bearing witness

Each of us has the talents awarded us.  Some of us, on the other hand, believe that 10,000 hours makes anyone talented.

I don’t disagree with the 10,000-hour theory.  That doesn’t mean some aren’t naturally talented.

I was moved to tweet the following about writing and writers a couple of hours ago:

The utility, then, of writing and writers.

Or not, as the case may be.

There is, I think, a growing aversion to philosophising.  I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with software code like Twitter and Facebook which encourages us to think fast and react shortly … skim-reading and discarding the well-turned phrase and paragraph; refusing to properly value a long-read understanding of subjects just a tad deeper than the ubiquitous selfie.

Does the kind of stuff I value at a personal level – reading, writing, blogging, tweeting; essentially, bearing witness to my point of view (because if I don’t do it, who can?) – have any wider value?  I suppose one might argue it could only do so if I was able to publish in massive media.  That I don’t means it doesn’t.

And so the exhortations to do instead of think.

Get involved.

Stuff envelopes.

Meet real people without the mediation of a computer screen.

But if one truly believes what one does best is to think stuff and, then, to proceed to write it down as a consequence, whether recognised or not, whether fêted or no, wouldn’t the space one occupies in the world be utterly zeroed by a giving-up on a skill which one day others might treasure?

As you can see, I’ve resisted the temptation to trot out the word “talent” yet again.

Let’s stick with “skill”; or perhaps the much more prosaic “skillset”.

I hate the latter word (even as I’m obliged to use it frequently) as much as I hate the term “monetise”!

Do you too?



On to a real-life example of bearing witness.

As I write these words, a million people march in Paris in favour of freedom of expression; in favour of a world free of terror.

We need these moments.

We need to bear witness.

I refuse to believe a philosophising world cannot win the day.

If we play the card of violence back at those who luxuriate in violence, we lose so much of what it is to be human.

When I suggest we need love, I do not do so out of a desire, intention or goal to perpetuate existing structures that cause people serious and undeniable damage.

I’m suggesting a post-restructuring strategy.

Something that was missing in Iraq; in Afghanistan; in Libya …

Even – at a different level, admittedly – here in Britain, where the conflict of Coalition government has wrought tremendous violence on a post-war Old World of solidarity – a world which my generation grew up both in the shadow of as well as benefiting from; an Old World lately sadly accustomed to being accused of cruelty to its own.


To my conclusion.

In most duels, we allow most participants the right to choose their weapons.

I choose mine.

I choose the keyboard.

Insignificantly; irrelevantly to many perhaps; in a very small way.  But democracy’s sustenance, its renewal, its continuity, all depend on little people doing little things.

I won’t ever search out a big role in anything.  Firstly, it’s too late.  Secondly, that’s never been my way; never been my style.

But, through such continued little example, almost religiously I suppose, definitely in the tradition of teaching which has threaded its way through my family’s generations, I will encourage as many as I can to do the best they can – without ever encouraging them to hurt anyone at all.

And maybe – who knows? Perhaps well beyond your or my time – a philosophising, writing and loving world of shared learning can be recreated as a result.

why i’m feeling it’s a problem communicating with people unlike myself

This started when I began to feel uncomfortable about going to a park alone.  I don’t feel like that when in Spain or Croatia; only in Britain.

Men, alone, in a park, are considered potentially dangerous in Britain.

Or, at least, that’s how I feel men are seen these days.  If you’re walking out with a spouse, it makes no blind bit of difference, of course.  No one is afraid of (say) a husband dutifully connected to a wife.  And women, in fact, can go for walks by themselves without parents feeling children may be threatened.

But men – God forbid.

That’s how I see it anyhow.

Does anyone else feel the same about how men are seen in Britain – or is that only, sadly, me?


The reaction, or the behaviour, appears to be expanding further now.

When an avatar on Twitter appears to be of a woman (so leading one naturally to assume that the person behind it is a woman) or is self-asserted transgender or is demonstrably religious or is anything but white, privileged, mostly secular myself, I feel I am without any real right to intervene and communicate back.  This is partly because my privilege has made me unable to understand another’s plight, reality, situation or joy.  Also, I am part of a wider threat to a more equal humanity.

In particular this happens when the person in question is saying quite sad things about their life.

Sad things I’d like to support them on.

Sad things I think (I think we can fairly assume) they’re asking quite publicly to be supported on.

I still do exchange info and tweets with all sorts of people, of course; but on what I consider relatively neutral topics.  Or perhaps that’s actually clearly neutral topics.

The emotional ones, the ones which I as a writer and human being am bound to be interested in, I feel are out of bounds for someone as white and clearly privileged as I am.

I’ve begun to feel online communication is so easily a spark away from tinder-box reactions that discretion cowardice is the better part of valour.

So, instead, I now feel that people will think I am simply looking to wear politically correct badges of courage, when in reality I’ve always thought I was trying humanely to reach out.

And maybe if I now feel that, then it’s going to kinda be true.

What do you think?

Are these the blatherings of confused – maybe gradually auto-anxiety provoking – privilege?

Or is there a real human need for equal communication being lost to what’s becoming an ether of righteousness?


remote-control witnesses, all

The stories of hostage-taking in France have unfolded on Twitter this morning.  Or, perhaps, I should really say “unravelled”.

Twitter is a hit-a-second medium at the best of times: not good for ageing hearts I guess.


I found myself on the point of tweeting – and then self-censoring the tweet in question – that there were indeed times when we didn’t need the oxygen of publicity.  The nearest I’ll ever get to siding with any of Thatcher’s touchstones.

I did tweet this:

Mind you, I suppose I’d be accused of only fearing for my white supremacist and patriarchal privileges.  And, you know, you could be right.

The problem in part, of course, is the construct that is our media.  Our relationship with information is mediated as never before.  They say, of course they say, that social networks provide a corrective: I have, however, been as confused and fooled by individuals who’ve communicated with me on such networks as I regularly am by the mainstream invaders of the same.

So we occupy in this construct the supposed position of privileged witnesses.  Yet we control not the frame, not the direction of the camera lens; neither, in the simple writing, the adjectives nor the verbs chosen to define.

We are not real witnesses; we are, instead, vicarious voyeuristic souls.  We’re zapper witnesses: witnesses via remote control.  It was always kinda that, I suppose: but we had the long read then; cuddling up with our papers then; thinking beyond the narrative and making our own corrections amongst friends and fam then.

Or not as the case may be.

It often depended on the household.

Even so, a different then in many ways.

Now we are tugged here and there by the manipulators.  The manipulators are the ones who we know well; but there are new ones too.  The information is as freely available to the bad guys as it is to the good guys.

It even allows the good guys to feel they aren’t, and the bad guys to feel how alike to the good guys they might be.

Or not.

Depending on how thoughtful the good guys really are.

In the end, as zapper witnesses, we get a taste for no unmediated reality at all.  And whilst our keyboard warrior-like behaviours reflect our desire to do good with the minimum of effort, few of us really exist outside the white tent of forensically self-interested examination which these media constructs persist in putting up around our perceptions.

As Chris concludes:

It’s in this context that we should remember one of Marx’s insights. Ideals, he thought, triumph not because of their intellectual strength but because of their political power: capitalism, he thought, would be overthrown not by sweet reason but by the power of the working class. The problem that we supporters of freedom have is that whilst we have right on our side, we don’t have might.

And those with might on their side, meanwhile, sell us a freedom riddled with the inconsistencies of such mediation.

Or, put more simply, because of their plain and flat – very human – desires to remain at the top of their respective ecosystems … that’s where they stay.