When I was a teenager I remember my father as a difficult man with frustratingly retrograde opinions, which were typical of men of his nationality (British) and his generation (born just before WW2). He was a typesetter, a classic tradesman’s job from the post-war years, and he had the kind of views on race, gender, sexuality and social issues that you might expect of a man of this background and this age. He could say shocking things about non-white people, about women, or about any man who had not followed the same straight and narrow path from school to work that he had done. But his views were mellowed by his love of reading, and by a vague sense of groundedness about how the world actually worked. So for example he would say racist things about Aboriginal people, while also recognizing that they had been treated poorly by white colonizers; he could recognize the basic humanity of non-white people while believing basically that the races shouldn’t mix, and that his race (in particular the “English”) was superior. In my memory of my teenage years, he could say bad things but race issues were not always at the forefront of his mind. If welfare fraud or racial stereotypes or “young people today” came up in conversation he would be difficult, but somehow he still seemed to be navigating the world as it was, despite his limited education and because of his love of reading. My father introduced me to a lot of terrible ideas about Aborigines and women, but he also introduced me to National Geographic magazines, liberal views on sex work and drugs, Erich von Danniken[1] and archaeology more generally, and he always supported my interest in science, geography and reading.

When I was 17 my father lost his job and left me behind in rural Australia to return to the UK, where presumably he thought he might still be able to find work. Sadly a fifty-something typesetter in the late 1980s had no chance of finding new work, since his job had basically been automated away in the space of five years of rapid computer growth, so he ended up living on benefits in a trailer park in Devon. And over the years since he returned to the UK he went from being the infuriatingly backward but still-reachable uneducated man of my childhood to an out-and-out bigot, hating anyone and everyone who was different to him, full of bile and rage at the world and terrified of all the possibilities in it. He went from someone who worked alongside Indian and Caribbean men in industry to a scared old man who refused to visit London because it had “too many foreigners”; from a man who recommended Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to an ignorant climate change denialist; from a migrant in Australia to a man who hated all migrants and believed there were millions of “illegal asylum seekers” living in the UK; from a proud working man to a benefit fraudster who sat in the mobile home he was illegally buying with government rental support complaining about European benefit fraudsters coming to the UK to “abuse our generosity”; from a man who took pride in his nation’s role in resisting the Nazis, to a believer in every sinister lie he heard about Jews, gypsies, communists and gays. Over 30 sad years he became the Racist Uncle from central casting, terrified of the world and angry at everyone who was not an old, bitter man like him.

It was not just my father either: everyone else in my own and the older generations in my family became the same over those 30 years. Before I returned from a brief period working in the UK to Japan, I remember sitting in my grandmother’s living room while she told me that “them black people will get what’s coming to them when Cameron’s elected”, and my uncle warned me “don’t argue with me, sunshine” while he spat bile and invective over the EU – while he was resting in the UK in between work placements in the Europe. Of the four men in my generation or above who I still know alive and living in the UK, two of them had their best career opportunities in Europe, and one of those got his first wife there.  Yet there they sat, hurling hatred and scorn at everyone connected with the European project, at black people, foreigners, young women – anyone who wasn’t like them.

This kind of hateful bile was a constant of my visits to my family in south west England, Brexit country. But there was one other constant every time I went down there: on every tea table, or clipped and stuck to the wall, or in the recycling bin (that they hated), or left scattered around to finish the crosswords: The Daily Mail. And from every bitter, pinched and angry mouth: “The news tells me that the gypsies are now …” “Which news?” “The Daily Mail!” Every opinion, every vicious and vengeful bit of hate speech, every tenuous or blatantly untrue “fact” they used to justify every one of their horrible, scornful opinions was dragged straight from the lying, filthy pages of that lying, filthy rag. Every day it headlined with some story about gypsies or travelers stealing land; or about hordes of “unregistered asylum seekers” who were getting free homes and cars and money while good deserving white people lived in the streets; or about how homeless white people were filthy pigs who brought it on themselves. Every day they bought it and read it and consumed its unfiltered hatred, mainlining discrimination and scorn to the point that my father, disabled by polio at the age of 5, would place his free disability parking sticker on the window of his car while ranting about some article from the Daily Mail and sneering at all these stupid young people who demand their human rights be respected. This man, whose entire twilit years were coddled by disability pensions and free healthcare and physiotherapy and special support for his disability, would mouth that phrase “their human rights” with such bitter rage that you would think he was talking about satan’s ballbag itself. But he wasn’t, he was speaking about himself, spurting out self-hatred and bitterness that he had been mainlining for 30 years from that disgusting, stupid rag, the Daily Mail.

So it was with a sense of profound disappointment that I read this morning in the Guardian that Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail for 26 of those 30 years that it was slowly turning my father from a normal human being to a rage-infested muppet, has received a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Editors, presented to him by the Editor of that other esteemed vessel of white men’s hate, the Daily Telegraph.

Some achievement. The newspaper most famous for its support of Oswald Mosley and Hitler turned into the delivery device for weaponized hatred, straight into the minds of uneducated men like my father who didn’t know better. By the time Dacre’s tenure was over he had managed to get UKIP national support, and bring on the Brexit he longed for that will destroy the economic security the Mail‘s own readers crave. This newspaper turned a nation of mild-mannered, stoic shopkeepers into a nation of rabid xenophobes and bilious haters, intent on kicking out anyone who was different in any way, or just plain kicking them if they couldn’t kick them out. Even on the Iraq war, the one thing the newspaper ever got right, it only opposed the war because it wanted to pull up the drawbridge and leave the rest of the world to burn, confident in the idea that Britain doesn’t need anyone and that any kind of social connection or sharing is weak, wrong and bad for the English. This newspaper poisoned the minds of a generation, so that it could get Britain out of Europe and damn the working people of Britain to a generation of peonage in service to its rich owner and his rich friends.

The Daily Mail did this by combining a tight writing style that perfectly appealed to the poorly-educated men and women of the war generation and the baby boom, appealing to their worst instincts and their colonialist nostalgic, and boosting that nascent racism and nostalgia into inflamed hatred and terror of any change. There is no policy the Daily Mail has supported in the past 30 years that was intended to benefit the lives of ordinary working or middle-class Britons, and the editor and his rich buddies knew that, so they coated every dodgy policy they pushed in the sweet and intoxicating icing of racism, hatred, and self-aggrandizing scorn. They pushed and amplified that scorn and racism, and used it to wrap every new and discriminatory policy they could, as they pushed Britain towards plutocracy. The final poison pill they tricked the elderly population of Britain into swallowing was Brexit, the bitter medicine that will strangle their grandchildrens’ futures. And the visionary who conceived of this horrible 30 year con receives a medal for his efforts.

In the future our grandchildren will look back on these 30 years as the last chance humanity had to change its direction. They will see that even as the planet went onto the boil, and inequality consumed the social order we had been building, a small gang of thieving plutocrats seized the media and politics and used their power to make sure no meaningful action was taken to turn society onto a different, better course. They will see how the many possible future pathways we could have taken to a better world were blocked off one by by these rich gangsters, until at the end of that 30 years we were left with a very small number of possible pathways to follow that would not end in civilization collapse and ruin. And then they will note that the people who spent 30 years heading off every road to a better future were given a prize for their efforts. Paul Dacre may be able to take that prize to his gold-plated grave, but the children of the future won’t deem him worthy of anything except scorn and ridicule. The same will apply to all those other titans of industry and media masters who brought us to this ruinous pass: all the newspaper editors who supported the Iraq war and unleashed Isis on a middle east already struggling under inequality and climate change; Rupert Murdoch, who unleashed Fox news on America and turned it from hope to hatred; Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens and all the other idiot centrist both-siders who twiddled while their nation slouched into nihilistic fascism, and put nazis and climate change denialists on the precious space of their editorial pages because they felt that “ideological balance” was more important than basic decency or a future for their children. All these people will be remembered as enemies not just of the people they were supposed to serve, but of human civilization. Remember the day this man got this prize, and the people who gave it to him. Some day there will have to be an accounting for the great evil being done in this time by our parents’ generation, and it might as well start with this man, who poisoned my parents minds against their own childrens’ futures, and turned a generation of hard-working, decent people into terrified haters. He will get away with what he did, but history will reward him with infamy.

fn1: I am not a believer!


Friday’s Guardian editorial featured a spit-flecked rant against internet pornography, starting and finishing with a demand to ban all of it. At the same time, the Daily Mail was putting up a strident demand for more efforts to police child porn. These articles are both profoundly wrong on facts and science, and breath-takingly hypocritical, not to mention steeped in conservative morality.

These articles are inaccurate in both their description of the content of internet pornography (and pornography generally), and the science of its effects. In its first incarnation, the Guardian editorial claimed that all internet pornography was abusive and violent, a claim it updated within hours on the same day to reduce the focus of the article to “violent pornography.” Internet pornography covers a very, very wide gamut and is not necessarily violent or abusive at all, and characterizing it as such is ignorant at best, misleading at worst. The Daily Mail claimed that

Experts say Google can combat abuse by paedophiles by simply popping up messages when users type in search terms such as ‘teen sex’ or ‘barely legal’, warning them that they may be about to access illegal material.

There is almost zero chance of finding kiddy porn by those search terms, just a huge number of sites with young adults pretending to be teenagers, and any “expert” who thinks targeting these search terms is going to stop child porn is a fool. I note that the Daily Mail doesn’t bother identifying these so-called “experts.”

These opinion pieces are even more misleading and disingenuous when they talk about the science of porn’s supposed effects. The Guardian provides a range of links to its claim that the science is under dispute and there may be good effects to porn, but is strangely lacking links to any evidence when it makes the ludicrous claim that

there is strong evidence that at the very least it is addictive, can normalise violence, and at the same time diminishes sympathy for its victims

The Daily Mail at least tries to give some science, when it cites a British scientist and says

He pointed to a British study from 2007, which found a ‘substantial minority’ of those who watch child porn go on to attack children.

David Middleton, of De Montfort University, analysed 213 online offenders and 191 paedophiles who had physically abused children.

‘The majority of people [who watch child porn] don’t appear to escalate their behaviour. But a substantial minority do,’ Professor Middleton said.

‘Various studies have looked at this and put it somewhere between one in six and one in ten.

The problem with drawing the conclusion in the first line from the findings of this study is that it runs afoul of Bayes’s theorem. Unless the prevalence of child abuse is very high, the probability of abusing children after watching child porn is much, much lower than the one in six found in the study of child abusers, and the link can’t be properly described until we know how many people view child porn – a figure that is never going to be known, despite the best efforts of the Daily Mail to suggest that watching “barely legal” videos is somehow the same thing.

The big problem with claims that internet porn or child porn desensitize criminals to their victims or encourage crime is that we don’t know the causal order. We know that Mark Bridger had a violent rape scene from a slasher film on loop the night before he went and abducted April Jones. But was this the cause, or the symptom, of his violent disorder? This is a thorny scientific question, and one that will be very hard to answer because of the difficulty of collecting data (and the woeful state of scientific research).

The thing about these articles that really flabbergasts me though, and makes me angry, is their rank hypocrisy. They complain that internet porn is a big business and people have vested interests against stopping it, and that this needs to be fought, but on the morning that I read the Guardian article the newspaper was saturated with adverts for a Thai dating website that featured an upskirt shot of a barely legal Thai girl in pigtails and semi school uniform. What’s that trying to tell readers about the content of the women on that site? And isn’t the Guardian a strong anti-trafficking campaigner? What’s the subtext of Thai dating websites in the UK, if not trafficking? So the Guardian can demand action against internet porn on moral grounds, at the same time as it is broadcasting adverts with barely legal girls showing their crotch? Meanwhile, read any article on the Daily Mail website and you will see the disgustingly named “Femail” sidebar, that contains links to hundreds of articles salivating over young women’s bodies. Yesterday when I read the article on child porn there was a link to an article about a barely legal starlet which started with the words “no daddy’s girl anymore!” And isn’t this the newspaper that, more than any other, reduced the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister to an arse? A crime that all the British media participated in.

The Daily Mail has a heavy investment in salivating over barely dressed women, putting up pictures of wardrobe malfunctions (i.e. upskirts and nipple shots), and reducing “it” girls to a collection of body parts. This is the moral equivalent of porn, just dressed up enough to escape the moral outrage associated with page 3 girls. Make no mistake: the Daily Mail is up to its eyeballs in fetishization of “barely legal” girls; and if the Guardian want to protect “vulnerable women” by banning things, they can start with the advertising on their own website.

It’s also not clear what the Daily Mail hopes to gain by hounding google about child porn, which is already highly illegal and hard to get. The implication of the article is that there is lots of child porn out there, just a google search away. I think the only such “child porn” that anyone will find is actually legal pictures of legal age women pretending to be 16. Is that what the Daily Mail wants to ban? And why can’t they say so?

The reality is that we have no evidence that porn is addictive, desensitizing or dangerous, and porn has been around a lot longer than the internet. There are strong reasons to be uncomfortable with the messages that modern children are getting from online porn, and to think that child porn is linked to child abuse, but the causal nature of these links is far from established. Also, let’s look at some things that are absent from the discussion of children’s safety and causative agents in these articles: there is no mention anywhere of parental supervision, of educating children about sexuality (rather than just sex education), or of ways of “protecting” children other than by banning porn. There is also no mention, anywhere, of the fact that Mark Bridger – who killed April Jones horribly and probably sexually abused her – had spent years working in abbatoirs, killing and dismembering animals. The evidence that cruelty to animals is linked with cruelty to adult women is just as strong as the evidence on child porn (i.e. weak and subject to huge assumptions) and banning abbatoirs is very easy to do. Why are we hearing no calls for this? Or at least, for careful monitoring of and intervention in abbatoir workers? Could it be, to quote the Guardian article, because the meat industry “is a global business” and one that the Guardian supports? Would that be hypocrisy?

Like attacks on sex workers, calls to ban porn are one of the easiest and most successful moral scares for small-minded people to drum up. But they aren’t going to protect women and children, and certainly are going to be of very limited effect compared to the huge benefits to be derived from careful police work tracing and capturing child pornographers. Furthermore, there is almost no link between the mainstream porn industry and child porn, and targeting the former is simply going to divert resources from the latter. The British tabloid media are eager to show that they are strongly against child porn – so long as you don’t look too closely at the barely legal smut they’re peddling in their sidebars. Are these articles a distraction from the real issues in media representation of women? I’m sure they wouldn’t like you to ask …