A Stroll Along Linear Park

Back in 2004 I used to take my canid little fella Joe for walks along The River Torrens / Karrawirra Parri between Klemzig and Athelstone. For legal and environmental reasons, his ashes weren’t spread there, but otherwise I would have liked to have done that. It’s a good spot for a dog, which you’ll discover for yourself if you go for a walk there yourself and meet the many good doggos.

On the 13th of this month, I went for such a walk myself and took a few snaps.

Admittedly, the subject of the first photo is something I’ve long considered an eyesore. But don’t worry; it gets better.

***

01 - AoG

“Influencers”, formerly Paradise Community Church, formerly Assembly of God Paradise, is one of the Hillsong Family of Churches. Don’t bother trying to form an ecclesiastical Venn diagram in your head – just remember it’s an Evans family gig. The same dank humus that Family First (now rolled into Australian Conservatives) grew from.

Years and years ago, we had to put up with “motivational speakers” organized by this church turning up to the public high school I finished my secondary schooling at – which included a visit by one Dave Roever of nutty Satanic Panic and Divine Destiny meeting fame. The Muslim students weren’t too impressed, as you can imagine. Nor were the Atheists among us.

That’s enough outrage. Time for something soothing.

Continue reading “A Stroll Along Linear Park”

Imagined History of a Never-Was: “New Atheism”

church-53192_640Jacob Hamburger writes over at The Point, asking what the New Atheism even was. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since Gary Wolf resurrected the term at Wired in 2006 in his oft-cited essay. Asking and mostly getting the same answer, over and over.

There’s really only one position in relation to “New Atheism” that I’ve ever been completely comfortable with: that it doesn’t exist, that it never existed, and that the term was a snarl word that only functioned rhetorically. The phrase “Gnu Atheism”, an altogether un-serious mutation of the term born a few years later out of a scam that snared journalist and vocal critic Chris Mooney, always seemed a far better candidate to be taken seriously, despite its obvious satirical bend.

People using the term almost only ever define themselves in relation to the “New Atheism”, rather than in the affirmative. Who called themselves a “New Atheist”? A notable exception would be the late Victor Stenger, who seemed quite innocently unable to realize how odd he was in doing so. Mostly the meaning of the term shifted and slid according to the short term requirements of authors and pundits.

One day Daniel Dennett could have been a “New Atheist”, and the next a bulwark against it. The critique was folly. “New Atheism” was a shadow puppet.

***

Supposedly coined in 2006 by Gary Wolf at Wired, the term was used much earlier in 1986 by Robert Morey in his “New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom”, and possibly earlier than that again. Tacking a “new” onto the start of any “ism” being an old formula that’s sadly never gone stale.

Wolf’s article is more restrained than either Morey’s thesis, or any number of the jeremiads using the term that would follow. He focused on three authors, none who called themselves “New Atheists”; Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Sam Harris. This was shortly before Christopher Hitchens had entered the fray.

It’s weird, even humorous that Wolf invoked the late Paul Kurtz in contrast to the “New Atheists”, then of the Centre For Inquiry. In the 1980s, the afore mentioned Morey was lambasting Kurtz himself as one of the “New Atheists”. It was an old game and one Kurtz would have been aware of, especially on account of the matter of stridency; the man was a supporter and friend of the not-exactly-timid Madalyn Murray O’Hair who also came in for a smearing in Morey’s tome.

Criticisms of Dawkins, typical of the time, came down to him being “strident”, and being incapable of alliances with liberal-minded Christians (despite his cooperation with then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on the matter of creationism in schools). When you strip away the objections based on fiction, you were basically left with tone, which doesn’t have very much meat to it as far as purported ideological demarcations go. Anything that foreshadowed “Dear Muslima” was thin on the ground.

Wolf seemed even less capable of presenting a meaningful difference between Dennett and the likes of Kurtz.

***

Lashings of embellishments from a variety of authors in the following years didn’t flesh things out any further.

“They’re logical positivists!” (No “they” weren’t).

“They want to destroy Christian culture!” (Basically a re-branded War on Christmas fiction for people who imagined they were above Fox News).

“They support the Iraq War!” (Mostly “they” didn’t).

“Scientism!” (Having a poor conception of the boundaries of science does not a scientismist make, and at any rate, Harris’ philosophical silliness wasn’t widely adopted by purported “New Atheists” anyway – not unless you tweaked your definitions to perform an act of circular logic, at least.)

The worst part of these takes on the “New Atheism” though, wasn’t that they were untrue (although frequently they were). The worst part was that so little, if any of it, could be used as demarcation criteria. And when it was a suitable for demarcation, you’d find “New Atheism” being split off into other categories.

***

Even in the early days there was a whiff of sexism about the scene you couldn’t easily deny; Dawkins’ lilting waffle about the gentler sex; Harris’ bias for male pronouns; more overtly, Hitchens calling the Dixie Chicks “fucking fat slags”. Aside from how conspicuous it is that people wanting to bury the “New Atheism” at the time buried the lede on this one, this is still insufficient to demonstrate that there is (or was) a “New Atheism”. How would this sexism set the “New” apart from the “Old Atheism” – the old guard Wolf mentions?

Wolf wrote favorably about Asimov as an example of the old, but that guy was a complete shit to women; a serial groper, a condescending patriarch and completely unable to render women believably in fiction to boot. A demarcation criterion needs to be able to make a distinction, but “fucking fat slags” is a sentiment you could imagine ass-grabber Asimov getting behind, so sexism’s probably not going to do the job.

Maybe vanity and thin skin? No. I mean, Harris and Dawkins, and maybe Dennett could be accused of thin-skin, much like a number of other less known “New” atheists. But nice-guy Sagan’s “Butt-Head Astronomer” legal battle with Apple arguably tops any fit-of-pique the purported “New Atheism” could lay claim to.

Kurtz’s labelling of Ron Lindsay’s management style as Stalinist seems grounded in vanity as well. And the criticism of offensive cartoons – something he himself presided over but overlooked in a way suggestive of preening – brings us neatly back to the issue of confected difference.

The function of the “New Atheist” trope, at least from the secular progressive side, isn’t primarily to critique atheists. It’s a tool by which authors write about themselves in negative relief, a direct approach to extolling their own virtues being far too obvious. “Look at the New Atheism! [I’m not like that! Allow me to list the qualities I don’t have!]”

***

Back to Hamburger: So what came of “it”?

Hitchens is dead, for one. I think he would have objected to Hamburger’s attribution of the idea of liberalism ideally being grounded in pure reason alone. It’s almost as if Hamburger missed the discussion of “rationalist naiveté” – and Hitchens proximity to that discussion. Only Hamburger’s focus on that period is quite extensive.

And why the weird narrative tales? Non-belief and scientific rationality only becoming political causes after Hitchens joined with Dawkins et. al.? Harris “founding” the “New Atheist” genre, as if the other books by Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens weren’t authored independently? That’s not how it happened.

I don’t think Hamburger is being mendacious. I don’t even think he’s writing his essay in an attempt to position himself with readers in the way that PZ Myers’ recent testimony-cum-denouncement so obviously labours to do. In a way, I suspect he’s naively fallen into the same trap Victor Stenger did, albeit from the opposite end of the pit.

It is possible to be unwittingly maneuvered into writing this kind of thing even if you’ve only passively adopted just a few questionable assumptions in good faith.

***

There are meaningful trends in the detritus of the readerships of the Usually Mentioned Atheists. You can find misogynists pretty easily. There’s a particular school of handwaving concerning the boundaries of science that’s been masquerading as clear and forthright ever since The Moral Landscape.

There’s been pride expressed over political ignorance and a related if often inverse dismissiveness regarding philosophical literacy. “You used a word that philosophers use! You’re one of those Politically Correct Ismists that are saying things! Now I know I can ignore you! Bwaha! You should leave the pub and leave me to stroke my most intelligent of beards!”

Depending on how the net has been cast, there are also more-or-less decent, more-or-less intelligent, and more-or-less anodyne sorts in there with more than salvageable ideas. But again, none of this is “New” and none of it is uniform across the purported “New Atheism”.

What can be done to collate meaning in all of this mess? Rather than giving the vague snarl word of “New Atheism” any serious coinage (or excessive dismissal in cases where no malice is evident), I think someone’s going to have to work out a taxonomy based on actual positions held, that actually matter taxonomically; something akin to John Nerst’s notion of the Pomo-oid Cluster, albeit for atheist authors post-2004. Or rather, someone should have tried this a long time ago.

Going beyond just the concept of a cluster and actually making a map of the territory would be immensely useful too, even if it wouldn’t take off in every-day conversation. At the very least people arguing in good faith could more easily avoid talking past each other, and a kind of convention for recognizing disingenuous railing against “New Atheists” could be more easily practiced.

As it stands, it’s too easy for woke-acting columnists to rail against “New Atheists” (The Guardian and Salon have offered up several examples over the years), just as it’s too easy for genuine criticism of atheist authors to be dismissed as disingenuous or hostile (which you can see for yourself if you crawl down this rabbit hole).

Forget how the various tribes of authors feel about this for a moment, and ask yourself “in a civil democracy, how does this particular form of ambiguity – this confected grouping – serve the public interest?”

~ Bruce

So, you want to send a friend request?

argument-1299108_640Facebook has this little “intro” segment you can fill in on your profile. If you’re even remotely garrulous you’ll feel just how small it is. You basically have room for a conservative sentence or maybe two.

If you wanted to use the opportunity to set boundaries, you’d be hard pressed to do more than just ask people not to be jerks. Sometimes you’ll have more to say than that. Owing to weirdos on social media, too often I find myself feeling precisely this way. Maybe it’s the same for you too.

So this is possibly how you’ve wound up reading this post. I’ll be sending others this way in future, too.

Like most people I don’t use Facebook automation. And I’ve been shy of accepting new friend requests for some time now. In fact I’ve blocked most of the people who’ve sent me requests in the past four years.

I’ve been thinking of opening things back up again, only this time without setting myself up to have to repeat myself each time nonsense flairs up. Hence this post.

***

For some reason I don’t get shouted at much anymore. I’m not sure why. Deep down among the minutiae of any number of topics, I hold what could be construed as controversial views – the kinds of things I’ve seen numerous other people scolded for. I’m good friends with more than one of the scolded. None of this has been secret.

A number of us conform to a particular pattern within the category of “politically homeless”; left-wing values; a disinterest in left-wing tribalism; an unwillingness to seek a new tribe in either the right or the reactionary center; a respect for critical inquiry and a willingness to commit to what and wherever that inquiry leads.

But oh. The kinds of friend requests this can encourage. If only I could stave some of them off with a few more words of warning, or at least lay down some ground rules in advance.

The moment you become politically homeless, suddenly you’re the potential ally… of weirdos.

Criticize the Clinton dynasty; get Bernie Bros and Jill Stein cultists crawling up your ass. Shine a light on the worst naivetes of little-l liberalism; wind up with a New Best Friend who thinks conspiracy theories about Monsanto are the apex of radicalism. Condemn Likud; get a friend request from the asshole with Rothschild memes running down their timeline. Criticize some technical or civic aspect of anti-racism politics; wind up with the racially-paranoid white guy who thinks you’re “just like” him in an imaginary shared oppression. Point out the mere existence of misogyny or homophobia in Islam; wind up with an acolyte of the Q-Society spruiking their crap at you.

Do anything remotely resembling courting controversy in good faith, and you’ll attract contrarians with delusions of Galileohood.

“I SOLVED ALL OF POLITICS WHILE HUFFING LEAD FUMES IN MY SHED!!1! MALCOLM ROBERTS WAS RIGHT ABOUT SOCIALISM!”

Of course it’s not just the weirdos drawn in by controversy or subculture membership or whatever else. Your friends can always argue among themselves and sometimes poorly; misunderstand each other; jump to conclusions about each other’s motives and so on. And of course, with each salvo you’ll get the pleasure of yet another social media notification.

Friends arguing with friends is fine. Friends using your space to burn each other down is not. Finding yourself politically homeless can leave you wide open in this respect, and it’s a good deal harder to manage when it goes off; you can’t always dismiss this kind of thing as easily as you can the anti-fluoride trolls.

***

Here’s the deal, then.

The odds are that a good number of the people on my friends list are people that I trust more than you. This won’t change just because on some specific points I may agree with you more than I agree with them.

As of writing, most of the people on my friends list have had the opportunity to demonstrate that while not perfect, they have, on balance, preferred to act in good faith. In the instances where they’ve opted to be pissy, they’ve opted to be pissy somewhere other than on my timeline and I respect that.

By accepting your friend request I’m not obligating myself to be your pal, much less your ideological underling. I’ve been accused of being “tuned in” or “with it” before, but I’m not making any promises. And it’s only my small neck of the woods anyway. It’s not like my antics are derailing discussion on the page of some important cause.

Just because I’m political doesn’t alter the fact that my personal space is not an organ of your political campaign. I’m not ceding you that much. I wouldn’t cede that much to my best friend.

While you’re commenting on my timeline, be as critical as you want of a given school of thought, only, try not to be condescending, or to presume authority if you haven’t even bothered to do your homework. (In fact, presuming authority even if you have done the readings isn’t particularly endearing – nobody likes that douche).

A lot of my closest friends are people who read and who’ve been reading for a long time. Spurious quotations of political authors you clearly haven’t read yourself probably won’t end well, and I’ll not rescue you from your embarrassment. (Yes “intersectionalists”, I’m looking at a lot of you).

Sass is fine. Sarcasm and satire are welcome. Abuse is not. Vex is not.

You can call a fascist a fascist, but don’t cry wolf about it on my wall. Radical feminists are not Nazis, “Nazi adjacent” or any kind of fascist.

Be as critical as you want of the idea of gender, but save insults like “tranny” for somewhere else. No matter how just the specifics of a given dispute you’re fighting may be, it’ll never make my timeline a space for vindictiveness.

And yeah, some things are always going to be out-of-bounds.

If you’re an anti-vaxxer, anti-Semite or flat-Earther; please just go away. Believers in Satanic conspiracy theories can catch the same bus.

Angry at women? Bye.

I may be vegan, technically, but that doesn’t mean members of any of the various vegan cults out there are people I respect.

“Gary Yourofsky has just been misunder…”

“Actually, PETA are…”

Bye.

Paleo-cultists can keep their pseudo-science and cod-anthropology to themselves as well.

If you’ve got five thousand friends, or you’re desperately aiming for that target, I’m probably very much not interested in your stuff either. I’m probably going to ignore you after I accept your friend request. No offense meant, but really…

Would-be public figures and artists who present as activists: by default I trust you less than the average person. Accept it. Or don’t. Just don’t complain to me about it.

And if you don’t like any of it, you don’t have to send me a friend request in the first place.

***

Fortunately a good number of people get this. It’s not always so glum, even on social media. It’s just there are narcissists out there in this world who view social media as their own stalking grounds, who will spoil things for others if given half the chance.

I don’t intend on giving them that much.

~ Bruce

Reluctant resolutions

And now for something a little less gripey.

Arbitrary, ceremonial resolutions aren’t something that I’m inclined towards. I think I may have even resolved one New Year’s Day to never have a New Year’s resolution – a promise I may be forced to break.

All my things seem coincidentally to be coming together at one particular point; January.

Next round of blood tests; the standard recovery period before I can properly get back into exercise; the re-opening of a few doors after the silly season and re-engaging with projects that I’d put on the back-burner in the lead-up to my surgery back in October.

This will force me to re-evaluate a number of things and make a number of life changes. Some things will change for good.

I’m apparently not allowed to ever attempt the really heavy weights at gym again for example. My hernia was large enough to get a first though, and the mesh is going to have its work cut out for it. A routine long walk may be on the cards.

The No Drama thing will be getting more of my attention, but will require more planning for anything specific. I’ll leave that to January, but will probably post a little something about the manifesto before then. A lot will be contingent on information given by groups that are presently closed for the festive season.

New Year’s Resolutions: You can’t escape them, it seems. Hopefully I’ll be more cheery-headed when they come due.

~ Bruce

Contemplating other hosts

As a rule, I don’t try to out the personality behind a pseudonym. Anyone still reading who can recall the days of Iain Hall versus (then) “Anonymous Lefty” know which side I was on. My sympathies haven’t changed terribly much, even if the specifics may have a little.

By default I also don’t really care about remembering or revisiting the birthnames of transgender people, and further, regard this matter as independent from the ontology of gender and/or sex, and hence of even less fundamental importance. There are no more innately male or female names than there are innately male or female colours or clothes. There are just gender conventions, and these should be optional.

“Jane”, for example, is a perfectly okay name for a guy, and if some fella had the awful misfortune to be named “Jayden”, “Nigel” or “Moonchild” by his parents, then I’m not going to begrudge him the change of name. The civics of this are obviously generalizable to include the name changes of transgender individuals.

(This is entirely separate to the psychology of changing name, which often seems comparable to the psychology of personalized number plates – something for the most part done by people altogether too self-regarding.)

So the rule stands – I’ll default to post-transition names, and nom de plumes, and pseudonyms and aliases and avatars and so on.

It’s not a rule without exception, though, and what I want to do in certain cases runs up against what is apparently new WordPress policy.

For those who don’t know, the “Gender Identity Watch” blog (among others) was bumped from WordPress some time back, initially being locked-out and thereby unable to download their own content to port elsewhere (the owners of WordPress.com, Automattic eventually relented and handed over the archives). The justification given, ad hoc, was that “deadnaming” was done, and that “deadnaming” was a violation of the Terms of Service. This will set a precedent, of course, and it’s also open as to whether or not the concept of “deadnaming” can be generalized beyond the transgender context, to include other folks who don’t use their birth names (“Hey! How dare you use my High-Security Prison Name!?!?”). That, and whether or not WordPress will one day, out of the blue, adopt such extrapolations as ad hoc policy after shutting down yet more blogs.

The given concern expressed by WordPress alludes to the idea that deadnaming (and misgendering) precipitate suicide attempts, something that unlike the consequences of say the denial of medical options for transitioning (in certain cohorts), I’m quite sceptical of. This belief appears to me to be commonplace manners, elevated to idée reçue, elevated to sciencey-sounding Internet folk wisdom, direly in need of some seriously rigorous investigation. Suicidality is serious after all, and it wouldn’t be the first time activist-pushed-beliefs have turned out to contradict best practice. Whether or not the given concern is even the actual concern though, is itself another matter entirely – one which I won’t be getting into.

That’s the current context, but what’s my exception to the rule, given that my general rule is still not to “deadname” or otherwise refer to people by names other than those they comment under?

Simply, I don’t respect the nom de plumes, aliases or pseudonyms of people who are abusers. If you write under a new or false name in the comments, abusing me or someone else, my instinct will be to use the name most commonly associated with your track record should you have one.

If for example, I feel the need to out an abuser in the comments, I reserve the right to do it, and assert that by commenting in the first place participants agree to these terms. This is generalizable to a cross-media context as well – if someone has been abused on Facebook, or Twitter, or in the print media, or the local Town Hall meeting, and it’s relevant to discussion here, I reserve the right. (Obviously, I don’t limit this to the mentioned context of transgender politics, it’s just that this is the case that’s recently raised the concern).

Here’s a few examples of the kinds of exploits I’m talking about that you’d probably want to avoid:

  • “But, I’ll commit suicide if you associate me with my past of sending rape threats to women online!”
  • “But if you associate my current abusiveness with my track record of abusiveness, I’ll get death threats from the Southern Baptist Church of Deaththreatology, who as a not-even-tangential side-note, are still a factor here! I’m the victim!
  • “But if you invoke my status as a registered sex offender and sender of dick pics by using my old name, you’ll be associating sex offending with the social group I’ve since publicly cozied up to!”

The first is emotional blackmail. The consequences of someone else sending rape threats are their own to deal with. If that kills them, it’s just something else horrible they’re responsible for. Don’t be gaslighted into thinking the duty of care for any given random abuser is yours – even if genuine it’d be a special case of suicidality, not the norm. You’re not their nurse.

The second is blame shifting. The initial abuse and the mentioned death threats are the responsibilities of other parties. You may very well play it careful for the sake of practicality, but this shit being brought to your door is not your fault.

The third is holding a social group – usually a minority – as hostage. Consider someone who’s been nabbed for being a sex pest while Pentacostal in the US, who’s then “reformed”, changed their name, moved to Kenya and become a Humanist who pesters women and children at conferences.  “DON’T OUT ME! THINK OF WHAT THIS ATTENTION WILL DO TO THE STANDING OF KENYAN HUMANISTS! AND THINK OF WHAT THIS WILL DO TO THE LOCAL GAY COMMUNITY! THEY’LL BE DRAGGED INTO IT TOO!”

If you’ve been around the traps long enough, and your eyes haven’t sealed-over in disgust, this kind of cynicism won’t seem entirely alien to you. Most people aren’t like this, and most of your interactions won’t be like this unless you’re very unlucky, or just happen to work with assholes for a vocation*. But when people do pull this bullshit, which happens on occasion, and if you’re running a page or a blog, you’ll want to have options available, including, but not limited to, being able to associate them with their track record to give context to something happening in the here and now.

In a practical sense, this often involves the use of their birth name, either directly, or by reference. This is not wrong for you to do, and unless you’re exceedingly gratuitous to the point of abusiveness, or use it as a means of deliberate incitement to violence, the abuser holds responsibility for any negative consequences they suffer as a result. Feel free to blame them.

This position won’t make WordPress happy, though. My understanding is that the ban on this kind of thing is categorical. So be it.

I’ll comply for as long as I have to, but I won’t like it. I’ll reserve the right, and keep that right in reserve until I can use it without the threat of ridiculous consequences.

If WordPress doesn’t change course on this, then I guess I’ll have to find a new digs elsewhere at some point. My disposition towards Twitter isn’t entirely dissimilar, incidentally.

~ Bruce

* Admittedly, this probably describes everyone who has to use Facebook or Twitter as a part of their work.

So… Doctor Who

The topic of Doctor Who isn’t something I think I’ve covered on any of my blogs over the past thirteen years. It’s not that I’m uninterested. Quite the contrary. I suspect it has something to do with not enjoying the particular obsession with fan culture.

To be clear, I’ve seen every Doctor Who episode that hasn’t gone missing, I’ve got a number of the BBC Books, but I’ve never gone to a convention or felt any great need to work out who my favourite Doctor is..

Actually, I remember posting something about the show now. About 12 years ago I agreed to pilot a Dalek for an acquaintance who was doing a promotional stunt. I got to hang out with Trekkies/Trekkers (which one is the preferred title?) in full cosplay. Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it. Do what you want, but I loathe cosplay.

(I’m not going to argue which franchise is better, and you’ll lose my respect if you try to do so in the comments).

At any rate, my suggested YouTube videos and social media feeds and whatnot are filling up with crap from nerds complaining about the latest season of Doctor Who being “too PC”. How very fucking annoying.

You know what I worry about when it comes to fandom and social justice? It’s not that “social justice warriors” are practicing entryism into fandom, it’s that fantasists in fucking costumes with shelves full of pointless fucking merch are lecturing the rest of us as if they have a grounded take on politics.

***

So I’ve been watching the new season. It’s got a few things I’ve wanted.

On location panoramas. Minimalist visuals during the credit sequence. A rendition of the theme that reassures you that the composer is suitably familiar with mind-altering substances. The Doctor is no longer a messianic fetish. The conflict revolves around ordinary humans – i.e. the companions – rather than alien psychodrama, or companions that become space-god-things. Oh, and the prophetic foreshadowing seems thankfully to have gone out the window.

I’m not entirely sure about how I feel about the Doctor’s loss of fetish status though. Sure, the aliens aren’t about to pack up and run just because Jodie Whitaker declares that she is the Doctor. That’s great. The Doctor’s motives have been de-emphasized, but perhaps a little too much.

And, sorry, but that console room has been seriously marred by the big lump of resin posing as crystal. Having it move makes the effect worse. Crystal doesn’t look or articulate like that. It looks like a prop and it really takes you out of the moment, which is sad because the rest of the set, while confrontingly different, could have worked.

***

So all the “Politically Correct” stuff?

I didn’t entirely like it, but probably not for the same reasons whining crybabies are writing to the BBC.

The casting is fine. But the format of the show just isn’t great for dealing with these issues. Take that woman’s mention of having had a wife in the second episode; the dialogue steered us towards that reveal, when a more natural approach may have had us meandering towards the revelation over two or three episodes. Of course, Doctor Who isn’t written like that. Most cast members come and go in a single episode.

Rosa, the third episode, seemed rushed. I suspect it needed to be a two-part story, and less about celebrity name-dropping and insinuating modern Brits into American history. Rather than the histrionics of participating in the bus ride itself, perhaps the Doctor and companions could have helped protect history more from afar – i.e. more direct conflict with the racist time traveler – knowing they can’t step forward to help in the historical injustices they’re witnessing.

There’s also a bit too much use of overly emotive incidental music where acting should be doing the heavy lifting resonance-wise. I can’t see why this couldn’t be toned down in lieu of things like stammering or shocked choking-on-words.

***

I don’t care if whites, men or straights are a minority in the new season, but I would like stories that are a little less jarring. If it feels like social justice issues are being shoe-horned into the story, it’s not because they don’t belong, it’s because they’re being crammed in faster than the plot can accommodate them, forcing contrivances. Thematically there’s no reason why it couldn’t be made to work.

Ironically though, it’s probably the older, slower format of the actually more racist and sexist Who that could have accommodated this better. At least, after cutting back the padding and the occasionally hackneyed dialogue it could have.

So if I were to ask anything of Chris Chibnall it would be this. If you want to do justice to social justice issues, could you slow it down a little, ease back on the contrivance, and allow for deeper, more natural expressions. Also, maybe get rid of the resin columns in the console room?

~ Bruce

Zero trust for Antifa

Communes, The NSW Greens, Spanish anarchists, and a plethora of other groups have adopted grass-roots, informal organizing structures on some level, often with the same results: accountability suffers and power differentials go unchecked. Those participants with the will are more or less able to act with the liberty to deprive others of their liberties; freedom from intimidation, freedom from sexual harassment, freedom from having your labour exploited – it’s all up for grabs if nobody’s held responsible.

The “grass roots” approach isn’t magic. For some, it’s organizing for people who’ve been made to feel that “organizing” is a dirty word, while for others it’s a source of ready-made suckers.

Enter Antifa.

I used to like a number of Antifa groups and pages on Facebook and had, up until two or three years ago, a number of Antifa-affiliated friends I’ve since walked away from. What can I say: I didn’t like fascism, but I also didn’t like bullshit.

Philosophy Tube has a breakdown of the philosophy of Antifa that’s largely sympathetic, if you’re curious and have the time. Closer to the concerns I’m airing here, is the matter of how Antifa is non-hierarchical and de-centralized.

An early warning sign in discussions of such matters is when non-hierarchal structures are readily referred to in order to indemnify when something goes wrong, but are rarely ever explained or justified on their own merits, often being mere expediencies. You may get some kind of suggestion that being non-hierarchal, they are the natural opposite of authoritarianism, but that’s just splitting. There’s a world of possible organizational structures between authoritarianism and anarchism, and it’s possible to be discerning about which ones you choose and then hold yourself to it.

In the non-hierarchal, de-centralized anarchist world, you can’t just expect a discussion of how a lack of formal consequences could be exploited by crooks, macho-men, fantasists, demagogues or apaths. In fact, if you voice these kinds of concerns don’t be too shocked if you’re treated with suspicion. If this kind of thing is a concern then perhaps Antifa isn’t for you – as it’s not for me.

It’s probably worth mentioning, before moving on, that “Antifa” is not synonymous with “anti-fascist”; one serves as a proper noun, the other does not. You can be “anti-fascist” and not “Antifa”. There’s a rhetorical trick of equivocation some use that switches “critic of Antifa” out for “critic of anti-fascism”, thereby positioning the critic of Antifa as an ally of fascism. Aside from being breathtakingly dishonest, it’s one of many examples of the kind of black and white thinking that should have people more worried when they see it.

***

After a series of concatenated disappointments, it finally came as no surprise to find out that one “feminist” Antifa friend was involved in a campaign to harass dissident feminist academics and activists in Melbourne (which broadly was aligned with a campaign that then went on to see a survivor of particularly severe child sexual abuse having a placard of “blow jobs are real jobs” abusively shoved in her face). It was no surprise to find out that one former Antifa friend, a feminist “ally” no less, had an AVO taken out against him by his ex.

These aren’t the only examples of such non-surprises I’ve seen, and it’s also no surprise that it’s often women that end up on the wrong end of these exchanges. It’s the men with skinny necks who want to be Captain America the most.

***

There’s no shortage of silliness, it seems, when it comes to the intersection between Antifa and Black Metal. Both scenes have more than their share, so when things overlap? People were hoping they’d cancel each other out? Sadly not.

To be clear, despite having listened to metal – including black metal – for thirty-something years, I’ve never listened to Marduk, nor so much as owned a Burzum t-shirt. I’ve heard one or two Burzum songs here and there, but haven’t owned a CD. I’ve no particular interest in changing any of this. It’s pretty uncontroversial to state that Varg Vikernes’ politics are fascist, that he’s not a very nice guy, and I can’t imagine a reason why I’d think otherwise.

If however you think Nergal is fascist, you’re ignorant and either gullible or obtuse. You’re precisely the kind of dillweed I’ve long since stopped trying to take seriously. Want that to change? Do better. Here’s a starter: Appearing in a movie as a Nazi doesn’t make you a Nazi.

nergal

Nergal (Adam Darski) as Joachim von Ribbentrop on the set of AmbaSSada (2013) – three years before the Antifa Against Black Metal (AABM) post (2016).

Foolishness not withstanding, there’s definitely an angle to be explored countering fascism in black metal. Nationalist Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) is a sub-genre, fascists do mine sub-cultures and marginal movements to radicalize new recruits and black metal isn’t immune, and there’s no shortage of potential creative projects that could get off the ground; black or Viking metal artists with an interest in European paganism may for example want to consider restoring its iconography from the influences of Nazi fetishization. (Not that I’m really that Nietzschean, but correcting Nazi mis-readings of Nietzsche would seem to be something that could run parallel to this).

There are definite angles here, but also definite possibilities to fuck up like the way AABM did with Nergal. Typically I’m suspicious of artists presenting as activists, but I’d rather trust an artist accountable to a grants committee with most of this, than I would an Antifa or Antifa-like activist.

So it was with only a little hope that my ears pricked up at the mention of “Neckbeard Deathcamp”. My early thoughts were that their work appealed to my prejudices (I don’t like InCels or basement-dwelling white-supremacists), but came with a degree of facetiousness that I’ve come to see as a warning sign.

When someone focuses on the lolz this intensely in the face of serious evil, there’s always the possibility that it’s not just your enemy that they regard as a joke, but your cause as well. And while on the one hand, comedy is a useful political tool, on the other, well, people laughed at Hitler before he ratcheted things up, and look at how well that went. People laughed at Trump too.

***

UK label Blackened Death has released volume two of Worldwide Organization of Metalheads Against Nazis (W.O.M.A.N.). Neckbeard Deathcamp feature, alongside others. What’s ND’s contribution? “TERF Crisis”. Go ahead and navigate to the tropey lyrics yourself.

Beyond any issue of how “TERF” has been used as a means of painting the target for a barrage of (usually online and often misogynistic) abuse, and beyond any issue of it being “just descriptive” or technically accurate, associating gender critical or radical feminism with Nazism like this is an exercise in false equivalence that’d have Rush Limbaugh jizzing in his pants. Pull back the disguise and you’ve got a group made up mostly of men calling women “feminazi” yet again – a pretty good indicator of failure in my books.

Pick up any serious undergrad textbook about fascism that attempts to list its essential features, and you’ll find hyper-masculinity listed. Hyper-masculinity is hardly the only criterion you’ll see failing to line-up with second-wave feminism, either. Whatever your take on the material analysis of gender, or of the various strains of radical feminism, if you consider them fascist I have little interest in taking your politics seriously because clearly you don’t take your politics seriously either. Clearly if that’s the case, it’s all just a game to you.

The schism between second-wave feminism and the currently dominant strand of transgender activism has been a Godsend to posturing brocialists; guys looking to finally lecture women on feminism and to be licensed to do it. They get to have their “well actually” and eat it too. Couple this with a climate where anything can be identified as fascist, and therefore punched, smashed or whatever else, and you’ve got an absolute wet dream for the left’s own misogynists.

People are implying, if not openly stating, that Blackened Death’s move will make metal more accessible to previously excluded groups, including women. Owing to repeated past experience, I’m not at all sure it’ll pan out that way. I hope I’m wrong.

***

You may be left wondering how Neckbeard Deathcamp’s Superkommando Uberweinersnitchel fits into all of this after exiting the band last month, owing to a number of his past not-entirely-woke social media antics being dredged up. The band delivered the standard anti-perfectionism defense in response. Hailz Komradez’s past membership in the now-defunct misogynistic $lutrot was then raised and the implications decided upon almost immediately.

“…You Trojan horsed your way in through a parody band and now you’ve been uncovered in less than five minutes research. Sucks.” – Dean Brown, 2018.

It has to be said that the resentment thrown up by these kinds of hyperbolic exchanges makes for a great climate for recruitment by various shades of political nasty. You can imagine alt-right media types rubbing their hands together at the sight of it.

I don’t expect these kids to be perfect, or censured, or censored, or excommunicated. But their contribution gives you the impression that “TERF Crisis” was selected right-off the back of their recent social media shaming for a particular reason; the phrase is a shibboleth in Twitter pile-on culture, and second-wave feminists are easy targets with limited material power with which to fight back. It seems like an effective strategy for re-directing angry tweets – maybe it’ll work, if that’s the aim.

I don’t know if the naysayers are right – that Neckbeard Deathcamp have just trojan horsed their way into the left – but you’ll forgive me if past experience has taught me not to get my hopes up that people’s motives are sufficiently genuine.

***

Blackened Death seem about as ad-hoc about campaigning as does Antifa, and about as accountable to their own base and to the broader community as well. I don’t know their working conditions, so I can’t comment on what capacity they have for planning and reflection; I imagine they’re a damn tiny, thinly-stretched outfit, actually.

I have no interest in castigating them. I can’t say I know they’re insincere, either.

But you can’t fault an audience for suspecting fertile soil is being tilled for abusive brocialists and their fellow travelers. You can’t fault women for staying away, despite gestures like Gaylord’s Filosofemme – a play on Burzum’s Filosofem – or the declarative acronym “W.O.M.A.N.”

You can’t fault people for getting the impression that violently misogynistic sentiments like those expressed by the Degenderettes are more than welcome in these circles. (Let’s cut the shit, this “I PUNCH TERFS” business isn’t about liberating the gender non-conforming, it’s about fantasies of bashing women).

And you can’t fault people for assuming that Blackened Death believe second wave feminism is a form of fascism – i.e. that Blackened Death isn’t actually serious about either fascism or feminism. They are, primarily, a music label, not a political organization. Take that for what it’s worth.

Instead of putting a small, independent label under the microscope, though, it’s possibly a better idea for any political wonks watching this episode to observe the way purposely anti-fascist groups, not labels or online music magazines, respond to and influence this project. That and maybe gauge the response of listeners (and comments threads if the requisite hazmat suits are available).

What’s Antifa’s role if any in all of this? Do involved anti-fascist groups hold themselves accountable via formal mechanisms, or do they just wing it, or indeed, indulge themselves? Who if anyone will be blamed if and when shit does hit the fan? How will they be blamed? Does this have material consequences for participants – particularly women and people of colour?

How long will it take for the “I feel personally safe as a member of x, therefore there’s no problem” trope to drop? Which purportedly welcome social group, if any, will be caught on the pointy end of this kind of apologetics first (my money is on lesbians)?

Until something changes, my trust in Antifa and the like will remain as low as it’s ever been. Maybe something will change. I’m not holding my breath.

~ Bruce