If you talk like a dick and act like a dick, don’t complain if you’re treated like a dick

UPDATE: Mike Sheer has very kindly commented on this blog, and you can read our discussion below. I’ve edited the post to reflect his assertion that he has published all of the comments submitted to his own blog.

Forbidden doesn’t mean you can’t do something, only that you shouldn’t. Of course you can murder, be racist, steal or be a dick. We’d just rather that you didn’t.

And to persuade you not to murder, be racist, steal or be a dick, we all get together and agree on the consequences for murderers, racists, thieves or dicks.

Or we didn’t, but some other dudes did back in that magical world of History. After all, what is Law except an accepted definition of the boundaries of society?

If you murder, or if you’re racist, or if you steal (or you’re being a dick) then you’re going to face the consequences of the path of action you choose to take. Because it was your choice.

So if you think like a dick, act like a dick, talk like a dick and generally write articles about how you prefer being able to be a dick and everyone should just live with it, then go ahead.

But don’t expect anyone to agree if you start complaining how unjust it is that you’re being treated like a dick. Because, listen: You are a dick.

Chortle have published two articles by comics defending being a dick. Good. Talking about what Free Speech is or isn’t proves that we don’t live in the Daily Mail fantasy land of the liberal PC conspiracy.

In @mullone‘s case, I thought it was a great article, an honest, personal and genuine article written to express a wholehearted belief. This I can respect, even if I think he’s missed a crucial fact – if you have the right to offend, I have the right to tell you I’m offended.

The real conversation I think he’s trying to have is how much weight should then be given to my right to tell you I’m offended, and how that influences any consequences.

Because there must be consequences for being a dick, though that doesn’t necessarily mean legal ones. I respect Mullone’s right to say soldiers should die as I respect anyone’s right to say anything they want. But that respect ends if the speaker refuses responsibility.

Responsibility and accountability are kind of A Thing for me. Mullone is clearly happy to accept the responsibility for what he’s said, regardless of whether he respects the consequences which he may face. That deserves respect.

But that’s not true with Mike Sheer, who wrote ‘Women or rape: Which is the less funny’ in an attempt to be a dick in order to parody people who are dicks. I attempted to leave a comment on his blog, though Mike informs me it didn’t get through (below).

Sheer’s response to people telling him he was a dick for writing an article that made him look like a dick was to Gaslight – ie, “You’re wrong to think I’m a dick because you missed the underlying message that I’m only pretending to be a dick”.

Had Sheer said: “Yes, on second thought, in my attempt to parody people who are dicks I all-too-successfully emulated being a dick. The article was a dick thing to write. But I maintain my right to be a dick, and for people to pay to watch me do so.”

Then I would have respected him. Instead, asking us to understand that because he was only pretending to be a dick means that you’re wrong if you think he is a dick spectacularly misses the point of what being a dick actually means.

Accept the consequences of your actions and I will respect you, even if your actions make you a despicable human being. I don’t agree with fox hunting, but if you tell me that you love it because of the thrill of hunting down and killing something, then I have to respect you’re at least being honest with both yourself and me. Because, face it, it’s the truth.

I saw Stewart Lee talking about the responsibility of comedians last week, and I asked him about the ‘just a joke’ defence that always crops up when those who act like (and are) dicks don’t want to be treated like dicks.

Saying ‘just a joke’ suggests jokes are worthless, powerless, he said(ish), which is nonsense: “A joke can make 12 thousand people laugh at the same time. Jokes are powerful”.

He also talked about clowns and how they existed to turn over everyday conventions in history and in other cultures (such as the Native American Hopi), something he explores in his book in fascinating detail.

The crucial thing about these clowns or fools, I find, is that they are outcasts. They exist outside of society. This division gives them a freedom to expose the otherwise hidden or unspeakable aspects of our lives. To point out the Emperor is cold-arse naked.

They’re on the outside looking in. But if they rejected the outcast status, if they wanted to be inside society, if they wanted to be on the inside looking out, they would have to sacrifice this division, this great power.

It’s a complete dick thing to do, but you can throw shit at the windows of a house party all you want, and be glad of it. But don’t be surprised if noone asks you inside to dance.

Perhaps being a comedian means you can’t be cool, you can’t be allowed inside the party all the time, because you’re too busy making people laugh at oneanother. Because you make too many people uncomfortable.

Perhaps being able to joke (however capably) about anything you want to demands that you accept you’ll be treated like a dick, or a hero, depending on who’s listening.

Perhaps freedom of speech doesn’t mean you’re free to say whatever you want to but that you can say whatever you believe in because you accept the consequences.

Perhaps you don’t deserve to question the beliefs of other people unless you’re prepared to question your own.

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Who wants to be a Welfare Millionaire?

Q: What group is most at fault for you being miserable?
A – Immigrants B – The EU
C – Welfare scroungers D – Bankers in their suits and ties

All bullshit, of course. If you’re miserable it’s more likely that someone close to you is making you miserable (a boss, a colleague, a loved one) or that you’re just making yourself miserable by not dealing with shit.

The fantasy that there are thousands of people on welfare benefits who are living a life not just less ordinary but wholly extraordinary is sweet poison. It’s easy to swallow and it rots your soul.

Q: Which description best sums up the life of an average person on welfare benefits?
A – Happy go lucky worries go bye bye B – Money money money
C – We’re all going on a(nother) summer holiday D – Easy like Sunday morning

The idea that Osborne suggested this week that he feels (we should stop there) anything approaching human compassion for ‘the shift worker’ (read: neo working class) who leaves for work at dawn being taunted by the neighbour on welfare ‘sleeping off’ a privileged lifestyle is offensive.

It’s Sun politics, Daily Mail manifesto stuff. There may be the outliers in the welfare scheme who enjoy a financially secure life at the expense of the taxpayer but I refuse to believe or respect the belief that this is anything other than a rarity.

Q: If you hate Welfare scroungers, what should you do?
A – Demand the Government do something B – Phone 5 Live
C – Shop them in to the Fraud Squad D – Cheer the fuck up

If you’re on welfare benefits, you are making use of a system that our society provides for those who need help. If you’re not on benefits you’re making use of a system called work that can instil self-worth, pride, happiness and wellbeing.

If you’re employed and you don’t feel any of these things, but believe that welfare scroungers are living it up then fucking quit the job you clearly hate and join them. Or, perhaps, is it that there’s a clique of crafty scroungers who play the system and you don’t know their tricks? Bollocks

Q: If you were out of work, what would you do?
A – Squeeze every last penny out of the system B – Work any job to survive
C – Turn to a life as a homeless D – Relish every minute of it

Should you actually believe that being out of work and on a system which provides you with a paltry handout is a way to live a life of self-fulfilment and pride then something is wrong. This is thinking which is infected by money and narcissism.

There are no Welfare Millionaires but if there were, who would want to be one? Only those people for whom life is not an exploration, a vast unknowable adventure, an ever-present opportunity but a constant pressure-cooker of money, status, faux-identity and artifice.

Q: What benefits are there in being on welfare?
A – Fuck all

Your life should be what you make of it, which is essentially an easy thing for a white, middle-class and well supported man to say, but no less true for it being spouted by me.

People on welfare benefits are living a nightmare, not a dream, and if you envy them then I pity you your clearly unremarkable existence. Have some ruddy self-respect.

Long term welfare benefits are a chain, as much a moreish addiction as any drug or habit, as much a life-dwindling sentence as a prison term which leaves the released human with no ability to function on the other side of the bars.

Being on welfare is being institutionalised. It is living without hope.

That welfare ‘scroungers’ are living the high life and going on endless holidays while the cor-blimey-Guv’nor salt-of-the-earth working folk toil for scraps is a useful and popular moral panic. It’s a perfect distraction from the reality, both for politicians and for unhappy humans themselves.

Do not let your elected leaders tell you that welfare benefits are a system which opens up a world of leisure and happiness to despicable uncitizens who must be punished and despised.

Do not let your elected leaders paint patronising pictures of those in work living in barely restrained conflict near to those out of work, when the men sleeping off a life spent living in privilege are those elected leaders themselves.

But most of all do not let yourself believe that being on welfare is any better than being dead, or that were you on welfare you would be doing anything but trying, desperately, to unshackle yourself from the system and regain control of your own life.

You may, however, bellow so loud at your radio when this bullshit is peddled in public that passengers feel the urged to get out while the vehicle is still moving.

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Fucking Voldemort

When Andrew Mitchell did or did not say the word ‘pleb’ in the direction of a policeman (or, perhaps, not) he didn’t preface the word – which he may not have used – with the phrase “Anglo-Saxon word”.

But this is what the presumably voting-age adult Political Editor of the Sun alleged on Radio 4’s PM the other day. To all us adults – by “Anglo-Saxon word” he meant ‘fucking’.

I’m not the first to go cross-eyed trying to piece together a world where the Sun prints tits on Page 3 alongside asterisked swearwords (Anglo-Saxon or otherwise) and the Mail Online publishes photos of barely-restrained celeb genitals close to censored fucks and shits.

If there’s a link I don’t want to get into it now – aside from to comment that they both seem like brands of the same tittering babyish discomfort with real human life and real human bodies – because what really fucks me off is the avoidance of the word fuck.

Or shit, bugger, bastard, cunt, wanker, motherfucker, arse, breasts even. Words that live a strange life where everyone (and I mean everyone) uses a variety of them yet society, led by hand-wringing tabloids, pretends that not using them is better.

Swearwords are not the sign of a limited vocabulary, otherwise Shakespeare wouldn’t have the reputation he does now. Repeated swearwords (“Well, fuck, mate it was fucking shit wasn’t it, like totally fucking fucked, you fucking understand?”) might be, but then so are repeated words of any stripe.

Not using swearwords does not make you more intelligent or more scholarly or suggest a wider vocabulary. Stephen Fry, no less, will box your ears for trying to suggest that swearwords are for the lacking, the failing, the unintelligent.

Because swearwords are intrinsically human. But then, of course, how much real humanity (or Humanism) do you find in most newspapers, TV or even radio?

But even this isn’t my big sodding beef with the pretend grown-ups who wilfully accept the cigarette-paper thin skinned knee-jerks of the high-vocal minority of perpetually backward-looking offended. Or who stand with them, tutting vigourously, for profit.

My problem is that the more we (and by ‘we’ I mean all you closed-minded “It was better when…” non-adaptists who plague this wonderful life) pretend or accept that not using swearwords is clever or admirable the more we conjure the Voldemort effect.

Harry Potter’s at first ignorant and then wilfully determined use of the word that no one else will utter begins as just a word. But it then illustrates the crucial factor of discussion in resistance or of questioning in advancing, of open doors in houses you want to enter. Or leave, of course.

Using the word is initially a form of swearing, satisfying and fulfilling on the page when it challenges those establishment figures who, actually, rather prefer things the way they are when nothing brings them discomfort or a requirement to alter, thank you very much.

Yet conjoined with this is the fact that unless you can say the word Voldemort you cannot humanise (or, at least, realise) him as a being, as a concrete challenge and not an abstract and unconquerable foe. How do you organise a resistance when you can’t even explain exactly and pronounly who or what you are resisting?

So not using the word fuck or pretending that using the word fuck is something terribly uncouth and below us (as the overwhelming majority of papers, apart from the Guardian, tend to do) isn’t just agreeing with the people who don’t want to see anything that unsettles them, it denies any discussion with these people about why fucks and shits unsettle them.

I wouldn’t advocate a fucking and bollocking world, of course, but this is exactly the end point of my whole rant – to use swearwords knowledgeably is to know that you can say fuck in many different places but to use it in a job interview would be ridiculous. And why? Because a) there’s no need and b) there’s already an agreed register in that situation.

As there would be with a work meeting, as there could be with a delicate conversation between lovers which requires restraint and consideration. For all the glories of swearing, it is, I admit, umbilically connected to anger, frustration and even violence.

The important thing is to know, in your heart, that whatever word you use in whatever context you find yourself is a word that you are happy to be held to account for. Whether that’s fucking pleb (or not, of course) or bollocking cock spreadsheet, or even something actually controversial and offensive.

This demands self-questioning, self-critical awareness – a resistance to the cosy ‘normal’ lives that we can’t even begin to mount if the self-elected setters of the tone are insistent in demonstrating that fuck is a word that only the rabble (and Guardian-readers) ever use, and therefore denying those in agreement the opportunity to discover their own opinion.

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Twitter isn’t what I thought it was

Just the other day I tried to have a conversation on Twitter. I spent time honing my points, my comments, down to the 140 characters – a discipline which ended up exposing to me more clearly exactly what it was I really wanted to say. And then there was no response.

Admittedly the person I’d been speaking to had responded two or three times. And, admittedly, I can see that my quick responses (written densely in order to limit the number of messages) might have felt a little crowding. Or at least I realise that now, now that I’ve realised that Twitter isn’t what I thought it was.

I always had this romantic idea that Twitter is, was or could be a space which could expose you to more information, more ideas and more discussion than you would find elsewhere. That by joining Twitter you’d enter an instantly accessible world of debate and trading of ideas.

After all, there are millions of people on Twitter every day, every minute. But though I now find many interesting articles through Twitter that I would probably have missed otherwise (my Instapaper account now a bigger guilty bulge than my unread bookshelf) I don’t feel I’ve gained that much.

What was the last debate you were in on Twitter? What was the last true conversation? This most recent attempt at a conversation for me started well but ended in the way that I’m sure all Twitter conversations end as they approach the really interesting parts. The other person just stopped responding.

I’m not a traditionalist and I certainly don’t believe that Twitter will destroy conversation or that anything can destroy anything without the choice and involvement of the people who use it. eBooks won’t destroy books, people not buying books will. People, like me, choosing not to buy books any more, for a hundred reasons.

But Twitter does mean that if you ask a difficult question of someone they can simply ignore it. But not, as in real life, by expressing to you that they are ignoring it. Instead simply by being able through technology to forget that your question ever existed.

Having been roughly trained as a journalist I’m able (though you might not believe it from this blog) to boil down what I’m saying quite well. But I understand that not everyone can do this, which is often the excuse on Twitter – that 140 characters is too small a space to express fully.

Of course, this blog is an example of how much space you can fill if you have the space to fill. But I could, if I tried, write this entire post in no less than two Tweets, both making separate arguments. But there would be no point, because I don’t believe people on Twitter want a conversation.

That’s okay. Lots of people don’t want The Ascent of Man and would prefer an afternoon of Eastenders. But I’m not talking about ‘most’ people. The person I tried to have a conversation with had written a blog post which had expressed a feeling which had been then RT all across my Home feed on Twitter. I read it and I wanted to respond.

I dislike comments below the line for exactly the reason that makes this blog post so long and people so uncomfortable debating on Twitter. Comments give you space to waffle and waffle (just like this) because there’s no requirement for an internal editor. You can just spill and then feel as if you’ve been part of a conversation. Which, of course, you absolutely have not.

A conversation is live, it happens. A debate requires you to be in there, in the moment, for you to express exactly as you live in that moment. Comments and blogs enable us to spool out our thoughts on and on and on without challenge or question mid-flow.

This is why Twitter should work as a conversation but doesn’t. We all want to be heard, and we all want to express a copper-bottomed, watertight opinion. But life isn’t like that. You can’t live looking for the absolute, the dot on the end, the finish line. The finish line is death, for Jebus’ sake.

Debate and conversation, for me, are less like hammer on rock and more like stream into ocean. More like a meeting of waves than a meeting of solid objects. If you have a conversation which does not follow you when you leave it then it was likely a rudimentary conversation.

How many Tweets do we actually read? How many can we afford to read when we’re all trying so hard to put it so right, to get our jokes just so, to put the phrase so capably and noticeably skillfully that we are RT’d by the big names.

I’m guilty of it, of not reading, just producing. Transmitting without receiving. Because sometimes receiving is so stressful I feel I can’t breathe, there are too many opinions to hear and think about, too many articles to read, too many zeigeists to move along with and chip in with and…

Twitter isn’t what I thought it was, but it can be. I’m obviously not following the right people. But it saddens me that there are a great deal of people with interesting thoughts who, when challenged, feel that Twitter’s immediacy restricts them instead of setting them free from the need to be right, to be thought out, to be sound.

From this moment, I will not follow someone on Twitter (barring those who are fundamentally interesting in their own right) if they do not engage and respond to conversation. That’s what I want from Twitter, that’s the person I am. Why am I trying to change other people when I can just construct what I want from what is there?

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Buying books, stealing books

I have stolen from Stephen King.

A series on the Guardian website has been working through all of King’s novels, from Carrie onwards, and the second article was about Salem’s Lot. It’s been years since I read it, and if I remember I borrowed the book from a friend in the first place, so I’d never actually owned it.

But after reading the article, I really wanted to read the book. But I didn’t want to pay for it. I’d already read it, I was reading it only to re-experience the book in the light of the article. I had enough excuses, so I downloaded it. I stole from Stephen King.

Not to mention the publishers, the retailers, the print-setters, the paper makers. Everyone who was involved with the book, but especially Stephen King, because after all the book could have been something without any one of those other people, but without King it would have been nothing.

It wasn’t much, of course, just a few pounds. And yet I’ve just spent four or five or six times as much money on this wireless keyboard I’m using, something I really didn’t need but absolutely wanted. I didn’t need Salem’s Lot, but I absolutely wanted it. Only what I wanted more was not to pay for it.

Are books dying? How can they be, with so many people reading them. But is literature dying? The coverage of the Booker Prize suggests not, as does the celebrity status that writers attain. Books aren’t dying, but my desire to buy a book is far from healthy.

Have I ever bought a book? More than a few, some that still sit unread on the shelves. A lot of the books I’ve bought recently, though, have been non-fiction. I can’t remember the last fiction book, the last novel, that I bought for real money – not in an offer, a reduction, but at full price.

Full price is a problem of course, when the RRP for JK Rowling’s next novel is £20 and most paperbacks cost more than a fiver. Apparently it costs £1 to make a hardback book, which leaves a lot to share around if you’re in bestseller territory. A big IF, of course.

Is a book, a novel, a piece of entertainment, worth £20? I don’t buy music unless an album has already worked its way into my bones, but I do buy DVDs. If, that is, they are heavily reduced. There is no way I’m going to buy a £17.99 DVD when LoveFilm is around.

I may be a charlatan for the fact that I aspire to write books, to create and make a living out of creating, and yet I can’t bring myself to spend money on the creations of others unless they meet my low, low discount price bracket.

It’s a bad sign of my respect for anyone’s creativity, not least my own. But at the same time, now that I find myself similarly inspired to read another King novel (The Dead Zone) covered by the series, weighing up a spend of £4.99 for a book isn’t straightforward.

Do I want it cheaper than that because I’ve just got used to having things cheaper than the price they were originally? Is it because I know that other books are cheaper – so what’s so special about this one? Is it because I don’t respect the effort that’s gone into it?

To add further confusion I’ve just won £25 of Amazon vouchers. Now I’m umming and ahhing over £4.99 when it literally will not cost me anything. Or at least, anything I began the day with. So in fact it’s no longer about respecting creativity, it’s about wanting as much as possible from what I have.

How I count up ‘as much as possible’ and what that actually means is troubling because I don’t know whether I’m devaluing my own pleasure (in reading something I want to) or the effort of King in writing the book or the fact that it’s a book and not, again, a piece of trendy technology.

In wanting to be a writer I’m keenly aware of how prickly the road to being published can be. Though, with epublishing, that doesn’t have to be the way. But is publishing an enovel any different (apart from being able to charge for it) than publishing a blog? And do ebooks have the same value as actual books?

What’s curious is that I know what I’m spending that £25 on – as many books as possible for my son. The value I see in those books far outweighs the value I place on my own idle interest in a book I’ve been prompted to read by a website article. The value which I believe they offer my son.

If I’ve stopped seeing full price books, DVDs, magazines, newspapers as valuable or worthwhile purchases is that because I’ve stopped respecting those pieces of culture or that I’ve stopped respecting my own desire for that culture?

Or is it that there’s just so much culture I can have, for free, that something has to be really important for me to pay for it – most likely after I’ve already experienced it without paying for it, like favourite DVDs.

I haven’t bought a newspaper in years, but then I never bought newspapers regularly or with commitment. Magazines I bought as a teenager to support my interests, but now my interests are so individual to me that no magazine could offer any interesting or valuable addition to them.

I hope that I’ve started valuing people more as I’ve begun to value things less, but that doesn’t hold true because it’s not just things it’s creative things. I still spend silly money on food, on gadgets (again, the keyboard), on things I need and things I really don’t.

If I started buying books again, what wouldn’t I be able to buy? And would buying books make me value them more? Or would I want to then sell them on – as I’ve been with the less creative things I’ve bought and then not needed.

Spending £25 of free money on books for my son proves nothing other than I love him and want to put him before me. And yet, why buy a keyboard with actual money and never once think about buying him (or my wife!) something instead? There are no good answers here.

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Having children is about having more life, not less

Something I wrote for the Associated Press, in time for Father’s Day

When I revealed that my wife was pregnant I didn’t expect to be told, “Well done!”. Of course I expected congratulations, but for becoming a father. Not for simply managing to successfully impregnate my wife.

My unborn son is now so unavoidably big (36 weeks and counting) that it’s like he’s here already, sharing our bath, our sofa and our bed.

But the evidence that we’re growing an actual person is still awe-inspiring, from the naive surprise I felt seeing him wake up and stretch out like a cat during his first scan to the wonder of being kicked in the side of the head from beyond the womb.

Two things instantly occurred to me when we discovered he was a boy. My desire to protect and defend him from other boys and, equally, my desire to introduce him to the magic of leg spin bowling.

When his name became obvious almost as quickly it made opening up to him even easier than opening up to his mother, and meant that this initial spark of connection has grown to the point where I already miss him.

I’m impatient to feel the weight of his little body, to take him out on my own and carry him around. To introduce him to friends, at work, or just to random passersby.

At the same time I have been more than a little scared of him. Selfishly, I want the love I feel for him to be returned in a way I can appreciate and understand. I want him to be proud of me. He will have the power to elevate me, but also to destroy me.

My biggest fear is that knowing this will encourage me to protect myself from him, and that by trying to avoid being vulnerable I’ll only succeed in putting distance between us. So that in the end he’ll never know how much I really love him.

It seems trivial to worry about how expensive babies are, or how little sleep I’ll get, or how they cry and cry and cry. The fact is I know I’ll have to stop myself waking him up just to play with him.

I can’t wait to see if he recognises my voice after all these heart-to-bump chats we’ve been having, or to start interpreting his facial expressions or his noises. I haven’t once worried about how he’ll turn out or whether we’ll be good parents. I know that all we need to do is love him and trust him.

Our lives are going to change completely but that’s why we wanted to have a baby in the first place. I’m looking forward to the hard work. I’m looking forward to our lives getting bigger, busier, noisier.

For me, having children is about having more life, not less. I know that there will always be room for the things that make me who I am. The challenge of being a father is deciding what I can live without, and what my son wouldn’t want me to live without.

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#OpenMinday – Cheating, high-brow laddism and Venn diagrams @EricAndersonPhD @OMGchronicles @WomanSavers @DatingExpert @SarahJSymonds

What is Open Minday?

There are only two reasons why cheating happens. Either you’re not right for your partner, or you’re not being honest with them.

Any other excuse is merely justification for avoiding either fact. Crucially, more often than not the eventual discovery of infidelity forces acceptance of one or both of these facts.

Being honest with your partner means being honest with yourself, about everything. It means accepting yourself, accepting your urges and your inner conflicts, and accepting responsibility for each and every decision you make.

Being honest is hard, and it is never over.

Which is why I feel driven to rubbish any claim that asserts that men can’t help themselves cheating because they’re genetically or culturally or however programmed.

At best this bullshit is vaguely misogynistic, in suggesting women simply can’t cope with either the urges of their partners or the discussion of them. But at worst it’s an insult to all men who stand for honesty. It’s a mass moronification of the species, ignoring our ability to self-analyse, take responsibility for our actions or communicate with our partners.

It insults every man’s efforts towards responsibility or self-control and self-understanding and instead shirks this life-defining challenge and shrugs helplessly in the direction of a cod-scientific, presumed primal instinct. It is science as banter. It is science sponsored by FHM, Zoo, Nuts, Front, Men’s Health. It is pub theory. It is intellectual laddism.

There is no justification for cheating. There is no ‘Why Men Cheat’. There is only a man’s decision to cheat and his deeper decision not to be honest with himself or his partner.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, @EricAndersonPhD explains why he thinks men are not honest about cheating on their partners:

“[Men lie about cheating] because they know that if they ask for permission to have recreational sex: 1) they will be denied 2) after they are denied, they will be subject to scrutiny and increased relationship policing; 3) they will be stigmatized as immoral, and most likely broken up with.”

These are all reasons based on fear and perceived reality. How do these men know that they will be denied if they haven’t asked? If they are denied, yet their urges are still genuine, isn’t it clear then that they are with the wrong person?

This is what frustrates about Anderson and his theorising (based on evidence which amounts to asking male university students the redundant question, “Would you like to fuck more girls?”). He doesn’t question the fears or motivations of his young men, the conflict of what they want for themselves versus what they expect from others.

“… honesty doesn’t meet [these men’s] desires of having both a long-term partner and recreational sex with others … When men cheat for recreational sex — not affairs — they DO love their partners. If they didn’t, they would break up with them.”

Surely, anyone who’s ever been in a relationship could attest to this last ‘fact’ being winsomely naive at the very least. People do not only break up with people because they don’t love them, and breaking up with someone does not mean you do not love them.

If Anderson was just saying that these 120 undergraduate boymen wanted more sex then fine. If he was extending this to say that undergraduate and sexually active males have urges to cheat on their partners, then fine.

But in the title of his book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating, Anderson is sending out a very clear message that his theory does not just include these 120 undergrads, or just undergrads, but each and every man. Yet his general assumption (ie. men who cheat must love their partners otherwise they’d leave them) is bogus.

Anderson’s position is such that when he says ‘Men’, he means ‘Men who actively want to have sex with people other than their partner’. “Our physical desires don’t die; they just change from our partner to people other than him/her.”

None of Anderson’s conclusions resonate with me. They do not feel genuine. But let’s be honest here, on this point there is at least some truth to be examined. I am only one man, so I can only speak for myself. But I would guess there are other men who are conflicted, just like me, and who have thought about people other than their partner.

This is hard to deal with. Sex is very important to me, perhaps too important and perhaps because of events and experiences in my life. I have a vivid imagination. I have urges, conflicts. I want things sometimes which go against the agreements I have made with myself, with my wife, with society.

The interrogations I have battered myself with are as numerous as they are confusing. Why am I sometimes compelled to buy porn, and why has the purchase of it in the past conjured such aching desire in me? How can my deep love for my wife exist in the same shell which can occasionally and sharply yearn for a different body, a new touch?

But most of all, how can I be honest with my wife about these urges rising up from my very bones? How can I explain the experience of visiting a strip club to her without running the risk of hurting her, of exposing something that I only wish wasn’t so genuinely me? And how can I hope to be myself with her unless I am honest about it, about all of it?

The only answer is that I cannot protect my wife from who I am. I can only be honest with her about who I am. I can only ask her to love me for who I am.

I can understand the compulsion to avoid these questions, these challenges, because I’ve done that too. I felt sure that the toxic emotional fallout my confessions would create was too much for the first relationship I was in, the girl I was with. So I swallowed everything and suffered the pyschic indigestion it brought, rather than risk a breakup.

Eventually we did break up, of course, once we were finally honest with oneanother and accepted the fact that we were not right for each other. But by this time I had destroyed my sexual confidence, I felt almost like a potential rapist in some respects. There were no benefits, emotionally or physically, to withholding honesty.

But clearly the attraction of a generalised theory that all men are hardwired to want to sleep with every woman they fancy, that this is some sort of primal, unassailable instinct which cannot be understood or salved but only accepted (privately, secretly) is massive.

It means no need for honesty. No accountability. Don’t deny yourself, just deny you have any choice. Limply shrug in the direction of caveman urges and keep hiding. Keep cheating. Because it’s not your fault.

This is pure, convenient and unexamined bollocks. Just as with Anderson’s argument that unburdened (no kids, no marriage) men must love their partners despite having cheated on them, because if they didn’t love them they could just leave them.

Cheating is satisfying a sexual urge, while lying to protect partners from the same urge. Cheating is satisfying a sexual urge that is not fully understood. Cheating is avoiding the understanding of this urge, out of fear of the consequences of that understanding.

Being honest makes you accountable. And being accountable all the time is hard. It’s so hard that it’s easier to find an objective reason why other women can have an impact on me, why I’m drawn sexually to them, why I can love my wife but be burdened with an imagination that conjures fantasies from innocent bystanders.

It’s even easier when someone (published by Oxford University Press, no less) comes along and tells you that being honest isn’t that important, after all.

One of the reasons why I try to push myself to be open and honest in my writing is because I’m not a scientist. I’m not a researcher. I don’t know things outside of myself. But I know myself intricately, and I’ve subjected myself to protracted self-analysis. One of the things I know is to distrust any easy solution, anything which avoids more difficult territory.

Knowing yourself, being honest with yourself and your partner, and being open to the possibility that this honesty may show you that neither of you are in the right relationship is the difficult solution to avoiding cheating. Justified cheating is just the easy way out.

But if this is why men cheat – because they’re too afraid or simply not equipped to be honest with themselves or their partner – then how do we talk about the urges and conflicts that exist in relationships. How do we express that someone isn’t right for someone else?

Venn diagrams of relationships

The most rewarding relationships I have experienced have been equal. This equality has not always lasted, but I believe that in order to continue a relationship must be equal, it must be equally shared, and neither side can give or receive more than the other.

Think of each circle as a person, and the area they cross as their relationship. My marriage is 1-9-1, almost all of ourselves pooled in the relationship, sharing almost all of our energy, with the smallest amount residing outside of this and effectively marking us as individuals.

But we weren’t always like this. And, quite often, we move through a 2-8-2 or 3-7-3. I have learned to see and feel this change and on the whole it has been driven by me keeping back parts of myself or not being honest with her about how I feel or what I want.

Being 1-9-1 means you don’t hold back anything other than that last sliver of yourself. For me and my wife it is our natural point. It’s come from a relationship that provided me with the safety and security I needed to expose my shadows, to reveal my urges and conflicts. It’s the point where we are best together, but importantly it is the point where I am best.

Now imagine if 1-9-1 was not natural to me. Imagine I desire (though I might not know so) a 5-5-5 relationship, a marriage where I retain far more of myself and share far less. I will struggle with full integration. I will attempt to pull back. I will look for ways to gain that extra amount, ways to create something outside of what we share, something only mine.

But our energies, our selves, must either be shared or held back. They cannot be increased. You cannot sustain a 5-9-1 relationship, or a 9-9-9 relationship. Anything that is not equal causes tension.

I hold 1 but I give 9. My wife holds 1 but gives 9. We form a reflexive loop of energy as the amount we give out is returned in equal measure. We can do this because we are receiving enough, and we can do this because we trust the other to reflect the same as we give out. Because we’re honest with ourselves, and we’re honest with each other.

If you give 9 but only receive 5 you know it, you feel it. And you question where the remainder is going, where the rest of your partner’s energy is being directed. You demand that they give to you what you give, you accept the little you get, or you begin to give out less yourself. You can no longer trust them to return what you give.

If you receive 9 but only give 5 you may not know it. You may believe you’re giving 9, that your relationship is equal. But you feel it, nonetheless. You feel the pull, the strain, of being asked to return something that isn’t right for you. You’re not being honest with yourself about what you aren’t sharing, and this lost energy has to go somewhere. So you cheat.

There should be no stigma on those who want a 9-1-9 relationship (or an honest and open 8-2-6-2-8) or those who want a 0-10-0 relationship. But unless you know your number, unless you know how much you are happy to share and how much you want for yourself, you run the risk of entering unequal relationships.

There are only two reasons why men cheat. Either their partner is not the right number for them, or they don’t understand the number they are. Everything else is just noise.

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#OpenMinday – The harassment of women and the fear of men @DawnHFoster

What is Open Minday?

I’m sorry to every woman that I scoffed at for not walking home along a route that made them uncomfortable, but that I was happy with day or night. I’m sorry to every woman that I made to feel belittled through my disbelief of their stories of harassment. I’m sorry to every woman who felt as if I’d brushed their experiences aside because of my own.

Just the other week I was attempting to illustrate how white, middle-class western men already know what it feels like to be a woman, they just don’t realise it. The headline was nice, and I tried hard in the article to make my point. A point I thought I had grasped. But, as it turns out, I was distressingly far from the truth. I’m sorry for this, too.

My mistake was clear once I’d read @DawnHFoster, her blog post Background Noise, and the shockingly close-to-hand anecdotes of real women that she collated. I wanted to help men empathise with how women can feel intimidated. Dawn’s article is cold, unavoidable evidence of the active and actual harassment women suffer all the fucking time.

By the end I didn’t know whether to be more upset or furious, but I was also concerned that by expressing the keenness of my feelings I’d be stepping on the toes of the women who’d had these experiences. Does a man responding emotively to such awfulness end up overriding the perspective and justified feelings of the women involved?

Oh, what a tonne of bullshit.

Sadly the comment below below mine is a neat illustration of how a male response can be an obstacle. It’s by a man who has read the article and is taking time to comment, and who could be assumed to have given a level of consideration to the topic. But it’s a dispassionate voice, a defeated voice, a voice that does nobody any good.

“This isn’t a problem anyone can solve,” it begins, perfectly, though admittedly severed from the only natural sub-clause to such a statement: learn to put up with it. Instead it’s followed by a defence of inaction and a description of the perceived outcome, the feared outcome – that acting to protect might result in being labelled misogynistic.

Men, a question. Would you rather be called misogynistic by a traumatised woman who has been assaulted before your eyes while you did nothing, or by a terrified but now safe woman who has been protected from assault by your actions?

This is not about YOU. This is about HER.

As I wrote in my comment, I’ve never witnessed the level of inexcusable treatment that these women are talking about. But I did once step in to challenge a drunk, pathetic and unthreatening man who was subjecting a young Middle Eastern guy to a sustained racist verbal assault. This was an easy thing to do.

It was easy because I could talk the idiot into the ground. It was easy because his assault was entirely verbal and only barely coherent. It was easy because there was never any threat to me, either verbal or physical. It was an easy thing to do.

But I will admit that I am scared at the prospect of stepping in to protect a woman being surrounded by a group of men. I fear that a man who has found it so easy to violently or aggressively intimidate a woman would not hesitate to turn the same level of violent or aggressive intimidation against a man who is not strong, threatening or big.

I’m average size, I’m no alpha male and I simply don’t have the capacity to intimidate another man. Especially not the sort of masculine waste product that congeals in numbers and treats women as community property or sub-human objects. I’m scared. I’m afraid of being beaten up. I’m terrified of becoming a headline.

But at least I don’t suffer the fear that grips others. Manboys who fear being ostracised by other manboys, childmen who fear their ability to take a joke being questioned, as if casual assault were an established comic vehicle. Emotionally stunted and tribalistic males who value belonging above self-regard, above pride, above all else.

Because it’s fears like these, abstract and unexamined, that lead to male and female (but mostly male) commenters to turn discussions expressing rage at sexual assault into discussions about how difficult it would be to police a wolf-whistle. Or for debates about rape to twist into redundant arguments over whether all men are potential rapists.

(On a side note, before anyone talks about rape culture they should read Shakesville’s blog post on the subject. For me, the term is encapsulated in a single point: “Rape culture is tasking victims with the burden of rape prevention”. Our approach to rape prevention reduces rape to burglary, and by extension, women to objects.)

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” is overused but the more I read, the more I experience and the more I see the more accurate and spearing the statement becomes. Men, arguing that you are not a rapist and shouldn’t be treated like one is not helping. Standing up for a woman’s right to be protected from rape is.

At the heart of the problem as I see it is that many male voices, many So-Called-Men, can’t see the difference in their position (their privileged position) and the position of women. Women aren’t resisting change, So-Called-Men are. So-Called-Men aren’t standing for something, they’re standing against something.

Women are asking to be considered, to be given respect. SCMen are asking to be excused the responsibility of doing this. Women want equality, an equal share. SCMen don’t want to give up anything in order to balance the scales. Women speaking out are speaking out against society. SCMen are only speaking out against women.

I want to believe that I would stand up for the principles I believe in and defend a victim of harassment, but I cannot deny that I am afraid of the physical fallout of doing such a thing. But because I accept my fear it’s something I can consider, I can examine. SCMen bury their fears so deep that discussion or examination is impossible.

If you are really afraid that by stepping in to protect a woman who is being harassed you will be thought of as misogynist, then I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you’ve allowed your fear to suffocate your principles. But I suspect that at the heart of your fear is a conflict, because you have never been taught to examine or discover your own principles.

Do you know what you stand for? Have you ever asked yourself what your principles are?

Behind misogyny, as with every prejudice, is fear. I am afraid of being beaten to a pulp, but by examining what I believe, by understanding what I stand for, I can face that fear with the strength of my principles. But if you don’t know your principles or what you stand for, how can you challenge what makes you afraid? How can you challenge harassment?

So-Called-Men are afraid. But women – mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces – are being harassed. Men should never be afraid of wanting to stop this.

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#OpenMinday – Sport, commentary and banter @BarnayRonay @EvaWiseman @martinkelner

What is Open Minday?

The oily slipperiness of banterese makes attempting to pin down why it’s become the touchstone of maleness (or, at least, self-proclaimed ‘ladness’) a Sisyphean task. The banterers aren’t listening.

Anyway, @BarnayRonay has already expertly speared the way banter has weedled its way into mainstream sport (or football, as it’s known outside of the tabloid back pages) all  shit-eating grin and shrugged shoulders, hands raised in defence, “It’s only bants!”

And @EvaWiseman took a scalpel to the seams holding together the “Just bants, gramps!” excuses, in the awkward silence as UniLad shuffled its feet and squeaked out an apology for celebrating the low convinction rate of rapists.

Banter is now, essentially, an excuse to be inexcusable. It’s driven by fear – of silence, of being outflanked, of failing to be the dog that’s doing the eating. It’s tribal, it’s aggressive. It’s not sparring with words, it’s half-formed nonthoughts scrapping like boys in a playground, all headlocks and hamfisted thumps.

The “it’s just a joke!” defence means one thing – “I didn’t mean it!”. Banter is a loud and unpleasant fart, semi-self aware, guiltily enjoyed for the effect it has on bystanders but ultimately and unavoidably a waste product that could have been avoided. Or at the very least genuinely apologised for.

In 2012 banter isn’t Oscar Wilde or even Newman and Baddiel. Like Barnay Ronay says, banter is “anti-chemistry”. It’s shutting other people down, drowning other voices out, filling the verbal space with guff spuffed directly from the sludge of the unconscious, the hindbrain, bypassing thought.

I stopped watching football after binging on the World Cup in 2010. I’ve since lost all interest in the sport. One summer of listening to men paid to share their knowledge and experience of the game blurt out inane, uninformed lazy commentary was enough to kill football for me forever. My own knees, meanwhile, were enough to stop me playing.

“This player has the ball, oh and now that player has the ball, he’s taken the ball past another player and hit the ball with his foot and, oh, the striker nearly put the ball into the net to score a goal which as we all know would have made the game a different game to the game which we are watching now which is actually still the same game because what I said could have happened didn’t.”

I’ve thrown myself into cricket instead, a sport that can still boast a full-voiced beer-fuelled population while managing to talk about itself without smirking, joking, winking or nudging. Cricket commentary in every form covers the game, the tactics, life and everything inbetween. Football commentary seems trapped in inane nothingness. In banter.

Almost a year ago @MartinKelner wrote a fantastic article comparing the sparse, sure-footed commentary of Brian Moore in the 1981 FA Cup Final with the nonstop nothing-speak of latter-day TV sofa-saints like Clive Tyldesley: “It is almost like a form of Tourette’s”. Or banter.

There are some great analysts in football – I loved Gordon Strachan’s short stint on Match of the Day, and occasionally one of the old cloggers will shed light on an aspect of the game usually given nothing even approaching lipservice by the Andy Grays and Richard Keys of the world. But you simply can’t fill every second of a match with considered thought.

But banter can fill a thousand stadia, a hundred thousand silences. So commentators banter with each other, cast judgement on a player’s off-field life or make idiot abstract observations. And the language of football, the teased statistics, gives these babblers all the mouth-amunition they need to fill every second of a match with unconsidered nonthought.

In Saturday night pubs automaton voices parrot the same witless verbage, proving their commitment to the sport through their dedication to memorising the accepted phraseology. And on the Sunday morning sports fields the adult voices bellow remembered lines of commentary at confused kids attempting to learn an incredibly technical game. Attempting to enjoy learning an intricate and hugely tactical game.

What other sport promotes the voice of the fat-ankled radio presenter, the bellowing fan, to such a towering level they can spit out judgements of a player’s commitment or effort while picking donut out of their teeth? How can you take seriously a sport which insists on elevatating the recognisable voices, the cloned outrages, the echoed opinions?

The phone-ins complain about the skills of English players, players who have only ever been told to hoof it out of danger into the channels or the mixer, who never heard an extended and exploded discussion of the thought behind the action during their grassroots years, who grew up listening to commentators filling dead air with dead thoughts.

I honestly believe that commentary is a huge and compelling factor behind the English football team’s inability to win a major tournament. It’s a cycle of non-ambition that begins with watching the game on TV, through to the yelling of fans in the stalls, and the limp questioning of TV interviewers in post-match broadcasts.

And it’s this need to banter, to talk, to spout noise endlessly at all levels of a game that has the same base strength as cricket or rugby (another sport that manages to retain thought without being sapped of excitement) that makes football the obvious contender for mainstream tribalism, easy access sports tourism.

It’s precisely because of this ubiquitousness of football that the massive influence of TV and radio mouthpieces spouting sport talk about anything but sport can’t be underestimated. Football can’t go anywhere but down if it continues to elect its champions from the ranks of the banterers, the unreconstructed lads, the echo chambers in human form.

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I’m white, middle-class, male and live in the west. I know what it’s like to be a woman #OpenMinday

What is #OpenMinday?

There is no opposite to racism or sexism. When I see a woman I don’t see a sexless thing. I see a person who is female, a person who is not my sex, a person who is fundamentally different to me on an obvious level. But this doesn’t make me sexist.

Walking last week I passed between two very tall black students stood chatting calmly on the path ahead of me. The gap between them was more than big enough for me to walk through. They didn’t look at me. But I didn’t see colourless ‘persons’, I saw two people who were black. This doesn’t make me racist.

A person who is black is black. A person who is white is white. A person who is tall is tall. To be someone who resists, who rejects and who stands against racism or sexism or any prejudice isn’t to be someone who doesn’t see these truths. It’s to be someone who sees that all of these people are people first.

One of the things that struck me while my wife and I visited a naturist resort last year was how naturists are just people. Being a naturist doesn’t mean they have this view or that view. Being a naturist is an expression of the views that they have as a person.

But on that visit I couldn’t shake the pre-conceived idea I’d had of naturists. I viewed the whole visit with a cynical eye, looking for the dark cracks in the ordinary surface. Looking at something I didn’t understand and expecting the worst.

Honestly, when I approached these two black men I became self-consciously non-racist, like an idiot. I went over every thought I usually have in this situation: Is it racist to look? Is it racist not to look? Is it racist to walk slower or faster? Is it racist to smile or not to smile? And how do I make peace with the fact that I feel intimidated? Is that racist?

Put me in a dark night at 3am after all the pubs have kicked out and see me walking towards two young tall men of any description who are taking up my path onwards, forcing me to pass between them, and I would feel at least this same discomfort.

I don’t know who they are, I can’t judge their temperament and I feel vulnerable because to go on I have to submit to being surrounded. But this is in the depths of night. Why do I feel this way in the middle of the day? The only answer can be because they are black.

It hurts me that I feel indimidated by black men, because I loathe the swallowed-racism I’ve somehow internalised without evidence. But my bewilderment at these feelings surely can’t begin to match the confusion and frustration that would be felt by the two students if I told them how I felt. And why shouldn’t they be confused? Offended, even.

When the morons who created UniLad’s ‘banter’-inspired content found themselves hauled up as an example of how men normalise rape it struck me that even in the places that men are attempting to talk about how men normalise rape, there’s still a fervent defensive streak fuelled by men failing to understand that they know what it’s like to be a woman.

The majority of men who would even have such a conversation would be white, western and middle-class (to be judgemental, but see GoodMenProject for examples of this neverending circular discussion). And I believe that a good deal of them would have experienced what I’ve experienced, and would feel exactly the same self-conflict.

The fact is that this discomfort, this self-conflict and self-conscious attempt to be both invisible and visibly not making yourself invisible, is experienced by women all the time whether they’re walking alone or not. Men intimidate women. The attempt to justify the normalisation of rape as ‘banter’ or a joke does nothing to solve this.

Plenty of men I have read online are aghast, offended, upset or even furious that a woman would class them as a potential rapist. I’ve been among this number. Because it feels idiotic, doesn’t it? It feels unjust. Exactly how those two tall black students would have felt if they’d known what I was thinking. Probably, they did know what I was thinking.

White, western, middle-class men have a lot of priviledges, but being able to have our cake and eat it is one that in the modern world has to mark us out as all sorts of -ists. Racists, sexists… they all have two things in common. They’re people who see the detail before the person and who will defend their right to do so.

I know what it feels like to be uncomfortable, to hate myself for prejudging someone, but to also know that I’m doing so because I want to protect myself and avoid finding myself in a situation I’m not prepared for. Is that wrong? Only if I ignore everything else but the detail, only if I don’t see the person first.

I don’t think it’s right for women to see every man as a potential rapist, but then I don’t think it’s right for any man to be a rapist and there’s plenty of debate about that too. Rape is bad. Women want to protect themselves, rightly, from it happening to them. Who am I to blame them if their methods make me sad?

It’s men who believe that their rights are under attack who we should be arguing with, not the women who just want to avoid being brutalised. Because we all know what it feels like to be vulnerable, to be uncomfortable. Would you appreciate being made to feel guilty for feeling that way, too?

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