Saturday, 23 January 2016

Attitudes change (some trivial, some not) Ends with a bit of politics

This is something about the world I have noticed over the past decades. People's attitudes to things change and one generation has dramatically different attitudes to the ones before. It's natural I know, but it just got me thinking. And the more I thought about it the more examples I could recall. So I thought I'd type a few thoughts down here.

I'm going to start on somewhat safe grounds - comics. When I was a kid I loved superhero comics. I had this thing for Spider-Man, the X-Men and others. It was mainly a Marvel thing although there were a couple of DC characters/titles I liked. Think of the Green Arrow/Green Lantern tie up for one.

Now back then I got a lot of snide comments from people for liking comics. I didn't care overly. It wasn't the only thing they thought was odd about me. I didn't care then; something in me actually liked being a bit different and it wasn't as though they could do all that much about it. On my twelfth birthday my height was measured at 6'7" or 2.01 metres. I was also powerfully built and played rugby. I was in no physical danger. And fortunately I had one or two friends who shared my interests and so we could happily have hours-long geek outs and we were happy.

(A quick aside; of the group of us who used to sit round reading and talking about comics, and then later reading and talking about science fiction novels, every single one of us went post grad at University. All those comics obviously rotted our brains every bit as the idiots back then claimed.)

Cut to today and go look at the highest grossing films of all time. (For the purpose of this blog entry I'm using the Wikipedia page on January 23rd 2016. This will change. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_films#Highest-grossing_films)

As of this moment in time three of the top ten films are comics based
 - Avengers (5)
 - Avengers: Age of Ultron (7)
 - Iron Man 3 (10)

It's safe to say that these films wouldn't have reached those heights if they had to rely on the comic readers alone. You see comic book characters have got trendy. No one is going to look down on you if you're wearing a Batman tee shirt these days.

Okay it's a fairly trivial example but there are so many other ways you can see this phenomenon.

In 1967, one year before my birth homosexuality was still illegal. In Scotland it still was until 1980. You could be arrested and imprisoned in the United Kingdom for being born gay. I can remember when AIDS started to spread a number of commentators would claim it was God's punishment for a gay man's sins against nature. I always found that a bizarre attitude.

After all in terms of AIDS spreading sexually a promiscuous heterosexual was more likely to catch the disease than a monogamous gay couple, and lesbians would be even more unlikely. Add in a few people who contracted the disease via methods like infected blood transfusions (my favourite of all time author Isaac Asimov died because of one such transfusion) and the argument is shown up to be rubbish.

But today attitudes have finally become sensible and same sex marriage has been legal in England, Wales and Scotland since 2014. 47 years between being gay was illegal to full equality with heterosexuals. It's one change of attitude that should be celebrated. And it's not the only one.

Slavery used to be considered a good thing. Even after it was abolished discrimination based on skin colour was widespread and no one thought anything of it. Recently on TV here in the UK one channel showed some TV from the 1970s and it was shocking to see some of the things considered okay within my lifetime. Just Google Black and White Minstrels if you want a bit of a shock.

I'm sure you can think of dozens more.

However there are a few that I find worrying. You see I'm interested in politics and have been following the American Presidential race from a distance. It's a fascinating circus every four years and goes on for virtually half of every presidential term.

(Right - if you don't like politics stop reading here. It's only going to bore you from herein.)

The problem this year is it is showing a regression on some of the attitudes I thought were long changed for the better. Xenophobia seems one of the driving forces of the whole thing. And it's not just in the US that I see this.

There is a growing anti-EU sentiment in the UK (and to a lesser degree in other parts of the Union). The only hatred (or at least mistrust) of Johnny Foreigner is being stirred up by a number of politicians and campaigners.

The worrying thing is emotional rhetoric always ignores much of the reasoned argument that should go into making this level of decision. In the UK there is a real chance that we will vote to leave the EU. And many of the people who will vote to leave will not have thought through the full consequences of such a move.

In truth I'm not sure anyone has. The UK is in a relatively strong position within the EU. We are one of the largest economies and benefit from trading within and as part of this bloc. Yes there are some problems with the Union but they can be worked on.

If we leave we become smaller. As part of the EU we are a united half a billion people. Alone we are 64 million. If you measure GDP, the EU clocks in at $18.5 trillion or so, the UK alone more like $2.7 trillion. Now that sounds like a big number until you look at the top two.

The US is virtually the size of the entire EU at $17 trillion. China is $9.5 trillion. If we step onto the world stage united with our European partners then surely we're going command a good deal more respect than if we stand isolated and alone.

Ah you say, the UK is the fifth biggest economy in the world so surely we'd be okay. That argument has a certain something going for it until you consider what's likely to happen in the future. There are countries not far below us in the list with far more resources available to them to grow their economies. It's not going to be long before India moves above us.

Trust me in the future as more and more resources become harder to find and more expensive being part of a unified trading bloc, especially if they would start negotiating as one, will be a great advantage.

I believe being in the EU is beneficial to the UK. I believe it could be far more beneficial to the UK and to every other country in the Union if all the politicians saw sense on a few issues and gave it a better purpose. The Union should exist for no reason other than improving the lot of every one of its citizens. It does a lot of this already but gets caught up at times in trivial matters. And then it has its issues an institutions hijacked by those who would undermine them and break us apart.

And its structure is a bit weird. For some bizarre reason it moves around. It has sessions in Brussels and Strasbourg. To me that's always been a colossal waste of time and money. Pick one and stay there and spend the money you save doing something good. Then there's this Commission thing. Now I am not against an assembly of the capable running things per se but democracy is the big thing in Europe.

If you have a non elected group of people proposing legislation and generally running a whole bunch of stuff a lot of people are going to get pretty pissed off. They'll see the sovereignty of their internal elected parliament being usurped by some faceless guys far away who the people have had no chance to vote for. It makes perfect sense.

Well, until you think that the people are perfectly free to elect a complete gibbon of a candidate to a position of power and every now and again do. A meritocracy actually sees people in charge who are capable of doing the job. Just a pity about that lack of accountability thing. And no one (or virtually no one) in Europe is really going to be completely happy with the idea of unelected rulers. And that's an attitude I don't see changing anytime soon.

So much as the Commission might do a truly amazing job (which, by the way, I'm not claiming - view it just for the purpose of an argument) I don't think it is a structure that will ever gain respect in the minds of people here in Britain; especially as a good number of those council members are (brace yourself) foreigners.

Cue a quick chorus or two of patriotic songs like Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory (I could go on) and we'll march our way into political and economic uncertainty. And think of this - one year on from a Scottish referendum that saw our neighbours to the north vote to stay in our own internal Union, we might be voting to leave another. And the SNP may well, no make that SHOULD then, seek another referendum to break from the UK. It is enough of a change to circumstances in my opinion.

And here's one last thought. If we do leave the EU and the SNP get another chance to vote for an independent Scotland so they can rejoin the EU I might be tempted to move myself lock, stock to north of the border and vote for independence myself. Than again, I might miss the cricket too much.

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