Sunday, 29 April 2012

Won't somebody think of the rich, white children?

Today on Twitter I made a joke. Well, it wasn't really a joke, since it wasn't that funny. But it was said not-in-full-seriousness. What I said was "I saw a group of Hare Krishnas in town yesterday. They really shouldn't let white people who've 'found themselves' join. It's embarrassing".

Maybe I shouldn't have put it that way. Twitter's 140-character limit really can be a bitch. Had I had unlimited characters I would have added "...because the appropriation of deeply-held spiritual beliefs, the othering of the 'exotic' and the fetishisation of poverty that accompanies these gap-yah twits is embarrassing".

Anyway, people jumped down my throat because the State is putting surface-to-air missiles on the top of residential blocks in order to protect some stupid overblown international Sports Day that we didn't even want but thinking about that sounds hard and y'know, THINK OF THE RICH WHITE CHILDREN HERE, FOLKS! This is the real scandal.

So now I'm going to explain myself even further, in the hopes that some people will read this and realise that life really is too short to moan about how I portray some of, if not the most, privileged kids in society.

People who go on gap years (see caveat) are usually terribly dull, well-off children who decide that the best way for them to experience life before university is to go off to far-flung places and patronise foreigners for a while on their parents' dime. Sure, that's not true of all of them, but in a world where the price of an education is rising exponentially for each year you don't go, plus the ridiculous debt once you have, plus there being no fucking jobs, and when they are, they're either ridiculously intense so demand all your time, or don't provide enough hours so you're still living at home eating beans on toast, I would suggest that there's not that many people paying for their own 'spiritual experience'. 

And this is what really pisses me off. This is the crux of the matter. The idea that getting pissed and stoned on a beach in India is somehow totally different to doing it next to Filey Brig because it's 'totally spiritual, man'. When I hear things like that I give so much side-eye that I can see in to next week. Why is it more spiritual? Oh right, because you were surrounded by those 'mystical' 'exotic' foreigners with their deep, innate spirituality, instead of Karen from above the chippy. Can we see why I think this is bullshit? How about the idea that living on rice and beans for a dollar a day to be, like, in touch with the locals, is more 'spiritual' than someone who's living off ASDA smart-price noodles because they can't afford anything else? 

So bollocks to them, and bollocks to anyone that's going to be disingenuous enough to suggest that I'm propagating systems of discrimination by mentioning that 99.9% of these over-privileged younglings are white. I somehow doubt that one tweet from me is enough to buck the status quo and lead to them being arrested unfairly, denied jobs or housing, or being attacked in the street. But nice try, I bet you really feel you made a difference.

(caveat: VSO placements and the like are not, for this purpose, 'gap years')


  1. I got given a book from some Hare Krishna's a few years ago, turns out they're proper into the repression of women! Which is a shame, because it always used to cheer me up when I saw them bopping about in their funky orange robes. I assume that's why you never see any Haley or Henrietta Krishna's anyway.

    Not really a reply to what you were actually talking about, but there we go!

    I do know a fair few white buddhists, but their retreat is up in the lake districts, so they're not pretending that meditating in Asia is somehow more spiritual than it is in Cumbria!

    1. Yeah, I heard that. What you said about the retreat in the Lakes is totally what I mean - I'm not against people having a religion, living by it, celebrating it, etc. It's all fine by me as long as you're not trying to force it on others (take note, Nadine Dorries!).

      However, it's the pervasive and almost colonialist idea that brown people are these kind of 'noble savages' who are truly enlightened about spiritual matters as a result of living in crushing poverty and only those who can afford to pretend they're in the same situation can also be enlightened that I find distasteful.

      Some people do have religious enlightenment and change their whole lives as a result of seeing the way others live theirs, and that's great. But coming back to the UK and walking in to a job as a stockbroker that daddy got you (see video)...that's a lot more typical, and what I take issue with.

  2. My friends actually go travelling a lot, but I've never heard them use the word 'spiritual' in connection to it thank god!

    Don't really fancy it myself, think I'd feel a bit uncomfortable using poorer countries as a good place to get wrecked for cheap, like having a party at your friends house so you don't have to worry about the mess!

    Oh, and there are religious people in the East who are just as lax about their beliefs as religious people over here can be. This buddhist monk I knew was telling me about buddhists she'd met over there who were covered in bling! Now that's something I'd travel to see actually

    1. That reminds me of a story my old Hindu mate told me once about when he was at university in Sri Lanka.

      He lived with two Muslim guys and every time he went to the shop one of them asked him to pick him up some booze and to not tell the other guy about it. My friend would agree, only to be asked by the OTHER Muslim guy to pick him some booze and not tell the other guy about it.

      Not related to this post in the slightest, but there you go.

  3. I don't have much respect for faith tourism, especially when it takes the form or reducing an entire belief system to a piece of red string (I'm looking at you, kabbalah), but most of the time, I kind of take the stance of cheerful non-involvement. Perfectly happy for any of these groups to believe whatever they want, but if they try to stop me and talk to me about these beliefs in public, I'm not stopping. If they continue to try then they can fuck off. To be fair and consistennt I'll say that christians, buddhists, hindus and jews can fuck off the exact same distance. Scientologists can fuck off a little bit further than that.

  4. I'm already biased against the Hare Krishna crowd for all that pan handling they do, but to behonest, I can't blame a toff for heading off to a foreign country to smoke weed and patronise the locals. What 18 year old wouldn't turn down their opportunity to prolongue their adolescence for one more year, and get to feel smug whilst doing it?

    As for rich people going into spiritual poverty - dervishes or hermits, or whatever - If they do it for reals, all the power to them. But most of the time, its just an affectation that stems from teenage self-discovery. I myself went through a protracted, psuedo-buddhist phase in sixth-form, so I know how irritating it is to anyone even marginally more mature. Just be patient with them, they'll grow out of their self-importance eventually.

  5. Hari Krishnas robbed my mother's store. Or I should say, they came in and decided she couldn't sell these shirts she was selling because they all of a sudden owned the design and they took them all and told her she could sell them anymore. So ... well robbed I think is correct there.

  6. Reminds me of a great quote from Life of Pi:

    “I know a woman here in Toronto, who is very dear to my heart. She was my foster mother. I call her Auntieji and she likes that. She is Québécoise. Though she has lived in Toronto for over thirty years, her French-speaking mind still slips on occasion on the understanding of English. And so, when she first heard of Hare Krishnas, she didn’t hear right. She heard “Hairless Christians”, and this is what they were to her for many years. When I corrected her, I told her that in fact she was not so wrong; that Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”

  7. Saw so much of this when I was on holiday in SE Asia last year. The poor ducks were stunned to hear I had a job to get back to and was paying for the trip myself. And there was a fight every night in the hostel to get to a power point to charge your iphone/blackberry/android. There was very little roughing it going on.