The subtle horror of keep calm and carry on.

KEEP calm and carry on.
Keep CALM and carry on.
Keep calm and CARRY ON.
To some, this phrase summons up imagery of a valiant Britain facing up against an insidious enemy threatening the entire world.
We took a stand, battling fascists, who we knew were the bad guys, without feeling the need to say that there were “good and bad guys on both sides”.
It didn’t matter if there were good people on both sides, those supporting the Nazi aims for whatever reason carried out their atrocities.
Those who stood aside, profiteering off the war when they could have fought, also shared culpability in their disgusting legacy.
They put millions of human beings into camps hoping to purify the human race for those they deemed to be “superior humans.”
Nations united and battled in air, sea and land, with the entire world’s value of common decency at stake. The sort of common decency that declares a child, who has no say in the location of their birth, deserved a certain quality of life based on the commonalities we all share.
These commonalities are far too many to list.
I’ll try however, for any with doubt, by focusing on the incredible range of sensations that can be felt through shared emotional infrastructure:
  • The visceral rush of seizing opportunity and getting ahead of the competitors
  • The excruciating embarrassment of being made fun of by a group of people that you really thought were true friends.
  • The intense passion of the flames of new love and enduring joy of true love.
  • The deepest pits of grief on losing someone who was the reason you thought you would be your constant companion for decades to come.
  • The awe inspiring view of where an incredible mountain landscape meets the sea.
  • The crippling loneliness of those who have developed such a low sense of self that they no longer see any investment in themselves worth making, and no hope in their future.
  • The joy of looking upon your new born child for the very first time.
  • The crippling despair when confronted by a horrific truth that tells you something is deeply wrong with the world.
  • The rush of adrenaline felt skiing down a death defying valley or conquering a wild sea on a yacht.
  • The jaw dropping wonder of having your cultural expectations overwhelmed when running with the bulls.
  • The indescribable sadness of losing your child before their time.
  • The pride of seeing your adult kids surpass your wildest dreams for them.
No matter who you are, what’s in your bank account, where you are from or what medical history you have, (with some exceptions) there is an almost universal shared emotional potentiality. Every human being, by virtue of this same physiological technology, deserves a certain quality of life.
Our understanding of emotional processes has evolved so far beyond our ancient civilizations.
In their nascent scientific abilities, they thought that thunder was the anger of the gods, and the experiential internal sensation of anger was just as ephemeral in origin.
The science evolved and until recently the consensus asserted that emotions are hardwired into our brains as standard and they could be identified flawlessly through facial responses, no matter where you were born in the world.
But a new generation of scientists and technological advances used brain scanning technology to disprove that too. We now have the clearest ever understanding of the processes that governs how the brain functions on a moment to moment basis.
To me this is fascinating. Once you read and understand the implications of how it is we build an understanding of the world, your entire universe is different. I recommend you take the time to watch this and read/listen to this.
Once you dig into how our conceptions are formed by past experience, it is difficult to view the world in the same way. Our entire view of the world is shaped by experience accrued from childhood. These memories form our concepts. Our sum total of all memories combines to form our conceptual library. Our conceptual library (built from our experiences) is used to constantly generate predictions of what will happen in the world.
This is the process that allows us to catch baseballs that move far faster than our brains processing and reaction times. Unconsciously and automatically, our brains make a prediction of where the ball will be and activate muscle memory. If we are incorrect, our brains attempt to locate and correct whatever errors led to that failure. Although, here it gets complicated – the distinction between memories, concepts and predictions is only one of our own making. They are all just different interpretations of the same process.
Now potentially that last paragraph was a bit much to get your head around. If so you will have experienced something called “cognitive overload” where your brain hit a point where it predicted that it was strained beyond what it considered to be energy worth spending. The natural reaction to such a prediction is to either quit out, skip ahead or try again. Knowing how these processes work allows you to better pick your response to a given circumstance. To have this response – ability is what constitutes responsibility.
Our brains also do this with emotions. The process of actually identifying which emotion we are currently experiencing is very fraught and inaccurate. Lisa Feldman-Barrett wrote about how she thought she had butterflies in her stomach on a first date, and realised later that evening that it was not giddy excitement that she had been experiencing, but the early stages of food poisoning.
Basically, the brain is just guessing what we are feeling, then reinforcing anything we accept to be true. The physical symptoms of anxiety: elevated physical and mental activity among others, are shared with excitement. Anxiety thoughts are almost always just a variation on “future bad.” Excitement is the flipside, “future good.”
If you research into CBT, there are activities that you can learn where you take everything you are anxious about, actively search for the excitement that would come if the anxiety thoughts were proven incorrect (I will die alone –> what incredible possibilities could there be if I did manage to find someone?). This easy to enact activity can change your concepts, mind and your life.
The processes of changing your mind is fascinating too. You have two ways of digesting new information. The first is when new information gets slotted neatly into your pre-existing model of the world. This is an easy way to incorporate new information – and is one of the processes that guides the energy-saving heuristic for confirmation bias. If you already believe that all black people are gangsters that just want to do crime, and you see a news article with a young black man’s mugshot, you slot it right into your existing picture of the world.
The second process is much more arduous. Some new information will so totally alter all the things you held to be true about the world, that you cannot carry on believing in your old understanding. I have had this process happen several times since Christmas.
The first was when I broke up with my partner of 10 years, who I had fully expected to be with for the rest of my life. A sudden moment of realisation completely altered what my predictions of my future were. The second came a week and a half later surrounded by thousands of people in joyous merriment for a European new years eve countdown and firework display. (They do them differently in England.)
Thousands of people flocked to the square, to meet new people, share a drink, share the stories of the lives they had lived and wish each other happiness and luck for the coming year. Everyone was important and interesting by virtue of their difference. I had had such a negative conception of strangers prior to that night. As a teenager in London, it had been easy to believe that the majority of people out there were disinterested and far too self-important to want to talk to me. Despite living abroad and having several diverse friends try to explain this to me, it wasn’t until recently that I started to understand.
The third came from the footage of horrific police brutality on protesters only calling for police to be held accountable for those in their number who committed horrific crimes. I saw Donald Trump, respond like a tinpot dictator to their fully reasonable requests. I was so shaken by the event that I made a video on it. I believe that this kind of evidence can cut through those doubting if racism really is as big of an issue as those marching relentlessly in the streets for a better world know that it is.
Some of you will instinctively pull away from scenes of such distressing nature. I try to remember that people have their own lives and many are barely treading water, even if they are managing to convince those around them that they are doing just fine. If you want a more palatable conceptual earthquake, this YouTube documentary caused one for my housemate. As the new information is struggling to be processed, and the brain realises it must rewire it’s entire machinery, our jaws slacken and we need time to recover. This is a natural and scientifically understood process.
Keep Calm and Carry On - Wikipedia
Unfortunately, they didn’t have our level of cognitive understanding and ease of communication back in the blitz. They were advised to keep a stiff upper lip. Don’t let the kids or anyone else see just how utterly destroyed by your emotions you are or it will harm them more. Keep calm and carry on. Have a drink to loosen yourself up. Stick the radio on and distractyourself. Unfortunately, kids see right through these deceptions that tend to only work on ourselves.
It shouldn’t be too hard to understand why we, as a nation, still have such utterly inadequate emotional coping mechanisms. Ignorance is the default mode. It takes active learning to dispel the darkness of ignorance. And in my experience ignorance is far from blissful.
Many of those who lived through these tough times and attended merciless schools will eagerly tell you what they think is wrong with education. They say, despite having never taught a day in their life, the problem with schools is that they aren’t “disciplining” (“assaulting”) the kids enough. They were beaten, and the terror that that imparted into them kept them on the straight and narrow.
This is utterly false, a product of well documented memory alteration that filters out negative experiences. Women who experience childbirth can never remember it in quite its full visceral sensation. All emotional reactions dampen the learning process. The cognitive overload that I spoke of earlier is reached exponentially quicker when our rational selves are hijacked by any level of negative emotional response. Much like those keeping calm and carrying on in the second world war, teachers and parents that take pride in instilling a culture of fear, only teach their kids masking strategies. If our education system wasn’t buckling under 8 years of being unable to recruit enough teachers, our schools could hire only those teachers can inspire hope, not those that inspire fear.
Behind the necessity of “keep calm and carry on” is a dark reality. There were unprecedented mental health tolls being wrought upon those desperately trying to maintain a facade of stiff upper lip and blitz spirit. But when mental health services were more dramatically more likely to have you imprisoned without trial, rather than give you the skills you need to survive, it is no wonder people put such incredible effort into developing a semblance of sanity.
We have not escaped this quite yet. Any society that demonises those with the “bad judgement” to “choose” to be born poor, ill, special needs or in any other way marginalised, still has such a terribly long way to go. The Nazis believed that the advancement of the human race depended on the eradication of these people. Auschwitz stands as a chilling reminder to the horrific immorality of any such political action.
And yet, somehow, we seem to have collectively forgotten that those atrocities were so bad that we threw ourselves into a conflict we could have avoided. Anyone professing even slightly fascistic views on race or genetic superiority, would probably have given Hitler their blessing.
Dominic Cummings is one such man. Behind the childish insistence that we move on (#notmovingon) is the unbelievable legacy of enshrining “genetic superiority” into our teaching system. I have documented clearly the many reasons this was wrong, and the awful consequences of their failure to listen to the teachers in classrooms. I’ve put forward a solution as to how we can, with very quick effect, begin to put things right. You can make this a reality by sharing my words with everyone you know, and beseeching them to do the same.
We exist within a society that systemically crushes all young people with needless exam anxiety (if you are likely to succeed) or worthlessness (if you are unlikely to). We exist within a society where the police do not have to answer for horrific abuses of their position while politicians lie and line their friends pockets with impunity. We exist within a system that despite knowing the scientific underpinnings of mental health, still offers an excruciating six month wait to those who need help mastering their own mind. The agony that befalls them during those six months is a consequence of every single person who is not prepared to speak out for common decency.
Many of those who would equivocate or dismiss calls for greater equality will do so out of their satisfaction with the status quo. They won’t say it explicitly, but it is hidden behind their choice to debate whether a statue, that they agree shouldn’t be up, should not have come down. It is hidden behind their satisfaction in owning a mortgage, and knowing that if there was a radical alteration of the system, it could see them losing out.
As ifhundreds of thousands of pounds of debt wasn’t anything more than modern day indentured servitude propped up by awful government policy. Some will follow along due to blind loyalty to their political identity. Some detest the status quo, but are caught by conspiracy theories, that use shoddy logic to make unsubstantiated claims of “culture wars” or “global elites” despite never having evidence for nearly the number of individuals required to control global systems. I find it hard to believe these claims. The “rich” people I have met or observed have mostly been concerned with accruing more money and experiencing the most exquisite sensory pleasures. They don’t care if John from his parents basement in Somerset is trying to expose the truth about 9/11.
The Panama papers showed us actual evidence that the richest in society are hoarding wealth offshore and completely getting away with it, and by owning most of the media, they continue to distract the populace with fear. Whether it is fear of a hard Brexit, fear of endless immigration (didn’t happen), or fear of having your favourite rugby song banned (it won’t be) The papers drum up endless fear because our human reaction to fear is research. It sells advertising and they never have to answer for the human mental health cost.
It is not unusual or a personal failing to be full of anxiety or sadness during a pandemic. Anxiety or depressive disorders are characterised by their prevalence during positive times.
Despite incredible global achievements that we must not forget, these are not positive times.
Our politicians have never been so flagrantly disrespectful of and dishonest to the amazing essential workers keeping the system running.
Our pandemic response has clearly been the worst in the world. They massage figures, lie about following science, and then double down, dismiss and lie again when the same scientists accuse them of dishonesty.
Despite most people fully understanding that you must finish a course of antibiotics to ensure an infection does not return, our government has not followed the same principle in addressing covid19. They see other countries opening up. These countries did not pursue a hare-brained plan of herd immunity that was grotesquely dangerous to those most vulnerable in society, and has done untold damage to those in our nations care homes, who deserved to see out their sunset years after doing their bit for society.
But in the grand act of trying to “keep up with the joneses,” (another British tradition of prioritising appearance over substance) they endanger the world. In Johnson’s own admission- 80% of infectors are asymptomatic. 1.5 million people are incredibly vulnerable. I am one of these people. I will have to be imprisoned in my house for far longer, due to Johnsons deceit and incompetence.
We are nowhere near r = 0. But most people trust in their government, and their declarations of diminished threats are being met with barbecues and a very grateful return to normality. If we see a second wave, it will be on 10 Downing street.
To me, it is this simple:
Fascists walk the street in America, hold the highest offices, and use war-crime level chemical weapons on those with the integrity to stand up for equality.
Inside number ten are fascists too, so we should have no surprise that they are determined to cozy up to Trump in the hope of being a good little lapdog for master.
Boris has never shown much in the way of integrity or self-respect, but plugging sugar-filled treats during a pandemic briefing is surely a new unthinkable low for what we have the temerity to still call “Great” Britain.
Sugar has a similar affect on children as crack-cocaine. But our sugar-profiting companies fought as tirelessly for Brexit as they did to make sure they didn’t lose the war of public opinion like when they were selling cigarettes.
Our nations children will pay the price if we respond with silence.
Every decent human being must oppose them.
We must educate them to see that which all humans have in common is so much more rich than that which divides us.
At the end of World War 2, we declared “Never again.”
To honour those that died to secure that, we must say the same again now.
If my words have stirred up a degree of hopelessness within you, I have made a video to help anyone in such a state.
Be your best self and join the fight against fascism alongside me, by sharing things that speak to your values, and creating whatever you can to help spread the message.
Josh Russell,
Russell Wellbeing.

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