want and to whom without consequence. In today’s culture, it appears we’re all quick to complain but never to compliment, and although a thick skin is beneficial to work as a musician, it is by no means essential and it shouldn’t be assumed that every public figure can take whatever is thrown at them. The internet has enabled many great things, but it shows its dark side by enabling the posting of malicious criticism anonymously and in a public forum. Through social media, such bile can even be sent direct to those it’s aimed at. I know ELP has been the butt of many jokes and suffered much ridicule at the hands of a music press who just loved to hate anything they deem pretentious or intellectual – but there is a big difference here. Deriding Keith’s music just because you don’t like it can be brushed off – we all have different tastes – but deriding the man himself in public is almost like deriding him to his face; when he has done nothing personally against you, I don’t think it’s called for.

If you must critique somebody or their work, I believe there are only two tones-of-voice you should use: positive and constructive. Musicians and their artistic works are not products with a single purpose like a a toaster or kettle – they depend on personal interpretation; if you can’t find even the slightest thing positive to say, it does not mean that the musician or their work has no merit or value – it just means that you are not best-qualified to review it. A while ago, back when I wrote a few articles for Make Your Own Taste, it was on the understanding that the overall tone would be positive. We received many review submissions from independent artists, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to hamper their potential, or give them a hard lesson in resilience, by giving bad reviews. If we didn’t review a submission, it didn’t necessarily mean we didn’t like it or thought badly of it – sometimes, we just couldn’t find the right words to say.

To all the trolls out there who seem hell-bent on spreading their malice throughout the web, I hope this highlights the potential consequences of such actions.

To all the critics, be careful – you never know when you might be kicking a man when he’s down.

To everyone else, let’s try and make the Internet a more positive place. As I’ve said above, social media has made it easy to send criticism directly to artists and musicians, but the same media can be used to send compliments. If you’re on Twitter and follow some of your favourite musicians, why not compose a tweet saying what it is that about them or their music that you admire – make sure you @mention them too.

It’s time to drown out all the negativity.