#METOO – Has It Become A Witch-Hunt?

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There are certain activities which most people would say are simply asking for trouble. Walking across a shooting range in the US bible-belt wearing a T-Shirt with “Gay Vegan Muslims For Hillary” written on it would be such an activity.

Another such activity would be a white, middle aged man writing a piece about the movement most commonly known by the hash-tag #METOO (also referred to as #WHYWEWEARBLACK and #TIMESUP). Well, I’m about to put that t-shirt on and start walking. No, not the Hillary t-shirt, the other one.

In case you have been on Mars for the last few months, this is the movement against sexual abuse and harassment in the film industry which started with a raft of allegations being made against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Other famous names have been toppling in his wake, like a row of high-profile dominos.

Men in Hollywood must be shitting themselves every time they check their Twitter feed.

Let’s get a few things absolutely clear from the outset:

  • Sexual abuse and harassment are awful and profoundly wrong, as is any abuse of power. It is also (in many cases) a criminal offence
  • There has been a culture of fear and silence in many ‘industries’ since time immemorial and it is excellent news and long overdue that this is being challenged and wrong-doers called to account.
  • It has taken a lot of bravery from some women to speak out about such entrenched practices.
  • A lot of people have been hurt, physically and mentally and, no doubt, many careers ruined.

I, personally, have been horrified but not particularly surprised by what I have heard about this problem over the last 6 months or so. In the UK the (formerly) revered entertainer and broadcaster Jimmy Saville was revealed, after his death, to have been a voracious predatory paedophile. He got away with it for 5 decades or so.

In the middle of the feeding frenzy it is important to bear certain things in mind especially if we, in the west, are going to hold ourselves out as civilised.

Any allegations of abuse (unless obviously false or malicious) must be taken seriously and looked into but that is not the same as assuming that they are true. An allegation is not the same as a proven fact.

In most developed legal systems there is a principle that the burden of proving that something happened falls on the person who is making the allegation. In other words, if someone is making an allegation they need to show to the required standard of ‘proof’ that it happened. In civil cases, this means on the balance of probabilities (it being more likely than not that the thing happened.) In criminal cases, the allegation needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt (that is, a reasonable person would, having heard the evidence, have no doubt of the culprits guilt). This is the position in the UK. I believe that it is similar in the US Courts and, indeed throughout western civilisation.

What this means, in practice, is that someone who wishes to sue someone else or a prosecutor bringing a criminal case must show, with evidence, that the defendant is guilty/liable. They have to satisfy the ‘burden of evidence’.

What we seem to be seeing here is that burden being reversed. Instead of the accusers having to make out a case, with sufficient detail to enable a proper response, we are seeing those accused of these horrible things having to ‘prove’ that they are innocent. There seems to be a presumption that if an allegation is made, it must be based in fact.

This is profoundly wrong. Yes, so is sexual abuse and harassment but two wrongs do not make a right.

An alleged abuser should be confronted with specific allegations of what they are supposed to have done and be given an opportunity to respond, through the correct channels. What is happening at the moment is that allegations are being made to the media and there is an instant assumption that there is ‘no smoke without fire’. The media, always keen for a bit of scandal, love it.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not a Trumpite (far from it: the guy is a complete tool) denouncing everything as ‘Fake News’ but ‘Trial by Media’ is very problematic. It usually leads to allegations being sensationalised by people who have an agenda to sell more newspapers or get better ratings and, more importantly, makes it less likely that a fair trial can follow if criminal charges are brought.

To be sure, there is a balance to be struck. The press has a duty to ‘speak truth to power’ and part of that is exposing wrong-doing and abuse, in whatever form that may take. There is also a duty to be balanced and to give a platform to those who have been accused to respond (if they wish to). I’m not sure that the balance is being achieved currently.

The whole thing feels like it is turning into some sort of kangaroo court with a  lynch-mob, foaming at the mouth, looking to drag any man off to the gallows on just the mention of an allegation against them, regardless of that man’s version of events or the presence or otherwise of any corroboration for the allegations.

I know it’s not just me who is a bit concerned about this. There have been two high profile interventions in the last couple of weeks or so. The first one, by a group of prominent French Women, most notably the actress Catherine Deneuve, decries the notion that men should never ‘come on to’ a woman (in the old fashioned rather than pornographic sense). It is an interesting intervention and one which is, undoubtedly, informed somewhat by the rather mediterranean mind-set that men are expected to be men – meaning a bit of ‘tactile flirting’ is to be expected, even welcomed by a red-blooded gallic woman. It goes a quite a bit further than most, like me, with Anglo-Saxon sensibilities would be comfortable with, even suggesting that repeated attempts to plant a kiss or touch a knee are nothing to get in a froth about. Hmmm…

In response to which I hear the scream “WHAT ABOUT CONSENT?!!!” Well, quite.

More recently Liam Neeson has also stuck his head out of the trench to ask precisely the question which I pose with the title of this article. Celebrated writer Margaret Atwood has also added a cautionary note for which she has received a lot of criticism from some feminist circles

Now, I like to be clear about what words or phrases mean. How very lawyerly of me.

The Collins English Dictionary says:

“A witch-hunt is an attempt to find and punish a particular group of people who are being blamed for something, often simply because of their opinions and not because they have actually done anything wrong.” 

The last bit is quite important here.

Back in the day, as most people know, supposed witches were arrested on the merest whiff of suspicion and summarily executed, often in pretty gruesome ways. Remind you of anything?

People, men in particular, seem paralysed with fear about speaking out against this ‘guilty unless you can prove you are innocent’ mentality which seems to be taking over.  Hardly anyone seems to be willing to suggest that there should be any right of reply or, god forbid, any sort of due-process (something which Americans in particular are normally quite keen on).

Before the recent Golden Globes (2018) ceremony actress Evan Rachel Wood (who?) suggested that victims at the ceremony should grab other people in the room and form a circle around abusers. Are you fucking kidding me?! This is without that person even being confronted with details of what they are supposed to have done and being given an opportunity to respond. Is anyone still willing to suggest that this is not becoming a witch-hunt?

Let’s also not forget the impact that allegations will have, unproven or otherwise. Films have been hastily re-shot to excise actors who have allegations hanging over them. I suspect that most of these people will never work in the industry again. Because of the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ attitude which seems to be prevailing currently, any allegation against an actor is likely to make them instantly toxic as far as the film studios are concerned. Boom. Game over. Even if those allegations do eventually get tested out and that person manages to clear their name the damage is already done.

As if to prove my point, on the very day that I publish this article this little gem of news about Woody Allen hits the BBC website. Dylan Farrow, adoptive daughter of Mia Farrow alleges that Allen abused her when she was a little girl. Ok, so far that is old news. That allegation has been out in the wild for a few years. Crucially, the allegation has been investigated by the police who have not brought any charges against Allen. As I say, old news. Ms Farrow, however, clearly feels the winds of fate have changed and she is enlisting the full help of the #METOO movement to ‘bring him down’ (her words, not mine). Well, at least she is being honest about her intentions I suppose.

What has changed now is this attitude that someone is guilty unless proven innocent and anyone associating with that person is in some way condoning or supporting their behaviour. Look at the reaction of the two rather callow actors who appeared in his latest film ‘A Rainy Day in New York’: they are both donating their fee to charity and expressing regret for deciding to appear in the film.

Just to recap – this is an allegation that has been investigated by the police and insufficient evidence found to charge, yet members of the film industry are already pulling away from Allen and trying to distance themselves from him and his work as if he has already been tried and convicted.

OK, bringing a criminal prosecution requires that the allegation must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Quite a tough hurdle. So why then does Farrow not bring a civil case against Allen, you know sue him in that good ole’ fashioned American way? She would only have to show that he molested her ‘on the preponderance of the evidence’ (i.e. that it is, on balance, more likely that the thing happened than not). Not a huge evidential hurdle to cross, yet she does not do it. If she felt that she could make out a case she would have issued it, surely? It seems likely that she would have taken legal advice about her chances of success doesn’t it? On that basis is it unreasonable perhaps to conclude that  she has decided that she cannot even raise the evidence to stand a reasonable prospect of bringing a successful civil claim against Allen?

So what happens? #METOO gets the incredible traction that it has in the last few months. Nobody wants to be tainted by allegations about somebody else and people start distancing themselves from the accused to protect themselves thereby helping to taint even destroy the reputation of men who have not had an allegation proved against them, to any standard of proof.

And so Dylan Farrow gets her shot at destroying Woody Allen all without having to set foot in a court of law and have her claims properly tested out.

You could say “well why doesn’t Woody Allen sue her for defamation (libel) if the allegations are untrue” and yes, he could if he wanted but that is missing the point. He shouldn’t have to do that for people not to just assume that he is guilty. In America this is known as ‘misplacing the burden of proof’ which is a legal fallacy arising from the false assumption that something is true unless it can be proved otherwise.

You would think that in America, a country well known for it’s love of litigation, this simple principle would be well understood.

If you look at the BBC article again you will see that Alec Baldwin is the only one in the Farrow/Allen business who has correctly assessed the situation. Unfortunately he and others like him are very much in the minority currently.

Trial by media may give instant satisfaction but, as we all know, is not exactly subject to rules of evidence. In the current instance, with the amount of somewhat sensationalised media coverage which is reaching saturation point, the prospect of ‘miscarriages of justice’ seems very likely.

Look, lots of nasty predators are going to get their comeuppance. Good. Is it worth the careers and reputations of some who are innocent just to drag everybody off to the gallows and ‘let god sort it’ out though? I hope the answer to that question is self-evident.

Innocent until proven guilty. It’s a good place to start from.

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Actual Reality Versus Virtual Reality

e36c403a615fe441a1420e55a0ff00a83b5ee9d0I was at an Ellie Goulding gig a few days ago. Unusual to see me at a pop gig as I’m usually a jazz man. I do make an exception for the small (very small) number of pop artists that I consider to be genuinely talented and have a unique and interesting sound.

I’m happy to report that Ms Goulding more than lived up to expectations.

Anyway, at one point I the evening, Ellie challenged the audience to put away their mobile phones and engage with the experience of the concert directly rather than viewing everything through their phone while they recorded a video of it – “I like to see your faces – that makes me happy”.

As luck would have it,  I was sitting directly behind a couple of young women in their early to mid twenties. One of them in particular had spent the entire gig to this point either videoing the show (and therefore not watching a single moment through her own eyes) or updating her Facebook profile. Just to remind you, this was a concert by one of popular music’s most celebrated contemporary artists who was putting on one hell of a show. She somewhat grudgingly lowered her phone for Ellie’s exhortation before immediately resuming filming. She and her friend left halfway through the encore, obviously intent upon avoiding the crowds leaving the venue but, in the process, missing the great conclusion to the concert.

I found myself simultaneously irritated and sorry for her. It seemed to me that it was more important to her that her ‘friends’ on Facebook should know that she had been at an Ellie Goulding gig than to actually engage with the musician on stage and enjoy the experience.

I am an amateur musician of sorts. I doubt that anybody will ever want to view one of my performances through their phone while they take a video to post on FB but, if they did, I expect that I would feel annoyed, angry even. I’d probably want to stop playing and ask them to pack it in.

There have been incidents in theatres where actors, incensed by people more interested in their phones than the play and thereby distracting others, have stopped the show and directly addressed the offenders.

Is this really such a big deal?? Well, yes. Actually it is.

Firstly, it is disrespectful to the artist themselves. So what? You might say. They are getting paid anyway, what do they care? If you really think this, then you really do not understand why real artists do their thing. A real artist creates because they have to. If Ellie Goulding, for instance, had not ‘made it’ in the music industry I expect that she would still be writing songs and performing in pubs and clubs around her home town. Why? Because an artist has a need to create. It is something that they must do, even if they have to keep a day job going to pay the bills. They want you to engage with them and their music. Choosing to spend the whole gig looking at your phone is a sign of indifference borne of ignorance. If you’d rather look at your phone do it at home. I’m sure most, if not all artists would rather perform to a room of 100 eager, upturned, faces than 30,000 people with their face buried in a phone.

The more concerning issue though is the mind-set of the people with their phones out. It is a mind-set which is seemingly all pervasive in recent times. I am talking of the phenomenon whereby people live their lives through social media.

You know the sort. They post pictures of their dinner. They post ‘updates’ portraying their ‘perfect lives’ with their ‘perfect partner’ and their ‘perfect children’ (who are they trying to convince I wonder). They judge their success and value by the number of ‘likes’ or comments they get to every post they make.

This phenomenon of living your life on social media is even more invidious with young people. My partners daughter has what I consider to be an unhealthy obsession with getting ‘likes’ to her social media posts. She is not alone; all of her peer group seem similarly obsessed. It ruins experiences because there is a need to be constantly checking a phone or tablet to make sure that you are not missing anything. Many children’s sense of self worth depends on getting a steady stream of ‘likes’. It’s an addiction and it is deeply worrying.

When did looking at a little screen become so much more appealing than looking at the world through your own eyes?

For the likes of these, it is not enough to simply do something and enjoy the experience, they have to tell everyone about it to get the validation of a load of ‘likes’.

And here is the key point. If you take nothing else from this article take this because I consider it to be crucial.

By constantly videoing, posting pictures, taking selfies etc. rather than living in the moment,  people diminish their own life experience.

Yes, you read that correctly. By videoing a concert or whatever, you disallow your own engagement with it because your attention is elsewhere. You are not connecting with the artist who is bringing their creativity to the performance, you are worrying about keeping the phone steady, what comment you are going to add when you post it on Facebook and so on. When the concert is over, you will have a video to look at and show your friends but you won’t have a memory of a complete experience.

This is like ordering a lovely meal in a restaurant and asking someone else to eat it for you so that you can gain their approval. You miss the experience yourself but you are so bound up in worrying about what your ‘friends’ think that their response is all you care about.

It’s actually really sad and quite pathetic.

For your sake, don’t be that person.

Live your life and savour each experience and, for the love of God, keep your fucking phone in your pocket. If not for your own sake then for me because I may be sitting behind you.

As Ellie said “let’s do it like it was 1985”.

New Year, New Start?

Happy new year to you.

How many of us, at this time of year, make promises to ourselves that this year, things will be different. Some of us have a vague idea of things that we would like to tackle, some have a clearer idea of what we want to change about ourselves or our circumstances. Still others produce elaborate lists of resolutions of things that they will change this year.

This year, they will give up smoking, drinking to excess, swearing, wanking, whatever. Gym memberships swell with well meaning chubbies intent that this is the year that they will make a real and lasting change.

How many of these resolutions last beyond the end of January? Why are we so good at knowing what we ought to do but so bad at actually doing it?

The fact that we feel the need to make a ‘resolution’ about what we ought to be dong demonstrates that we are, when all is said and done, crap at just getting on with stuff. Once the first flush of earnest intent has worn off we just slip back into old ways for another year.

This is quite a powerful time of year in many respects. Long before Christianity claimed the season for its own, the pagan religions celebrated the winter solstice. Yule. My favourite author, Angela Carter, refers to this time of year in her short story “The Company Of Wolves” as being the hinge on which the door of the year swings. The door is ajar and the supernatural is able to slink through.

There is undoubtedly a different atmosphere at this time year. The simple fact of one year ending and another beginning is bound to lead any thinking person to consider what the year ahead will bring and whether there is anything that they should be doing themselves to contribute to a happy and prosperous new year.

Self reflection at any time is a good thing. We are all so busy that we rush through our lives, every spare minute filled with things that we ‘must’ do such as checking our Facebook feed.  Any time that we spend actually thinking about where we are in life and where we are going must be a good thing, yes?

How then to turn good intention into action? Well, I’m not sure there is an easy answer to that. I think that there is a ‘tipping point’ that we all have where something seems important enough to us for us to actually take action. It is usually a combination of the seriousness of the consequences of inaction and the timescale for those consequences manifesting themselves. For instance, most people know that being overweight is bad for them. They know that they may die young. When someone is in their 20s or 30s, those consequences may seem long way off and, therefore, not especially pressing. When someone is in their 50s and is being told by their doctor that they have serious health issues and if they do not change their ways they are likely to die in the next year or two, you would expect most people to make immediate changes.

It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. When I turned 40 I was overweight and unfit. I committed to a regime of gym and healthier eating because the thought of being fat AND middle aged was too much to bear. I lost the weight, got in shape and have kept it off, even now, several years later.

The trick then, is to associate a sufficiently attractive outcome with the action that you want to commit to. I’d suggest that you need to be really clear about exactly what the benefit to you is going to be in sticking to your resolution and keep that constantly in mind. Visualisation, the topic of a later post, may help. Strongly picture, regularly, the desired outcome to give yourself the ongoing impetus to stick to the task in hand.

For myself, this is already going to be a year of change. I was made redundant at the beginning of December. I have a fixed 6 month contract to go to which suits me quite well. I’m considering my long term options, employment wise, and may decide to take a completely different path. It’s going to be an interesting year for sure. I’m reminded though of the ancient curse: “may you live in interesting times..”

The Crisis of Manhood

We don’t even know what we are supposed to be anymore, us men.

Not so women.

Women’s struggle for emancipation from the shackles of the kitchen and home has been a righteous one. Any feminist will tell you, with some justification, that there is still much to be done. Women’s salaries are still not on a par within the workplace and so on. But theirs is an ongoing, forward march, preferably in great shoes and with regular breaks for cupcakes and latte. It gives them a sense of impetus, a striving towards a better future for the sisterhood.

Right thinking men, that is those who are neither misogynists nor traditionalist dinosaurs, find themselves both applauding the erosion of ages old barriers to women and simultaneously feeling increasingly uneasy about what it means to be a man in the 21st century. How are we supposed to behave, we the enlightened?

21st century man. The pinnacle of 1 billion years of biological evolution.  Consider our past: Eons of hunter-gathering, tribal warfare. Bringing home the kill. A respected elder of the tribe; a skilled craftsman perhaps. Bodies grown strong and fast by living by our wits and strength. A brotherhood of tribesmen, mutual respect and honour. In times gone by there was no doubt about what being a man meant.

Humans have been around for a few million years. We are Johnny-come-lately’s on the evolutionary playing field. Even so, what we would call ‘modern humans’, homo sapiens, have been about for a few hundred thousand years. For the great majority of that time we were hunter gathers. Social groupings into tribes comes much later. Settled habitations grown from the development of farming skills is relatively very recent. Do you think that hundreds of thousands of years of behaviour doesn’t leave an imprint within? We have instincts alright, we have just learned to supress them to fit in with our ‘logical’ modern world.

As Adam Ant (that great thinker of our time) once observed “I feel beneath the white there is a redskin, suffering from centuries of training.”

So, the proverbial redskin brave finds himself constrained in an environment (modern civilisation) where he is expected to suppress these instincts. The testosterone swilling around inside him, once his great asset, giving him strength, virility and aggression is now his downfall. He may learn to suppress it (as most do) and conform, living and working in an increasingly feminine-oriented world until, at some point in his 40s (perhaps) the tension created by it all leads him to react against it and do some out of character things. This is dismissively written off (mostly by women) and described as a ‘mid-life crisis’.

Many men have issues with mental health as they get into middle age. Some try damping the feelings down with alcohol. The rising sense of panic that has been with you for years but you don’t want to admit to because, well, it’s not normal is it? It’s just me – I’d better try and snap out of it.. That’s what a so-called ‘mid-life crisis’ actually is. It’s a reaction to the feeling, which has been growing within for decades, that there is something terribly wrong with your life and no amount of stuff that you buy to wear, drive or play with will resolve it.

Others do less well at keeping a lid on it. They may become abusive partners. They may be the men you cross the street to avoid when you are walking in a town centre late on a Friday night, spoiling for a fight. They may prefer to have running battles with opposing fans of a rival football team. Ever noticed just how tribal football allegiances are?

Vast numbers of lost men, fighting in the street in the small hours of a weekend morning.

So, what are we supposed to do about it? Of course we can’t go back to living in caves and courtship conducted with a heavy club, and, of course, we don’t want to. The challenge is to find a new manhood, a new masculinity for the 21st century and beyond. One that enables us to live in harmony with the modern age yet honours what it means to be a man. Violence, aggression and being abusive or controlling of women is not the answer. So what is?

I aim to develop the ideas here in future posts but, for the meantime, here are some aspects of the modern age which, I believe, contribute to this crisis in manhood:

  • Being a ‘wage-slave’. Yes, trading your valuable time to make someone else wealthy. If you work in an office environment especially how does that make you feel? Empowered? Thought not. Work is essential for your wellbeing though. Also, you live in a society so you should be making some contribution to it. There is no honour in dossing about expecting someone else to pick up the tab for your lazy arse. However, is working for someone else the best way to be fulfilled at work? Being an employee can quite easily make you feel like a loser. However it is still by far preferable to not working at all.
  • Education, especially at primary level (elementary). Been to a primary school recently? How many teachers are male? There may be one or two but most, if not all, are women. You don’t just learn to read and write at school, there is something which sociologists call the ‘hidden curriculum’. It’s the stuff we learn which we don’t realise we’re learning. Some of it is great; how to get along with other people, and treat them with respect, for instance. Does a little boy in the class get exposed to positive male role models in school though? Unlikely. What is he learning about being a man? Nothing. Primary school is an overwhelmingly feminine environment. In a lot of other, non-western cultures, it is considered essential for men in the society to be involved with teaching and nurturing boys. At what point did we turn into a society where teaching of all young children, of whatever sex, was exclusively ‘women’s work’.
  • The increasing prevalence of absent fathers. Being from a home where your parents don’t live together is not necessarily the issue. Its fathers who then have nothing to do with their children. Arguably worse are the fathers who are drunks or druggies or violent or abusive. They may still be at home but give the child an awful role model. There are huge numbers of little boys who are growing up without any positive role models. In fact there a lot of boys who are growing up with virtually no meaningful contact with adult men at all.

If women’s lib is the struggle for equal rights for women what is the male equivalent? What does ‘Men’s Lib’ look like?

For me, it would be a way of living where I am in control of my own destiny, living in harmony with my fellow man (and woman) but with dignity, respect and on my own terms. Impossible dream? I certainly hope not.