Archive by Author | davidwaldock

Dear Former Archbishop…

Dear Former Archbishop of Canterbury

Some notes on your piece in the Daily Mail, which I won’t link to because I don’t want to increase their hits.

You claim:

more than two-thirds of Christians feel that they are part of a ‘persecuted minority’.

Interestingly, this is the opposite of what you normally claim when you’re trying to assert that the majority of people in the country are Christian, and therefore you should be allowed to use your bigoted, offensive prejudices to set a social agenda which excludes minority sexualities from equality. On this occasion you’re seeking to feed the persecution complex that so many Christians like to assert.

The problem with that is that a minority, in technical terms, is a function of power, voice and visibility in society. People in same-sex relationships have been powerless and excluded from power structures for years, a situation which the institution you led sought to maintain (after all, homosexuals are sinners, and it’s wrong to facilitate sin by recognising it, right?).

Lack of visible role models, an absence of voice in the public spheres, and an inability to effect social change leads to a number of social outcomes.

Homophobia – allowing stereotypes and prejudice to negatively influence personal, institutional and/or social interactions with people who want or are in same-sex relationships – is legitimised when groups are invisible. This gives rise to bullying, physical violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people. And whilst I’m sure you’ll say that you deplore such behaviour, any actions or statements which perpetuate a state of inequality and powerlessness creates a fertile environment in which such behaviour can flourish.

As a result of this, LGBT people are at much higher risk for stress-related mental health problems (eg. depression and anxiety), a problem in itself, and increased use of non-positive coping mechanisms such as cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or risky behaviours, such as unprotected sex. As such, serious health problems, physical and mental, are more pronounced within LGBT communities, along with the associated higher rates of mortality and suicide, particularly in young people. Young LGBT people tend to do less well in the education system and are more likely to be made homeless by parents rejecting them.

Similar patterns have been observed in other minority groups, including ethnic, religious, gender and ability minorities. We know that legitimising even minor discrimination increases the social acceptability of any form of discrimination.

We have been countering this by fighting for small changes: LGBT characters in soaps, high profile community actions, positive news stories enabling politicians to come out and campaigning for changes in laws. Slowly, our voice has been heard, and things are beginning to change. However, young LGBT people still commit suicide at higher rates than straight cohorts, older LGBT people still don’t get the respect they deserve in care institutions and we are still at a disadvantage in society.

To contrast Christians – specifically but not exclusively the Anglican Church for whom you speak – have automatic seats in parliament, have historically had a massive influence over how society has been structured and are rarely out of the press. As a single example, the number of bishops and archbishops who’ve been given column inches to repeat their offensive, wilfully ignorant and factually incorrect bigotry over the last year has, I’m sure, contributed negatively to the self image and health of many in the LGBT communities. And whilst numbers of church attenders and self-identifying Christians are undoubtedly dropping, our society is still culturally Christian, caught up in the moral values of an increasingly secular society.

You go on to say this is evidence that

there lurks an aggressive secularist and relativist approach towards an institution that has glued society together for time immemorial.

Except that institution isn’t fixed, unchanging and constant. Marriage from five thousand years ago is not the same as marriage from five hundred ago, or even fifty years ago. Women are no longer chattels to be bought and sold, rape is no longer a socially acceptable way of taking wives and polygamy has been nominally (if delusionally) forbidden and unseen for the last couple of hundred years. As our concepts of relationships have changed, so have the institutions which formalise them in society. And now you claim that reflecting changes will change the institution beyond recognition.

You say that marriage has a

fundamental religious and civic meaning as an institution orientated towards the upbringing of children.

Except that’s historically not true and I deeply offensive to the large number of (in your view, legitimate) marriages in which procreation does not occur. Contrary to your belief that “traditional” marriages are diminished by reflecting practice in law, you in fact diminish “traditional” and non-traditional relationships which do not confirm to your narrow, normative view of relationships. It is you who diminish the bond of love, not those who seek to join it.

There will be no exemptions for believers who are registrars. … Christian teachers … may face disciplinary action if they cannot express agreement with the new politically-correct orthodoxy.

Unfortunately, it’s not the job of the state to provide exemptions. Would you accept that registrars can opt out of performing mixed ethnicity or mixed religion marriages? I would hope not. Whether teachers like it or not, if the law changes, LGBT people will have the right to get married regardless of their views on it; just as teachers are expected not to bring their party political views to the classroom, so they’re expected to support and uphold the rights, education and dignity of all their students regardless of their backgrounds.

Frankly, Mr Carey, your entire message reminds me of the temper tantrum of a school bully who has been found picking on the weakest and most vulnerable members of the school, and who then tries to bully the teachers into silence when they challenge it. Your religious values – and make no mistake, the only objections I can see are values, for the facts cannot and do not support continued discrimination – are not a legitimate reason to perpetuate a social wrong.

What you regard as a dangerous move towards secularism is, for many people, one to be welcomed. Secularism isn’t about banning religion or excluding religious views from public discussions, it’s about broadening the range of voices to include the broadest possible cross-section of the people in that society. It’s about ensuring that no particular view, however significant from an historical perspective, is privileged and that all people are treated equally.

The sad thing is, Mr Carey, you are more concerned with maintaining a discriminatory, favoured voice, and the power that goes with it, than you are in empowering the dispossessed and allowing the silent to be heard. If I’m honest, this doesn’t really sound like the example of a Jesus who dined with tax-collectors and prostitutes.

I’m sorry that you feel that the campaign for equal marriage is going to inhibit your “right” to discriminate, but ultimately this isn’t about you. It’s about the LGBT people whose lives and health are put at risk by your attitudes and values. Lets focus on the victims here, not the abusers.

Yours sincerely

David W

Division of Labour: food, accountability and class

We’ve all watched the horse meat scandal with some horror, worried what the revelations of the food industry means for what we’ve eaten. Commenting on this, Jay Rayner noted,

…lurking behind the important questions that it posed … there was another narrative, dripping with snobbery and disdain: about the “lower orders” being both stupid enough to buy this cheap crap and unsophisticated enough not to recognise that eating horse is fine…

A friend challenged this interpretation, suggesting that “people chose to become lazy and disconnect from the food they buy and the supply chain that provides it.” I questioned whether this was an individual or group phenomenon, and said I’d expand my thinking further. So here goes.

Read More…

Why I Won’t Be Watching Children In Noses Day

If you want to give to charity, good for you, go ahead and do it, but you don’t need a massive forced-fun day of torture to do good.

Read More…

Celibate here, celibate there…

Today, the BBC asked, “Is it realistic for someone to permanently go without sex?”. I think they’ve asked the wrong question.

Read More…

One Flu Over the Piggies’ Nest: another vaccine melodrama?

Vaccination, media coverage and social and health consequences: here we go again?

Read More…

Theory of Critical Crapness

How are rubbish things, like The Only Way is Essex or Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, so successful?

Read More…

The Privilege of Common Sense

I once had a conversation with a hairdresser in which they told me that I was incredibly intelligent, but that I had no common sense. I responded by asking what made that particular knowledge necessarily common. I got no immediate response.

On my next visit to the barbers, the reply came. Having thought about it, they realised that our experiences were different, and what they had learned from their education, home life and work weren’t the same as what I’d learned. They concluded that assuming that anyone who doesn’t know what you know is an idiot is quite arrogant and unhelpful.

This argument is one which I’ve seen many times subsequently, from the minor, “how can you not to not put those colours together?!” to the more significant, “well, if you don’t know electrons are smaller than atoms you’re not scientifically literate.”

I’ve argued before that such arguments don’t really stand up. I’d go further and argue that such a position is an abuse of privilege: telling other people that they can’t fully function and engage in a society simply because they don’t have access to what is felt to be ‘essential’ knowledge is no better than David Cameron sneering at people from working class backgrounds. It’s all the more ironic when the people being criticised are evidently engaged with a society of which they are fully functioning members.

However, this morning I caught myself asking why an article needed to be written: of course the atmospheric carbon dioxide is acidifying the oceans, we all know about the effect of dissolving carbon dioxide in water, don’t we?

And then I realised that I was doing the same. What those of us who have spent time studying scientific disciplines consider ‘basic’ knowledge is far from the common experience of many – even most – people, just as interior decorating, clothing design and oil extraction are a long way from my comfort zone.

This surely gives us a moral duty to use our privilege and experience for everyone’s benefit. Just as I rely on friends with infinitely more style than I to help me when it comes to selecting fashion, my knowledge can help other people when they need it.

We’re most used to this in regards to formal professions: when we need legal advice we see a lawyer, when we need medical advice we see a doctor. However, I think that this ignores the informal networks that people use to navigate everyday life.

For every professional providing services in a formal context, there is an unprofessional helping in an informal context. Pub medicine, water cooler science education, Facebook philosophy and Wikipedia inform our every day lives as much as, and probably more, than appointments with visibly qualified experts.

For me, this is what arguments about literacy and common sense often miss. As humans, we don’t have to know everything to function in society because we are but one node in networks of knowledge, linked by relationships, encounters and the Internet. The real skill is learning how to navigate the social and digital networks; and how we use the information we have to help others.

After all, I’m rubbish at cutting hair, but I still manage to function in society.

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