Though the post seems to have vanished from my Facebook, I think it was the New York Times which posted the question: ‘What is Donald Trump tapping into that other politicians aren’t?’
Initially, it’s not that complicated. He is tapping into fear.
Americans, at present, have a right to be afraid. So have many of us outside the US, and for essentially the same reasons.
We are small creatures in a vast world. We have always felt this since when, in early times, darkness, predatory animals, broiling heat, freezing cold, thirst and hunger were inexplicable to us. Before science – and unhappily since, in many cases – we attributed our smallness and our suffering to gods. The suffering did not change, but the god concept allowed us to think that there was some kind of order out there in the world (since extended to the universe), that we were part of some plan, that we mattered to someone or something that was greater than us. We have always feared our insignificance.
We found – and sometimes still find – the family useful in our insignificance. We find – if we’re lucky – that we are significant to others who are themselves significant to us. If we are unlucky that original smallness and insignificance is made only greater, because there are those whom we find significant who make us feel less so. And if it is bad one of the first things we are going to do is to bully.
Just checking, I find that the antonym to ‘elevate’ is ‘depress’. Interesting. The bully depresses his/her victim through some form of oppression in order to ‘elevate’ him/herself in his/her own damaged self-esteem.
An element of purpose which can be attached to almost any social grouping – perhaps any social grouping – is to establish self-esteem, often through the esteem of others. We play constant games with esteem.
To enhance self-esteem, to elevate it, it is not enough to be a Christian because you believe in Christianity’s tenets or a Muslim because you believe in Islamic tenets. It is better to be a Christian or a Muslim who believes that all other beliefs and believers are wrong, and therefore inferior. The moment we believe that someone else is inferior, it elevates us in our own esteem.
The practice is so much a commonplace that we scarcely notice it. Whether we find the opportunity to depress others and elevate ourselves through our chosen Faith, through the football, soccer or baseball team we support, through our chosen political beliefs, through the grades we or our children got in school, through the status of our employment or even the fact of our employment – for nothing is quite as satisfying to the working insignificant as despising those who are unemployed.
The practice is also fundamental to nationalism. By an accident of birth I occasionally regret (oh to have been born in Sicily!) I am English/British by nationality. Being English it is kind of expected that I should be ready to joke about Scottish parsimony, Irish stupidity or Welsh sheep-shaggery. None of these things are true, yet every one is based on a concept of superiority, an idea at some time locked into the psyche, that we are more generous, more clever and more discerning in our sexual habits than other populations. They all embody bullying, the depression of others to elevate ourselves, and the key – as I’ve said – to the cause of that bullying is our own fear of insignificance.
Of course, those who already have a strong sense of self-esteem do not need to indulge in such bullying behavior and, even if they’re not entirely sure what the cause is they tend not to like it. But we are all probably guilty of it to at least some small extent.
Yet the truth is that even if we have fairly good self-esteem we cannot but be aware to some degree of our insignificance in the scheme of things. We are vulnerable. And in America in particular, but elsewhere too, this is a growing and dangerous issue.
As families can build or demolish self-esteem, elevate us or depress us in terms of our sense of significance, so can the larger family we refer to as ‘society’ and the smaller groups or societies within it to which we belong.
We understand that being excommunicated from our church, black-balled by our club, rejected by a potential employer at an interview, having our stories or paintings rejected, being rejected by a partner or love, may have a practical effect, often an economic effect, but we also know, surely, that it has an effect on our self-esteem. It reminds us of our insignificance in that larger scale of things. It reminds us we are vulnerable.
We know, surely, that being unemployed lowers the individual’s sense of self-esteem. We know that poverty does the same. We know that being a victim does it. We know that the indifference of others to us, does it also.
And this is the state in which millions of people live.
This is why, in a long ago study by a Scottish university, it becomes clear that people read the news sources which support their own beliefs, why they are resistant to having those beliefs challenged. To be wrong is not only to be wrong or mistaken, it is to be less, to be inferior to those who are right.
As an internet troll or a demagogue, I have to be right in order to sustain my damaged sense of self-worth.
America today is a dysfunctional democracy. It has outgrown its systems. It is a family, metaphorically speaking, in which some members are eager and willing to succumb to gluttony whilst others of its members go hungry. Its young men, like our own, have fought, suffered and died in wars which had the putative objective of improving life, liberty and happiness yet which in real terms seems to offer its present citizens no more than they would have had in 1916.
Confident in wealth and power, the higher ‘classes’ of the United States (and elsewhere, though elsewhere doesn’t have Trump) are quick to assure the lower orders that the elevated are there because ‘the cream rises’. Well, too much cream isn’t good for you. They will also aver that ‘anyone can get where we are if they try hard enough’, not recognizing that cream exerts no effort in order to float and that they themselves have often ‘gotten’ to the top through no real effort of their own, building on wealth that was left to them, producing nothing of worth. Shit floats too, rather as Trump’s current elevation seems to demonstrate.
In a world where commercial powers have greater strength than government, in which governments have repeatedly failed to check the growth of these crucially undemocratic and un-transparent organisations, the ordinary citizen is aware on some level that he/she no longer has a voice.
Government has become not that which does things for them but that which does things to them. Voters are less participants in this democracy than victims or potential victims of it. They are increasingly alone, increasingly insignificant, and that lies at the heart of it.
What Trump promises is essentially what all demagogues promise, what Hitler promised, what Kim Jong-un promises and what all right-wing politicians promise – that if he or they are followed, he or they will lead them to a position of superiority, that he or they will grant them self-esteem by enabling them to look down on others.
It has worked before.
And this is why good healthcare, good education, housing, jobs and so many other things need to be driven by government. The re-distribution of gross inequalities in wealth is not merely about spending power; it is about a government proving to its people that each of them, individually and collectively, has worth.
I am no longer young, though I’m a long way from old, and I have spent my adult life asking myself – and sometimes the world – what I call ‘the hard questions’.
Quick blast of theory: I’ve said many times that the most dangerous lies are the lies we tell ourselves. They’re often the most insidious, too – from the ‘one more biscuit’, ‘one more cigarette’, ‘one more drink’ won’t hurt lies of the dieter, the smoker and the alcoholic through to the ‘well no doesn’t always mean no’ and ‘women like it a little bit rough’ or ‘he keeps hurting me but he loves me and I know I can change him’.
They’re all lies, all self-deceptions, and I believe we accommodate them in part because to the human being the brain is an environment which, like any environment he/she lives in is one that we want to keep ‘comfortable’. It’s the furry gonk, the family photos, the plant in the isolated workstation, the cushions on the sofa, the carpets underfoot, hot food and drink at home, the choice of color on the walls, the hangings and the bedding. We adapt our environments routinely to make them comfortable and I believe the brain is little different.
So we tell ourselves self-comforting lies. If we’re rich and powerful we convince ourselves that poverty is not our problem, if we’re weak and afraid we convince ourselves that we are better than the person of different race or color, creed, gender or sexual orientation.
And the only way to get round this is to ask ourselves hard questions.The first of which always needs to be “do I believe this because it is true, because I have genuine evidence, knowledge that it is true, or do I believe this because – fundamentally – I want to.
The answers are not always easy to deal with. In the next instalment I’m going to share with you some of my questions and particularly some of my answers.
See you soon.
Prejudice. I could come out as gay, I could come out as transgender; why can’t I come out as an erotica writer?
I have wanted to write since my childhood. Fortuitously good at English, perhaps because my father was something of a stickler for it and because I seem to have inherited by far the larger part of his nature, I loved to read. And lonely, writers became my friends. Certain writers – Dickens, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Kipling, the naturalist Gerald Durrell, C S Forester and others – I could always trust. They would invite me, by no more than getting into print, to read their stories, and I would read them with awe, with gladness and with a sense that with people like these around the world could not be such a terrible place as it often seemed.
I learned a lot, without endeavouring to, experienced a lot of pleasure, travelled to exotic places I could never afford to visit and achieved the yet physically impossible by traveling in time.
They made me laugh, they made me cry, they made me think, and I loved them for it.
I wondered, as a young teen, if there would be any stories left to tell when I became an adult, but I wanted to become one of those friends of the world, one of those people who made a contribution, who made people cry, laugh and think.
Oddly, I first made them orgasm. Or helped them to.
Even as a child I loved females. Maybe it was because my mother remained when my father abandoned us, or maybe it was just because whatever programming makes us male kicked in pretty early. I know I was about 11 when I discovered (being already something of an artist) that a nicely rounded ‘w’ made a pretty effective female bottom, and so rapt was I with this discovery that I chalked them on endless paving stones in my then home town of Dewsbury, Yorkshire.
I didn’t know much else. Before I’d sufficient pubic hair to resemble a resting spider I once encountered a graffitoed penis drawn in remarkable detail. Oddly, thinking back, it was drawn recumbent, and I was then so ignorant of women that I presumed they were similarly equipped and was perplexed by the idea that congress between male and female must somehow involve the connection of two of these limp, flaccid tubes.
Nor can you much blame me, let’s face it. I encountered the drawing before I encountered girlie magazines, and at the time that the latter came into my life it was an offence to show pubic hair in images, so that the rare frontal nude was both bald and uncloven.
Instead photographers conspired to create images in which the female pudendum was hidden. Mirrors were popular, especially on dressing tables, for then the lovely arse could be shown directly and the breasts and face reflected. Clinging onto and otherwise hiding behind static objects was another ruse, the models often peering from behind them so that only the upper torso was visible. Bottoms, though, were the primary focus. I have not yet worked out for sure if it was that, or the lately remembered conceit (by my demented mother) that my granny had a bakery, which has led to my lifelong obsession with ‘buns’.
They remain a strong focus still, though my first forays and first discoveries of the oft brittle-haired quim have raised that at least as high as an object of adoration.
An unbeliever, for a long time and of firm conviction, it is the female body and in particular that which I can only call the female spirit which most strongly argues the possibility of God. There is nothing in the world more beautiful, more precious.
It pisses me off, now, that, having reached a certain age, I cannot freely express my appreciation of feminine beauty. I walk into the National Gallery or some such home of great ‘art’ and I look at the paintings with pleasure and awe. Yet what would I choose to rescue, should the place burst into flames? Not my favourite, beloved Turner, nor the sweet portrait of a girl by Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, but one of those beautiful visiting tourists. It is they who are truly irreplaceable, and worth more than the millions even the Turner would fetch.
So I grew to love women and to love writing, and I grew up and encountered sex, though, to be fair, it was not at first the most exciting sex you could imagine. Far from it.
And “Write what you know”, they said, and what did I know, by the time writing became a real option, but women and sex? And what, too, was there a market for, largely thanks to the internet?
So I began to write sex.
My views on human sexuality are not those of the majority, and certainly not those of the repressed and religious. I have genuine, profound beliefs, according to which I try to live, and some of those beliefs are disinclined towards traditional ideas and expectations.
So I began to write what I perceived as the truth. I chose the name R V Raiment, the ‘V Raiment’ making ‘vraiment’ or ‘truly’, and signed myself thereafter, in effect, as ‘Richard Truly’. Truth is of vast importance to me.
I don’t buy girlie magazines – haven’t since I was a teenager – and have never watched a striptease, a lapdance or a pornographic video. I don’t really read erotica either, unless it is to critique it, and that is because I need nothing more than my own imagination and, these days, I have a hard enough time even imagining any more. Whilst I am certainly not, the world sees me as largely ‘past it’, and I cannot live my truth. Nobody really wants it. Men continue to be men, and continue, too often, to make me ashamed of them, and women continue to seek husbands and providers, exclusivity and all the rest. It’s not my way. Not really. It’s not what I believe in.
So I write my beliefs and some people read them, and some people think they’re well written. Some people – not that anyone has actually complained – would find what I write ‘pornographic’, but that’s a point of view I’d strongly contradict. And I guess what I write can’t be so very pornographic, because if it was it would sell a lot better than it does.
So I have written erotica, for almost a decade. I have tried to warm peoples’ hearts and their loins, and sometimes I’ve succeeded and sometimes it’s been joyous, and I have always written with love and affection, for sex, for humanity and the world.
Odd, then, that as I point out in my title, I must, by and large, keep my writing a secret, must hide behind the anonymity of a pen name.
Were I gay I could say so, transgendered, transexual, transvestite or anything else, I could make it known among friends, colleagues and acquaintances and I could look for tolerance, regard, sympathy, even respect. Not so as a writer.
It is not as if I live, or have ever lived, in an area dominated by Christian or other fundamentalists. I live in a country famous for its liberality and its openness.
I had my first successes as a writer, quite coincidentally, not long after I had taken up employment in a primary school (4 to 11 year olds) as a Teaching Assistant. I worked closely with one female colleague, a broad-minded lady who made no secret of the fact that she quite admired my butt, and I shared with her the fact that I had been published – on line, as it happens – for the first time. She had another female colleague who caught on, expressed an interest and, having read one of my early stories, dismissed it as being “not raunchy enough for her tastes”.
Not very long afterwards I was summoned to the Head Teacher/Principal’s office and advised – in the most friendly and broad-minded manner – that I should be more careful in whom I confided. Someone had overheard. Two someones, in a matter of hours, had visited her deputy and raised a question as to whether ‘someone like me’ should be ‘allowed to work with children’. Someone like me, that is, who writes entirely about love and sex between adults for adults and who would never, ever, allow a child to see anything I wrote.
Necessity took me to a different part of the country and to a High School, with pupils aged 11 to 18 or so. I made no secret, initially, of what I wrote, but again made entirely sure that no student would ever be able to find my work and read it. It would not be appropriate.
In what I took to be a world of adults there was created a ‘book exchange’. Staff were to place in a box books they had read and enjoyed and to borrow from it books they had not yet read and enjoyed. Since this was supervised by the librarian I asked her if she thought it would be inappropriate for me to contribute one of my adult books to the box. She said yes, why not?
Within hours of my placing the book in its receptacle my manager was visited by a member of staff, the staff-room smutmeister, the fount of blue jokes and double entendres, who questioned whether my having placed the book there might have ‘unfortunate consequences’. Within a very short space of time the book simply disappeared.
It’s possible, of course, that someone took it and liked it so much that they kept it, but it is far more likely, I know, to have been abstracted from the box by someone who really did not like it and who decided that it should not be there. It has, I do not doubt, been censored, and by someone who had not the nerve – assuming they knew that I wrote it – to discuss their issue with me. I can only hope they burned it, for that is the next logical step and it would be in good company.
And whether it is my imagination or not, it seems to me that my relationships with female staff have become more guarded, on their part.
If I wrote murder mysteries, or horror fiction, if I wrote texts that were steeped in blood, gore and terror, I don’t imagine anyone would suspect me of considering them as murder victims or expect me to invade their lives with a chainsaw. But it seems that because I write about sex, I am dangerous.
Strange. An artist, and a man of considerable experience, there is very little about the female body that I do not know, and my facility for stripping a woman naked with my eyes accords with that knowledge, yet it is something I do not do – unless, as in advertising and certain movies, I am invited to. I have too much respect – far too much respect – and I am too much in awe of feminine beauty, find it too sacred, to do anything so crass and ugly.
I treasure, adore and worship the beauty, physical, intellectual and spiritual, of women, and am the least dangerous man any woman can meet. Yet my writing, it seems, makes me otherwise, forces me, in the main, to hide behind my pen name.
I find that sad.