Dirty Doxxing

I had a sadistic “line manager” in a (supposedly) charitable organisation I worked for who was infamous for using the line “can I just have a wee word?” as an opportunity to intimidate and bully staff, paid and volunteer.

As a very nice Anglican bishop once explained to me, having a “chat” about work with someone when you’re in a position of power over them runs the risk of what he called assumed authority. So the intention of the person in authority is irrelevant: the power differential means the employee will feel coerced.

This doesn’t mean that informal conversations shouldn’t take place (said sadistic line manager was very much opposed to any, apart from her own) but that the person with the institutional power needs to make sure that their exercise of it is appropriate, i.e. respectful of human/ employee rights as well as transparent and accountable.

Charitable organisations in particular, as well as the “caring” professions, are not known for respecting boundaries. When religion or ideology is involved, this lack of respect can be justified for the greater or individual good – rather than being identified as abuse. “Wee chats” that take place verbally, unwitnessed or with unexpected and previously unannounced attendance of another authority figure (“I’ve asked Amanda to sit in, I’m sure you won’t mind”), can either be off the record, unlike emails which leave a trail of evidence an industrial tribunal can work with, or written up afterwards with a certain slant prejudicial to the employee.

There’s a lot of this going on at the moment due to unscrupulous use of doxxing: a personal data connecting strategy predating the internet. It’s unscrupulous when used not to bring covert crime/ injustice to light (see the Watergate film, All The President’s Men, for a laudable use) but rather to shut down opposing opinion by embarrassing/ harassing someone at their home or place of work or via their friends or family.

For anyone invited by a line manager to have “a wee chat” about their posts on social media, for example, it can be tempting to just comply. After all, who doesn’t enjoy speaking about themselves and justifying their actions? However, by doing so, you are setting a dangerous precedent. Instead you can answer, politely but firmly, with these points:

  • Surveillance of employee social media posts made from non-corporate accounts which do not both name the employee and the company is usually not provided for in legislation/ company regulations. (In other words, it’s probably illegal and exceeding the line manager’s remit.)
  • Dignity at Work company policy (there are various names) protects staff from malicious complaint/ doxxing and can result in line managers who further such malice being found in dereliction of Duty of Care and/ or guilty of harassment/ discrimination/ victimisation of the employee.
  • Complainers who attempt a did-you-know-your-employee-said-this-on-social-media? strategy can be firstly advised that social media platforms have procedures for reporting posts. So it’s not clear why anyone else should get involved in a parallel process which involves the allocation of staff time and may prejudice collegiality considerably.

The bottom line: if someone on social media is breaking platform community conditions of use, by all means report them (on that platform); if a post is de iure criminal, report them to the police. If it’s none of the above but you find it offensive, and feel that the platform guidelines are not stringent enough, then consider the effect on freedom of speech/ expression if those were more stringent and, if you’re still convinced they need to be, lobby for a specific change. If none of the above apply and you just can’t cope with anyone expressing an opinion contrary to the one you currently hold, perhaps social media isn’t for you. Until you grow up.

Thanks to John Hain for releasing his image Bullying into the Public Domain.

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Black & White; Left & Right

I’ve previously praised Dear White People but now I want to address the contentious issue of Critical Race Theory which seems to underlie the film and series. The present inspiration is twofold: bitter words about bodily words with a friend for whom I have deep affection, and the 2020 Equality & Diversity lecture by Prof. Kendall Thomas for the Oxford University Faculty of Law.

The past and continuing inspiration is, as usual with me and ethical controversy, the late Dr Robert M. Pirsig, about whose work I wrote my doctoral thesis. CRT has become a huge ideological issue in the USA and, of course, the opposing positions tend to follow party political lines. What’s interesting for me is that, listening to opposing speakers, both sets seem utterly convinced of being right and (apart from some glaring misrepresentation of socio-political reality) both can be quite convincing. Having now alienated most readers, let me explain why.

Firstly, arguments that are intractable are often so because:

1) people are arguing about different things

2) people are arguing about the same thing but in different contexts

An example of 1) is abortion. The main reason why this is intractable is that each side of the argument is consistent with an opposing view on pregnancy: baby or blood clot, basically. A huge step forward is therefore to say: “I don’t agree with your understanding of biological reality but I can see how your stance seems reasonable to you, with that understanding”.

An example of both 1) and 2) is transgender. Because not only is one person thinking about a post-op (top & bottom) m-f transsexual and the other a male serial rapist and occasional crossdresser but the one is imagining the first popping on a blouse in M&S and the other imagining the second naked, erect and threatening in a women’s locker room, shelter or prison.

Both confounders can come into play in any argument over race. “White people” can variously refer to the young metrosexual hipster whose only experience of an all-White space is his immediate family when no visitors are round, or to Mrs Old Money who keeps a gun handy and can’t decide which ethnic group upsets her the most when they come treading the White sands of her favourite New Englander island. Similarly, “Black people” can refer to anyone from President to a prisoner on Death Row.

But, thinking about both my new inspirations for writing, together, I realised that it’s 2) that’s the real problem – and I have to turn to Pirsig to explain why. (His explanation involves metaphysics or the nature of nature but you can just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you prefer.)

Pirsig says that there isn’t just one level of ethical conflict, there are are 4. Only 2 concern us here. These are:

B) Social vs Intellectual morality

A) Biological vs Social morality

I’ve written them as A) under B) because it is. These three levels of wellbeing/ reality (Pirsig calls them “static quality”) form a hierarchy like this:

Intellectual

Social

Biological

So you can see that the two zones of overlap (with potential for harmony and clash) are also one above the other, with the lower both supporting and undermining the upper. The important point is that each upper level is moral, from its own perspective, but is transcended by the one above.

The skinny:

– perhaps the reason why White Republicans (and their Black allies) quoting Rev Dr MLK arguing for a colourblind America seem racist to Black Democrats (and their White allies) is that they appear to take no account of the lived reality of especially young Black men being harassed, to despair or death, by the police and other institutional forces.

– perhaps the reason why Black Democrats (and their White allies) quoting Rev Dr MLK arguing for a just America seem racist to White Republicans (and their Black allies) is that they appear to take no account of the fond wishes of especially wealthy old White people that everyone should just get along in the Home of the Brave and God Bless America!

I’m not being fair, I know. Putting it more philosophically, one ethical clash is all about rejecting biological values in favour of social values. If this is the struggle Black people see themselves as involved in then it’s about the control and appropriation of Black bodies by White people and the effort for them not to be seen and valued solely as bodies but as social personalities supporting justice.

The other, transcending but being undermined by that, is all about rejecting social values in favour of intellectual values. If this is the struggle White people see themselves as involved in then it’s about the control and appropriation of social groups by ideology and the effort for them not to be seen and valued solely as demographics but as intellectual beings supporting equality.

Now. Caveat! All of us are engaged in all of these clashes all of the time, directly or indirectly, consciously or not. If White people tend to be more concerned about control of their minds than their bodies it’s because they don’t experience the latter as intensely as Black people do. Even in something as basic as Stop and Search. I’m White and middle aged. This has never happened to me. For some young Black men, it’s a daily occurrence.

In this hierarchy of needs (which it also is) we tend to focus on our greatest need and when that is fulfilled we transcend it. So if Black people just want to be able to walk to the shops and back without being shot or arrested, it makes sense that they’ll tend to focus on institutional racism and defunding the police. Conversely, if White people just want to walk to the shops and back without finding it boarded up and the streets full of rioters, it makes sense that they’ll tend to focus on national unity and the rule of law.

So one side is also focussing on the way things should be, but they’re not, while the other focuses on the way things are, but shouldn’t be.

The answer is for both sides to stop automatically assuming that the other is racist/ reactionary/ Marxist revolutionaries and to attempt to acknowledge the coherence of their worldview with their lived experience.

Meanwhile, everyone would perhaps benefit from taking the trouble to educate themselves about the content of CRT (including those opposing and promoting it) and to realise that it is possible that answering YES or NO to the question “Is America racist?” could indicate a desire that:

little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

MLK

#WomenWontWheesht!

I started crochet because I saw a wee Suffragette doll adapted by @yarnmonster26 (Instagram) from a Mexican doll pattern by @amourfou_crochet (also IG). Mine turned out to be not at all as planned or as beautifully crocheted as theirs but a joy to create and a gift, that was appreciated, for someone estranged from me.

Suffragette doll worked in white wool with black dress & bonnet, and a green, white & purple sash.

The original and adaptation are a lot neater and everything is in better proportion but she was really fun to make. I bought the pattern – then had to spend months learning the basics of crochet cos it was too advanced to jump right in!

Social media has been full of Suffragettes lately; it’s also been full of the Scots slogan #WomenWontWheesht! In English that’s “women won’t keep quiet” and it’s been translated by women all over the globe:

#LasMujeresNoCallaremos (Spanish)

#女は黙らない (Japanese)

There have also been international reports and sisterly solidarity about the situation in Scotland:

So I felt it was time to add some Scottish brotherly solidarity and, with that manly purpose, I got out my crochet hook! Unfortunately I’d mistakenly deleted the notes for the pattern from my phone so I looked back at photos I’d taken of the process for the last one – and then just made it up as I went along!

First a “magic circle” of 6 and single crochets (SCs) until it looked long enough, compared to the old photo. Cast off and same again then a slip stitch (SS) to link and SGs around the circumference of both legs joined to form the hips. I started a line of black thread, as the old doll has a black dress, but then fancied grey instead as I realised it was too flimsy for a good blouse.

You’ll have seen the problem! A flimsy skirt is hardly decent either so the solution was pink bloomers (Suffragettes were good Edwardians, after all!) and lengthening and billowing (increasing by 2 SCs in the same position) the skirt. To decrease, you bring one new loop through an established loop then immediately bring another through before pulling all three through the one already on your hook.

I had loads of white wool and it’s nice and chunky so a good choice for the body but the black, though stronger than the grey and so easy to work with (except I soon swapped the coloured tray for a pale one to see the gaps between threads easier) was fine, so the bodice had holes where the white showed through. First of all I simply cheated and threaded it through using the plastic yellow blunt darning needle.

Then I decided to make a covering shawl, like last time. As it developed and I kept going round and round to increase the size (I add an extra SC to turn corners) I realised I could just darn it on as part of the black blouse and sew the head on top. Crocheting with different coloured thread means you end up with some nicely embedded long single threads that you can use to anchor additions.

Some more SCs round the cuffs and I was ready to make the head. Same as the legs and arms (forgot to mention those!) that started with a magic ring (6 for legs and head but only 4 for arms and I didn’t stuff those) and I just increase and decreased as needed. Stuffing the head was a bit tricky. It’s best to hook it in from below than try to shove it in from above. I use soft toy filling 100% hi-loft polyester but only because a mate was moving house and chucking it out. He’s a sailor and thinks nothing of knocking out an arran sweater, complete with cable stitch, while binge watching Scandi noir on the high seas. Exciting! (My mum does worry about the pirates 🏴‍☠️)

The hair is made in 2 stages. First a cap starting with a magic circle of 6 and expanding immediately then lots of doubled and cut strands that it would’ve been sensible to affix before sewing on the cap but with the black bonnet on top (same procedure but don’t just maintain size once reached as for the cap, if you decrease it fits more snugly) it was suitably wild and witchy.

I sewed brown thread for eyebrows, black for the mouth with a suggestion of pink around it, and a bit for blusher on the cheeks. The eyelashes were at first a mistake as the thread poked out but I liked the Liz Taylor look (if she were a wild Scottish Suffragette) so I did the same for the other eye. Then I used the pearl pins for nostrils that I’d originally used for the eyes (sounds nasty!) but decided to substitute them for black one. So this version is not child-friendly!

With the addition of the Suffragette sash, the doll was complete! And ready to be posted to…? Well, now, I think you know who.

In other news, I’m completely fed up of this lockdown nonsense so I’m meeting up with a few friends for a shopping trip starting at 8:30 am (shop’s open at 9) on Saturday 20th July. I do like planning ahead. Some of us are meeting at Glasgow Central Station and some taking a wee stroll nearby along the Clyde. It’s so lovely. Do join us! In solidarity.

Women won’t wheesht! And why should they?

“Are you a real doctor?”

Last week, when a Twitter post was censored, my account suspended and I refused to back down, I experienced a feeling of relief. Social media can be hard work for anyone with a shred of integrity. I was still trying to organise volunteers for a calendar to raise funds and publicise three charities that support adult sexual choice, female safe space and children’s bodily integrity. Since then I got involved in the national and international opposition to the ever-encroaching police state in my native Scotland.

Yesterday I realised that a massive amount of academic work that I’d been expecting to do later was going to start sooner. In recognition that, without my twirling it, the world can spin, I posted this:

With pressure of work mounting (online teaching & proofreading & writing challenging with RSI) I need to use my little free time from fulltime unpaid caring duties responsibly so taking a Twitter break till Sept. ❤️ to #GC, #freedom folk & #vegans 👀 [with a link to this blog]

I felt a bit bad about possibly leaving people in the lurch, although everything is still going ahead via email or phone, but Eliza Doolittle (musical not musician) was right: they can do without me.

What I can do without on social media is my special bugbear: anti-intellectualism. A rash of it erupted yesterday and they’re no doubt still scratching their behinds on the same tree. (Sorry, a mixed metaphor annoys me as well.) A symptom of an outbreak is often the seemingly naive question:

Are you a real doctor?

I try not to automatically assume that the questioner is stupid. Not everyone is an academic and the Venn diagram of intelligentsia isn’t coterminal with that of academia. In other words, just because you’re at uni, doesn’t mean you’re not daft. Many extremely intelligent people have very little formal education – and the history of the academic title “Doctor”, which only became associated with some sections of the medical profession by coincidence, fascinating as it is to those of us who hold the title, is perhaps a little obscure.

As I frequently explain, I use my title to distinguish myself from my Glaswegian namesake (with the exact same English spelling of first name and Irish surname) who is a justly-celebrated sportsman and who does not deserve to be blamed for my extremely forthright views.

As a “real doctor” who is male, I get less hassle online about my title than my female academic colleagues (medical or not). However, despite the social media campaign last year of women defending their titles, I feel that misogyny is not at the root of this mental illness: it’s the town vs gown resentment of those outside academia against those they see as squandering their taxes by retreating up ivory towers.

Much of this mentality is outdated. It tends to be typical of middle-aged White men of all classes (like ageism, lack of respect for education is rife in our community) scorning the students of their youth with their full grants. No-one’s on a full grant nowadays but I do agree that a lot of wasters went to uni in those days because Mummy and Daddy couldn’t manage to get them out of bed regularly enough to hold down a job and anyway they had to keep up with the neighbours.

But it’s not political in origin, this common hatred of the clever (an often insulting word in English). It’s deeper than that. Dr Robert M. Pirsig – whose work I read for my Ph.D. on Quality in Education and Industry – identifies the visceral rejection of the intellect in the late 1960s as a later phase of the despairing turn from reason post-WW1.

Nowadays, when everyone has a medical opinion, that question is especially insidious. As a vegan for the last few years, and as a vegetarian for decades, I was often subjected to the unsolicited nutritional expertise of people who frequently dined at chain burger joints and couldn’t tell a macro from a Mars Bar.

Those who unquestioningly swallow the pharmaceutical narrative of Bill Gates (not a doctor and without a degree) and mentally genuflect at the noonday hour of the Angelus, when Our Leader comes on the radio to preach fear and compliance from the pulpit, feel no alarm that the First Minister takes her public health advice from a woman in Scotland with no more medical qualification than a Ph.D. in Sociology and two men in England who are major shareholders in the pharmaceutical companies whose profits their policy advice benefits.

Meanwhile, expert epidemiologists, medical doctors and theoretical researchers are being banned from social media and their warnings about medical malpractice unreported by mainstream media.

Anti-intellectualism kills. When people refuse to think, because it’s now not cool, the global elite are happy. Stupidly naive uninformed people are far easier to control. To keep them compliant, the various I’m-just-like-you demographic-specific bots and shills quote pseudo science and the naive amplify their voices and feel informed. “Bill, Brexit, Brum, barman” reminds us about “the R-number” and never mentions the meaninglessness of the number or “Shirl, single mum, Scarborough” wants to know “when can my two get their vaxx?!!” and ignores the growing VAERS statistics.

I don’t have time for fools. Real doctors are those of us who take our academic skills seriously and try to use them for the benefit of the community. That’s what I did when reporting the censored debate on AIDS and discussing the controversial topic of abortion, interrogating religious assumptions about the nature of homosexuality, disentangling the discourses over transsexual/ transvestite identity and also in a much more light-hearted way when I wrote about fat, feminism and nutrition.

As for real physicians, they are the ones who do not prostitute themselves to the pharmaceutical industry but instead strive, even at the risk of censorship, to uphold their Hippocratic Oath.

Giving Shelter

Last year I bought some bedraggled strawberry plants or rather I rescued them from outside a shop where they were dying of thirst. The staff inside told me the watering machine (can?) was broken and they didn’t have time to go outside to water them anyway. I don’t think they were uncaring, just overworked, and they did give me a discount.

I brought them all home and could almost hear their sighs of relief as they sooked up the water I stood them in, through their roots. The next day they were looking a lot less sorry for themselves and the day after that they were positively sprightly.

I repotted them into trays as they were also pot bound, their roots wrapped round and round the wee pots, seeking more soil. Then they started growing with gusto and sending out lots of shoots, which I buried under the earth so they could root. By the end of summer, the greenhouse was full of trays of strawberry plants. The nitrogen-rich organic compost I’d added to the soil apparently primes them to grow lots of lovely leaves, but very few strawberries.

But I was happy they were happy and decided to be patient and dedicate one year to propagation and the next to fruition. The problem was winter. Our plastic greenhouse isn’t heated and I didn’t think they’d survive.

We’d taken down the old garden hut and I eventually got round to constructing a cold frame using the wood, the window and the long triangular door hinges. In went some netting, some more compost and soil – and in went the strawberries.

It rained all autumn and all winter when it didn’t freeze. I’d get on the Mac and the wellies and lift the lid, sometimes covered with snow. And there they were, surviving, snuggled into the soil with the wood between them and the weather.

Come the spring I was opening the lid more, to let the air circulate and let the sunshine in. Occasionally I’d water them, especially along the edge nearest the hedge that gets less rain. I was happy to see that, while there were still some shoots like last year, there were a lot more flowers.

Now in the summer the lid is mostly open, unless it’s very windy, to let the pollinators in and I can see lots of wee berries starting to form. I might have to put some netting up eventually, or the birds will eat the lot.

Even if they do, I’ve learned a lot from those once struggling and now thriving plants. As a fulltime carer trying to fit in 3 PT jobs with far too much time on social media (cos there’s always a crisis) I sometime just wander out into the back garden seeking serenity. And as my eyes, tired from lack of sleep and too much screen time, rest on the green leaves and little white flowers, I find it.

It strikes me that they needed so little in order to survive and that, once they got that, they managed to thrive.

This year in Scotland a lot of berries won’t be picked, as Brexit has put paid to the migrant workers who usually harvest them. This year in Scotland, for the very first time, refugees (even with limited leave to remain) were allowed to vote. In time, hopefully, we may get to the point of allowing anyone seeking asylum to work legally.

Sometimes intervention is necessary. There are situations where that makes the difference between life and death. Then there’s a period of adjustment to new conditions and that may involve some protection or support. But life is ingenious and finds ways to thrive.

People, like plants, just need some shelter to flourish.