Hiatus, UKIP, and Dan Carlin


Monday 20 October 2014

I went on hiatus. Stupidly. I need to keep writing, and to not have written an entry makes it appear that my total output for the last nineteen days has been zero; however, I did write a brief article as part of my application for the Reuters Journalism Program:

In the United Kingdom, the south-eastern county of Kent is in the midst of a historic political shift. Jobs have been created slower than was expected of the governing Conservative Party, a problem experienced across the continent in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This has been made worse by the lifting of restrictions on immigration from the European Union and a heightened sense of competition for work. Kent, the area of the mainland closest to Europe, has had a significant number of economic migrants settling in the region. This set of circumstances has proved to be perfect for the Eurosceptic, right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to gain support.

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage Campaigning In South Shields
Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

Led by Kent-born Nigel Farage, UKIP has successfully used the current wave of immigration as their central argument for leaving the European Union. Currently, although economic migrants make up fewer than 3% of Kent’s population, they have been blamed for taking jobs from British nationals and continuing austerity. This strategy has led to a change in fortunes for the party which has been transformed from an extreme political ‘also-ran’ to being a serious competitor to the incumbent Conservatives.

It was a drastic transition for the county. In 2009, UKIP did not win a single seat on the Kent County Council. Yet in 2013, only four years later, they won 17 seats and managed to wrench several councils from Conservative hands into a status of ‘no overall control’. In this year’s European Parliamentary elections, UKIP doubled its constituency-members in the south-east of England (which includes Kent) from two to four, and claimed the defection of Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless, which has forced a by-election to be held on 20 November. Furthermore, since Douglas Carswell won his seat in Clacton, Essex on 10 October after he also defected to UKIP in similar circumstances, Farage has every reason to be upbeat by his party’s progress.

The notable aspect of these small victories in Kent is that they have come at the expense of the Conservative Party. Carswell and Reckless were Conservative MPs. The 17 seats gained in the county council elections were all won from the Conservatives. In the European elections, in Kent itself, UKIP won 11 out of 12 regions, the other being retained by the Conservatives. Since the Second World War, three-quarters of all MPs elected in Kent have been Conservative and other parties have often had to fight amongst themselves for what little influence remains. UKIP are unique because they have managed to be a populist right-wing alternative that is more conservative than the Conservatives – a tactic which is clearly paying off.

Whether this trend will continue, and UKIP keep eating into the Conservative’s support, will be revealed in the General Election in May. In the meantime, UKIP are trying to ride the wave, and have chosen Farage to contest a seat on the Kent coast, South Thanet (a Conservative constituency). Initial polls have been in his favour, but May is still a long way away.

At least I have done something since I last posted. And, no, I don’t think that I will get the position. Nevertheless it is lovely to prove to myself that I can still essay on current political events (and include an undertone of history too) – it makes me believe that I can make a success of my chosen career path. However, as well as the above reads, the odds are firmly stacked against me because I do not have a qualification in journalism, an apparent prerequisite for anything to do with the craft (which is not an apprenticeship). The beautiful irony of wanting to write for a living and having a BA (Hons) and an MA by Research is that I am overqualified to apply for apprenticeships and under qualified to get a position as a journalist!

Atomic bombing of Japan
The mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (on the left) and Nagasaki (right) from the Atomic bombs dropped on them in August 1945.

In an ideal world I would be doing something similar to what Dan Carlin does, but in the written form. Prompted by a post on Facebook from an author I follow, I began listening to Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. The format is simple: over roughly three hours he speaks about a historical event or question. Somehow his enthusiasm and his ability to approach it from a relatively new angle makes it riveting. One of the first episodes I listened to was on the morality of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. To brutally butcher his wonderfully composed essay, he concluded that it would be unfair to sweepingly label it immoral. The reasoning he gave was that the “logical insanity” of the time (both a buzz phrase of the piece and its title) meant that it was seen as a legitimate act of war. Moreover according to Carlin, it is wrong to judge previous events in a time of war by current moral standards. If something was wrong at the time then it can be called immoral; however, if it was deemed acceptable then it is tricky to label it as such.

Carlin’s format is superb. He goes away for three months with a co-producer of the show – known only as Ben – and they read around a dozen books on the subject of the next show, write the script, edit it several times, record it and then publish through various formats. It sounds pretty great to me. I would love to do something similar, except in a written form in a shorter time frame.

But how do I get to that point? Some huge issues darken my aspirations: namely that I need to be earning money to help out at home, so essaying (and, especially, researching for essays) is a free time recreational activity that I should be doing outside of working hours. No job, no money, so no essaying, just this rambling blog. I need to find a job, but I also must assuage the guilt I feel so that I can write relatively cogent material. Hopefully I will talk about something else tomorrow.


On guilt


Tuesday 30 September 2014

Anthony Powell once went through a spell of writer’s block that lasted over a decade. During that time he kept a journal so that his mind was fresh for when a good idea finally bloomed. Deeming an idea to be good is extremely subjective, especially after having written A Dance to the Music of Time. If A Dance to the Music of Time is your good then ‘good’ is, in fact, ‘extraordinary’. It is no wonder that Powell did not write anything which he considered up to his high standards again. Admittedly his journals are revealing and very entertaining, but that is solely because they are journals emanating from the mind that produced a masterpiece.

A Dance to the Music of Time
Powell’s Masterpiece: the twelve-volume work, A Dance to the Music of Time.

I’ve got writer’s block. I’m not Powell. I’ve not written anything worth mentioning in the same conversation (let alone breath) as A Dance to the Music of Time. This blog is my attempt to work out my problems. At the moment I can’t focus on an idea for long enough to comprehend it, still less write an essay. Essaying to any length has become more and more difficult because the groundwork which needs to be done to complete such a task is perceived – by me, it should be added, not others – as a waste of time. I consider researching to be time that I could spend on hunting for a job. The guilt and the pressure which comes from not having a job is so immense that I cannot endeavour to understand any topic because my mind believes it to be an unworthy way of spending an hour. If I begin, guilt washes over me:

“Why are you not on Reed? Or Indeed? Or Monster? Or touching up your CV? You haven’t applied for a single job today. Here you go, have an insane amount of guilt thrown upon you for even wanting to do that thing which is not job hunting. You don’t have a job. You are a moocher. You are unemployed. You live off of others. You live off of others and have nothing to show for it. You should be ashamed of yourself. Have some more guilt and depression to go with what you are already feeling.”

And that’s a good day. Things which are rather essential – such as eating or sleeping – are framed anew as time-wasting: excuses for not job hunting. Having lunch is reduced to the same level as, say, playing a computer game for an hour. I know that job hunting 24/7 would depress me more than words can say, but so does not job hunting 24/7.

Today I have sent a copy of my CV to my aunt and uncle for revision, I have written a letter to a friend to accompany a book that I am sending him, I have read passages from the Book of Joshua in the King James Bible, and I have job hunted. Yet, I have nothing tangible to show for it, so to my mind I may as well not have tried.

I should now be able to go and read some more, to learn, to enhance my life without the gnawing feeling of guilt beginning in my chest, feeling like it is trying to escape. Even writing this piece is difficult. I am literally – and I use that word correctly here – I am literally fighting the urge to close this and cry. Problems and issues swill and circulate through my mind clouding out the things that I wish to focus on. I want this piece to have a central focus, a thesis, something someone can relate to, but I can’t stay focused. What was I writing about a second ago? I can’t remember; probably guilt, because it’s always there. Where does it begin? I don’t know, because it is there all the time. I’m off to play hockey this evening. It’s a training session. Throughout the whole session I will feel guilty. Why? Well, because I don’t have a job. Isn’t that sad? Clearly I feel like this guilty weight will be lifted when I am employed. It’s so fickle, and likely so wrong. Living constantly with this feeling in my chest is a bane. It is my Sisyphean rock.

Life is short. We are told that often. Life is short so do what you want, get what you want, have what you want. Not a great starting point, it is solipsistic, but let’s continue: What is it that I want? Currently, it is agency. I want a status, a position, a role. I am unemployed.  That is what defines me, or at least it is what I feel defines me. Some of this guilt comes from my own ignorance. I used to think that people who were unemployed were just not trying hard enough. How conservative is that!?! (I also thought that I was employable because I had a Master’s degree, and that I would roll out of university into a market of recruiters clamouring for me to work for their firm.) So, because I used to think that the unemployed are lazy when I had a role in society (as a student), I now believe that others think that way and that they perceive me to be unemployed because I am lazy or – worse – because I want to be. This could not be further from the truth. I want to be employed, to be a writer, to be writing for a living, doing this, getting paid for this, being given a penny for my thoughts. But all of that looks so far away. I have no direct plan about how to get there. Many writers that I revere have a PhD… Does that mean I need one too? On the other hand, some don’t; however, they are immensely talented and went to Oxbridge or an Ivy League college. So have I fallen behind by not being exceptional or a doctor by 25 years of age? Are some doors closed to me? Are all of the doors closed to me? It feels that way.

Some of this guilt also comes from not knowing what I want out of my life. Writing is a vehicle for me to understand what I perceive to be the big issues in the world. I study. I understand. I clear my thoughts. I write my opinion. It’s a great way – the best way – for me to understand and focus. Politics, history, literature, religion, sport; anything can be understood through this method if given enough time. If I was getting paid for doing that, then I would have more time to dedicate to understanding things. Okay, so, to what end? Why do I want to learn and write about what I have learnt? I don’t believe in the cliché that I can change the world. So, why? Maybe to enhance the lives of others around me, to help? To have topics to talk to others about? To enhance conversation and my speech? I don’t know, but I feel like it is important. And I feel like I would be losing something if I didn’t endeavour to follow it.

Anthony Powell
Anthony Powell in 1978, three years after the final volume of ‘A Dance’ had been published.

I wonder whether any of that guilt comes from the feeling that there is a pendulum constantly swinging above my head. I am getting older, that won’t stop, so I need to learn about things now and act on love now and have children now. But I can’t have children because I’m not married and I can’t get married because I don’t have a job – those are my mental barriers. And they are mine: so I am ruining my partner’s life because I don’t have a job. And I am not living up to what people expect of me because I don’t have a job. I feel like I am nothing because I don’t have a status or a title.

The guilt of feeling like I am not doing anything is deep-set. The guilt appears to have seeped into every aspect of my being. It is my new identity, my new status, my new title. I want to show others that I am feeling guilty about not having a job in the hope that they don’t consider me lazy or unemployable. I act as if debilitated with guilt so that they will not think worse of me; however, it is not an act.

So, what am I? I am not Powell, I have not written a masterpiece, I am unemployed. I don’t like being unemployed, but that is what I am. For the moment, it defines me and my being. One day it will cease, and I will start to think about something else, but until then I need to use this junk energy for something positive, even if it is as small and as personal as this blog.