Ad Astra: Myth and Beauty

Ad Astra is utterly beautiful. Views of Neptune’s rings or the depths of space enchant me. It works as an adventure film, with a car chase in lunar buggies and a zero-gravity fight, but most of all it is a meditation on what it means to be a man, and how to be the best man you are. Brad Pitt is beautiful to look at, inhabiting the hero and expressing all of him, in facial movements and the way he walks.

It is a Man film, where men confront each other and do heroic things, and women are receptionists or an uncomprehended love interest, but two women are at decisive moments, the woman he loves yet cannot (at least at the start) communicate with, who leaves him, and the woman on Mars who issues the challenge he must face alone.

The film is gorgeous to look at. It starts with a tower so tall he needs a pressure suit to go outside, and has a view of Jupiter as his space ship passes by. It has Brad Pitt’s face, with thoughts and feelings flooding through it as he takes up his task, wanting to send a message to the woman he loves yet not having the words or knowing what to say.

Some of the space stuff is ridiculous. To travel to Neptune in seventy days you would have to accelerate then decelerate at 160x Earth gravity, and he would be a stain on the back wall. But on a mythic level, a solitary journey of seventy days to the farthest planet is moving, expressed by more shots of Pitt’s face, of him making his way through the ship, and of his ship receding, disappearing into the dark.

The man starts the film overshadowed by his famous father, following in his footsteps a long way behind, doing dangerous jobs in space out of a sense of duty, doing what his bosses instruct. They praise him as a good serviceman. His repeated psych evals show him to be well adjusted to this obedience. They give him a task: to send a message to his father, who may still be alive, but they draft the message which he must merely read out. For some reason or another he has to go to Mars to do that.Getting there involves adventure sequences threatening his life and that of those who rely on him, and an encounter with an old “friend” of his father.

The message has no answer (an answer would take about six hours). Then he speaks for himself, making a plea to his father from his heart. In giving his all to do what he decides for himself to make his goal, he becomes a mature man.

His father is also a Man, whose great task subsumes all other moral or practical imperatives, whose failure to find the result he wishes makes him wish for death. His devotion to an impossible dream makes him murderous.

All that matters is the task each has chosen freely, which each must complete though they die. Death is ever present, from the beauty and bleakness of the sun through a visor of a space suit in the opening shots to the encounter between the two men, the son sacrificed for his father’s life purpose and the father, a great explorer and also a failure, solitary for sixteen years. His failure is that he cannot accept that he cannot have what he wanted so much, cannot relinquish the task though further effort is futile.

The film shows a journey through challenge to freedom, maturity, and flowering as a real man, doing what the son must do and knowing and expressing his feelings, relating authentically to others. It works as myth.

Encouragement and discouragement

What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? What makes you want to roll over and block out the world? When the necessity of getting up to perform a duty at a particular time is likely first to make you want to lie longer, and then curl up in shame at failure which purges your motivation completely, you are “depressed”. What can make you continue? For me-

Social media gives variable rewards, which are more addictive because less fulfilling. I find myself more keen to check the Guardian opinion section because I may write a comment, which may get up votes. There are four opinion contents pages, and this one indicates when comments are opened by digits. If “0” shows, there is the heady possibility of getting one of the six comments seen by most people, and therefore getting most up votes. I sometimes comment to “join the discussion”, and sometimes for the up votes.

At best, up votes give me a dopamine high, as nourishing as sugar, which might get me out of bed. At worst, hunting up votes gets me repeatedly returning to a page to see I have no more votes than last time. Or my blog stats page, to find no more views, especially after a day when I have had lots of votes or views.

Facebook is the worst. Clicking there might show a notification, but it might be a Like (Hooray!) or a disagreeable comment, which sucks me into a pointless argument. Or some bore has invited me to Like their page. Scrolling might show something interesting at first, but as I go on less and less interests me.

The fact that returns are diminishing increases my compulsion to keep on scrolling. Surely there must be a dopamine hit eventually!

Reaching for my phone in the morning at best gives a sugar high which is short-lived, and distracts me to seek its repetition for the rest of the day, and at worst sinks me into a fruitless search for such a high. It’s not quite

Gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept
as if her heart would break

but I cannot drive Goblin Market from my mind.

The idea of getting up a little earlier to have time for meditation always crosses my mind, seeming to be an attractive possibility, and never tempts me so much that I actually do it.

I am in the toils of seeking immediate gratification. Duty advances my goals, but so slowly! And are they my goals anyway, or introjected?

Possibly I could wean myself off the dopamine, I think, especially after a particularly large hit of it, and find myself always returning. The Guardian informs me, and gives me new ways of seeing, though often it just stoked my rage and frustration with the same old stuff. Facebook gives me the illusion of social contact, and insofar as it is attractive parasites off that need.

Find delight in acting appropriately, says Marcus Aurelius, Meditations X.33. I feel seeking solid joys and lasting treasure should inspire me, and I still pick up my phone in the mornings.

Sometimes I turn from the phone, my head feeling stuffed with dough, and wish for clear perception. Sometimes my mantra

I am here. This is. I am.

seems to hold out hope for that. I had hoped when starting this post it would be more positive, more about solutions than problems, but, oh well. Aurelius just nags:

At dawn of day, when you dislike being called, have this thought ready: ‘I am called to man’s labour; why then do I make a difficulty if I am going out to do what I was born to do and what I was brought into the world for? Is it for this that I am fashioned, to lie in bedclothes and keep myself warm?’ Is that the best one can do?

Dear Zealots

Amos Oz defangs zeal, undermining it, by seeing its roots in every human being. All of us have an inner extremist. Recognising that we can become more liberal. If that seems too incremental, partial and vulnerable a response to threat, a stronger response makes us the image of the extremist.

While “no man is an island,” no one should simply be subsumed by the community, collective, Volk Umma or People. That is the desire of the fanatic, who desires our good, says Oz: made exactly like him with his understanding and outlook, we and the whole world would be blessed. I disagree, here: some Muslim fanatics want to defend the Muslims against the domination of the faithless, who must be driven back. The fanatic in Pakistan wants the blasphemer, often a Christian whose neighbours take against them and give the uncorroborated evidence required, put to death. But in each case there is a single idea of the good life which must be enforced.

Through my own ridiculous desire to call myself female, and the Jew’s dangerous desire to worship separately from the surrounding peoples, I know that the rational, obvious normal way of being can be a poison, and that allowing people to plough their own way is necessary so that we will not sicken and die.

And the fanatic view has enough power to bind together a community or cell and to continue despite oppression. That Addiction to drugs and pornography not only infuriates God but destroys the lives of the addicts themselves has a grain of truth.

My God is in my image as the fanatics’ is made in theirs: their God agrees with them about what is abominable- gender diversity, perhaps, just as my God objects to its suppression in the interests of freedom for all.

With whom do we sympathise? Oz, remembering being a child throwing stones at soldiers- the British, at the fag end of the Mandate- sympathises with Palestinian children throwing stones rather than just his fellow Israelis pointing guns at them. As a child in Jerusalem I myself was a little Zionist-nationalist fanatic- self-righteous, enthusiastic and brainwashed. Possibly his experience of the siege of Jewish areas of Jerusalem, violence against himself and those he loved, could have made him an oppressor, but rather he realised that there were more than one way of seeing things, and that gave him his open heart and capacious soul. Now he points to the source of fanaticism in his fellow Israelis, European Jews wanting to create a New Hebrew, and ultra-Orthodox fanaticism seeking to defend itself against anything different within a walled ghetto. Anti-fanaticism must begin with those with whom you have most in common.

Fanatics live in a black and white world, of clear Good and Evil. They are conformists. They want a Hero, a prophet or guide, to absolve them of the pain of thinking. Conformism, where we blindly follow, is a road to the fanatic exclusion of the Other, following celebrities or celebrity politicians like ABdP Johnson or Donald Trump, who entertain their followers rather than propose a beneficial, possible programme for government. These followers relinquish their right to a rich and diverse life, their freedom to think, to consider, to make choices and change their minds.

How blessed it is, to see the value of independent thought, however challenging or painful it might be, however inconsistently or incoherently one exercised it.

A sense of humour, and the ability to make fun of ourselves, might be a way to escape fanaticism. Or imagination, seeing the reality behind a slogan. It is easier to say “The Jews must kill all the Arabs” if you don’t imagine yourself faced with an orphan baby to kill. Curiosity might help too. Oz, the writer, tells of making interminable meetings in cafes of his parents and their friends go more quickly by imagining stories about people he saw. But others than writers might want to peep behind their neighbour’s drawn curtains, to find how they think.

But in enforcing these ways to cure fanaticism one would become fanatic- as we know what is good for everyone, they must be forced into our mould.

No man is an island, but Oz says we may be best as a “Peninsula”- close, without being assimilated. Everyone wants to influence others, and that is OK as long as we don’t force them. That balance, admitting the difficulty of drawing the line between undue influence and selfish independence, is perhaps the best inoculation against fanaticism: to admit there are no easy answers.

The image is taken from Paintings in Proust, who wrote as in the radiance of intervening light of a half-opened door, Venteuil’s little phrase appeared, dancing, belonging to another world. I love how the child in shadow looks out into light unseen, and the way the mother’s face is picked out by light against a shaded background.

A stronger sense of self

My sense of self is stronger. I move towards health, strength and sanity.

A paradox: I find aesthetic, sensual delight through spiritual practice. My spirituality relates to my physical situation. It does not relate to a soul, being part of the human being, and rarified, heavenly concerns, but the haill human being, here and now. And that gives me a sense of exhilaration, as well as a stronger sense of where and who I am.

I am one creature being itself. That raised the question, am I ever not? Possibly when responding from introjects.

Two conversations after worship: in one I said something I could have said at any time in the last three years, yet it was relevant, the man thought it helpful, and I said it to fulfil my goal of being constructive. That is, I was myself, doing my thing, and I am in agreement with myself (that is, not conflicted). I saw what I had made, and it was good. In the other I was at the edge of my understanding, paying attention, and again being entirely myself.

Someone thought I would be disappointed to find all-age worship, and I said “it is important to me to emphasise the good in any situation”. My vehemence surprised me. The idea began in my late 20s, listening to sermons, that it is better to emphasise an idea I value than bits I dispute as a certain man did, and has widened out to much or all experience.

My doing emerges from my being. This is who I am, and it pleases me. This is new for me.

“You are in touch with your serenity,” says Tina. Yes. “The aesthetic and spiritual open different parts of you.” I’ll think about that, but disagree atm- both come from love.

I am concerned for appearances. That could be from Heaven- aplomb, authenticity, coming from love, or from Hell- pretense to conceal myself, out of fear.

I like commenting on The Guardian. It is not human contact, but the dopamine from up votes pleases me. I can get in early to get a lot of up votes, though I find I get more for a rhetorical flourish or a polemic point strongly made than for something more nuanced or complex. And someone told me I was wrong about sickness benefits, in such a way I thought was disinformation, a deliberate falsehood to deceive, though now think was just a mistake.

I know people deliberately spread disinformation. I feel repugnance. It weakens individuals, who cannot act well if they do not have proper information, and also trust between people, and therefore the community. It is destructive.

That is, others attack the community, a thing I cannot imagine doing. Imagining it is uncomfortable. It is close to though less than the discomfort I used to feel when I felt disoriented, the feeling that my belief or apparent perception was not evidence for or against the thing believed.

Or it is the discomfort at feeling at sea and out of the community, not getting what everyone else gets.

People imagine their understanding of How Things Are is correct, sometimes. I know mine is better than it was- yet that means it was deficient, and how could I be certain of it now?

Yet my deeds emerge from my being, or I am being rather than merely doing, or being and doing are one. It is not introject, or fear of being seen in a way I feel I am that is unacceptable to others; it is authentic.

This is a slightly different version of that Blake picture:

Truth and beauty in London

This man has found what he loves, and can devote time to it. His t-shirt has the words “eat, sleep, practise” written on musical staves, and he is playing a Rachmaninov prelude on the St Pancras piano. I stop to listen which discomposes him, and he gets the chords wrong. He stops on a tonic chord, and apologises in a slight foreign accent that he has not been able to play for ten days. I reassure him that though he lost the line of the piece, he managed to create a musical ending. He went on to Mozart.

I can pay either my electricity bill or my Tate membership renewal, so this may be my last trip into London for a while. And it is so lovely I may spend the money I cannot afford. I cycled to the station in warm sunshine, and got to Meeting just in time. I am surprised to find an all-age worship. I have a leaf made of card to write or draw on for the central tree. I sit beside my gay friend, and notice “And Tango makes three” on the mat in front of me. I read it. It is beautiful. After we agree there is nothing anyone could object to in it. Yet people do. Also there is this lovely cushion:

In Meeting, children play with stickers and glue in the centre, which has no table today. I sit aware of the beauty of the children and their absorption. People read what they have written on their leaves, and I feel able to say daffodil ministry- “he has found what he loves”. One says the words spoke to her.

Then they have a shared lunch before AM. One tells me of the spiritual practice of being part of where she is. She is bounded by her skin, and her awareness extends beyond into the world. So does her action, fitting the moment, the real not imagined world, participating not resisting. It makes her come alive. I feel alive hearing her. I feel we are both finding our way into such a way of being: we see the possibility. For me it is a matter of letting go.

I stuff myself. I am not passing up a free lunch.

Thence to Tate Britain for the William Blake exhibition. In the Tube, which is terribly hot, I sit opposite a slim, tall, beautiful woman. The man beside me has tattoos all down his left arm, and a rose on the back of his hand.

With my mantra I am here. This is. I am I am bowled over by the beauty of the sun through the trees on John Islip street. How can I just stop coming here? It refreshes my soul! Yet I hope it is the practice rather than the place which renews me. I can find other sources of loveliness. See Heaven in a wild flower, as Blake said. Everything that lives is holy.

It is crowded, of course. I love a picture of Christ offering to redeem mankind. God, a man broad of chest and thigh, seems sunk in grief. Satan flies below, satisfied, awaiting his due. And Christ seems overjoyed. His arms are beautiful, spread out as if on the Cross yet as if for a hug, expressing joy. I love the theology of it, the grace of his body.

To the bookshop. No, I can’t afford books either. I still get one, of extracts from Proust using paintings to describe a scene, illustrated by the paintings. I wanted a reminder of Proust, and reading one paragraph on the goodnight kiss, on how his unexpectedly merciful father looked like a picture of Abraham, fits.

I am here. This is. I am. I am saying goodbye to it for a time, perhaps, and I take in the full delight looking over the Thames from the front steps. I stop and turn round to take in the view from the entrance to Pimlico station.

This is Life!

I hope the joy is in the practice of awareness, though it may also be in treating myself, going to a place that I love.

I chatted to a Filipina woman in the grounds of the gallery. She is here for a job, has an American accent, and was taking a selfie with the gallery as background. A woman held the handlebars of a child’s bicycle for a moment, then let go and the child wavered off, unsupported. I am now on the train, pausing to look out the window. I should get home before sunset.

I  had a kickabout with my neighbour in the back yard yesterday, my first this century, the first perhaps I have ever done for fun. She compliments me on my skills- “you must play!” Perhaps she thinks I am a cis woman. My skills are nothing for a man. I watch her keepy-uppy.

Being where I am without resistance, in aware presence, brings joy.

I hope.

Four Jews

Knowing I must act against antisemitism, but not sure how, I have been reading books by Jews. I will challenge antisemitism when I hear it, and with Amos Oz I draw the line at challenges to Israeli policy which would make the State of Israel’s continuation as a safe place for Jews impossible. So I cannot support a right of return for all Palestinian refugees. I see the reasons for the different names- if they are Palestinians, they are a small oppressed minority under the Israelis. If they are “Arabs”, they are part of the people who sought to destroy Israel immediately the UN voted to establish two states on the territory of the former British mandate.

I read Oz’s account of the siege of the Jewish area of Jerusalem in A Tale of Love and Darkness. He was eight. His cousin had been murdered in Auschwitz. He describes having a bucket of water per person, sometimes, sometimes not, and people he knew being killed by snipers. His seeking of that two State solution, his mourning of two oppressed peoples set against each other, inspires me.

I have been reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It has a vast cast of characters and a helpful list of them at the end. It includes Hitler, who ceases to be a great man as soon as his troops start losing, describing his thoughts and feelings and how his underlings see him. It includes a journey to the gas chamber from the moment of boarding the cattle truck, to the panic as people are packed into the dark room.

And it has the only account  of the joy and wonder of scientific discovery I have seen in a novel. Victor Shtrum has a conversation about politics with friends where they allow themselves to speak freely, and ever after the thought of that conversation tortures him. Is his friend’s brother an agent provocateur? Has he been arrested? But the free conversation leads to a moment of inspiration. There have been experimental results which have not fitted the current theory. Are the results merely anomalous? That evening he has a flash of inspiration integrating the old understanding with the new results, and over the following days he works on a mathematical proof of his theory.

Then he is denounced for polluting Soviet science with Talmudic speculation.

Grossman was a fearless journalist, telling the story of the troops at the front as they wished. He portrays a vile, corrupt Commissar, Getmanov, and loyal Communists interrogated in the Lubyanka. It is a brave book, suppressed under Khrushchev, surviving miraculously.

An Interrupted Life, the diaries of Etty Hillesum, are a mystic journey to service of God in love of all, including the German soldier as the Nuremberg laws bite, and a clear-eyed acceptance of reality. She describes her self-induced abortion and encounters with public spirited citizens challenging her presence in a pharmacy. Is it against the law? It is not, she explains, courteously.

And now I have started The Story of the Jews, by Simon Schama. He begins in 5th century BCE Elephantine, where Jewish soldiers serve the Persian occupation of Egypt, and are expelled when the Persian empire begins to fray. They built their own temple for sacrifice. Contradicting the Seperatist story of Ezra Nehemiah and Haggai, Schama tells another story of living in the company of neighbouring cultures, where it was possible to be Jewish and Egyptian, as after it would be possible to be Jewish and Dutch or Jewish and American, possible, not necessarily easy or simple, to live the one life in balance with the other, to be none the less Jewish for being the more Egyptian, Dutch, British, American.

These books which I love are eclectic, and I draw no conclusions from them about Jews as a whole; but I am more determined to be a good ally against antisemitism.

Decent health care

In the US, UK and Australia, right wing governments are bad for your health. It’s not just the Republican party, working to increase the numbers of uninsured Americans and increase costs to the rest, presiding over more “deaths of despair”. It’s British Tories, ending the growth of life expectancy.

British vaccination rates are decreasing because of the Tories. Last month the Prime Minister, BoJo the Clown, pledged to take on the anti-vaxxers, goading social media companies to fight their propaganda.

However people don’t trust social media as a source of health information, and the companies already take action to make anti-vax posts less visible. As so often, Tories seek a good headline rather than action to improve things.

Hard line anti-vaxxers are a tiny minority. Anna Watson, founder of a facebook anti-vax group, talked of their weariness and despair at social media clampdowns. More numerous are the fence-sitters, who have not come to a decision. The responsibility for making health decisions for your children is heavy. Health information has been poor. There are risks in vaccines. Instead of telling people they should vaccinate, it is better to say there are risks in vaccines, but not vaccinating is more risky.

However the biggest group who don’t vaccinate actually believe vaccines are healthy and reasonably safe. They are parents who face barriers to making appointments. GP appointments are harder to get, and fit in to the diary. GPs don’t chase up unvaccinated children.

In 2015, the decline in vaccination rates started along with Tory reforms to the NHS which made way for privatisation along with other harms. They placed some health responsibilities on the increasingly underfunded local authorities, and lost immunisation expertise. They cut the number of health visitors by 25%.

Overstretched parents simply find vaccination too difficult.

Anti-vaxxers may be unreachable. They cherry pick scientific studies, and have a false self image as knowledgeable, like many internet conspiracy groups. Decent health spending and proper organisation preserves herd immunity to disease. An eye-catching pledge to ask social media companies to do what they are already doing does not.

The Chancellor, Sajid Javid, boasted that after no deal Brexit there would be no excise duties to pay on cigarettes and alcohol bought by travellers. It’ll make your cash “go that little bit further,” he said, as if he did not realise how far the pound has sunk against the Euro. At the same time the health secretary planned some work against excessive drinking, the chancellor was undermining him. Deaths of despair are on the rise here too.

In Australia, parents are texted after vaccinations, and can reply with observed side effects. Listening to people’s concerns increases trust in the system.

Vote Labour. Save the NHS. Save the economy from Alexander “fuck business” Johnson. Vote for the chance of a Brexit which won’t damage Britain like Tory Brexit will.

“Inventing” trans children and young people

A new book claims that school books featuring trans children “fail child safeguarding and conflict with the law”. Unfortunately, there is not the expertise to back this up. “Inventing transgender children and young people”, edited by Heather Brunskell Evans and Michele Moore, is another attempt to inflame fears against trans children.

I know Dr Brunskell Evans. I have seen her bewildering trans people. “It’s ridiculous,” said a non-binary friend. “She claims you’re a danger and I’m mutilated.”

The Telegraph, a hard-Right publication, was delighted. Under the headline “Children being put at risk by transgender books that ‘misrepresent’ medical knowledge, academic claims”, its first paragraph blared out that “Children are being put at risk by transgender books in primary schools that “misrepresent” medical knowledge on puberty blockers, an academic has claimed”. Only later did it reveal that the “academic” was a “senior research fellow in creative writing”. How could that academic have any expertise on medical treatment for trans children? One such book, “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love, has just won the prestigious Klaus Fugges award for the “most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s book illustration”. It describes how a child dreams of looking like the spectacularly dressed women they see on the New York subway, and “his” grandmother helps them join the Mermaid Parade.

What else does the book say? Transgender children who undergo medical or surgical treatment risk “serious or irreversible damage”, says Dr David Bell. Who is he? The President of the British Psychoanalytic Society: an eminent man, but not one with particular expertise on endocrinology or paediatrics.  Of course there are risks to puberty blockers, but I prefer to trust experts, such as the paediatricians and clinical psychologist drafting the Australian Standards of Care and Treatment Guidelines for trans and gender diverse children and adolescents.

Transgender children are not invented. There has been transition since 500BC, as seen by prohibition in Deuteronomy. The reason children are allowed to transition is that they demand it. People say they knew something was wrong aged three, and what it was aged five, that they were of the opposite sex. This arises spontaneously from the child, usually resisted strongly by parents and wider society until the parents, unable to block the child’s desire, try to do their best for their child by investigating transition.

This polemic book claims to “demonstrate the considerable psychological and physical harms perpetrated on children and young people by transgender ideology”. Not ideology, but rather research and observation. No psychiatrist, no parent wants to harm children in their care. Social transition improves emotional functioning. Medical transition is extremely difficult to get.

Books like this cause bullying and make children seek medical treatment. If the authors think that medical treatment for trans-identifying children is a problem, they exacerbate it. Trans children know who they are. Social transition improves their lives. The campaign against trans children, and trans people generally, encourages social conservatives to noisily oppose transition and bully trans children. One author in the book encourages teachers to tell children that transition is not possible.

Faced with the hostility of the wider culture, school staff and pupils, trans children feel the need to prove themselves. They do this in the way trans people do, by seeking hormones and surgery. In a more child-centred environment, children could be nurtured by social transition. Those for whom it is wrong will realise that. Social transition is not like playing dress-up for an afternoon. Trans children will not respond to the bullying by developing “normally” according to their assignation at birth, but by withdrawing. When transition becomes impossible, transition becomes the only important thing in the world, threatening school work and emotional development.

Dr Brunskell-Evans is “co-founder of the women’s human rights campaign”, various book plugs proclaim, named as if the United Nations 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women had never happened, or no one else campaigned for women’s rights. Her declaration is bizarre: it starts, “On the re-affirmation of women’s sex-based rights, including women’s rights to physical and reproductive integrity, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices.” Surrogacy and Trans are the only issues this campaign recognises.

Most people are not trans. I estimate 0.1% of the UK population is; finding space for one in a thousand people is very different from “replacing the category of sex”. Most people are cis, and most women don’t even notice trans people in real life.

This is where the hard right funding of anti-trans campaigning seeks to achieve: that the campaign against trans rights becomes a symbol feminists are cozened into fighting for, without achieving anything concrete for women, and progressives are divided. Someone who does not know a trans person is made to fear by an article claiming “children are being put at risk”, and progressive campaigning energy is diverted to punching down at harmless trans people.

Spotting fake news

Dubious sources and buzzwords devoid of content in the Prime Minister ABdP Johnson’s bluster show he is not credible.

We are leaving the EU on 31st October come what may, no ifs or buts. This is essential to restoring trust in our democracy.

Leaving? Not if he can’t get a deal. Not by no deal if he can’t get an election before 17 October. It’s a promise he can’t keep. He can’t even legislate to unite Ireland as it would be contrary to treaty obligations. And he won’t endorse the backstop.

We are getting on with the job of renewing our country and building an enterprising, outward looking and truly global United Kingdom.

Renewing? Yes it needs renewed after nine years of Tory rule, but Tories are not the ones to do it.

Like you, I am proud that our party believes in freedom and opportunity for all. I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and to be given the opportunity to succeed on merit.

Enterprising, outward looking, freedom, opportunity. Empty words from De Pfeffel’s letter to a new Tory potential candidate. Especially “merit”- what can an Etonian say about that?

A nameless facebook commenter: The elitist left are happy to give billions to a trading organisation and are happy to allow a Marxist to destroy the economics of our country. Tax cuts benefit the poorer workers…

“The elitist left”? What? It makes no sense. The grammar and syntax mimic meaningful English, but there is no argument, just bland assertion black is white. The more you earn the more you gain by tax cuts, and ABdP Johnson proposes cuts to the top rate.

Another: What a pathetic job of hosting Question Time tonight Fiona Bruce! Interrupting Brexiteer people trying to answer, letting Thornberry and McTavish drone on as they like.

I can’t listen to the BBC news any more. Tories and Tory commentators- eg a former editor of the Spectator waffling meaningless rubbish- go unchallenged. When I am screaming swear words at the radio, I switch off for my own sanity. My Leaver friend feels the bias goes the opposite way. Pathetic, drone- words to belittle, and reduce respect. He is discourteous, and that muddies the waters further.

Though so am I, elsewhere. Here I refer to ABdP Johnson, elsewhere to Spaffer or BoJo the Clown. I must stop that. It makes me feel slightly better for a moment and increases anger and distrust. I must be clear headed!

EU to lose £500bn and UK to gain £640bn in no deal Brexit, economist claims. Ooh, which economist? Patrick Minford! This is not a surprise. Minford is in the minority amongst academic economists, most of whom say Brexit will make Britain poorer. It’s a Telegraph headline, shared by a strong Leaver on facebook. I don’t like the idea of making our allies poorer.

He also shared a post saying Switzerland has no hard border with the EU, so why should we need one in Ireland? I went to check. Switzerland is in the Single Market, which few people would consider to be genuinely Leaving. Yet I did not know off hand. By the time I had fact checked, conversation would have moved on. If you don’t care about fact checkers you can “Win” a lot of arguments, at the expense of trust. You don’t play chess with a pigeon, as they say, but I expect more of friends.

A recent Bank of England study suggested that the collapse of investment since the referendum may have reduced productivity by between 2% and 5% from what it otherwise would have been. I don’t believe Minford, but I believe the Bank of England.

Lies and anger swirl on social media. I personally would not believe anything the papers write, said someone, but that is a counsel of despair. I believe it if it is against their interests.

So what about The Times’ report that the Tories were polling northern Labour seats to see if social conservative positions like being against trans rights would depress the working class vote for Labour? They are the “liberal elite” would be the argument, supporting all sorts of undeserving people and not you. Vote for us. We don’t support anyone, but at least the undeserving won’t get handouts! Who knows what personally targeted ads will go on facebook. The antidote is Hope-

The Times is a transphobic publication, and could be trying to reinforce anti-trans views as mainstream, from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top. That potential candidate, a trans woman, denies the report. I hope that Times readers would be revolted by such a tactic but can’t be sure.

How can we maintain clear heads and an understanding of events in these times? By trusting a reputable source of news, such as The Guardian, and considering other sources of news and comment to hear what others are hearing.

How can we have dialogue across the divide? This is difficult. Understanding how the online discourse works is a help. Groups such as Leavers associate together, honing their rhetoric. Points condense, so that an argument becomes an assertion becomes a slogan shorthand for that assertion. “Democracy requires Leaving”, for example, without any reasoning on how that might be done. Only No Deal is truly Leaving the Brussels Jackboot. Getting back to the level of argument from such slogans- There should be a People’s Vote! – is difficult, especially on line. So we trade buzzwords, feeling vindicated but increasingly frustrated.