American Horror Story

I’ve been playing truant from my blog and Instagram for so long now that I feel like I should be producing a doctor’s note to explain my lengthy absence before penning this : my first post in over two and a half years!

And if I were to offer up said doctor’s note, I imagine it would read something like :

Kindly excuse Mr. Vagar from neglecting his blogging and social media obligations as he has been suffering from a chronic case of the D’s. Symptoms include withdrawing from society and the social discourse, yelling expletives at the TV and intermittent sense-of-humour failure.

More about that later, but while I’m on the subject of expletives, be forewarned that I intend to drop a few F-bombs in this post, so stop reading if you find cursing crass or distasteful.

Up until this moment, in what will no doubt go down as a grotesque chapter in our modern day history, I’d always prided myself on seeking more gentleman-like, dignified alternatives to the vulgar F-word in my writing – but to hell with it!

These are strange times, I’m pissed off, and nothing satisfies quite like a full-throated “fuck” to let off some steam! (Take that any way you like)

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Do you ever have moments when you think that the world is trying to gaslight you?

I often feel like I’m the titular character in my own version of The Truman Show except that, unlike Truman, I’ve known all along that everyone around me is just acting and I’m trying, futilely, to get them to break character, snap out of it and get real.

When the bulk of the people on the planet seem to be apathetic participants in some bizarre and insane farce and yet they’re going about their lives like everything’s perfectly normal – it leaves you questioning reality.

You keep asking yourself things like “Is it just me? Am I the only one seeing or getting this?”

You may not relate to my glitch-in-the-cognitive-Matrix moments (is there such a thing as a mixed movie metaphor?), but unless you’ve been living under a rock or somehow managed to escape the daily parade of lunacies that constitute today’s news, even you have got to concede that the world just got way crazier (and scarier) in recent years.

And yet there isn’t enough of a proportionate sense of alarm amongst the citizenry.

To be sure there are protests in the streets and loud voices of dissent in the political arena, but do the Joe and Jane Averages’ of the world really care or know enough to recognize all that’s at stake?

But let me not get ahead of myself…

A bad case of the D’s

So what are the aforementioned “D’s”?

Obviously, it’s a totally made-up condition. I dreamed it up while attempting to characterise my state of mind over the past two years – because, as it turned out, all the words I came up with to describe how I was feeling about humanity and the state of the world turned out, quite coincidentally, to begin with the letter D.

I had succumbed, it seemed, to a deep malaise – akin to “D” for “Depression”, but not quite.

What I felt was more raw and visceral – like that sick feeling of dread we all feel in the pit of our stomachs when something traumatic or deeply upsetting happens – or the physical sensation of feeling winded, as if from a sharp blow to the solar plexus.

As I ventured even further in attempting to put my finger on exactly what I was feeling, I started reaching for a few other descriptors that, again, all happened to start with the letter D.

Despair?

Disappointment?

Disenchantment?

Disillusionment?

Was I feeling Dispirited?

Demoralized?

Disheartened?

Despondent?

These all came close, but weren’t quite on the nail. And then, it slowly crept up on me…

Drumroll please…

What I was feeling was, in fact, “D” for…Disgust.

Stomach-churning, gut-wrenching, nausea-inducing disgust!

Disgust at the unprecedented number of people in power in so many parts of the world who abuse and corrupt that power in plain sight – but more so, much more so at the millions of gullible, low-information sheep, lemmings and parrots who enable and elevate them to power in the first place and in some cases repeatedly, even when doing so not only runs contrary to their own best interests but actually imperils them and those they care about…

Disgust at the epidemic of intellectual laziness and mindlessness that arguably the bulk (not all, not most) of humanity has wilfully allowed itself to succumb to – at a time when we have unparalleled access to facts and information online. This is evidenced by our poor or mediocre calibre of leaders and the representatives, people, organisations and companies (like Apple, Disney and Amazon) we support and prop up – without taking a skeptical and critical look at their actual practices and policies…

Disgust with the masses of people who, in this age of social media, are practically falling over themselves to judge others, but lack even the slightest iota of the same feral zeal and willingness to look inward and objectively critique themselves and occasionally consider, “Maybe it’s me?”…

…at our susceptibility to being hella triggered and disproportionately outraged by something someone said or posted online that caused some offence – in contrast to our casual indifference to (and in some cases, embrace of) the real crimes against humanity perpetrated by the same aforementioned people, entities, governments, organisations and companies…

…at the naive fools who are easily taken in by superficial charm or appearances and lap up whatever they see and hear on the news or on social media without bothering to cross reference or verify the information – before chiming in and inadvertently spreading dangerous disinformation, propaganda and conspiracy theories.

The same goes for the folks who cherry-pick the facts or pieces of the larger picture because it feeds their confirmation bias or tribalistic instincts and further ensconces them in their respective bubbles or echo chambers – on both the right and left of the political spectrum. Though to be fair, the former tends to be far more prone to paranoia, fear and delusion – which informs some of the complexity behind the rise of far-right extremism around the world.

And nothing embodied the dangerous culmination of all of these into one perfect shit-storm quite like the 2016 US Presidential Elections!

The expression goes, “When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold.”

And ever since American avarice precipitated the financial crash of 2007-2008 and brought the world to its knees, I’ve made it a habit of closely following the minutiae of US politics and its impact on the globe – because in recent decades the United States has increasingly demonstrated that it’s capable of inflicting far worse things than a mere common cold on the rest of the planet.

And sure enough, in 2016, 26% of eligible American voters were stupid or desperate enough to believe that this bloated orange reality TV buffoon was going to solve all their problems…

 

Is That Your Face Or Did Your Neck Throw Up?

 

Now disgust, I realise, is a very strong word.  But it’s not one that I use lightly – and not a place I arrived at suddenly.

In truth, my faith in humanity had been hanging on by a very fine thread for some time now, but when our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic saw fit to elevate a creature, who is the very embodiment of everything evil about our past, to a position where he and his corrupt cronies hold sway over all our futures, I thought, “Fuck it! Maybe our species actually deserves the inevitable, catastrophic fate that awaits us!”

It seems to me that there is a virulent new strain of an age old disease, namely wilful ignorance, afflicting humankind. I genuinely believe that we’re in danger of devolving into mindless, fact-phobic, anti-intellectual, tribalistic, brainwashed zombies. In fact, the 36% of Americans who still approve of President Pussygrabber are already there!

Of course, a similar case of rank cognitive dissonance can be levelled at every generation throughout the ages, but they didn’t have the benefit of the ubiquitous and omnipresent social media to spread disinformation and mount sophisticated wildfire propaganda campaigns designed to sway and indoctrinate people into having certain views and beliefs. They say history repeats itself, but this is new and unique.

We have not been here before.

Even the ‘smart’ people are turning…

During the height of the 2016 US presidential race, before Bernie Sanders was robbed of his nomination by a cabal of arrogant, hubristic corporate Democrats and was still in contention, I sat across a lunch table from an intelligent, successful, mature gay man who casually referred to Bernie as an “ass-hole”. Excuse me? Have you seen the orange blowhard on the other team?

And then he added that he would rather vote for Hillary because “it would be nice to have a female US president for a change”.

While I agreed that I would love to see way more women in powerful leadership positions around the world, I was taken aback to discover, after pressing him on it, that his sole reason for supporting Hillary was tantamount to essentially electing, to put it bluntly, a vagina to the Oval Office. To him it was as if just any woman would do.

I admitted that while she’s certainly intelligent and more than qualified for the job – Hillary’s chequered track record and centrist approach made her a deeply flawed and problematic candidate for a lot of people on the left.

Of course, he wasn’t the least bit interested in or knowledgeable about her controversial positions and policies, past and present – including once referring to African American youth as “super predators”; refusing to support marriage equality until the tide of public sentiment turned in its favour; voting for the senseless and dangerously consequential Iraq war; cozying up to Wall Street and launching an initiative to spread fracking to our country and others around the world (while, at the same time, championing her history of opposition to fracking in one of her campaign ads).

Now I’m not a Hillary hater. I used to actually like her once upon a time – that is until I did a deep dive into her latter-day policies and what she stands for.

I’m a realist who knows that people in politics have to compromise and genuflect to some degree to game the system, but Hillary sold out.

 

 

And when I challenged this guy on his Bernie ‘burn’, he couldn’t offer me any reasons or evidence to justify his flippant putdown.

It’s notable to mention in this context that I had mentioned to him that Bernie supported LGBTQ rights long before it became politically convenient for Hillary to come around to the cause. But nope, still an “ass-hole”.

 

 

 

To be fair, it’s okay for politicians to have a change of heart, but I found it very telling that a week before my exchange with this guy, Hillary had, in fact, gone on television to hail Nancy Reagan as an early champion of the LGBTQ community during the outbreak of the HIV epidemic (are you fucking kidding me?!).

That this chap, a worldly, educated, middle-aged (married gay, no less) man who lived through the horror of the AIDS crisis, wasn’t in the least bit insulted by Hillary’s shameless attempt at revisionist history and was happy to dismiss all of her shady policies (without offering a counter argument) was really vexing.

 

 

To be clear, I wasn’t miffed because he had a divergent view to my own. I was annoyed with the fact that he couldn’t or wouldn’t even try to make a case for his. But he coughed it up anyway : Hillary = Great! Bernie = Ass-hole.

Really?

This man across my friend’s lunch table was the very embodiment of the breed of low-information, armchair commentators who’ve provoked my ire of late.

And they’re fucking everywhere!

Mostly well intended, everyday, nice enough people who are just too lazy to do their homework but shoot their mouths off anyway – and usually in the most haughty, disdainful, pseudo-authoritative and pompous fashion. It does my head in!

Political discussions can be notoriously contentious, especially around a friendly lunch or dinner table – so as a courtesy to my hosts, I allowed this chump to get away with swiftly changing the subject when he realised he was embarrassingly out of his depth.

Hold The Gracious!

I’ve been an observer of people for most of my soon-to-be 50 years on this planet and with each new year and decade I patiently wait and watch as humankind takes minuscule steps towards ridding itself of social evils and injustices that have plagued us for centuries. I see small incremental advancements, too fucking slow for my liking, but encouraging nevertheless because at least we’re going in the right direction.

But when bigotry, racism, mysogyny, fascism, anti-semitism, neo-nazism, xenophobia and traditional old white man politics sprung afresh in the UK and US in 2016 and emboldened other racist, far-right movements around the globe, threatening to roll back social progress by 50 years and more, I’d just about thrown in the towel on hoping against hope that we’re capable of getting our shit together as a species.

 

Does This Corrosive Shit Ever Fucking Die?!

 

My revulsion and disgust at such a significant swathe of humanity was quite a shattering realisation –  because I had, for the better part of my adulthood, always aspired to extend nothing but love, grace, kindness, compassion and patience toward my fellow man and woman – even as they demonstrated little regard or appreciation for such things in their own conduct and treatment of others, myself included.

But now I think I may have finally run out of patience. I’m done with being gracious. To be gracious in this climate is tantamount to appeasement or worse yet, capitulation and submission.

I’m not in the least bit interested in being labelled as yet another social justice warrior, but I am standing up for what is true, fair and right.

The other side is playing dirty double standards and flouting the rules of decency, fairness and respect – and they’re getting away with it. It’s time to push back.

All our lives may depend on it…

Forgetting for a moment our immense social and cultural problems, it may already be too late to stop and reverse the catastrophic effects of climate change that have already started to impact this planet.

The recent damning report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has already confirmed what I’ve suspected for many years : that our children and our children’s children will inherit an extremely inhospitable planet and yet, there is still little urgent political will to do anything about it.

And we, the electorate, the citizenry, shoulder much of the blame for this.

Voting should be conducted like a serious job interview to employ the most experienced, capable and principled people – not a fucking popularity contest!

It’s two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock and we’re choosing our leaders like it’s all just a game.

That is, if we even vote at all.

And then we get back to the really important stuff like, you know, improving our Instagram #selfiegame or ooh aah-ing about some big-budget action/adventure/fantasy/superhero movie where the hero saves the world before the end credits – even as our actual world is on the brink of catastrophe.

It’s easy to imagine which countries and corporations will be named and shamed in those end-credits – but by then it will likely be too late.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking…

How’d I get to such a cynical and angry place?

For the record – spoiler alert – I’m not the cynic* (see below) in this story – and though I am angry, it’s a constructively-channelled righteous rage that I wish far more people shared.

And I do have something constructive and positive to offer later, I promise.

But first, I’m sounding the alarm. The clock is ticking. And if you’ve been listening as long as I (and others much smarter than I) have, it’s been getting louder and louder in recent times. Here’s a little context, if you’re interested (and not already put-off and depressed) :

It was 2015. I’d begun working on a draft for a blog post about my concern and unease about the state of the world and I was thinking about an appropriate title for the post, when, like a foreboding, the very first of the D-words came to mind and almost automatically scrawled onto my computer screen, like a stream of consciousness exercise…

“Disturbance”

 

 

I may have long since outgrown my childhood fascination with the Star Wars movie franchise but I’ve always found Obi-Wan Kenobi’s line (from the pre-Disney Star Wars of my generation) to be quite useful and apt a phrase in attempting to describe a nebulous, uneasy feeling or intuitive sense that something was not right in the world – or an omen that something dark or turbulent may be on its way or may even, in fact, have already begun.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

That tingling sense that something was horribly off was reinforced every time I turned on the news and watched the rumblings and warning signs all around the world.

A seismic build-up of frustration, resentment and anger was metastasizing across the globe, most consequentially in the UK, which was hurtling towards a Brexit vote – and the US, careening at the time towards what would eventually become a volatile, divisive and ugly presidential race – and presidency.

“Is this really happening in 2016?” I found myself asking over and over again a year later. I found it all incredulous and shocking, and yet, not at all surprising.

Precipitated in large part by the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and decades of wage and social mobility stagnation, people around the world, particularly those in western democracies like the UK and US, seemed to me to be sick and tired of the status quo and business-as-usual politics – and were raging against the establishment.

It was clear that they’d had just about enough of the systemic corruption in government and other institutions; the ever-widening wealth gap and income inequality; politicians paying lip-service to the issues while being in the actual service of corporations, special interests and their wealthy donors – and even the largely disingenuous mainstream media and their deference to the establishment in exchange for access and ratings.

 

Suckers!

 

I knew instinctively that this volcano of cynicism and rage was about to erupt and observed that the powers-that-be were arrogantly tone-deaf and woefully out of touch with the people they had been failing. Or perhaps they knew and just underestimated the problem or simply didn’t give enough of a damn to do something about it.

It was clear that a revolution or revolt was coming. But what form would it take?

Then Brexit happened and while I seriously questioned the wisdom of it, I thought, “Well okay, the people have spoken.”

But then, after the referendum, it emerged that a disturbingly large number of Britons who voted in favour of the UK withdrawing from the EU either didn’t fully comprehend or understand the consequences of doing so or didn’t expect that it could or would actually go ahead if they voted for it.

 

 

WTF?!

These folks do know how voting works, right?

What kind of witless idiot goes to the polls to cast a ballot for something without knowing what he or she is voting for – and then tells themselves that it probably won’t happen anyway?

I don’t mean to insult these voters but really, what hope is there for humanity and this planet when enough of the people that inhabit it are infantilised simpletons who make casual choices about vitally important matters that have devastating global impact and far-reaching consequences?

And while you’re at it, can anyone explain to me why people, despite having self-preservation and survival hardwired in their brains, are so supremely talented at acting against their own best interests?

Speaking of the 2016 US presidential election…

While Hillary was haughtily being touted as the ‘sure thing’ favourite to win and Trump was parading about as the walking mid-life-crisis cliché (complete with orange pancake face-paint and bottle blond comb-over) and laughing stock he’s always been since going bankrupt 6 times and managing to LOSE money in the casino business, I was heartened, reassured and excited by the candidacy of the then relatively unknown Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

Of course, I wasn’t alone.

Bernie’s message and progressive agenda resonated with millions of young American voters, who were suddenly energized, engaged and eager to participate in the political process – many for the first time.

This was a man who, throughout his political career, had been a stalwart progressive voice on issues like raising the minimum wage, income inequality, universal healthcare, climate change and civil rights, including, as I mentioned earlier, being a vocal advocate of LGBTQ rights and a fierce critic of racial discrimination.

 

 

Bernie’s proven track record showed that he had been on the right side of the issues long before it was popular for careerist politicians to do so.

 

 

 

“Was this the revolution?” I wondered.

I certainly hoped so.

 

A Sign?

 

But then, like being forced to witness a gruesome car crash, I watched in astonishment and horror the machinations of the DNC and Hillary Clinton lackeys like Debbie Wasserman Schultz who brazenly, in broad daylight, conspired and robbed Bernie of his party’s nomination – thereby cutting the fevered enthusiasm of a bold new generation of voters (their party’s real hope and future I might add) off at the knees!

 

 

The arrogance and hubris of the Democratic Party to think that they could just shove a hawkish, pseudo-progressive, neo-liberal like Hillary Clinton down the throats of young liberal and progressive voters – after they had already seen the real thing and were fired up and feeling “the Bern”!

I knew what was coming.

It’s what almost always happens when people are forced to choose the lesser of two evils…

They either abstain in righteous protest, as many progressives and independents did, or they retaliate out of spite, as did the many Trump supporters, so horny to rage-fuck the establishment that let them down that they couldn’t see straight.

Is this what the “greatest democracy in the world” had been reduced to?

A choice between two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in US history?

A protester in London during Hillary’s visit there after losing to President Donny Tinyhands perhaps said it best when she yelled out, “Bernie would have won. Only YOU could lose to Donald Trump!”

Now, a lot of the folks who get busted for fucking-up in spectacular fashion like to quickly excuse away their accountability by arguing that playing the blame game is “counter-productive” and doesn’t offer “solutions” (how fucking convenient), but I’m of the firm belief that you have to rub their noses in it until they’ve properly learnt their lesson. Otherwise, they’ll soon forget and go on to repeat their follies.

So who does the world have to ‘thank’ for elevating this pathologically lying, sexually predatory, vainglorious, narcissistic, egomaniacal, self-delusional, misogynistic, racist, race-baiting, fear-mongering, xenophobic, ignorant, semi-literate, petty, dangerous clown and bungling amateur to the highest office in the US and the most powerful position in the world?

 

Putin’s Bitch

 

In the following order, I point the finger of blame at Hillary and her DNC toadies for sabotaging their own party by kneecapping the progressive momentum that the Bernie movement engendered.

The US Cable News Networks for the millions of dollars of free airtime and legitimacy they inadvertently gifted to Trump in their shameless exploitation of public outrage for ratings.

CNN deserves an honorary mention for going even further than that by also pretending that Bernie or his millions of supporters didn’t even exist! Bernie? Who dat?

 

 

 

Next I blame social media sites like Facebook who knowingly allowed Russians and other bad actors like Cambridge Analytica to use their platforms to fuck with public perception and taint the election.

Then there’s Rupert Murdoch and his Fox “News” – naturally excluded from the previous network mention because they’re not so much a news organization as a right-wing propaganda and conspiracy theory spewing arm, along with all the other alt-right media lunatics and their scummy benefactors like the Mercers and the Koch brothers.

Of course Trump’s voters are also liable for setting us all on a course towards disaster, but I rank them this far down because they actually represent a comparatively small segment of the population – meaning that Trump won due to a combination of poor voter turnout and Hillary’s unpopularity.

And finally, the ridiculous electoral college that undercuts the notion that America is, in fact, a true “democracy”.

Add to that the GOP’s egregious and shameless voter suppression and gerrymandering cheat tactics, and the argument that America is somehow the beacon or best example of liberal democracy around the world seems even more laughable!

And there are several valuable lessons to be learned from all of this madness Dear Young Person.

Fakebook

Manipulation is one of the cornerstones of the social media business model. And if you’re not already aware of it, you should be wary of the fact that social media continues to present a grave threat to democracies around the world.

These platforms, especially Facebook and its subsidiaries like WhatsApp, are increasingly being used as tools for spreading hate speech and divisive fake news and disinformation campaigns, infecting the minds of people all across the globe, from the Philippines to Ukraine to Myanmar.

None of this is new, but the manipulation campaigns have gotten more and more sophisticated thanks to algorithms and faster computers.

 

 

South Africa too, fell prey to a fake news propaganda war courtesy of UK PR firm Bell Pottinger and the Gupta family.

Turning citizen against citizen, these agencies and bad actors are succeeding in effectively dividing and conquering both fledgling and robust democracies.

It’s sad to watch a country eat itself from the inside out, but what’s more disturbing is how easy it apparently is to orchestrate that kind of self-immolation.

Dear America, looking at the major fault lines in your politics over the years I can’t say I’m surprised at how easy you are to troll – but who knew you were so easy to crack?

 

 

Even as I write this, another consequential democracy has come under attack through the weaponisation of social media. The republic of Brazil recently fell, hook, line, and sinker, for a far right populist candidate who benefitted from years of systemic corruption and a social media disinformation blitz via Facebook and WhatsApp to become their new president.

Jair Bolsonaro, a man who, amongst other odious qualities, wants to lay waste to the Amazon (the lungs of our planet), is another example of how one nation’s anger combined with its staggeringly poor judgement and naivety threatens to fuck us all over.

And just like Trump, men like Bolsonaro have absolutely no intention of draining the swamp or solving their country’s problems.

Anyone who isn’t gullible or stupid enough to trade a cow for a handful of magic beans knows this.

 

 

Similarly, Trump and Bolsonaro voters themselves are not uniquely American and Brazilian phenomena. But they do represent a universal problem facing us as a species.

Which is why, more than ever, we must be extra careful and vigilant in our skepticism and pursuit of the truth, Dear Young Person.

So how do we stop the crazy and save the world?

Well, here’s what I do…

Upfront apologies if I come off as a little preachy. That’s really not my intention.

Get Skeptical AF!

I’m always amazed by how something that appears cartoonishly obvious to me, seems to go completely unnoticed by so many. Healthy skepticism is one of the most powerful tools a person can use to stop evil in its tracks. Think of it as a superpower!

From potentially disastrous business dealings to toxic relationships, it certainly helped me in avoiding to make some really bad choices in recent decades. I only wish I learned to exercise healthy skepticism sooner!

So set your bullshit-o-meter to max. Raise that eyebrow and question, question, question! And by that I don’t mean be suspicious. Instead we should start to practice a greater degree of discernment and scrutiny in assessing everyone from politicians and CEO’s to everyday folk. They might seem great on the surface, but they may be masking some hidden agenda or pathology that’s easy enough to lift if you learn how to better read people.

Judge them by their policy, not just their personality. By what they do, not what they say.

Do not take anyone or anything at face value.

Some of the most disgusting, nastiest trolls I’ve encountered on social media, for example, have loads of friends and followers and post wonderfully floral platitudes and truisms about “love”, “respect”, “compassion” and “kindness”, without a scintilla of self-awareness, irony or shame. It’s nothing short of fascinating and infuriating!

Lately, I’ve taken to publicly calling them out on their hypocrisy – in the nicest way possible of course. I really don’t enjoy doing it, least of all for the feral, cornered-cat savagery that follows in their reflexive responses after being ‘unmasked’, but as I said, I’m done being gracious.

These folks have no business preaching all kinds of sanctimonious shit while demonstrably inflicting their hatred, pain and bile on others.

Do your homework and get informed.

“A little learning is a dang’rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring” wrote the poet Alexander Pope. In “An Essay on Criticism” he cautions against shallow dives into really complex and layered subjects, lest we don’t come away with the full picture or an in-depth understanding.

Yet we as a society have a dangerous tendency to treat headlines as gospel, seldom taking the time and trouble to read the full article to extract the substance.

In order to get a nuanced understanding of a topic, do your research and read up on the hot button issues that are currently doing their rounds in the social media-verse like “social democracy” or “feminism” as examples.

Don’t let distractions and fearmongering spin campaigns dupe you into parroting talking points or get you thinking something is bad or scary, when it isn’t.

I recently got into a somewhat tense exchange with a real ladies man after he bristled when I proudly declared that I was a feminist in conversation. He saw it as somehow diminishing to him as a man. I don’t know what propaganda machine fucked with his brain, but he refused or seemed unable to comprehend that when I said that I was a feminist, I simply meant that there should be gender equality.

Period.

In his head, he just saw a mob of men-hating “overweight lesbians” with hairy armpits wielding pitch forks coming to emasculate or castrate him! I almost felt like I had to give it another, silly made up term like “tomatoism” to make it less threatening to his fragile manhood, just so he could see past whatever negative historical association he had with that word. Eventually I said, “Bottom line : do you see your wife, girlfriend or sister as your equal? It’s really that simple.”

Turns out, he couldn’t or wouldn’t definitively answer that question, which was revealing.

Start with your world.

Even if you assert your principle beliefs in your immediate world without the benefit of keystrokes or lifting a picket, then you are standing for something. For example, I do not tolerate racism or any other form of bigotry in my space and have called family members or acquaintances out on it when they’ve gone there. Anyone who makes tasteless sexist, racist or homophobic jokes in my company is soon gently, but firmly put in their place.

In some cases, I’ve permanently booted people from my life on principle. That may be too extreme for you, but I’m certainly not above admonishing or shaming people for being jerks. To not do so would make me complicit in their repugnant behaviour and attitudes.

Of course, they may not ultimately change, but I know that my vocal disapproval has been an effective check on unacceptable behaviour in the past. I’m willing to bet that if you told that racist uncle to refrain from that sort of speech in your company or go fuck himself (as I would do, frankly) – especially in the company of others – he might take pause the next time he attempts to vomit his ignorance all over your lovely dinner table.

Oh, and this isn’t about being triggered, the need for safe spaces or a debate about free speech or “political correctness”. It’s about basic fucking human decency! Aah yes, remember that?

 

Call it!

 

Join in the political process.

Vote, vote, vote! Or one day you might wake up and find that your rights have been taken away.

Think I’m being overly dramatic? Ask the women, minorities and LGBTQ citizens of Trumpistan now on tenterhooks since another ultra conservative US Supreme Court Justice, Brett “I Like Beer” Kavanaugh has been confirmed – under a cloud of lies and multiple sexual assault allegations no less.

I would definitely question and defy the legitimacy and legality of any court that that entitled sack of shit presided over. It’s sickening to me that America has learnt absolutely nothing since the Anita Hill travesty!

Speak truth to power and hold your leaders accountable.

Don’t be afraid to question authority and people in government. Their job, after all, is to serve you, the citizen, the taxpayer. And pay less attention to what they’re saying and apply careful scrutiny to what they’re DOING.

Beware the smooth politician, celebrity or captain of industry who talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk. As I mentioned earlier, we should choose our luminaries and leaders like we’re conducting a rigorous job interview, looking far beyond their charm, looks and likeability.

By those standards I wouldn’t even want an incompetent douche like Trump as my Uber driver for a 5 minute ride, much less steering any important office or administration.

How anyone could be so dumb-as-fuck as to think that a rich, entitled brat who was daddy’s little welfare case, inherited all his money (and lost it all) and has known nothing but privilege his entire gilded life is somehow a ‘champion’ of the poor and working classes is fucking beyond me!

Peacefully protest injustice.

Even if you don’t wish to take to the streets or picket, there are other ways to make your voice heard. For example, I’m seldom on the frontlines of activism but I follow, support and donate to independent journalism organisations and non-governmental watchdog groups. It’s small, but it’s something.

Sadly, we’re all too often overwhelmed by all the chaos and disharmony in the world that we surrender our agency to do something about it, because we think that it won’t make a difference or, that as merely one person, we’ll be ineffectual. But that’s exactly what the bad players want you to think – and if you give in to that mentality, then they’ve already won – without so much as a fight.

Just think about that for a second. Let it sink in.

Allign and associate with others fighting the same fight to feel less alone. Sign a petition. Raise awareness around you. Something, anything helps.

 

United We Stand

 

Join or support a movement.

I’ve found that the camaraderie of joining a group that stands for the same things you believe in helps boost and affirm morale and assuage feelings of anxiety, isolation and helplessness.

But, and this is a big BUT, always remember to search your conscience and (honestly) ask yourself if your group is on the right side of the issues – and of history.

You don’t want to be living in an echo chamber or bubble. Sometimes groups lose their way or morph into something extreme or are just flat out villainous, like the cult that is Donald Trump’s possessed MAGA base.

I watched “The Mummy” (1999) the other day for a laugh and to see how well the CGI had aged – and there was this really cringeworthy scene where the Mummy’s zombie minions were mindlessly Frankenstein-walking through the streets chanting his name, “Im-ho-tep! Im-ho-tep!” and I thought, that’s them, that’s Trump’s base!

Only their monotonous incantations are “Build-the-wall!”…”Lock-her-up!”…”Drain-the-swamp!”…”U-S-A!”

It would be kind of funny if it wasn’t so creepy and chilling!

 

Zombie Apocalypse

 

Don’t be the smartest person in the room!

I actually give this advice to all my proteges in the entertainment business – especially the male ones – because they tend to be the ‘leader’ or go-to-guy in their respective social circles. This is problematic because they’re invariably the smartest guy in the room – which means that there’s no one challenging them intellectually or counselling them like a big brother or father.

To them I always say..

“Surround yourself with people who make you feel stupid. Not because they’re ass-holes, but by virtue of how much more than you they know. Instead of being intimidated, seek out their company and allow yourself to be humbled and dazzled by their brilliance, wit, eloquence, talents and accomplishments. And after some time, you’ll find yourself getting smarter, more intellectually curious…”

Unfortunately, most of my guys don’t take that advice too seriously – and it shows in their missteps and stunted growth as presenters, actors and performers. The ones who do listen, on the other hand, are soaring in their careers – not just because they took my advice, but because they were smart enough as people to recognize its merits.

So I offer you the same advice.

If you’re consistently the smartest person in the room, go find a smarter room.

It’s tempting to always want to be the one that others look up to, but you need to be around people who can expand your knowledge and skills – and nurture your growth instead of feeding your ego.

Everybody is a teacher and a student, regardless of how old they are. Think of a 10 year old teaching grandma how to use a smartphone or the internet.

Even at my age I remain teachable and intellectually curious. In fact, I actually get really excited and fired up by the things I don’t know.

Sometimes it’s a stranger or acquaintance who shares the work of an artist I’d never heard of.

Other times, it’s a unique perspective to solving a problem I didn’t think of but had been staring me in the face the whole time.

Even if it’s a YouTube tutorial that teaches me a new skill or fitness workout, I’m always very grateful to those who are willing to teach.

And finally, be a part of the solution.

Be mindful and present – and check yourself everyday. A lot of us who think we’re part of the solution are actually part of the problem. We just don’t see it.

Sometimes it’s because we’re not as smart or capable as we think we are (what’s known as The Dunning-Kruger Effect) or often times it’s because we haven’t experienced enough of our own pain, misfortune and hardships to be able to empathise with others.

For example, with the exception of my BFF (who lived it through me when we were growing up), none of my white friends (however smart, worldly or empathetic) really know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of naked, ugly racism.

One of them was horrified and apologetic after I pointed out that he kept unthinkingly (though unintentionally) referring to his gardener (a person of colour), who’s in his mid 40’s and a father of 3, as the “garden boy”.

I know what’s in my friend’s heart. He meant no harm by it, but the fact that he needed to be told how demeaning and belittling that term was when used to refer to a proud, dignified and hard-working man and father is an example of someone inadvertently being part of the problem.

Until you’ve actually walked in someone’s shoes, you can’t fully appreciate the pain or richness of their experiences.

I’m ashamed and embarrassed to say that I’ve been guilty of this myself.

Often times people with deeply held religious beliefs or the best of intentions could really be hurting others with their words without even realizing it or meaning to.

Even really decent, fair-minded folks can be completely selfish, inconsiderate jerks at the best of the times. One of them ran a stop street and cut me off at an intersection the other day (not the first time he’s done this). He just waved, smiling semi-apologetically (yet again).

I thought to myself, “Now there goes a guy who’s known nothing but entitlement his entire life.”

Of course, this trespass alone doesn’t make him a bad person. But it doesn’t make him a particularly great one either.

We’re all somewhere in between I think. Check yourself or ask others for feedback – and be a part of the solution by correcting yourself.

 

My Serious, Looking-Out-The-Window-At-The-Future Face

 

 

The Resistance…

As for me and my struggle with the D’s, I’ve (mostly) boiled over from “D” for Disgust and simmered down to a deeply “D” for Disappointed that my fantasy of a better world than the one I grew up in will probably never come to pass in my lifetime, but I am somewhat encouraged by the resistance and the progressive young voices that are more determined than ever to use this dark moment in our history as a rally cry and call to action.

The American Horror Story that impacts the entire world is still painful and maddening to watch but I am excited by the political rise of the likes of Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who along with Bernie Sanders, is pushing for A Green New Deal to stave off a climate disaster, amongst other great policies and ideas.

Plus, I’m not yelling at the TV as much because I’m actually enjoying watching Trump unravel as his own real life House of Cards looks set to collapse under the weight of the Mueller, House and state investigations. I never thought I’d take such delight in another person’s distress and misery, but men like Trump are garbage human beings who deserve karmic retribution.

I admit, I fantasise about seeing him being dragged away in handcuffs (or a straitjacket), but knowing how things work over there in the US of A, they’ll probably be too embarrassed to indict him.

He’ll likely be impeached and/or allowed to retire in shame (which in many ways is far worse to a man with his fragile psyche). But if there is any justice, he should be the first POTUS to be indicted.

“Exciting times!”

Or so they keep telling me on the telly.

 

Sugar Vladdy

 

*Which brings me to the question of the cynicism some of you might understandably be taking away from this rant-like post.

Here’s the thing : I genuinely believe that the world is what we make it.

If there is enough will, engagement and determination we can achieve just about anything – no matter however fantastical, unrealistic and impractical the naysayers will have us believe – like sending a man to the moon, for example.

It’s sort of comical and more than a little sad to me that our culture will happily lap up and cheer on happy endings in our movies and TV shows (I’m talking about implausible romances and hero/underdog stories that really strain credulity and are totally not rooted in humdrum reality) and yet, when confronted with a potentially similar positive resolution in real life, we just shake our heads and abdicate, resigning ourselves to saying self-defeating things like, “Nah, it’s too unrealistic!” or “Let’s be pragmatic. It’s just not going to happen.”

Now who’s the cynic?

I believe Bernie Sanders would have won the 2016 US Presidential election – in a landslide!

And I’m far from being a naive dreamer. I’ve done my homework. I’ve looked at all the data. And as I’ve said, I studied the minutiae of the build up to the election. And yes, I had a gut too. One of the things I’ve always prided myself in as a broadcaster is my ability to recognize a hit when I see one (I predicted Trevor Noah would be a huge star the first time I saw him on South African television). And Bernie, the new blood progressive wing of the democratic party or what’s become known as the Justice Democrats are a huge sleeper hit waiting to happen.

But Washington elites, Wall Street, the military industrial complex, big corporations and the establishment-friendly corporate media will continue to throw everything they can at them. That’s a sign that they’re threatened and rattled as fuck, by the way!

Even as I write this, the mainstream media is already trotting out the likes of Kamala Harris and Beto O’ Rourke as favourites to win the Democratic nomination for 2020 (I’m looking at you CNN and MSNBC). The Cable news pundits and ‘experts’ are once again all like, “Bernie? Bernie who?”

Please stop it. You’re embarrassing yourselves. And for God’s sake, while you’re at it CNN, please don’t insult your viewers by turning your expert panel ‘discussions’ into an episode of The Jerry Springer Show!

As for the Democratic Party establishment, if they don’t come to their senses and embrace the inevitable, they will continue to fail in the long run, even after winning back the House last year.

Why?

Because that volcano of resentment, economic anxiety and anger I referred to earlier continues to rage and it isn’t going anywhere.

And Bernie and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are the Democratic Party’s only hope, because their policies and ideas resonate with the downtrodden and disenfranchised Americans who foolishly saw in Trump a Washington outsider and radical who was going to shake up the establishment.

And yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard middle-aged liberals (who live exclusively on a diet of corporate mainstream media) casually dismiss their agenda as “unrealistic” and the stuff of fairy tales.

In addition to more asinine comments like,“Bernie wants to give everyone a pony!” (What, not gay unicorns that fart rainbows?) you also hear a lot of “He’s too old!”

Well, I beg to differ.

Here’s why…

 

 

And finally, there’s the popular “Young voters are too lazy and inconsistent when it comes to voting!” argument. Yes, younger people don’t tend to vote as religiously as older folks, but to assert that it’s because they’re all just lazy or are all talk and little action misses the point and is frankly, condescending. Just think of the young Parkland shooting student survivors and their extremely well organised rally against gun violence.

I’m firmly of the belief that the reason young voters don’t rush to the polls is because they’re simply not excited or energised by the candidates that the establishment or political system essentially chooses for them and then arrogantly expects them to vote for.

Bernie came out of nowhere and electrified young voters in 2015/6!

He still does.

Even if he doesn’t run in 2020, he’s already changed the game and the Democratic Party platform.

 

 

Now you may be wondering, “Imraan, you’re South African. What do you care what goes on in the political world in the States? Why are you so deeply invested or interested?”

Well, as I mentioned earlier, things (good or bad) that happen in important countries and superpowers can be extremely consequential to the rest of the world – whether it’s the next inevitable US financial crash, a neo-colonial influence operation by China in Africa or the bulldozing of the rainforests in Brazil.

We should all care deeply – because we’re all deeply impacted.

The problem isn’t over there anymore. We can no longer afford to think it is.

Furthermore, what happened during the 2016 US Elections provides a fascinating case study of the combined effects of social media, a lily-livered mainstream media and a broken political system – owned and run by elites and unregulated corporate powers. It’s a cautionary tale with lessons that we can all apply to our own domestic politics.

Because, as I said, the world is what we make it.

Keep Calm & Question.

Resist.

Because here is another inalienable truth Dear Young Person : If we all keep saying, “It can’t be done”, then voila…it won’t be!

It’s really that simple.

And then we would have sealed our fate and resigned ourselves to a horrible “D” for Destiny.

Here’s wishing us all a safer, kinder and positive 2019!

Love,

IV

P.S. For a good laugh and to lighten the tone of this rather dark and depressing post, I’ll let Trevor and the Daily Show Team have the last word. Peace out.

 

 

Imraan Vagar

Author: Imraan Vagar

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Exactly how I feel

    Post a Reply
    • Imraan Vagar

      Thank you Isabelle! Apparently we’re not alone…

      Post a Reply
  2. Avatar

    Wow! This blew me away. Oh, and I feel like I’m being gaslighted by the world constantly! So thank you for reading my mind and making me feel less crazy and alone. Your piece is both disturbing and oddly comforting at the same time!

    Post a Reply
    • Imraan Vagar

      Thank you Samuel. I know what you mean.

      Post a Reply
  3. Avatar

    Feeling the rage and the D’s with you my friend! As straight talking and rapier sharp as I remember. So here’s to a blast from the past while the world goes mad.

    Taherah Barmania

    Post a Reply

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