Flash Fiction: I Am Your Father

“Oh hello. Good to see you again. Let me guess: Star Wars?”

“Yeah. Suppose.”

“Loads of people are talking about that one you like, the Cloud City scene. Like, you really feel you’re there, up in the clouds with the sun and everything. Are you going for the big duel, the one where Darth Vader says he’s your father?”

“I suppose.”

“You really love that one, don’t you? You’ve done it, like, eight times now?”

“Something like that.”

“They improve it every time, make it more real. Have you noticed?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I tell you a secret? The first time I fell down the chute, you know, the big jump, I actually barfed. For real. It felt like I was literally going to die.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you find it really hurt when he cut off your hand the first time? I think they changed that a bit, made it less intense.”

“Yeah.”

“What they can do now, eh?”

“What they can do now, yeah … Except…”

“Yes?”

“I don’t know. It’s true of everything in life, isn’t it? Nothing’s ever like the first time, is it? I know they keep improving and improving, but there’s something about that first time. Nothing after ever seems to …”

“Match up?”

“Maybe.”

“They say life’s like that.”

“Seems a bit unfair.”

“I know. Yeah.”

“But I suppose I’ll do it again.”

“There is one new thing though.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, I don’t know that it’s fully developed yet. I’m maybe not even supposed to talk about it, but you’re such a good customer and stuff…”

“What is it?”

“Well, long story short: they change the way the device interacts with your brain. It goes to different parts. Up to now, when you’re inside a simulation, you think it’s all happening in the moment. It does its thing and then you turn it off: back to reality. But now: it actually gives you new memories. You don’t forget anything, like back account details or anything important, but you get memories of things that happened before the simulation. They say it helps to make the experience even more real.”

“Really?”

“Well, so they tell me. I’ve never tried it myself. I’m actually more into the Jane Austen simulations.”

“That’s incredible.”

“Yeah.”

“What they can do: we’ll reach the point where we don’t know if anything is real.”

“Some say we’re there already.”

“Yeah.”

“So… What do you think?”

“I’ll try it.”

“Really?”

“I’ll spend all day thinking about it if I don’t.”

“Ok. If you just strap yourself into the chair. The way the helmet fits on is slightly different. Like I said, it goes to different parts. If you just sort of … Yeah. That’s it. Ready to rock and roll.”

“Ok.”

“Engaging … Now.”

“Oh my God. Are you ok? What’s wrong?”

“How … How long?”

“About seven seconds. Should I … Did it go wrong? Will I call for help?”

“No … No. It worked perfectly, just …”

“What?”

“He … He really loved us, you know. He really really did. He just had … Such trouble showing it.”

Advertisements

Welcome To Pebble Beach

Wherein the glorious Celtic hero Oisin, having eloped to the land of eternal youth with Niamh the Unbelievable, briefly returns home in order to retrieve his favourite toothbrush, whereupon he finds that all is changed, changed utterly …

We present our sleek, up to the minute, ineffably trendy new radio soap, showing off modern Ireland’s waxed and gleaming thighs to a relentlessly watching world. Yes Ladies and gentlemen, it’s ‘Pebble Beach.’

Scene: Vogue, our hot hotelier heroine, is relaxing early one morning with her boyfriend, airline pilot Rick McFlick.

Vogue: Fancy a law-tay darling?

Rick: Wha? Oh yeah, love a law-tay baby. God you make such great law-tays.

Vogue: Well I can’t claim all the credit, lovey puffs. It’s partly this incredibly expensive law-tay making machine from Italy, imported at great expense from, er, Italy. You see we can do things like that now in the economic titan that is new Ireland, now that we’ve recovered from, er, that thing we don’t talk about. It comes with four different types of cream.

Rick: Oooh darling. You’re almost as good at law-tay making as you are at lovemaking, and you don’t need a complicated machine to do that, apart, of course from your fabulously complicated body, and er, that machine we picked up in Amsterdam last year.

Vogue: Oh Rick, you’re such a sexy and eloquent airline pilot.

Rick: Thanks babe, and you’re brilliant at whatever it is you do as well.

[Phone rings.]

Vogue: Just a second hot cheeks. [Answers phone] Yes? What is it Fergus? Oh calm down. You know how difficult it is to understand your high pitched voice when you hyperventilate. Ok, ok don’t worry. I’ll be down in a minute.

Rick: What’s wrong?

Vogue: Oh, it’s just Fergus. He’s having a problem with someone in the hotel.

Rick: It’s great the way characters like Fergus are accepted in Ireland now, almost as if they’re just like us. I mean, obviously we still laugh at them, but sensitively.

Vogue: Yeah, he’s such a dote.

Rick: Darling, where exactly is Pebble Beach?

Vogue: It’s a state of the art tourism facility and convention centre located somewhere on one or other of the Irish coasts. It boasts 200 ultra-modern rooms, fully connected wifi, cooking which fuses traditional Irish themes with cuisine from the South Pacific, and there’s even free porn in the rooms if you pay 5 euro extra. Why?

Rick: Oh, no reason. Just trying to remember where I parked my Jumbo Jet. Anyway baby cakes [long and lurid smacking of the lips]. See you later.

Next scene: A busy hotel lobby.

Vogue: Well Fergus, what’s the worst?

Fergus: First off, the Filipino gardener says he’s going on strike if he doesn’t get that 30 cent a year pay rise.

Vogue: Tell him he can have an extra stick of Twix with his dinner. Next?

Fergus: We’ve managed to scrape most of the puke from the hen party off the ceiling. Fifteen of the ladies are still asleep in their own filth, three of them have run off with a fishing trawler and one of them thinks she’s a small village in the Kerry mountains. She keeps screaming that can she Mark Hamill taking a shower.

Vogue: All very normal. What’s the problem?

Fergus: That fella over there. Oh he’s doing my head in so he is. I swear to God Vogue, I’m about to have that long promised breakdown any second now.

Vogue: Sure calm your little gay head down peteen. Have an extra frothy law-tay or something. Who is it? That guy over there, with the white robe and the enormous white beard?

Fergus: Yah, I mean what? Does he think he’s in Eurovision or something? I mean: fashion tragedy. Lord of the Rings went out a century ago. I accused him of being a homophobe and he threatened to hit me with that giant walking stick.

Vogue: I’ll take care of it. Uh, hello sir, welcome to our state of the art, truly deeply modern Irish hospitality facility, symbolising all that is waxed, gleaming and not in any way sleazy about the modern Irish state. How may I help you?

Oisin [In a deep voice which rumbles with the vague sound of pipe music being played from the top of a distant mountain]: I seek the ancient heroes of this land. I seek to take my rightful ease in the halls of the great Finn Mac Cool. I wish to drink mead and eat roasted venison while bards sing of the deeds of great men such as, though not exclusively limited to, myself.

Vogue: Oh that’s very good. Are you with one of those historical recreation societies? That sounds like fun, even if all those people are a bit weird, but fun.

Oisin: What are these words? They are the mindless chirrup of birds. I left this land but ten minutes ago, in the arms of Niamh the Wondrous, Princess of Tir na Nog, but then I remembered I’d forgotten my toothbrush and favourite belt buckle, so back I came, only to find this … This abomination where my father’s halls used to be.

Vogue: Er, you aren’t German by any chance, are you?

Oisin: Mead! Hounds! I shall put this entire place to the sword.

Fergus: Told you. He’s a mentaller.

Oisin: You shall be first, earwig.

[Phone makes beeping sound.]

Vogue: Calm down Fergus. Sir, I’m sure we can sort all this out. Fergus, get that map, the one with, you know, all the historical places on it. Now. Oh no!

Fergus: What’s wrong?

Vogue: According to this unusually long text message I’ve just been sent, Rick McFlick is actually married to a TV presenter in leafy South Dublin. They have three point four kids and a Golden Retriever named Denis. Oh no, he’s been lying to me.

Fergus: Oh that’s horrible darling. How about a law-tay and a facial?

New voice: Vogue darling, hello. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see you after all these years.

Vogue: Fitzwilliam Sharkey, the merchant banker who stole my heart on a vodka and Pernod soaked evening just before the, eh, thing we don’t talk about. But you sent me a note telling me you were dead.

Sharkey: Not dead darling, merely away on important merchant banking related business. And if I may say so, I have become even more rich and you have become even more beautiful since last we met.

Vogue: Oh swoon! Fergus, put on a law-tay. Stat.

50 Shades of Tyler Blue

The story so far:

It was a surprise that made me go wow and have a weenchy bit of acid reflux when he showed up in the door of my humble antiques shop in his custom made Bugatti Buttlicker with built in Jacuzzis and ground to air missiles.

“Wow,” I said again.

“Hello again,” he said. “Sorry about the door of your shop. I can give you the money to get it repaired because I’m a fantastically wealthy young man.”

“Wow,” I said. “Yes you are.”

I hadn’t expected to see him so soon after I’d received a call to go and value his father’s antique collection of codpieces at one of his many mansions the day before.

All the time I’d been there I’d been goose bumpy conscious of him looking at me, making odd groaning noises while gnawing repeatedly on his knuckles.

“Are you all right?” I asked at one point.

“You are an extraordinarily attractive young woman,” he said at last, dabbing at his ear with a bleeding knuckle.

“Wow,” I said, “and you are a very very rich young man.”

“Yes I am,” he said, “a very very very rich and young man.”

I’d moved to Los Angeles to find myself, but hadn’t managed to do it there so instead moved to whatever city he lived in. Almost immediately, his intense wealth and strangely heavy breathing told me that Tyler Blue was a most intense and rich young man.

“What do you think of this one?” he said, handing me an enormous black leather codpiece, “touch it. Caress it. Don’t be afraid to explore it. You can even lick it if you want. I’m sure it’s been washed at least once since the Middle Ages.”

“Wow,” I said, “it’s really big, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is,” he said, “really, really big.”

On and on we went down his unusually long hallway, looking at codpieces. I told him I’d never seen so many in one place before. “Oh, there’s plenty more where they came from,” he said, waggling his eyebrows moodily before wincing in sudden pain from a bleeding knuckle.

At the very end of the hallway stood a cement mixer. “What’s that for?” I asked hungrily.

“It’s the most special thing in my entire collection,” he said, “apart from my fabulous wealth of course. It’s the cherry on top of a very kinky cake, the vigorous climax at the end of a special evening.”

“Wow,” I said. “What does it do?”

“Well, er, normally it mixes cement.”

“Wow. And anything else?”

His bleeding knuckles grew impressively sweaty. His musk of Lagerfeld and BO became utterly overpowering as he began breathing rapidly and moving his hand around his scrotum like a spacecraft orbiting a distant asteroid.

“Well, you just climb up there,” he started to say, “and…” Suddenly Tyler Blue turned Tyler Red with a furious blush. “It’s too soon,” he shrieked, “too soon. And I’ve just remembered there are 560 more chapters.” He rushed past me and disappeared into one of his seventy two bathrooms.

Minutes later, as he emerged with a tourniquet around his knuckles, I gave him my valuation of his codpiece collection. He frowned moodily, his lustrous pea green eyes looking broody.

“Not what you were hoping for?” I said.

“No, it’s just I could make more money selling one of my lamps.”

“Well, if they give you pleasure.”

Tyler Blue was Tyler Red again for a moment. He regained his impressive composure by sucking on an unbloodied knuckle. “And of course I don’t need the money,” he said, “as I clearly have wads and wads of it.”

“Wow. I can certainly see that.”

“Yes. You can. Can’t you?”

“How on earth did you make it all?” I asked.

“Oh,” he said, “it’s something to do with computers.”

“Yes,” I said. “I thought it might be something like that.”

“Yes,” he said.

“But I can’t help wondering have I been wasting my time here?”

“Oh no,” he said, “I’d love to have you for dinner sometime.”

“Wow,” I said, “why not now?”

“My carving equipment is being cleaned.”

“I see.”

“But I’m anxious to compensate you for your time.”

“Oh. There’s no need.”

“No really. I am, as you have pointed out several times now, a fabulously wealthy and young man. Money is no object. Here, have a lollipop. Think of me as you suck on it.”

I did. Several times.

So it was with a big ‘wow’ of surprise that I watched him crash through the door of my shop the next day. An armed guard and blood drenched Rottweiler stood guard by the Buttlicker while he rushed towards me.

He seized me by the arm. “Ow, I mean wow,” I said.

“There’s something you need to know about me,” he said, peering into the depths of my soul from inside his RayBans, breathing right down into my colon with breath that smelled like a furious mix of Karl Lagerfeld and petrol.

“Wow,” I attempted to breathe back, “is it that you’re fabulously wealthy?”

“No,” he breathed back, wheezing a little now, “it’s that my parents weren’t very nice to me.”

“Wow,” I said, “I thought it might be something like that.”

“How devastating and true your womanly insight is,” the petrol fumes were starting to make me dizzy.

“And the best thing is,” I managed just before I passed out, “it makes all our dark disturbed sexual stuff perfectly ok for middle aged matrons to read about, because you’re damaged.”

“And fantastically wealthy,” he reminded me.

“Wow. And fantastically wealthy,” I said, before going unconscious and hitting my head on the antique floor.

Poetry Week: After Tom Waits

What need have I of Christ

When I crucify myself each night

Under the billows of smoke

The lipstick ashtrays the putrid musk

Of table dancers and their gawping answers

Of mottled eye candy and its tender threat?

I’ll beard them with my friendly growl

All dust, bone and entrail.

I’ll bid them hear the lurch

Of my ravelled heart.

I sing with my liver

I pray out of mangled lips

My stage is my crucifix

My cancer is your cure.

I mock hell with my dead man’s laugh

It mocks me back with song.

Till I try anew with madness

Howling into wires a mangy dog of love

Making a name for the horrified rage

That each turn of the planet exhales

Sends creeping through space like sperm

In search of its gawping answer.

I hang on platforms

And half-real street corners

Never going anywhere

For everywhere is here.

Till it’s time to mount my cross again

And bleed raw bone to ether

My rasping whisper of love.

And from inside my nimbus

Of company, smoke and death,

I seem to dream a question:

Are you man enough for me?

Am I real enough for you?

 

Poetry Week: A Wasp

Here’s a much shorter one.

A Wasp

A wasp paused on a pebble

In the humid rage of a morning.

It had scouted the stone Sargasso,

Furious skimmed the taunting weeds.

It quartered the terrain,

Vibrating even at rest

A livid tiny vessel

An ever cocked torpedo.

Till it settled one calmer instant

Bloom and Dedalus like

To take its ease and spend

A tiny photon of time

On something it could never complete,

A glimmer perhaps of freedom

Release from the sensual flame.

But the habit of rage reconquered

In far less than an instant.

It went back to fury and questing

Forgot its quibble with God.

Poetry Week: A Galway Prayer

Yes, I’ve decided to have a poetry week here on Jasongill2015. Why? Why not? This isn’t particularly a poetry blog and I don’t really consider myself a poet. The poetic muse has always treated me very strangely. I remember rising from a bout of insomnia and spilling down two poems almost without thinking. Three years might have passed before I wrote another. So it goes.

This is the only poem I’ve ever been paid for. It also should have won me the only poetry slam I’ve ever competed in. Anxious as ever to ‘put on a show,’ I performed the poem in the style of John Cooper Clarke, thus preventing the poetry ‘expert’ who was judging the thing from realizing that it was actually an original poem.

Maybe the secret to success in life is figuring out just how much less is actually more. The poem is a tribute of sorts to the city of Galway in Ireland, a place unlike any other, even unlike itself, though you’ll probably have to read the poem to figure out what I mean. If you’re very bored, you could even try declaiming it like John Cooper Clarke. Go on, it’s fun.

A Prayer Of Galway

He lunged at human shape in a squall off the bay

A thing of grit and shale and envy. He became

Whole in the reek of wind and wet clay.

He ran gasping from the chemistry of doubt

And took his first flailing steps on the pummelled strand

Under that city no more real than he.

He patted and preened and checked himself out.

He kept his back to the fog that gave him form.

The wind pushed him east with fleshy promises;

He sought out his place in Galway myth.

 

Under the spasms of Eyre Square rain he wore

The malevolent stare of a wino,

His lank hair sodden, his ragged mouth cursing,

He denounced the world and other people’s money

In gap toothed broken sentences.

His loping gait frightened children

His balled fists made students clench.

He lunged from toilet to phone booth

Cursing the world’s shrinking store of pity.

He got his fists around a bottle

Its corrosive fire emboldened him

Before he lost it in a game of mental poker

And spoke of the hardness of men’s hearts

In gap toothed broken sentences.

Necessity and self-invention drove him to Shop Street,

His ancient checked suit, a relic of the Ford Capri age

Heavily pregnant with water, exhaled steam as a burst

Of wet sunlight illuminated the tourists and Antipodean girls.

Downtown Canberra trilled through Galway, its fruity voices

Raised in a chant of earthly delights.

He found a populous corner and unslung his scabbard,

His guitar looked like his suit, the first strums sounded crusty.

His face lost its wino redness, went pale like a holy picture,

His blotchy eyes were trendily hooded

As he gave them something classical.

Tired, curious Americans stopped and smiled,

Coins and notes began to drop.

Hassled students hefted their rucksacks through the

Wind and rain. And dreamed of joining the circus.

Bob Dylan and Classical Gas safely rendered

Into the roil of Galway air, he set his cap for Neacthains

A pot newly brimming with coinage.

In hardly and hour he was holding forth,

A scandalous tale of a writer he hardly knew,

A denunciation of other people’s money.

Shortly after six there entered a doe eyed curly girl

In whose mind he was a mythical colossus.

He locked eyes with her, he teased her,

You are so young, he said and thought,

So young, so young … what more can be said?

But she smiled back in a desperate ecstacy

And prayed to the gods of her bedroom.

As night fell in Dominick Street,

He donned the mantle of working class hero,

Denouncing other people’s money.

Round himself in a crusty bar he gathered

A cabal of paunchy, grey haired radicals,

Sixties bra twiddlers twirling their busty daughters

Through careers in Accountancy.

They talked of Marx and Castro, of JFK

And the great white plot. Of Stevie Wonder and John Denver.

The gravitas of their Guinness in the murky half-light

Gave weight to their sober dissertations,

As all agreed that Revolution and free love would follow

Once money was no more.

The night air held a sniff of music,

He excused himself from politics

And sat in on a session, dimly wondering if

The doe eyed girl would reappear,

If he should after all drink his fill of her youth.

Teenagers with full beards played and sang

Of Celtic heroes, of names in picture books.

He held a harangue with a cynical barman

And left whistling an aged tune past the

Lamplit dollhouse streets that flanked the Crane.

He beat a vague trail for the sea

Waiting for the moment when he, like

Cuchulainn, like Oisin, like Che Guevara and

Jim Morrison, would evaporate and become a

Thing of mist: only summoned back next morning

By the pitiless Galway wind.

And as he neared his nexus of dissipation,

He forced his shrinking eyes backward,

Saw the piers and tinkling arcades of Salthill,

The pylons, glass and Cathedral spire

Turn to mist and become no more

Till their summons back next morning

By the pitiless western wind.

Where The Real Lunatics Are

What constitutes true lunacy? Is it those garishly painted specimens baying with ever increasing desperation for your attention on Reality TV? Is it all those people who just try too hard? Look at me man, I’m mad I am.

Is it those people who run for high office while saying things like ‘I could shoot somebody dead in Times Square and still get elected. I so could man.’?

Experience, apparently, has shown us that some of those people weren’t nearly as mad as we thought they were. Many of them now have book deals, modest TV careers or, in at least one notable case, one of the highest offices in the world. Or maybe it’s simply that reality has decided to meet them halfway at least.

It’s my belief that much of what we think of as lunacy is actually a fairly manic and tragic lust for attention, like the former Irish Priest who dresses up as a leprechaun and smashes into runners competing in the Olympic Marathon: he just desperately, passionately wants people to notice him. Is he actually mad, or just starved of what he considers his rightful portion of notice?

For real lunatics, those souls who are quietly and utterly barking, you need to look elsewhere, and I think a good place to start is inside the very correct and buttoned down listenership of BBC Radio 4, the very hallmark of respectable broadcasting in the UK.

Now, aside from the apparently unavoidable checklist of traditional media prejudices, BBC 4 is a fine example of what a radio station should be. It is informative, not too pushy, and occasionally highly entertaining. Much of its programming has actually involved the application of some form of thought.

It generally eschews the tedious disease of the day marathons other stations cynically use to fill up their timeslots. There’s very little of the aimless, time filling wittering you hear from cerebral and charisma bypasses on other stations, whose lavish employers somehow imagine their insights are worth more than those of the average pub bore.

BBC 4’s fan base are a pretty unique bunch. They are almost heroically resistant to change in any form. Presenters often last well into their 90’s (nothing wrong with that, most presenters less than half their age on other stations are considerably less interesting), and the slightest attempt to change the format of the daily schedule has met with outrage.

The station’s schedule is a bit like an aural time capsule. It continues, for example, to have something called a ‘Woman’s Hour,’ when other stations, even in countries like Ireland, have given this up as a bit of an anachronism.

Because BBC 4 still manages to partly reflect the society it lives in in spite of the unchanging schedule, this can lead to some fairly surreal moments, such as an item on knitting circles being followed by a heated discussion on the attitude of feminists towards women who voluntarily make hard core pornography, but hey, it’s all part of the same wacky world.

The nature of the core audience means that response programmes – where they read out letters or emails from listeners – can throw up some pure gold. They once read out a letter which had been sent in response to an audio drama that had gone out on Radio 4.

The fictional drama had been set in the 1970’s, and in a diary entry, one character had mentioned watching an episode of Doctor Who on BBC TV on something like, say, Monday, August 10th 1974.

Not so, screamed the offended listener, there had been no episode of Doctor Who broadcast on August 10th 1974. There had been one broadcast two days later, but this was absolutely not on the date quoted by the programme. Why can’t you people get your facts right etc.

Towards the end of his life, the legendary DJ John Peel presented a show on Radio 4 which was sort of a collection of domestic odds and ends. It wasn’t about anything in particular, beyond the little quirks life could throw up now and again. Listeners were invited to write into John and engage in a sort of discussion about everyday strangeness.

One night, John heard from a man who, many years before, had bought a time punching machine for his toilet, the type of thing people used to clock in and out of factories with. You would have to punch the machine in order to gain entry to the toilet. Upon completing your business, you’d have to exit by punching out, thus ensuring there was a full and accurate record of how long everyone had spent in the toilet, the reels of punched tape stretched back for years and years.

Unfortunately, the listener told John, the time punching machine had recently stopped working, but he and the family still managed to enjoy a nostalgia sodden night poring through its many years of receipts. “Oh look, that must be when Aunt Maisie had that bowel condition years ago. Oh, what fun we had.”

People such as this are the rightful wearers of the laurel of madness. All those people shrieking at you on the telly or street are really nothing more than desperate wannabes.

Why The Great Drought Of Doubt?

A few years ago, I read an article by the American playwright, John Patrick Shanley, in which he bemoaned the death of true debate in the US. Specifically, said Shanley, people no longer talked to or tried to persuade each other, they instead spent their time shrieking at each other.

Shanley explained that this was part of the thinking behind his most famous play, ‘Doubt.’ In it, a Catholic priest in the States is accused of improper conduct towards a young boy. The battle lines are drawn almost immediately. The ‘did he or didn’t he’ tension is maintained through a series of masterful exchanges between the priest and the school principal, a nun, who has made it her business to be his prosecutor (there is of course a very good film version with Meryl Streep and the tragically missed Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Only at the end, with the conflict resolved to (almost) everyone’s satisfaction, does the school principal break down and confess to her young novice, “I have such doubt Sister.”

This, I think, is Shanley’s point, namely that there’s far too much conviction around the public sphere, and nowhere near enough doubt. Instead of public debate, we have a shrill marketplace of conflicting ideas, and showing the slightest doubt about any of your team’s notions is considered fatal.

When was the last time you heard a spokesman for some political party or NGO on radio or TV respond to a question with something like “well yeah. I’m not so sure about that. You might be right, but then again.”?

We have to negotiate our daily lives in such doubt. It’s an intrinsic part, perhaps the intrinsic part, of being human. In our daily lives, we have to at least pretend to be open to the views of others. If we didn’t, then carrying on any kind of functioning social existence would be impossible.

We’d become those weird little people, trapped in ever shrinking bubbles. We’d end up talking to ourselves an awful lot of the time.

Yet this is precisely what happens in the so called public sphere. Debate is no longer about the sharing of ideas, it’s about the shrill denunciation of each other’s identity. In such a toxic environment, actual ideas have long ago ceased to have any meaning, because ideas no longer have value in and of themselves.

People with ‘skin in the game’ tend to care a lot more than the rest of us about a particular issue. Thus, activists and people who get paid by NGOs tend to be much more likely to feature on media ‘debates’ about that issue. While this is perfectly natural, it also means that ‘debate’ tends to head rather quickly towards the emotional extremes.

An animal rights activist is much more likely than an occasional meat eater to end up shouting at a scientist in a radio studio. The activist is much more likely to get invited on a news show, because the more sharply defined the conflict, the better it is for media. It’s much sexier to see someone losing their s**t on live telly than it is to see someone pluck their chin and go “well, you could have a point, but on the other hand.”

The proliferation and ever mushrooming budgets of NGOs add greatly to the toxicity and basic untruth of public debate. Consider: we’ve known for decades that politicians and Government officials lie to us, or at least greatly distort the truth for reasons of policy. But the more NGOs evolve, the more they become exactly like political parties and bureaucracies.

Most NGOs now have a ‘party line,’ which their spokespersons get paid ever increasing amounts of money to promulgate. The basic purpose of that party line isn’t so much to solve the problem that led to the creation of the NGO in the first place, but rather to ensure that the NGO continues to get loads and loads of money from Governments and ordinary citizens. Somebody has to pay all those salaries, after all.

Just like Governments before them, NGOs will seek to keep certain facts back from the public if such facts might be seen to jeopardise those lines of funding. They will also seek to police debate around their special issue with bogus rules of political correctness.

One area where this influence has been especially toxic is in the debate about Europe’s response to the refugee crisis.

NGOs want more and more money to deal with the crisis. They also believe, for reasons of both conviction and convenience, that more and more refugees should be accepted by European countries. The question of whether the economies and social infrastructures of certain European countries are able to cope with the influx isn’t the NGO’s problem, it’s just there to lobby for more and more refugees and more and more funding for itself.

In the meantime, mainstream politicians are afraid to disagree with the NGO, for fear of being instantly branded as racists, so the political response to the NGO’s demands – not to mention to the original crisis – becomes inherently duplicitous and hypocritical.

Debate thus becomes a kind of shadow war instead of an honest attempt to devise an agreed response to a problem. Media organisations will constantly frame the issue as a debate between NGOs and Governments, only occasionally cutting to some frothing at the mouth peasant who doesn’t want any foreigners near his precious blade of grass, by way of balance, don’cha know, or traditional media’s idea of balance anyway.

In this, as in so many other issues – such as abortion, pornography, the clash between religions and secularism – any middle ground gets almost instantly squeezed out, as does any solution to the problem which doesn’t leave a sizeable number of people seething with resentment.

It’s partly human nature, partly laziness on the part of media organisations. It’s simply too much effort to go looking for someone who’s interested in the issue without being all that passionate, especially when you have all those highly paid employees of NGOs hanging around the studio.

Things aren’t likely to get better anytime soon. The growth of so called ‘identity politics’ is really about separate bunches of people shouting ‘death to everyone else’s ideas.’ In ‘identity politics,’ the mere voicing of an idea can amount to a hate crime, because a growing number of people now feel entitled, not to disagree, but to be personally wounded and insulted by your idea.

This might not be so bad if conflicting identities were allowed equal space on traditional media, but a la Animal Farm, some identities will always be regarded as more worthy of attention than other ones.

The idea of reason fleeing debate is at least as old as Swift. There was, perhaps, never all that much reason in debate to begin with, but the public sphere these days resembles nothing more than tribes of humans shrieking and flinging missiles at each other from across a microphone. Forget all that guff about bringing people together, there seems to be an awful lot more money in conflict.