Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.
Here is how I prepare the copy for this blog (believe it or not, I do think about what to say before writing it down! Sometimes, anyway.) When I read a story in the newspaper that catches my eye, or makes me think, I email a link to myself, to the gmail account I keep for such a scrapbook function. The inbox is a collection of links, and half-started pieces: paragraphs in search of a home.
This week I was going to write you a sarcastic piece about “man-slamming”, the latest aren’t-men-just-ghastly meme. A female New Yorker claimed that men are more likely to push her out the way in the street than are women; hence, the issue is genderised (“I am a woman and a man did a bad thing, so he did it because he’s a man”). Let’s have a go at describing our outrage about man-slamming. In a minute.
Imagine how you would feel, waiting for your murder to begin. Would they talk to you? Or look away, not catch your eye? Would you be capable of speech?
Is murder more wicked if you have to wait for it? Or does a sin reach a limit, beyond which there’s no space for yet more sin to be added? The arithmetic of murder is always subtraction.
Death is instantaneous. But what if someone said: “Tomorrow afternoon, I am going to kill you, in cold blood, and you will know it is happening.” Murder stories are often before-and-after narratives. The “it” usually occurs without anyone taking any particular notice, least of all the victim. Graham Greene’s characters’ deaths occur in emptiness, a white space at the end of the chapter. But some narratives insist upon the classical structure: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
You probably read about the “man-slamming” phenomenon, as I did, because newspapers picked up on the story and dispatched their own female correspondents to test the theory. In the Sunday Times, there was little evidence to support the gender abuse theory. Twice as many men pushed the London journalist, but more or less equal numbers of both genders had a shove at the Bristol and Birmingham correspondents.
I suppose it’s too late to point out that a blog, inviting its readers to add comments like “It happens to me too, and I’m also a woman”, isn’t exactly credible evidence of man’s supposed institutionalised hatred of women, even by sociology’s “standards”.
So I planned to tell you of my own slammed experiences, because men, too, are pushed out the way on the street. Here are my prime suspects: gangs of kids (gender irrelevant.) Heterosexual couples, happily entwined (gender neutral.) Users of motorised wheelchairs (gender irrelevant, again.) And of course, commuters checking vital email messages on their endlessly bleeping ego-devices.
Should I, extrapolating from these experiences, postulate theories about the wickedness of children? The selfishness of courting couples? The arrogance of those who cannot use their legs? It would be preposterous to do so. Preposterous.
Man-slamming is real, but it’s not a genderised activity. There’s just more rudeness about than there used to be (said the middle-aged man: discuss.)
Graham Greene again, because I’m thinking about death. Remember Pinkie in Brighton Rock, quoting some famous theologian? “Betwixt the stirrup and the ground / Mercy I asked, mercy I found.” Perhaps. Is there always enough time to ask for forgiveness? Or time enough to grant it?
In my scrapbook-inbox, two stories were stacked against one another. One, the link to the man-slamming phenomenon. Underneath it, grotesquely, a link to a story from the previous week: “Militants throw gay men to death from building”. (The Times appears to have removed this story from their website – it’s covered, here, in the Independent.)
The image of this murder won’t leave my head. Two men are lifting a third to the edge of the building. In a very few seconds, they will drop him to his death. Another newspaper showed a photograph of the victim in mid-air: this murder had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Before he died – before this man was slammed into the ground – he knew what was happening to him.
I chose a pun for my title this week: a futile attempt to smooth away the horror of that man’s death. My eyes don’t want to look. They feel safer with Graham Green’s white spaces. But our real title is “Decline and Fall.”
Can we fall much further? Surely: yes. Should we, perhaps, set aside the less important issues of the time, and instead have a conversation about how to stop the real obscenities of this world?
I shouldn’t think we will (and I’m guilty, too; there’s no finger-pointing here.) But a refusal to focus on what matters must partly explain why we’re declining; why that man – last week, it wasn’t anyone we know; not yet – was falling. Man-slammed to death.