Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Blame Game

Of course he wasn't Jesus, that would be ridiculous; Jesus was a guy who lived two thousand years ago. He was more like the reincarnation of Jesus, an apparently ordinary man who bore a huge burden, who was charged with solving mankind's problems. His problem - as Richard was at pains to explain to me - was that he didn't want this responsibility, it weighed heavily on him, he simply couldn't bear it.

He explained to me how it had happened. He'd been living in a hippy commune, experimenting with drugs and exploring his spirituality. One night - while astral travelling - he found himself inhabiting his girlfriend's body while she was being fucked by one of his friends. He was enormously disturbed by the experience and retreated into himself, he sought shelter in the library of his mind. But the library started collapsing around him; the books that contained all he knew where falling, spines breaking, pages tearing. Pillars of knowledge crumbled around him as he huddled trying to protect himself.

Then he was lost for a while; months of wandering, sleeping rough, living on scraps found in dustbins. He left the city and wandered the moors, eating raw chicken eggs stolen from farmyards. One day he was walking along an empty road when he was approached by an ethereal figure, a sort of avatar of Christ. The figure walked right up to him and - without pausing - passed into him.

Days later he was sitting at the roadside when a van pulled up and two guys jumped out. They spoke to each other;
- "Are you sure that's him?"
- "That's definitely him"
- "OK, if you're sure"

One of them turned to Richard;
- "It's OK, we know who you are, come with us, we'll look after you"

He was taken to a house; bathed, fed, cared for.

One evening he was watching TV with his new friends when the now famous Ethiopian famine report came on; he stared in horror at the severely malnourished child with flies crawling across her face. Suddenly he was transported through the TV, he found himself looking out through her eyes; the reporter, the glare of the lights, the camera lens. He looked back out at the watching world.

As he explained to me: "That's when I knew I had to do something. So I set about making Live Aid happen". When I politely pressed him to elaborate he explained that he achieved this largely by shouting at the telly, but really didn't want to speak about it.


That was my introduction to Richard - the latest man in my mother's life, and nominally my third step-father. I quickly came to understand that he was clinically insane: a paranoid schizophrenic with a messiah complex, almost certainly related to his experimentation with drugs, probably cannabis induced. I realised (far later than I should have done) that reasoning with him didn't help anyone, only served to make him increasingly stressed and anxious.

Better to agree with him that the watchers would be having a cold night outside tonight. Better to accept that we shouldn't have the TV on in case it exposed him to more examples of what he should be dealing with, in case it helped them find him and put him to work setting the world to rights.


I'm minded to share this story not because Bob Geldof has been in the news, but because two events in the last week have made me think about Richard.

Firstly - without wishing to sound sanctimonious - it's why I'm uncomfortable laughing at reports about the pro-indy campers' latest appearance at the Court of Session. If you missed it: Jesus Christ has returned to Earth and he wants a judge to stop the eviction of independence campaigners camped outside the Scottish Parliament, a court has heard.

I know nothing about the pro-indy campers other than what I've read, but it seems quite possible that some essentially vulnerable people have latched on to the issue that has dominated public discourse in Scotland. They appear to have among them people more in need of help and support than mockery.

Secondly - of course - there's been the awful, sickening news of the death of Jo Cox.

I've watched as various commentators have debated the significance of her alleged killer's apparent association with the far right - particularly given that today he gave his name in court as "death to traitors, freedom for Britain" - and the extent to which that is relevant or not given allegations about his mental state.

I make no judgement about his state of mind or motivations - it would clearly be inappropriate to do so - but I do think it's reasonable to react to this awful event by thinking about the environment that the current referendum has created. We can't ignore context if we wish to make sense of the apparently senseless.

Those with a tenuous grip on sanity are inevitably conditioned by the environment in which they live; sometimes they may end up literally interpreting and gruesomely magnifying the worst of what they hear. 

Richard was an inherently kind, gentle and caring man. The environment he chose to be in was one that exposed him to an array of religious ideologies; when he lost his grip on reality it was predictable that he would go the way he did. He became broken, but harmless.

Somebody with a different inherent nature, who is regularly exposed to rhetoric that focuses on who we should blame rather than who we should love, might be expected to fall another way.

Look at the environment we currently live in. Political opponents are routinely demonised for holding differing views. On social media words like "traitor" are casually bandied about.  Immigrants - whole bodies of humanity - are chosen by some as a focus for blame. Billboards are plastered with provocative images.

It seems there's something about the winner-takes-all, "once in a lifetime" nature of referendums that encourages the worst in political campaigners. But the people who should take the blame for this are not just those who stoop to using the cheapest language and most offensive rhetoric. Also to blame are those on both sides who stand by and let it happen, those who tolerate appalling behaviour from their own, those who turn a blind-eye to the rise of the malignant far right for fear of getting involved.

We all share blame, whether through our action or our inaction.


Unknown said...

I would like to link a blog from Pete North because his blog post puts it quite well, albeit its not the politically correct or something you post after somebodies tragic death:

For those who want a quick summary but with my own perspective. Basically the toxic nature is not due to this referendum or UKIP. Before UKIP's rise we had the BNP in 2010 and UKIP are just a more PC and free market obsessed -moderate- version of them. No, it is that politicians do not represent the people they claim to and whilst I am sure she was a lovely woman. Jo Cox is one of those politicians who clearly does not represent her constituents or countries political beliefs. A good politician is supposed to put their bias to one side and ask what their constituents want and is it good for the nation.

Jo Cox was very pro immigration. She voted against further immigration controls, was pro refugee and intervention in Syria. All three things are deeply unpopular in her country and I imagine her constituency. This is not an apology for what happened and please don't make it out to be that, its tiring. But she was an emblem of what is wrong with Labour. Somebody with a big heart that wants to look after the world before he or she represents their constituents. Her Parliamentary speeches I can find are all on Syria and helping refugees.

The average person feels hostile to their local politician because nothing seems to happen. Its like since Thatcher the government just does its own thing. Ignoring the people on privatisation and immigration. So what we have is a climate of contempt. The politicians are the enemy, a soul-less corporation who are just in it for themselves.

Kevin Hague said...

one of the most distasteful comments this blog has received imho - but it's a free country

Mike said...

You are aware that the average person has a say in who represents them as an MP? Granted FPTP can result on a minority of votes securing a seat but that would suggest any hostility should be directed at the electoral system...but the public got a say in that too recently and opted for FPTP.

Aa an aside it's sad that the term "pro refugee" exists.. It implys the term anti refugee is a valid label to apply to someone.

Edwin Moore said...

(a) Excellent piece Kevin, (b) shame on you RFE.

None of this is new. I can rmemeber a shopkeeper in Glasgow laughing at the news of JFK's murder, we just have to keep arguing against hate.

Unknown said...

Shame on me? Why because everyone should just accept that MPs ignore their constituents. And naturally rather than letting people make their mind up for themselves you removed my post. Well that is your right sir but all you do is prove me right.

It is people like you that are driving the far right

James said...

RFE It might have something to do with the fact that there are 1,000s of easier careers than politics and it takes a great deal of sacrifice to represent people that never seem to respect you no matter what you do. Finding a politician that doesn't have enough empathy to be "Pro Refugee" is going to be difficult.

Similarly you have to be pretty well educated to be a politician, and the more educated you are the less likely you are to want to Leave the EU. Hence the scarcity of genuine political Leave campaigners.

neil allan said...

RFE: Bit late now I suppose, but the constituents of Jo Cox weren't as fixed on immigration as you are; after all two thirds of Labour supporters voted remain.