Pleasure and pain

This post is dedicated to One month before heartbreak.

As I was reading a blog post at Diary of a benefit scrounger just now I realised that I had forgotten to mention a very important point in my last two posts. The tabloids specialise in denouncing people for having fun while claiming benefits. I am sure you have seen stories in the past of people exposed for claiming benefits while being well. Tabloid journalists take a malicious glee in this sort of story. Neighbours report neighbours for trivial matters.

Those stories cause disabled people to live in fear. Fear that if they do anything seen as enjoyable, anything that pushes their limits at all, they will be denounced. They fear having their benefits taken away on the say-so of a benefit investigator with no medical qualifications and a report from a neighbour that knows nothing except that they claim DLA.

“So what.” you might say. “They shouldn’t have been claiming. They had it coming.”

Wrong. Nearly every time, absolutely wrong. DLA is incredibly hard to claim. The forms, the evidence required, the medical examinations by unqualified people with targets that aren’t in your favour, the stress in getting through multiple rejections to the appeal mean that just 0.5% of people receiving DLA do so fraudulently. Benefit fraud does happen, no one can deny that, but the amount of fraud is so tiny that you are unlikely ever to see it if it were not for the tabloids.

But does receiving DLA mean that someone should never have fun again? Of course not! For most of these people, enjoyment comes at a cost. A cost that you will never see. So do most of the household tasks that they might manage, so does going to work, for those that manage it. Every activity undertake by a chronically sick person results in a penalty from their health later. Going out for dinner costs health. Taking a bus costs health. Playing with kids costs health. Laughing with friends costs health. Going to college costs health. Going to work costs health. The thing is, those things are a persons own choice. Not yours. Not the benefits investigators. Not the nosy neighbours.

Take my sister as an example. She has ME, like I do. She came to visit us after Christmas, and she did so at great cost. Taking the train, staying away from home and spending time around people with little respite caused a great deal of harm to her health. She knew that it would take days to recover. But that was her choice to make.

So next time you see someone doing something that you think they shouldn’t, don’t make any assumptions. And when you or those around you become sick and have to make such horrible choices between enjoyment and health, you had better hope that others grant you the same courtesy.

Nothing to hide? I pity you.

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

If there is anything that you need to fear, then that famous statement is it. Everyone has something to hide. For a start, people want to hide financial and security information. Their bank balance, salary and passwords. People want to hide embarrasing things about themselves, such as personality traits, sexual preferences (and not just gay or straight) and their body. People want to hide little habits that are perfectly innocuous but make sense only to themselves. People want to hide their hidden insecurities, their weaknesses and their flaws. People want to hide secrets that have been told to them in confidence. How often have you asked someone “Can you keep a secret?”

People want to hide things just because it’s none of anyone else’s business.

Think about passing through an airport. The security guard picks you to search. How do you feel as he goes through your bag? As he touches your toiletries, handles your underwear, looks through the book you are reading. Do you feel happy? Comfortable? Or, more likely, slightly embarrassed and resigned to it happening? Worse, you might be selected for a pat-down, or if you’re in America and really unlucky, one of the new TSA open-handed pat-downs.

The truth is, we have everything to hide. Take the aftermath of the case of Paul Chambers and his famous tweet about an airport. Now that it has been found ‘menacing’ by a judge, I catch myself thinking every time I write anything, could this be misinterpreted? Could some bureaucrat see this and decide to question me on it? My friends and I have little joke conversations about taking over the world. About blowing things up. About getting revenge of some kind. And that’s all they are. Jokes. But now there is the risk that I will have to explain those conversations to some government official that just doesn’t get it. It’s not their fault, their mind is just not on the same wavelength as me and my friends, but the result could be that they decide we really are planning to install an evil overlord with a white fluffy cat and sharks with frikken laser beams and hold the world to ransom until they promise to stop being stupid. And that, I really don’t want to have to explain to the police. (Clever me, putting all this on a blog post, eh?)

The famous “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is insidious. It opens the way for gentle intrusions in to our privacy in the name of protecting us from the bad people. But it leaves us at the top of a treacherous slope and the climb back is not easy. Once we give away our right to privacy we live in a different world, once every bit as bad as any totalitarian state that you might have read about or seen in films.

Christian AND Goth?

Today a friend asked me for any help I could give for someone that was worried about their son becoming a goth. As a Christian with a lot of goth friends, and, dare I say it, a bit of goth in my past, I tried to gather some thoughts on the subject. This is what I wrote. It might be total drivel, it might not. What do you think?

I would have thought that any fears about goths are divided in to a few different categories.

  • Goths will stop a person being a christian
  • Being a goth will involve hedonistic behaviour
  • Goths are satanists

To be quite honest, there are very few christian goths, but goths will respect someone for being a christian. They won’t usually ridicule anyone for it. Many of them will be Wiccans but those will not attack someone for having a different religion. Exposure to other beliefs might affect a christian, but it is my opinion that you have to go in to the real world at some point, and your faith will stand up to it if it is strong enough. If it is not, then it doesn’t matter where you are exposed to other views.

Some goths do get drunk a lot, but I don’t think more so than many other groups of people. Many goths also drink less alcohol than average. It’s usually about the atmosphere, the socialising, the common interest in the genre of music, and the identification with others.

Most goths are not satanists! Quite a lot think it’s funny to make devil horn signs, and like bands which allude to satan in their name, but it’s nearly all a veneer of bravado. Whether this is harmful or not I couldn’t say.

Quite honestly, my advice is not to worry. The outcome of this persons faith depends on what has shaped them in the past, not what is to come. Their behaviour, tastes, and drinking habbits might change, but they could equally change with any other peer group. I have always been of the opinion that my christianity has more impact on my goth friends than their spirituality might have had on me.