Will it never end ? Quebec’s terrorist attack.

Will it never end ? Quebec’s terrorist attack.

Another atrocity, six innocent men gunned down, while at their devotions, 19 others injured and 5 remain in a critical condition. Again we are witness to innocent people, slaughtered as thy try to get on with their lives and again we know that wives have been left widowed and children fatherless for no reason.

This time, it seems highly likely that a young man with right-wing nationalist views (Alexandre Bissonnette) is responsible for this horror. If it is he, we will no doubt discover that he, like Dylan Roof and  Omar Mateen and many others before him, was a warped young man unable to tolerate those he disagreed with, unable to tolerate those different to him. It is no surprise that these people choose their targets by features which mark out their group as different to his group; the white supremacist attacking those performing their religious duties while the jihadist identifies those participating in banned activities.

Terrorists from both groups are much more similar than they would like to imagine, both see themselves as warriors defending their group against the others or avenging wrongs done by the other group. While these are extreme members of their groups, this tendency to see politics and life in terms of groups is a major problem. It does not matter if the group is defined by religion or race, nation or class, heritage or any other  tribal banding, viewing the world in this manner distorts our society.

Humans are intrinsically social animals. We don’t survive in isolation and instinctively seek out our fellows. Despite what dystopian films and novels may tell us, in good times and bad we band together to cooperate, help and trade. We find ways to be with others that is mutually beneficial. It is important to recognise that xenophobia and fear of others is commonest in people who have little contact with other groups. When we have to opportunity to mix and mingle we find ways to make this benefit both ourselves and the others and fear quickly dissipates. When we are left to our own devices we create an emergent order which is beneficial to all. This only goes wrong when we are grouped and ruled.

This is not simply the old story of “divide and rule” but rather “categorise and control“. When we are encourage to see ourselves as members of groups ( American, Christian, Black, Lesbian, Working Class, Welsh, Jewish, Islamic, Aryan, etc) we are encouraged to see the differences we have with others. We are encouraged to view others as being not only different but wrong and potentially threatening. We are encouraged to feel under threat and in need of protection. And in responce to this perceived threat, there are usually a group of people (politicians, clergy, kings,  inspired leaders, etc) who will guard us and look after our interests. These are the people who benefit from this grouping, they now hold the power (and usually a great deal of the wealth) as they control how we may and may not interact to preserve our group. All their power comes from controlling spontaneous  activity by individuals  and disappears if people are allowed to interact freely.

Once in our groups we are encouraged to view all problems in terms of this. It leads to partisan and transactional politics. Our group is always right, the other always wrong. Our problems come from the malevolence of the other group. While watching the coverage of Quebec I noticed on social media the cheerleaders of each group swinging into action. Those on the alt-right ecstatic when it looked as if a muslim might have been involved (erroneously), the progressives cock-a-hoop at having another timely white nationalist terrorist just in time for the fight with Trump about closing borders. Our politics have descended into this. We are unable to discuss issues without this being along the lines of our group identities. This means we fail to develop and change as quickly as we might otherwise be able.

The Quebec tragedy will end up being defined as a battle between those fearing islamophobia and those fearing islamofascism. Left to their own devices, followers of different faiths would cooperate happily and beneficially. When they are individuals they find a way to coexist in a way that benefits all, it is only when they are pushed into groups that hatred such as this arises. It is leaders who lead us down these dark alleys of discrimination and violence.

Remember the men who lost their lives in Quebec, remember them as real people like you or I, remember them as fathers or sons like you or I, remember them as individuals.  Don’t think that their religion makes what happened to them explicable in any manner, nor does it explain their murderer’s actions.  Don’t force them into a group and don’t let yourself be forced into a group. When we stay as individual units we remain individually responsible and recognise that we have the same rights as everyone else. Maintaining this is our only hope of preventing future tragedies. The first step in murder and maltreatment is making the victim an exemplar of a group rather than an individual. The second step is removing our own individual responsibility by passing it to a higher authority.  Don’t be pushed to take these dangerous steps.

 

 

Exquisite Irony – Milo’s “Dangerous”

I felt that there was an  exquisite irony dangerouswhen I noted that Milo Yiannopoulos’ book ‘Dangerous‘ was heading the amazon best sellers list before his book was even available for sale. Since his book deal with Simon & Schuster was announced there has been a flurry of critical press. As the glamour boy of the alt-right Milo has also become the bogey man of the  left’s twitterati and social media groups.

There were early calls to ban the book from Sarah Silverman and Jud Apatow (1) and The Guardian’s comment pages were awash with calls to ban the book.  Later the Chicago Review of Books announced (2) that it would not review any of Simon & Schuster’s output in 2017. A storm of indignation was raised before a single word of the book was available to be read.

The liberals were apparently oblivious to the illiberal calls they made – book banning, book burning and suppression of authors are tactics whose history is often associated with the totalitarian right (Though as George Orwell described in ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ the totalitarian left has become very able at this strategy).

But more importantly the liberals have forgotten the reasons that book-banning and censorship is a bad idea. Sure, it is morally wrong to try and suppress ideas discordant with your own as it denies the equality of other peoples’ opinions. Also, it is rather silly as it is unlikely that you can presume you will always be correct and, come the time you are wrong, you will need access to different ideas to adapt to new circumstances. But, at a very basic level, it is also a bad idea because it does not work. Refusing to discuss issues with people who think differently never causes them to change, indeed it may tend to promote in them a confidence that their views are correct. Your refusal to debate is not seen as a sign of moral strength but rather as a sign of weakness, a sign that you can’t debate, and a sign that you are aware that your argument is inherently weak.

However, at the very basic level it should have been clear that this was a stupid strategy because it is likely to backfire and be counter-productive. It should have been obvious that much of the success of the alt-right, and Milo in particular,  rests on the pleasure gained from upsetting the hierarchy, the pleasure found by saying the unsayable, and the simple pleasure from witnessing easily prompted outrage and indignation. To deliver these shows of outrage and upset feelings before a word had been printed was a free gift to the alt-right’s keyboard warriors who quickly booked their pre-orders for the book.

No matter what review the Chicago Review of Books may have given Milo’s book, whether it be good, bad or indifferent they could not have given more publicity, and increased sales, than had they tried. They have not only guaranteed home more sales and a wider initial audience, they have also increased his profile and cemented his poster-boy status.

The only thing of which we can be certain is that following this campaign more people will have read the book  than would have done otherwise. It certainly helped the sales of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and, as Oscar Wilde stated, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

 

via Daily Prompt: Exquisite

 

  1. http://heatst.com/politics/sarah-silverman-and-judd-apatow-join-movement-to-stop-publication-of-milos-book/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/04/simon-schuster-alt-right-hate-breitbart-milo-yiannopoulos
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

My final Christmas

new_year_03It is with a tinge of sadness that I have realised that this is the last time I will celebrate Christmas. The decision came to me while I sat in church having taken my father-in-law to the Christmas Eve service. We sat in a nearly empty church while a handful of elderly people tried to celebrate a central tenet of their faith. It was at odds with everything outside. Inside they spoke about love and charity while outside we had watched people rushing, as I had been, to buy last minute presents and prepare for a few days of festive, feasting and excess. As I watched this I realised I don’t want to participate in this any longer.

When I was a young man with children I enjoyed Christmas. I enjoyed the rituals and the traditions and enjoyed spending money so that I might see the pleasure on my childrens’ faces when they opened their presents. But over recent years I have found myself increasing estranged from the event. Little of the event now relates to the original Christian traditions; cards rarely mention it, songs likewise and there is little spoken about what it actually being celebrated. If anything at all is being celebrated.

Cast adrift from its roots in faith, Christmas now rides the waves of a sea of ennui and dyspepsia as we all try to maximise our pleasure by eating, drinking and buying. Like many others, I now live a reasonably comfortable life and any gifts I give or receive tend to be small luxuries as, thankfully, none of my friends or family live under hardship. Winter festivals, including those that predated Christmas,  were important in times of scarcity while we awaited spring. They were a chance to lighten our spirits, to kindle hope that the future will be positive and to allow ourselves a bit of comfort in a bleak period. In a post-scarcity world there is little need for this. The things we buy are are no longer important bridges to help us through to better times but simple luxuries, often completely useless items, we hope will temporarily heighten our pleasure. I am too old to believe in Santa Claus and  I am jumping off this treadmill of gift-giving.

I tried  purchasing charity gifts for all as a way to circumvent these problems but realised I had made an error. In doing so I had not enabled the gift receiver to give to charity. They had no choice and thus took no part in the decision to donate. I had not really given to charity either, as I had used money I was gifting to someone else for this. So, in essence, I had given nothing of my own to charity, someone else had not chosen to give to my charity freely, and I had advertised the fact that I had donated. These acts of virtue signalling allow everyone to lose a little of their dignity and I doubt engender much future charitable giving. In hindsight it seems a lose-lose scenario. (I will continue to give presents to my grandchildren at this time of year but simply because I love them and enjoy seeing their happiness.)

I hope my stopping celebrating Christmas will help me find something I fear I am loosing. I will still want and need a way to express the ideas of faith, hope and charity through the winter months. But this will be much easier if I don’t have to  participate in Christmas. I have faith that humanity is good. This faith may at times be tested by the actions of a miserable abnormal few, but there are more times when humanity impresses me with its benevolence. Because of this faith, I have hope that we will continue to make the world a better place for all who live in it and I personally hope that I will play my part in doing this.This leaves charity, the most important  aspect. I need to be more charitable and will use this time of the year to remind myself of this. I may be comfortable but some of my fellows are not, I need to do more to assist them. I can use the year’s bacchannalia as a paradoxical reminder to work harder in charitable actions.

via Daily Prompt: Festive

 

 

Warnings after Ched Evans

Warnings after Ched Evans

I have watched the sorry story of Ched Evans over the past years with increasing feelings of fear and anger. In 2012 he was convicted of rape following an events during an evening in Rhyl the previous year. During the trial I can recall my feelings, shared by many others, that this young man had unfortunately become a political symbol in the battle over the nature of rape and issues of consent in our society and had suffered a miscarriage of justice.

He was unfortunate because he was a high profile celebrity who was to be used in the battleground of the issue of consent. It was important to many who held partisan ideas on this issue that he was brought down so as to send a message to others. It did not matter that the grounds for his conviction were unsteady, through his trial social media clamoured for his punishment in a strident manner. After his conviction the general media also joined in with calls for further and extra-judicial punishment. Notoriously Caitlan Moran called that his life be  “reduced to ash” in a phrase that sounds reminiscent of bringing back burning at the stake. Articles in the Guardian asked that he be denied any work after he served his jail sentence and that he treated like a pariah while Jessica Ennis wanted her name removed from a stand if Sheffield Football club considered re-employing him. Petitions were organised and companies boycotted all to ensure that he suffered well after he had served his time.

This may have been understandable had the crime been at the serious or severe end of the scale but this had never been suggested as the case. This was not an anger based on hearing of hurt or damage to an unfortunate victim but rather anger based on a desire to change our attitudes to the laws surrounding rape. An anger that was taking as its focus a case which many people could see was flawed and dangerous. Our society now has much more permissive ideas regarding drunkenness and promiscuity and this change has occurred at the same time as a broadening of our views of sexual abuse. This case was where these two issues collided; having a high profile international footballer at its centre allowed the flames of this debate to blaze much more brightly.

Fortunately Ched Evans did not passively accept his role in this drama and he and his family fought for an secured an appeal following which he was acquitted. Many have commented on the financial cost that was paid to fight for this appeal and retrial and this is an important point. It is a horrible thought that, had he not been a wealthy young man with plenty of money, he would not have been able to clear his name. Had he been a joiner or nurse then he may still have the stigma and shame of a rape conviction damaging his life.

But, even after the retrial and acquittal, many on the media will not stop trying to use them in their battles. Ungracious at best, and more commonly disbelieving, in their tone the media has tried to portray his acquittal as an error. The Guardian suggesting that it has set a precedent that future rape victims will be less likely to come forward, Julie Bindell called his retrial a “Rapists Charter” and the popular midday TV programme Loose Women had to issue and apology as their presenter Gloria Hunniford expressed her opinion that the jury got it wrong.

These statements are both wrong and counterproductive. Nothing has occurred in the re-trial other than the overturning of an incorrect decision. There is no change in the law but these statements themselves, by whipping up fear and uncertainty, might deter victims of rape pursuing their case. As Francis FitzgGibbon QC, the chair of the Criminal bar Association, has said :-

“There’s been a huge over-reaction to what this case means. The answer is not very much. The thing that troubles me is people saying it sets the law back 30 years and it’s a rapists’ charter. That is what is going to make people think they daren’t report what’s happened to them. Those cries of anguish are a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

The use of information about a complainant sexual history is controlled by Section 41. This has not changed and only allows its use in specific circumstances when it may prevent a miscarriage of justice.  As Angela Rafferty QC added :-

“It is a disservice to victims of sex offenders to misinform them that the Ched Evans case has put the law back 30 years or has made it a rapists’ charter. That case has not changed the law. The law forbids questions about the previous sexual behaviour of a complainant in sexual offence cases, except in highly unusual circumstances where the trial would be unfair, and a wrongful conviction might result, if the evidence was not given.

“The court of appeal thought Evans’s was such a case. Cases like Evans’s will remain wholly exceptional. There is no relaxation of the rule against this type of questioning.”

A more worrying trend is the oft-repeated phrase, especially on social media, that he has “not been proven innocent“. This is not how our law works. One never has to prove one’s innocence, the court has to prove ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ that one is guilty. If the court does not prove this then one remains innocent. The presumption is that of innocence. This is an important foundation of our legal system and is seen as a Universal Human Right and is Article II of the UN declaration of human rights :-

Article 11

“(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

This is a vital safeguard as it defends the weak against the state. We do not have to prove our innocence our guilt must be shown beyond doubt. In the days of the inquisition or under totalitarian states  it may have been necessary to demonstrate that you were good and free from evil but, thankfully, no longer.

To question this principle is very dangerous and could start to undermine our fair society. I fear that this is part of a campaign to weaken this safeguard. It is related to the #Ibelieveher movement when people propose that the complainant should be considered  true before the trial has run its course and evidence been tested. This again takes away the presumption of innocence and is part of a very worrisome trend.

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Though I ams ure many of the people suggesting these changes do so with the best of motives, and none of us would want a rapist to escape justice, but tampering with the fundamental safeguards of the legal system and permitting injustice and miscarriages to occur make us all less safe in the future.

 

Volunteering : Why do we do it ?

Volunteering : Why do we do it ?

via Daily Prompt: Volunteer

When I moved to my present home, and shifted from an urban to a rural community, I became more aware of the role that volunteering played in my and my neighbours’ lives. It is not that there is any more or less volunteering in either site but rather that the structures of community organisations, and the role these play in day to day life, are much more visible in the rural setting. It is easier to see what is going on among a few people than it is amongst very large groups.

It is clear that many people volunteer regularly to provide services to our own community and for those further afield who are in need. Obviously, as this is volunteering, it is done with no thought of payment or recompense. Indeed, the cost to volunteers in terms of  time, money, and energy is often quite considerable.  For example, one neighbour drives daily to the old peoples’ home at her own expense and spends an hour talking to elderly people who might otherwise be lonely.

So why do we do this ? Some, of a religious bent, may do it as it is part of their way of practising their faith. Other may do it in recognition or thanks of previous help given. However, looking at my friends I’d suggest that most do it because they gain pleasure from helping others. In addition to pleasure it is also part of living, being a part of a community rather than a simple consumer of the benefits of society.

Every second week in our village hall committee we meet and spend hours organising events for the community and seeing to the logistics of running various societies which have their base in our society. When we meet and talk, when we interact and exchange ideas, when we choose form options for our society, we are in fact living. While we do this we are more than individual consumers, we are not solitary agents but social beings, and while we take part like this our lives become richer and fuller.

Possibly the most quoted sentence by Adam Smith  is this below :-

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

and many people think that this suggests that selfishness was the sole key to the organisation of capitalist societies. Many portray capitalism as incompatible with altruistic actions and see the  phrase “greed is good” as one which summarises a trading society.  Many libertarians do little to counter this image.

While it is true that self-interest guides the many voluntary trades that people make everyday which allow our society to develop and grow. It is these multiple interactions  which allow us to concentrate on what we are good at, to specialise and divide labour, and to create things that would otherwise be impossible. It is through all these voluntary transactions that the spontaneous order arises which makes up our society. Billions of individuals freely interacting with billions of others give rise to the order which is the society in which we live. While this requires that the individuals look after their own interests it works because we are human and there is another side to our nature.

Unfortunately the following quote, which is the first sentence of Adam Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” is much less frequently quoted :-

“No matter how selfish we suppose man to be, there is obviously something in his nature that makes him interested in the fortunes of others and makes their happiness necessary to him, even if he derives nothing from it other than the pleasure of seeing it”

Adam Smith believed that innately we wish to help our fellow man. Indeed he believed that the pinnacle of moral development would be “To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature”. He correctly recognised it was the combination of voluntary transactions, guided by self-interest, in association with an innate tendency to care for the welfare of others which allowed capitalism to thrive and develop.

It is this innate desire to help others alongside the gaining of pleasure by doing so that I see in my community here. I am aware that this is a universal aspect of human nature seen in people from all walks of life and in all areas of the globe. It doesn’t detract from the wealth creation of trading but rather augments it as it is the glue that creates the society in which we can pursue our dreams. I am sitting using a computer and social media to create this blog, this is just one example of the multitude of sites (Flickr, Youtube, Facebook,  Freecycle, Twitter, etc) where people create things (images, stories, songs, news, goods) simply to share with our fellows with no expectation of profit. It seems further evidence of our need to share and to give.

However, I do have some concerns that the last century has seen a change in how we view such activities as volunteering and charity. Alongside the growth of the welfare state it is possible that we have started to feel that we no longer need to undertake these activities.  Certainly the amount we give to charity has dropped from an average 10% of a middle class family’s income in  1895 to around 1% today. Friendly societies which used to provide much of the welfare that people received prior to the war when it was estimated that over three-quarters of the working population were registered with such a society were destroyed by the introduction of National Insurance. A model which was based on local planning, voluntary choice and democratic decisions when local people got together to form groups to look after themselves was swept away by Lloyd George’s changes. In their place, an unaccountable, impersonal and inefficient centrally organised state system took over.

The change to state organisation funded by taxation has had a further change which has an impact on charitable activities. As James Bartholomew said “People have changed from being team members in mutual support groups to being state dependants who feel no particular responsibility to act decently. “. It is important to feel that one is helping others, as said before it is an innate desire and part of what lifts us above other species of animal. When we organise our welfare services by taxation it removes us as individuals from the care of our neighbours. It becomes anonymous and faceless, it breaks the link between the two individuals helping each other. It removes our option to be compassionate and good as we can’t really think of ourselves as good when we have no choice over our actions.

We will always need to provide welfare for our societies and will always want to do so. We need to encourage voluntary arrangements which allow this to be done in a human, individual and engaged manner and we need to wrest welfare back from the state. We need to bring it back from the central state and back to local societies and the individuals amongst them

I think Dominic Frisby summarised this well in his “Life after the State” :-

“The giver goes unconsidered in the process of state care. Taxes are taken and that is it. But the giver too has needs. Sometimes the giver needs to be anonymous – sometimes he needs recognition. Sometimes he or she likes to be involved with the recipient in some way, sometimes not. The forced giving that is taxation destroys the satisfaction that altruistic people get from giving voluntarily. To share with others is part of humanity. In a world in which the government takes care of the poor and needy, compassion is removed from life. As a result, the state now has a monopoly on compassion! In fact it is even more bizarrely specific than that: the pro-welfare left wing has a monopoly on compassion. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the concept of a large, generous welfare state is deemed heartless and selfish.”


Volunteer


Wealth of Nations
Theory of Moral Sentiments
The Welfare State we are In
Life after the State
David Green, Working-class Patients and the Medical Establishment (Gower, 1985).

I used to be clumsy but I’m dyspraxic now.

via Daily Prompt: Clumsy

straightjacketOne of the trends of recent years has been the increasing medicalisation of our lives. Issues that previously were thought of as aspects of our personality or experience are viewed the rough the lens of health care. This trend has a long and venerable heritage. When Hippocrates wrote “On the Sacred Illness” and proposed fits, due to epilepsy,  were due to phlegm from the brain rather then a punishment form the Gods, this was a major scientific advance.In the middle ages the recognition of some forms of mental illness as diseases rather then proof of demonic possession save some unfortunates from the rack and the stake.  Shifting behaviours due to disease into the medical arena has been, without doubt, beneficial.

As our scientific knowledge increased  more and more conditions were recognised for what they were. Times when people might have been thought to be lazy and slothful (when they had anaemia, renal failure, and so on) are gone and it is recognised that these people in fact suffered from disease or illness. They are taken out of the social realm and placed in the medical realm and thus  excused from normal social responsibilities – we do not expect the lame or blind to work the same as others, we accept that those with schizophrenia may at times behaviour oddly or even rudely. This reduction of our responsibilities is beneficial as we are not then punished for behaviours not under our control.

However, this has not always been a change for good. In the nineteenth centuary a medical disorder of drapetomania was proposed by the American physician Samuel A. Cartwright. The essence of this condition was the desire to escape captivity and servitude; the ‘treatment’ was regular whipping to deter slaves from running away. More recently the KGB in the USSR worked with doctors, using the diagnosis of “sluggish schizophrenia” to incarcerate many dissents in mental hospitals. They used the diagnostic label to undermine the behaviours of political dissenters by making them symptoms of medical disorders there was no need to pay any heed to them – disagreement became madness.

It is with this in mind that recent changes concern me. There has been a tendency to identify difference as disorder. The socially awkward man with a liking for habit and routine becomes a man with Asberger’s Syndrome, the clumsy child becomes a patient with ‘dyspraxia’, the shy become ‘socially phobic’, the sad and disappointed become people with ‘minor depressive disorders’, and so on. There is a preoccupation with illness and an acceptance that it is almost universal we all have some disorder !

But this is a dangerous path. Placing people in the role of being ‘unwell’ has a number of risks. These might be outweighed by advantages as mentioned above, such as excusing us from our normal social responsibilities, or giving an explanation of our behaviour, or offering some form of treatment to improve our lot. But recent expansions of the ‘sick role’ seem to offer none of these. Someone who is clumsy knows no more about the origins of their clumsiness after the label of ‘dyspraxic disorder’ has been applied, they knew that their brain was less good than the average in motor tasks and dexterity already. We know no more about the socially awkward obsessive after we have labelled him as having Asberger’s syndrome, we have gained no new insights about him.

None of these, and many other disorders, have, at present, any treatments available for them. The steps one might take to mitigate against their signs and “symptoms” are common sense. Importantly, the steps which might help are not known only to medical professionals  they are things we can all work out. Thinking that these disorders are some form of illness or disease limits the sources of help people may receive. People may undervalue the advice of the non-professional and miss possibly useful assistance form their friends, family or themselves.

The exclusion from social responsibility is a double edged sword. While people may feel some relief following being  labelled as having some disorder and may benefit that others expect less of them – “I have X disorder, you can’t expect me to do Y” – what if the person want to be able to “do Y” ? The urge to overcome differences, that are seen as a disadvantage, might be suppressed. The socially phobic might not press themselves to gradually expand their repertoire of social activities and thus lead a smaller, less rewarding life than they may have been able to do otherwise.

Worse that curtailing the individual’s attempts to improve their lot is the danger that, now in the arena of healthcare, physicians will try and improve them. Already millions of unnecessary  and ineffective prescriptions for medication are given to the mildly depressed or socially anxious (as well as many other dubious ‘disorders’). Each time such a pill is swallowed someone takes a risk of harm without the prospect of any benefit. It is true to say that some people die as a consequence of  saying “I have disorder X” as opposed to accepting “this is the way I am

Society as whole also looses out by this trend. Every time a deviation from the norm is categorised as a disorder we reduce what we consider the range of normal human life. We restrict the range of what is acceptable. While, in our present humane and liberal democracies, this may not be too risky there is no guarantee that this will always be the case.

Illness, ill-health and disorder are the exception we should fight to make sure that they remain so.


Written in response to the daily prompt : Clumsy


Flattery; a dangerous foe.

Flattery; a dangerous foe.

via Daily Prompt: Flattery

Flattery is an insidious and dangerous foe. It works best when it is aimed at our blind spots. We can all recognise flattery when it addressed to areas where we are relatively self-aware and know our failings.

I know that I pass as “plain” on a good day, while on a bad day people might cross the street to keep out of my way. I can even shock myself were I to  I catch an unexpected glimpse of my own reflection. I am fine when I have posed my expression and stance and readied and told myself what to expect when I look in the mirror. Using words such as mature, wise, sage and other adjectives –  words that are rarely used on dating sites. The shock comes when I don’t expect it and I catch a glance of this old dolt in the mirror. Good grief .. .. stomach in .. .. stand upright .. .. back to the sage expression .. .. that’s better .. .. shock over .. .. phew,

So, for example,  flattery over my appearance rarely works. I am wise in this area. When young attractive women passed positive comments on my appearance, or style, in the hotel bar when I was abroad at conferences I knew this was flattery. I knew they were ‘at work’ and my allure was my credit card rather than my resemblance to a young Adonis. When shopkeepers praise my fine taste and ability to be ahead of the fashion curve, I know I am being soft soaped and that my wallet is being gently opened. Similarly when the negotiator praises my acumen and perception I know I am missing something from the deal.

Flattery is dangerous, however, when it is applied to areas where one has a degree of confidence. We are more likely to believe the sycophant when we already have a high opinion of ourself. Vanity is  the obvious patsy for flattery. It is this form of flattery that is so successful in financial scams. The “I can see that you are an astute investor…” or “You are somebody that obviously likes to be ahead of the crowd” are common opening lines of financial scams. But this problem can rear its head elsewhere also.

When I was much younger and working as a doctor I would often see patients referred after failed treatment or dissatisfaction with other doctors. Sometimes this was part of a much bigger issue, when the doctor-patient relationship was, itself, part of the problem. I was often proud to be called on to give my opinion or to try and assist when others had failed.

These consultations would often start with a very flattering opening gambit …

“Oh My Dr. X, you are so much more understanding than that Dr Y I used to see !     I can see that you are much nicer and I can tell you things I never could with them.     I am sure you will be able to help me.”

I grew to be able to recognise this dangerous opening for the flattery it is though when young I sometimes missed it. When I failed to see this flattery, and I was blinded by my own vanity, I unfortunately could reply along the lines of …

Oh thank you Mr Y. You are so uncommonly perceptive

Having fallen for the flattery and, worse, having given flattery in return we were both trapped in a relationship which was never fruitful, nor helpful, for either of us. Flattery had lead us to positions which were not tenable.

Flattery, a dangerous foe, especially when you think that you are on safe ground.


Trying to follow the daily prompt : Flattery