Friday, August 15, 2014

Charity Terrorism

I notice there’s a lot of smash and grab charity campaigns out there today. It used to be that people would do meaningful things like run a marathon, do a long distance bike rides or cut all their hair off to raise awareness and money. In these cases there is at least a perceived feeling of sacrifice and were normally announced before the event giving people a chance to participate or not rather than forcing it in their faces after you've done it.

Now since charity organisations have really taken the mantle of pointless “looky looky” “feely-feely” social media campaigning we see a much more direct and perhaps socially manipulative form of charity campaigning. The latest form is the Ice Bucket Challenge (replacing the outdated flavour of the month the No-Make-Up-Selfie, incidentally does anyone remember what that was for? Awareness is only so good when every good cause isn’t also competing for the same prize), which I think has something to do with Motor Neurone’s disease, but has more to do with guilting people into participation by dunking your head in an ice bucket, filming it and going cap in hand to your Facebook page bleating “I did a nasty thing now give me money”. Oh, and the coup de grace of course is you also nominate others into participation publicly; probably the worst aspect. It’s one thing to do something stupid for money but another to then publicly dare someone else to do it. You’re now compelled by the laws of politeness and social niceties to take part in order not to appear like a socially undesirable goblin. That’s not raising awareness, that’s social terrorism and it’s annoying rather than sympathetic.

These are nearly always done under the banner of “awareness” which is all well and good. However, what is awareness. What if I were to write in big letters CAT ASPERGER’S? You’re now aware of it, aren't you? What are you going to do about it though. Anything? Nothing? Probably the latter. However at least you’re thinking about Cats with Asperger’s, which just about does the job. Maybe someone will donate.  However I suggest Fire-eating for the cause of Cat Asperger's but spend more time doing the act and forcing people to copy me (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT DO THIS!!) then are you going to be thinking about the socially challenged cats or the me blasting fire out my mouth like a big fucking dragon and telling you that if you don’t engage I’ll burn your house down?

Now I know this is a crude example but it depends how far you take this. After all, in the Ice Bucket case the person has already publicly done the act for everyone to see so you’re now compelled out of sympathy for the pain (rather than the stupidity) to pay up. Woe betide you if you’ve been nominated as now you have to pay or do the unpleasant thing. Or both! But do you actually remember the cause it’s related to? As I mentioned before with the No-Make-Up-Selfie I’ll be damned if I remember what it’s for. Maybe it was epilepsy, maybe it was donkeys? I don’t know. I wonder how long before it comes to a point where people hit themselves repeatedly with fruit (I’m going to trademark the awareness campaign “Fruit Punch” just in case) for Animal Cruelty.

Overall being held to ransom by charity with peer pressure doesn’t create a compelling cause. If you want to actually ransom someone for money (the Al Queda or FARC method. If only they had registered as charities and they may have had such different reputations) in the name of charity then do it, or at the very least threaten to shoot a cute looking dog or goat if people don’t donate to your cause. After all awareness is the most important thing. Personally I prefer the old method of soul crushingly sad photography of disasters and diseases. It just does the job.

NB: I am not going to do the Ice Bucket Challenge I am already a soulless social pariah.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Why you shouldn't have nightmares about Muslims

Do ISIS and the newly adorned Caliph Ibrahim (formerly Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) speak for you? If not you are probably feeling about one tenth of the horror and confusion that a British Muslim is probably feeling right now.

What has been happening in Iraq these past few weeks is nothing short of a tragedy and goes to highlight just how much bloodlust, the thirst for revenge and religion make for a strange partnership. What’s strange is just how these discourses inspire such romance in people.

Now Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS (the militia organisation fighting to create an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), has declared himself the new Caliph and has urged his fellow Muslims (Sunni Muslims mainly rather than the majority Shia in the region) to come and fight with him to establish a new Caliphate in the Middle East. To give a little context a Caliphate is a type of Islamic kingdom, with the head or Caliph (interpreted as ‘successor to Mohammed’) leading his people.  The last of these ended in 1923 when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Middle East split in to lots of modern-style nation-states.

It will be interesting to see how many heed the call, although naturally the Western world is watching with a certain amount of paranoia. It is a great shame that paranoia is ultimately what informs the world about Islam today. Islam is mainly framed through the filter of draconian, misogynistic fanaticism due to the lack of real education for people, a lack of willingness to understand the world outside one’s own cultural world and news agendas. What is happening now is ultimately the newest example of scare story being used to strengthen long held stereotypes.

 That’s not to say Islam doesn’t have its problems with misogyny, fanaticism and violence. Of course it does, as do the other Abrahamic religions this particularly example) and so different they find a way to discriminate based on racial difference and the idea of statehood.  However I think if you asked the majority of any of the three religions if they want a state-based on their particular religion or creed, they would probably settle for a functioning society, something that the ISIS militia funnily have no plan for (also see the Taliban for this particular problem).
such as Christianity and Judaism. What’s most worrying are the increasingly incoherent, ill informed, people who represent a minority and claim to speak for the majority. You can find such people everywhere whether they be Jew, Christian or Muslim. The sad fact is the three religions are so similar (and at times express the same extreme outcomes, see

Most people don’t want to pick up a gun or a sword to slaughter the religiously impure. This is the 21st Century. Some do of course, and I imagine some always will, but we shouldn't go around placing guilt by association on people who are of a particular religion.

In the last year or so Islamaphobia has made a big comeback in the UK, with nonsense stories like the Subway and Pizza Express halal-panic (former being a logical step for a business located in an area with low demand for pork and the latter being so unimportant in terms of what you ended up eating that it was confusing) and people actually taking the word of someone like Anjem Choudrey seriously (watch a video of the man, whilst he is eloquent he has the reasoning of a 8 year old). Let’s not focus on these things and the bogeymen like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and focus on the fact that British Muslims are our neighbours and organised this fantastic tea party organised by York Mosque for EDL members after the Woolwich beheading last year. Whilst some may argue that British Muslims have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq for ISIS and this is true, Mehdi Hasan points out in the New Statesman, these people make up 0.02 per cent of all 2.7 million British Muslims. So I wouldn’t panic about scare stories like the Black flag of Islam flying over Buckingham Palace just yet.

As usual the truth is never as interesting as the story.

British Muslims ultimately want to live like us and not follow cartoonish super villains like al-Baghdadi.  After all, how would you feel if members of the Westboro Baptist Church organised a militia, took over 2 US States and declared themselves Kings of Jesus and said their new land represented you. You’d feel a bit sheepish right?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Work, cocktails and running. The three aspirations Londoners seem to cling to

Since I left England last year I noticed a lot of change in life, such as new friends, job, city, language, living spaces etc. However since I left and have been able to watch my own culture from the outside I’ve noticed that three things that keep coming up (based on my own experience checks).

1. Work
This was one of the things that made me leave the UK in the first place. Now, whilst many of my friends rode out the recession with fairly good jobs (which have naturally progressed to better jobs) and the fact that my job isn't perfect; it isn't a subject I share much about on social media. Other people however seem to talk endlessly about how unhappy they are with their jobs, (especially in high pressure legal and financial careers which London has in droves) or how long they are putting in at the office. The worst thing about the latter case is there seems to almost be a Calvinist element of pride in that toil they put in. Perhaps it’s a way to justify the awful existence by adding a badge of honour to that drudgery but personally it’s just depressing to read about.

2. Running
Now before I get started here I run (well at least I used to) and I do see many benefits from it and why people do it. Unfortunately a lot of people online spoil it by continuously sharing session and race times. I don’t know what it is but urban London life now doesn’t seem complete without a running habit that people continually talk about in a little running clique. I know I’m outside such cliques as a marathon time to me is irrelevant. You finished the marathon and really that is impressive enough. Doesn’t matter if it took two hours or if it took ten; you ran 26 bloody miles non-stop, isn’t that surely enough?

3. Cocktails
Mainly one where the ladies are at fault I’m afraid. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy a good Long Island Ice Tea or a Whiskey Sour (never Mojitos! Mojitos are foul.) but the amount of times people have posted pictures of these online has devalued the sense of occasion afforded to cocktails. Every other weekend I see a picture of my female friends with flues of fluorescent cocktails or just flues of fluorescent cocktails on their own and I wonder to myself what is special about that now? How many times can “Cocktails with my girlies” seem special before the repetitiveness and futility that cocktails may not be the peak of London existence dawns on people?

In addition to this people always complain about money but then considering London still faces a cost of living problem (with rents on average ranging from between £600 – 1000 (or more) per month) it's no surprise really.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Facebook is ruined and it's all your fault (Yes you!)

Viral videos have always been a mixed blessing. After all, remember the bad old days of the Crazy Frog which was (sort-of) funny at first but was ruined by reposting and overhyping until it disappeared completely up it’s own arse. Not a tear was shed after the frog passed into ignoble oblivion with a feeble “rnng dngg croooak”.

The same may one day be said of Social Networking beheamoth Facebook, which is rapidly approaching a similar fate due to the explosion of viral sharing videos, campaigns and articles. If I was to hazard a guess at Facebooks proximity to it’s own anus, I would say it’s precariously skirting around the sphincter.

 Now, no one can take away the amazing achievements Facebook has achieved. Let’s look at stats such as over a billion subscribers (as of 1/1/2014) and a steady growth. No social network has ever achieved such highs and the rivals Facebook has seen off such as Twitter, Myspace, Bebo and Google+ is admirable.

However such saturation doesn’t come without problems. First of all an increases in users means an increase in people who you add or add you and that includes people you maybe don’t want watching your daily thoughts and musings. Parents, relatives, bosses etc all are people you maybe want to tread a cautious social line with of course. Then there are people who have way too many irrelevant things to say.

This is an endemic problem with humanity, especially as now humanity stands at a crossroads wondering just where to go next. Do we keep producing shit until the world blows up or we are all millionaire kings living in golden castles, do we scale down national boundries more and more until we have little communities of like minded sycophants living together and casting out thought criminals or do we abandon the trappings of modern living for a naturalistic life of self discovery. This represents three very big ethos of capitalism, nationalism and natural living, which are incredibly popular at this time if Facebook is to be believed. However the worst thing is everyone now has a voice to express this and this leads to a lot of chatter and a lot of it is pointless or just self-centred.

Normally these ideas didn’t spread as fast as there was no way to build communities but now that’s no longer the case and you are to blame, as are Facebook and me. Ideas spread fast but unfortunately the human mind hasn’t adapted fast enough to maybe discern when these ideas are lacking in actual practicality or whether they are straightforward bullshit.

This brings me to my main point which is the sharing of moralistic viral videos or overshared campaigns (normally backed up by clickbait headlines – notice I have done the same thing and I will sadly disappointed if this goes viral as it will confirm my worst suspicions). I no longer believe a video will make me speechless, nor that something will blow my mind. I’ve been disappointed too many times. However these things spread and spread and get reposted to the point where your Facebook feed is clogged. Facebook to its credit has done a lot to try and fix this by combining posts together but that nonwithstanding doesn’t make it any more heartening when the same story comes up again and again.

Moral campaigning in general has become very popular of late given just how damn effective it is. Case in point recently in the UK was the viral hit the No-Make-Up selfie, spearheaded by Cancer Research UK. It made tons of money (here being the key success point for the charity), raised perhaps some awareness of cancer (I think we know it exists already but ok) and was fucking everywhere. This was jarring for 4 reasons:

1.       It was fucking everywhere. Seriously I don’t think there was a day without the damn thing popping up in my face.
2.       One of my friends was actually working on the team behind this campaign (the degrees of separation are getting ever smaller)
3.       I’ve suffered personal losses from Cancer and hate the disease to pieces but found myself perhaps hating this campaign more. This felt strange as I’m not pro Cancer. Is anyone for that matter?
4.       It shames people into action, specifically giving the charity money (charities are businesses remember).
5.       Why the fuck is it brave or inspiring to not wear make up? One of the better points of discussion that the campaign raised.

Net shaming seems very common now and this is the problem with a lot of this digital propaganda. It takes a cosy view of the world and gives you a morally linear point of view. There’s not a lot you can say against it because otherwise you’re a grouch, an untermensh or in the case of the above that you’re pro cancer (remember people: Cancer exists and is bad!).

I don’t know who to blame for this. Of course I blame you as the collective you is the problem (and that of course includes me. Honestly, I should really know better!). However there is something in us that makes us suckers for twee cutesy things and ideas. How else could the Doge meme and cats in general have overwhelmed the internet with their presence?

We like to think the internet is talking directly to us or urging us towards positive action, as if we matter in the spectrum of the 5-6 billion online users and are not insignificant specs that could be enveloped and destroyed if we step too far out of line. That’s right the human race isn’t a big brotherhood of wellwishers (well, not yet at least) the human race is a baying crowd of animals, albeit with slightly better manners than our ape friends.
This belief plays very well into the hands of opinion leaders and writers chancing for a viral hit (this is where I’m to blame). If you think the internet is talking to you are more likely to heed its advice or criticism (hence the fact I have made it so my own headline is directly addressed to you. See now how susceptible you are?). There are so many cringeworthy videos like Look Up or that stupid article about why the world should be vegetarian, which devout vegetarian or moralist purists love. We all are searching for ways to be the perfect people and these videos click very well into place for that. People love something that moralises away complexity to create a simple, albeit fundamentalist messages to be special inspirational snowflakes (Chuck Palahniuk said it better though).

As a brief side point to that don’t eat meat article. On the whole I agree aggressive farming methods are bad and should be curtailed but going vegan or full on vegetarian is a very oversimplified approach. I have many vegan and vegetarian friends and I can tell you one thing they all have in common. They are nearly always ill or tired. Moderation is the key but that kind of headline doesn’t lead to Facebook shares of course. Oh and telling people to stop having so many kids helps too. Seriously the meat problem would be far reduced if people stopped trying to make the world a better place by filling it with their clones. Biological imperatives be hanged!

All this leads to my big points.
1.       Stop thinking the internet is talking for you
2.       Stop thinking you’re special
3.       Stop clicking things that are trying too hard for your attention
4.       Stop making horrendous click bait headlines that try too hard to get your attention

Also I appreciate that I’m using Facebook to promote this post and am inadvertently directing some traffic towards these trends but it can’t be helped so save the hypocrisy arguments. I know, after all, it’s all my fault too.

If you want to read more rantyness about Look Up's rise and rise to ironic success by decrying social media whilst benefiting from its existence this article is pretty good too.