Tuesday 25 June 2019

Knit this

It’s fantastic that the worlds biggest knitting and crotchet online group Ravelry has come out clearly stating they won’t allow political commentary on their website supporting American President Trump. I’ve been an inactive member of the group for many years only going there occasionally to buy knitting patterns. I’d been unaware of the simmering tensions until things went viral a couple of days ago.

The statement of their revised policy and removal of a number of disruptive members who were breaking the policy created a huge surge of feedback in many online forums. The disruption even captured the attention of many mainstream news media, like the Guardian, where it was reported.

The Ravelry discussion unfolded with the usual predictable polarisation between right and left, democrat and liberal, conservatives and progressives. A few hundred years ago the group that felt (or was being) persecuted could get on a sailing ship and head over to the new world, kick the natives out and begin to set up their own version of utopia. But theres no elsewhere on the planet left to go to in the 21stC and now we have to learn to live with each other without starting a revolution and shooting all the people we disagree with. Can we do it?.....uhhh-ohhh…is that the sound of knitting needles and crotchet hooks being ground into sharp pointed spears…?

There is little point in gnashing the teefs, slapping yourself on the head and crying “woe is me, why are you turning my knitting hobby into a political forum?!!” The first political act we all do is to be born. It amuses me how anxious moderators everywhere think they can keep politics out of their friendly little circles. They quake in fear that an outbreak of political discussion will destroy their happy crafting idylls. And it is a well founded fear, many forums have crashed and burned when the flinging of incendiaries got out of hand.

Making the pretence that you or your group is not political and that you are somehow entitled to take the virtuous position of “neutrality” in refusing to state a political position is both arrogant and privileged. If you are genuinely uncertain of what your position is then, listen, learn, educate yourself and work out what you think. No such thing as a little bit pregnant.

People who say that they aren’t political are likely living in the comfortable cocoon of middle class income, white skinned, sexually normative, adequately educated, able bodied world of the Star Bellied Sneetches. They can hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil because in their lives they don’t have to take a step in the shoes of minority groups, BIPOC or the disabled.

It is uncomfortable to take a position and tell people what it is. Especially if you are part of the group that is being criticised and disparaged. I recently had the bizarre experience myself of being dismissed as a troll, a Trump supporter, a racist privileged white woman and white supremacist. For several days I went through the bewildering experience of having people I’ve never met or had only the slightest contact with through the internet make assumptions about who I am and what I stand for because I disagreed with someones assertion that naming a sewing pattern a kimono is an unacceptable cultural appropriation. Not a one those people bothered to read what I wrote and make a comment or make any other reflection on why they thought I was wrong.

These issues – racism, hate speech, denigrating people on the grounds of their sexual identity, et al - have to be bought into the open and discussed. People should be allowed to say what they think and why. Personal abuse should never be tolerated in these debates. That is simply expressing rage and frustration and not furthering understanding. Sometimes people need to have the humility to admit they don’t wholly understand all the issues and that some views they hold need to be more closely examined.

Regrettably the outcome of trying to instigate a public discussion platform almost always means people will be polarised and retreat to groups of same minded people to avoid the unpleasantness of confrontations. I’ve just experienced this myself in the last few weeks when I tried to have an open discussion with people advocating a point of view and had the door firmly slammed in my face….the door slammers still have a conviction that I’m a privileged white supremacist. My view is based on knowing what a credible "cultural appropriation" issue is, nothing to do with racist attitudes towards Japanese. All the many hours I spent researching, educating myself and trying to present a reasoned point of view have been totally ignored and dismissed.

I wish I knew what the solution was to keep the debates open and to keep people discussing with minimal rancour.

I’m not a person who follows institutional religion but remain deeply influenced by the Buddhist philosophy that I was attracted to investigate when I was younger. All my life I’ve read a lot of sociology about art, gender, politics and race and my favourite writer about spirituality is the Korean Buddhist monk Thich Nat Thanh. I spend time every day contemplating and acting to live my life with the smallest environmental footprint I can practically effect and doing the least harm I can to other beings.

I’m no saint! I still drink too much, eat meat at least half the week and have a truly gutter sense of humour that won’t give up on believing that fart jokes are clever and hilarious….At least once a month I get really drunk, stay up to 3am in the morning by myself playing loud rap music on youtube and google all my old boyfriends from forty years ago to cyber stalk them. I am flawed. Just like we all are. 

But what I am proud of, and admire in other people, is caring enough to listen to others and trying not to kid myself too much that everything I believe must be good and right. The one certainty I do have is that whatever activity leads to expansiveness, inclusiveness, diversity, compassion and comes from a place of LOVE is probably a good thing to be propagating.

For those readers who wish I'd just talk about my art and sewing here's some beaded earrings I made a few days ago.

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