I get something close to high listening to opponents being civil, disagreeing with decency and humour. It is the only way forward in the this polarised age
I got called viper-tongued by a total stranger on the internet the other day, which is quite something. I looked to see if I had defrauded any indigenous people of their lands, but I hadnt. Im not even sure what it was in connection with. Doesnt matter, I suppose; its just nice to check in with the fans.
The way we talk to each other online has got a bit fruity, hasnt it? People bewail the coarsening of public debate; a bad development with a pleasantly granular overtone, as if were discussing mustard. We know the internets anonymity emboldens people, and it is easy to glide into the assumption that people are therefore inherently bad. If you watch rolling-news banners, they all seem to confirm it. People are just bad. Outrage yesterday as one group is screwed over by another. The price of Freddos is going up, because people are bad. Why are you even watching this? Youre probably bad too.
I dont like to think people are bad, because I will throw myself down a well if that is true. So, Ive been cultivating a taste for debate podcasts that air personal disagreements in the healthiest of ways. There is a new series of Across the Red Line on Radio 4, in which people who take opposite positions on a political issue try (and often fail) to calmly unearth the exact point at which their beliefs diverge, and why. The Sacred Podcast is an interview series in which people of faith, agnostics and atheists air wildly incompatible beliefs on the Big Questions, such as whether there is any God or meaning to life, and is excellent for renewing your sense of plurality. Most rewarding of all though, is Conversations with People Who Hate Me: a mediated phone call between someone who has posted something abusive online, and the target of that abuse. Personal contexts are stated, respect and ground given by both, apologies made where necessary, friendship bracelets woven. It is affirming and addictive. Also, it turns out that people drunk-type a lot. I get something close to high listening to opponents being civil, disagreeing with decency and humour. Find that common ground, Daddy! Ill gurn with disproportionate satisfaction. Actively listen to each other, nnnngh!
The feline host, Dylan Marron, is eloquent, unoffendable, and happy to educate and learn. He always sees the best in his guests, and is my hero. (Marron is not to be confused with Dylan Moran, the drunk comedian who eats coasters as if theyre biscuits, although he is up there, too.)
There is a self-selecting bias to guests who agree to feature on these shows, but that doesnt invalidate what we can learn from them. Most people act according to their values, which they see as positive, even if their expression of them is occasionally the opposite. Of course, its naive to think every situation can be met with reasonableness, like shouting after a mugger: Obviously take the wallet, but would you mind leaving my keys? The small minority of people who incite hate or violence arent owed a platform. But most people will respond to their humanity being respected, and reciprocate. Listening to those we disagree with is the only way out of our toxic political moment, the only way we can inch forward. Faith in people is the basis of activism, not the enemy of it.
Im always looking for more recommendations, if anyone has them. In the meantime, Im off to bask and forage, find a spot to hibernate in. Maybe even and Im sorry about this snack on a mouse. Us vipers are only trying to get by, you know.
Who will save Amsterdam from the menace of the stag do?
Murky news from the Netherlands. The Amsterdam ombudsman recently declared that the Dutch city becomes an urban jungle at night, where criminal money is leading and authority no longer exists. I didnt know Amsterdam had an ombudsman, certainly not one who talks like he is delivering the opening monologue to a Batman film. Honestly, he sounds like Taxi Drivers Travis Bickle, a man who would definitely have made his views known in the comments section, if they had been invented.
A hero has stepped in to clean up: the government. All four main political parties have come together to oppose what they see as the problem certain tourists and the Disneyfication of the Dutch capital. Amsterdam attracts nearly 18 million visitors a year, not all of whom are drawn to the hump-bridged canals, the historic botanical garden and Calvinist character of Dutch civic life. The problem they are trying to address is the number of stag parties the city attracts, so Im not sure to which Disney films they are referring. Sex Toy Story? Pinocchiococaine? Aladdin a Bin? Maybe they dub them for a Dutch audience.
As of this month, the city can close down streets in the red-light district to implement cleaning breaks, take care of vomit and rubbish left by tourists, and enforce on-the-spot fines for public drinking, urination and disorderliness. Which is many British mens definition of a stag do. As a staunch, lifelong loather of stags, Im extremely taken with this picture: gangs of absolute legends being drawn to the city of legalised prostitution and decriminalised cannabis, to discover they are the ones being cracked down on. Obviously, Im too spiritually pure to ask for a real rain that can wash all this scum off the streets, but municipal employees armed with sick-hoses and side-eye are a good compromise.
Reaching for the star give or take 4 million miles
A few days ago, Nasa launched the Parker Solar Probe, which will touch the sun, as it flies within 4 million miles of the unreasonably hot star. Im not being funny, but thats not really touching the sun, is it? Thats like me saying Ive touched Roger Federer because I once passed through Wimbledon tube station. Engineers spent a decade creating an advanced heat shield to deflect the suns energy to stop the probe melting. Yet where were they when I needed exactly the same thing a week ago? Head in the clouds, those guys.