A day at the Ed Castle: Churches of Steel II – a few highlights

As a part of an ongoing campaign to weather away at my hobo status, I head out to Churches of Steel II on the 3rd at the Ed Castle Hotel. For those not in the know, Churches of Steel is a metal festival here in Adelaide featuring mostly Australian metal acts. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I went to a music festival (have I ever?) and they do tend to remind me of conventions which I’ve never been big on. But what the fuck, you’ve got to get your ass out and about some of the time, right?

***

Fortunately I wasn’t fashionably late enough to miss the sludgy doom of slovSloven who were up first. Sloven, while blasting out growls you’d expect to hear echoing down from a Scandinavian mountain, got me thinking about a few things. First of all, was how friends with a few years under the belt have been recounting how non-narcotic things they associate with past drug use have been giving them a buzz in the here and now. Sloven just happened to give me a buzz that reminded me of this, which no, is not a confession. (Although call me paranoid, I did later opt to avoid Adelaide Train Station and the potential of sniffer dogs on account of a nutty smell in the beer garden).

The other thing is… well, Jesus fuck, doesn’t Sloven just know how to work distortion? (The answer would be “yes, they do”). Adam Neely has had some interesting things to say about psychoacoustics on his YouTube channel (here for example) that I’ve been watching lately, so subsequently, I was wondering just how much Sloven take advantage of this kind of thing to fuck with people’s heads. That and how and why a number of metal bands seem to sound so much better live than over the radio. Thank you Sloven, you’ve helped me be more neurotic.

execAfterward out on the beer garden stage came the fun of Executus’ brand of blackened thrash. I thought I picked up on geek vibes from these guys, but not in a bad way. The icosahedron on the cover of their Escape Reality EP is a bit of a give away, but fortunately there wasn’t so much as a whiff of Mountain Dew or Hot Pockets in attendance. When I say Executus are fun, it’s because they don’t take themselves too seriously all while still managing not to undermine themselves with facetiousness. This isn’t always an easy balance to manage, and it allows an audience to goof off without being reduced to clownhood.

Years of trying to like Nuclear Assault has taught me that you don’t want to spend your time being relentlessly serious when it comes to thrash.

***

Anyway, it was really fucking nice under the tree out in the beer garden, so much so that I ended up sitting-out Dirty Pagans who were on-stage inside after Executus. All due credit to the organizers, and to the Ed Castle, by the way – landing such a decent venue on short notice after the Producers closed down was an awesome win.

***

Hailing from Sydney, Lethal Vendetta followed out in the beer garden. Hearinglethal them cranking out Liar’s Dice was grounding – Brent Logan’s vocals are so fucking old school, and wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place next to the likes of Bezerker, blasting out over community radio back in 1990.

I missed Bezerker live as a kid, moving to Adelaide just after they’d moved to the UK to try their luck there, and just as local thrash started to wind down during the ascension of grunge. Seeing and hearing Lethal Vendetta live in their own time – now – kind of makes up for some of that in a weird way, which I’m grateful for. Thanks guys.

jimSpeaking of old school, and missing out, I feel like a bit of a dope for not being around the scene when The Loving Tongue began its evolution. Largely to dodge a couple of scary women with knife fetishes, but also to wallow in the darkest, bleakest black metal I could find – which admittedly wasn’t very dark – I started to avoid mid-1990s venues like Cartoons on Hindley Street, which really, I shouldn’t have.

Fortunately Jim got the band back together for a live appearance to the benefit of those of us not smart or fortunate enough to be there the first time around. I’ve only seen Jim on stage twice, and both times he’s been at the helm cranking out an awesome cover – this time we were delivered some Dio, which rocked. If Rino was around, maybe we’d have gotten KISS. It’s near-on impossible to get your hands on a Loving Tongue album these days, so if you ever see any you don’t already have sitting on a merch table somewhere, do yourself a favour before it’s too late.

It should also be mentioned that Big Tom has got a blues infused project of his own (which I really need to get around to seeing). He’s got a gig going on down a bit southward this Sunday, which I’ll be kicking myself for missing.

***

Things got a little confusing in the early evening. Unfortunately Matterhorn didn’t perform owing to illness. I was looking forward to seeing them live having thus far only heard their covers played on DDD Radio, and recently finding out they’d started performing their own material. These things can’t be avoided, so I’ll wait for another time.

asylumThe first real big shock of the night though, was Brisbane’s Asylum. I mean, Jesus fucking Christ. Let me put it this way – imagine seeing a band for the first time that manages to play old school thrash without being derivative, who make you feel almost the same way you did when you were a kid the first time listening to Kreator’s Extreme Aggression. And clearly, most everyone else felt something similar: the crowd went off.

(Apologies if you weren’t a kid when Extreme Aggression came out, but you probably still get the gist).

Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with their body of work, but I couldn’t spot a fuck-up either. Either way their performance was tight, and for the first time in the night I was wondering how the fuck anyone else would follow, and we were only half way through the card. I’m not sure anyone did top Asylum’s performance, and everyone who came afterward earn points just for guts.

“Okay, you can all go home now. Metal is finished.” – My brain after Asylum for the first time.

***

If you can’t out-thrash them, out-Viking them? Brisbane’s Valhaloreval were not what I was expecting. Often Viking metal comes in two general forms; super-serious-folk, sub-Wagnerian, crypto-Nietzschean, Viking metal, and clown-arse Viking metal. Valhalore were neither.

Valhalore did manage to straddle that difficult divide between over-seriousness and the absurd that Executus deftly managed earlier in the night, resulting in something festive and more mead-than-blood-soaked. How many folk/Viking metal bands can you think of that could break into a jig onstage without making a fool out of themselves?

Still, I’m a grumpy, overly-serious kind of old fart who’s been marinated in Bathory for too long, so when I’m told to grab the nearest person to me and dance, I still kind of want to reach for an axe instead. It’s a learning curve I guess.

hiddenNow, if there’s anyone who held a candle to Asylum on the night, in my opinion it was Hidden Intent. They were pretty much as tight as Asylum, and the crowd went wild for them. Of course, people were wound up by that point, and Hidden Intent had the home ground advantage. The sheer shock of hearing Asylum for the first time was a confounding factor too. It’s hard to call and I’m not sure I’m competent to call it, so I’m not going to. Being unable to tell who gave the most awesome performance on a given night is precisely the kind of problem you want to have at these things, so I’ll not complain.

Now I just need to get my shit together and get my hands on a CD of Fear, Prey, Demise at some point in the near future.

Another grounding moment came with Vanishing Point – the amount of times Ivanishing reckon I’ve heard When Truth Lies on DDD Radio is probably less that I actually have, but it’s been stuck in my head and it was welcome familiar territory, coming after a day of hearing songs that for the most part I’d never heard before. When there’s this much chaos, you need these kinds of familiar sign posts to remind some of the older audience members of just what planet they’re on.

Vanishing Point were, as expected, precise in their execution of pretty much everything they did. But by this point I was really starting to wonder about the heat in the joint. I wasn’t feeling it, but I’ve been told the Ed Castle gets hot, and when a vocalist takes a towel to a guitarist’s head mid-solo, you’re reminded of this. You have to wonder how Melbournians feel this stuff when they head up here, not that it made Vanishing Point miss a beat.

***

lichAnd then there was Lich King from the US, bane of my eardrums (which copped a bashing from the speaker a couple of feet to the left of my head). Asylum got an acknowledgement for blowing Lich King away, but if that gave Lich King nerves they weren’t showing it. It’s a bit hard trying to decipher how much competition is going on here between the bands – friendly, obviously – and how much is straight up camaraderie. You know they like playing the same gigs, but are there hidden stakes; beer tabs, dares and running bets?

I’m still trying to make my mind up about a thing or two about Lich King. They made with more of the swaggering braggadocio than other bands on the night, and by the end of their set when people started chanting “Black Metal Sucks”,  something was niggling at the back of my head (which had nothing to do with me wearing a Bathory t-shirt, honest).

I suspect a meaningful difference between Lich King and their Australian counterparts on the night probably comes down to the difference between the piss-take and the roast. The American tradition of the comedy roast doesn’t really have a counterpart in the rest of the Anglophonic world – the piss-take is as close as it gets. While the roast is dry and direct by design, the piss-take is considerably more amiable with much more nudging and and winking. Canadians, New Zealanders and the British all veer towards the piss-take as well – consider Canadian Steve Terreberry’s “How To Be Black Metal!” as an example; it’s not a roast, it’s a piss-take, but touches on pretty much all the same points as the considerably more overt lyrics to Lich King’s Black Metal Sucks.

While Lich King are clearly perfectly capable of laughing at themselves, I reckon there’s a real difference there, and that it’s probably cultural – although it will take more gigs and more listening to be sure. All the more reason for these kinds of festivals, and from what I’ve been led to believe, Adelaide’s probably going to get a Churches of Steel III and IV.

I’ll be looking forward to it.

~ Bruce

First gig of 2018: A night at the Ed Castle

EdLast Friday, the 5th, I spent a warm January night dropping in on a gig at the Ed Castle. Voros were headlining, supported by Biome, I, Protagonist and Meth Leppard. A friend in I, Protagonist had asked me along, I had a book I’d wanted to give him, and I needed to get a bit more familiar with how my new camera handled the dark. Ultimately though, I’d only be able hang around for the support acts.

***

Biome were first cab off the rank, starting off by mixing in what was either Tuvan or Tibetan throat singing with reggae, jazzy bits and death metal. It worked pretty much seamlessly.

I’ve never had a problem with women growling on lead vocals, but I’ve occasionally wondered if market forces don’t tend to commodify and tropify female death metal leads – moreso than males – in the direction of musical cliche and the predictable throwing of shapes.  Fortunately Biome’s vocalist, Jo, showed no signs of any of that. Her vocals were unaffected and her stage presence was that of a person seemingly happy wearing their own skin.

I wasn’t able to get up closer for a snap, and the lighting had possibly drenched the stage a bit too red for my camera’s liking. But maybe it was safer I’d hung back anyway: The stage looked like a scene from Stephen King’s Carrie – if Carrie had been possessed by Pazuzu.

(Also, judging by the bassist’s moustache, there may have been pirates).

People have told me this was Biome’s first outing, although I’m not sure of the truth of the matter. If this is just the beginning for them, I hope the industry affords them the ability to keep on doing their own thing – especially if one day they get signed by a label. You can check out their stuff for yourself here.

***

I ProtagonistNext up were I, Protagonist, who cranked out a few memorable numbers with a dual vocal attack, between fits of making ears bleed. “Sober Dionysian” is a track I’ll probably reference as a starting off point for a future discussion of the Apollonian and Dionysian. A new track, “The map and the territory” was chunky in all the right places, but apparently the drummer made a mistake during the performance. I can’t say I noticed.

I was able get a bit closer this time, and from that vantage point it looked like the crowd were keeping their distance. Maybe they were worried Scott would tread on them, what with all the stomping back and forwards. Or maybe they didn’t like his The Smiths t-shirt (“eww, Morrissey”).  How he didn’t put a foot through a foldback speaker I have no idea.

You can get a hold of some I, Protagonist online here.

A Scripted Oblivion

A Scripted Oblivion CD: $5 from the merch table at reputable watering holes.

***

Meth LeppardAfter a short change, Meth Leppard followed.

My camera managed to get a single clear(ish) shot towards the end of the sound check. The rest of the time getting a clear shot of the drummer would have been like trying to take a picture of a hummingbird’s wing – he was all over that kit.

I’m not overly familiar with Meth Leppard, and maybe my ears were just fucked by this point, but I was hoping to hear some Krokodil Dundee in there and I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen. All the same, you’ve gotta love a band with a name like Meth Leppard who then follow through with a title like “Krokodil Dundee”; worth a check-in on that basis alone.

Grindcore, like other “core”s, isn’t really my thing, but I’m finding I feel it live a lot more than when I listen to it at home. Meth Leppard are no exception, so maybe I’ll have to keep my eyes open for more of them in future.

Meth Leppard can be found dealing their seedy wares on Bandcamp here.

***

Being soft and all, I had to head home before Voros hit the stage. It’s okay if you think I suck for that. I’ll probably have to start doing a little more homework on them in the near future (i.e. listening to them more intently).

Their latest album is available on Bandcamp here.

***

So that was it for the Ed Castle. Or so I thought. I’d only just bought my ticket to February’s Churches of Steel II, when it was announced that the event would be relocating to The Ed Castle after The Producers had closed.

churches

This’ll be an interesting addition to the ticket collection.

The older tickets to The Producers will be honored at the new venue, and the two stages will be maintained; one of them in the beer garden. Sweet.

I’ve also paid up for Overkill and Destruction’s gigs at Fowlers in the first half of 2018. Not having gotten out to nearly enough gigs over the years, I’m contemplating seeing if I can get along to see Venom Inc. at The Enigma Bar too. There’s also Heavy S.A. to consider in April, and it looks like Biome are on the lineup.

Either way, when the time comes I’ll be writing up some proper gig reviews around here.

~ Bruce

The Bots have always been at war with Eurasia

Expressed a long-held sentiment on Twitter earlier today.

01

For those not cottoning on to what I’m saying here, it’s an understatement to say that exploitation isn’t something that social justice is for, yet the term “social entrepreneur” implies that it’s a desired part of the mission plan. It requires a degree of Orwellian double-think to internalize the semantics of the phrase, because the concept itself is self-contradictory.

My tweet got two likes.

02

Neil’s a friend. He’s well worth a follow on Twitter, and over at his blog. The other like is from “SocialChangeCentral”.

What’s “SocialChangeCentral” all about? What’s their reason to be?

03

“Looking for #funding and exposure to grow your #socialenterprise? Check out Australia’s premium #socent opportunities hub” – SocialChangeCentral

The bots are doing a fine line in Orwellian politics, but cripes, they’re failing the Turing test. Gawd. I hope it’s a bot that’s done this.

This little episode serves as a reminder: Don’t expect meaning to be generated by engagement with neoliberalism.

~ Bruce

“Identity politics”

One of the most unproductive things you can have in political discourse is the situation where people polarize around a poorly defined piece of terminology; people will talk past one another, people will misrepresent one another (willingly or unwillingly), and people will just plain not argue their case, regarding their conclusions as obvious because argument to the contrary has been made semantically inaccessible.

Argue about “identity politics” on Twitter, and you’ll likely receive a shit-storm in response, impugning your character in ways determined by which caricature you can be most closely associated with. Woke, with-it hot-takes abound on pseudo-leftist media start-ups, decrying the use of the word, while angry white men quiver on YouTube, simultaneously treating their own use of the term as rigorous and unequivocal, all while not bothering to even define it.

***

To give you an idea of the vista of confusion I’m seeing, here’s a few different definitions of “identity politics” I’ve seen in play. (This list of meanings is non-exhaustive, and for even more confusion, there’s probably more overlap than I’m indicating here.)

The Bubba/Brexit/One Nation Definition: “Identity politics is wot those uppity blacks used to humiliate me for loosin’ my job after they dun stole it with the immigrunts.”

The ‘Bert Definition: “Identity politics separates us all into fictional boxes – but we’re all the same: I don’t see race! There’s no wage gap! All lives matter!”

The Brocialist Definition: “Racism is bad, but identity politics – arguing about race and sex – is a wedge strategy to stop us talking about class, so stop talking about racism and sexism and be my wingman at the next Marxism convention! #Solidarity”

The Identarian Definition: “All oppression is leveled against intrinsic identities, and “identity politics” is a derisive term used by people who seek to engage in said oppression by denying who we are on the inside!”

The Anti-Identarian Definition: “Not all oppression is leveled against “intrinsic identities”, and a good deal of identity is not intrinsic to begin with. Identity politics moves the focus of debate away from the material living conditions experienced by various social groups – the distribution of wealth, and control over the means of production – towards demands for often trivial (or epistemologically impossible) acceptance of other people’s internal accounts of themselves. It is solipsistic, narcissistic and regressive.”

***

I think it’s pretty obvious by way of my giving it the final word, which meaning I’m most sympathetic with, but it’s not really my point right now to promote any given definition. Rather, it’s my point that these commonly circulating meanings for “identity politics” are quite at odds with one another, and yet people will go on arguing as if we’re all talking about the same thing; arguing and achieving nothing.

When YouTube Atheists or Skeptic Douches prattle on about “identity politics”, too often it’ll be a case of the Bubba objection masquerading as the pseudo-enlightened ‘Bert objection, which basically guarantees that you’ll never be able to pin them down to an unequivocal statement without drawing their motives out first; motives which they’re not apt to self-examine in the first place. Good luck with that.

The ubiquitous Internet ‘Berts will often have the broadest definition of “identity politics”; engaging in hyper-skepticism of statistically meaningful social groups in order to further denialism about the living conditions of said social groups, to whatever extent is needed for them to feel comfortable with their own fortunes. And you’ll be the racist or sexist for contradicting them.

The Brocialists, if they’re your standard variety, will at least have the good manners to stick with their objection, even if it does make if difficult to have a conversation with them (not that you’d necessarily want to).

Identarians, I’ve often found, will deploy the confusion of the inverse fallacy; that they’ve seen a number of Brocialists/’Berts/Bubbas use the term “identity politics”, before noting that you’ve used it, and are hence therefore a Brocialist, ‘Bert or Bubba, or hybrid of all three or more. Aside from being logically invalid, and not-infrequently factually wrong, when people take this kind of non-argument on-board they’re internalizing a shit-tonne of confusion. Confused? Yes, well that’s to be expected.

(I get that this fallacy can serve as a heuristic to ward off racist/sexist trolls, but still, it’s one that generates a lot of confusion/signal degradation).

The mistake I think anti-identarians make, when they make it, is a simple case of taking their own assumptions for granted and subsequently talking past interlocutors. This may not generate as much confusion or conflict as the practices of the other camps, but it doesn’t help to inform readers either, nor does it cut through any of the confusion generated by the other takes on the topic.

***

A couple of years ago, I was surprised to read that people who have a problem with identity politics were all opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement. This struck me as weird because all the people I’ve known who’ve had articulated objections to identity politics – old Trots from some time back – I’d expect would be Black Lives Matter supporters.

The message I get from this confusion is that people – particularly people who get published writing about politics – aren’t examining their own lexicons, instead passively adopting definitions from their own social bubble.

To some extent, at lower levels or in private spaces this isn’t a problem, and we all do it. But if you aren’t familiar with a set of perspectives – if you didn’t know who was voicing a vague term or where they were coming from when using it – you could be forgiven for not having a fucking clue what they were on about.

Public participation in discussion of politics shouldn’t be confined to select in-groups, as much as certain groups may benefit from such insularity.

I’m not going to get all Bolshi and demand that everyone closely police their semantics in their own personal spaces, but I think it wouldn’t hurt for writers with some modicum of political responsibility to reconsider how clearly they’re getting their points across, and whether or not they want to do more than just preach to the choir.

It wouldn’t hurt the public for such writers to tie themselves down to a definition or two.

~ Bruce

“I don’t know you”

I’m not sure if it’s just some eastern state thing I’m yet to familiarize myself with, or a genuinely hypocritical phenomena arising out of organized freethought; being dismissed on the basis of unfamiliarity with an interlocutor.

Basically, you’re in discussion with a self-identified free-thinker, rationalist, Humanist or whatever – often from New South Wales in my experience – and they try to shut you down with the likes of a cliquish “sorry, I don’t know you”. The thing is, the shut-down is neither pertinent to the content of what you’re saying, nor suited to the circumstance; it’s not like you’re actually in their personal space – as much as they may pretend to own the place, you haven’t crashed their tea party.

The setting will be a mutual friend’s Facebook timeline, or a freethought organisation’s page, or so on; an ostensibly neutral territory that may be purposed to someone’s whims, just not your interlocutor’s. The setting is somewhere where at base, the validity of what you argue isn’t contingent upon you having standing or being a stakeholder.

You’ll make your argument, you’ll make no effort to flatter or offend and you’ll make it critical, all of which is perfectly acceptable in any community aspiring to call itself a home to freethought. Then someone will snap at you – usually someone vain – sniffily asking “who are you?”, or otherwise proclaiming your status as alien as if it counters the content of your claims, or warrants that they not even be considered.

I mean, they can refuse to consider what you’re saying, and unless they have some degree of executive responsibility, you can’t expect to force them to tell you why. It’s just that they do tell you why, and the reason why is a bit shit. A bit shit, and a bit indicative of a deeper problem.

Not for the first time, I’ve just had a short discussion with someone online who imagines that they’re open-minded and critical, and that it’s the people who’ve blocked them that are failing to live up to the best rationalist ideals. And not for the first time, I’ve subsequently seen my argument dismissed on the basis of my lack of familiarity to an interlocutor.

The irony here, is the insistence on identifying as open and critical, while simultaneously enacting a motivated shut-down of an argument on the basis that it’s alien. In any given instance, this kind of contradiction is funny. The fact that it seems to get repeated so often is not. Certainly within communities aspiring to freethought it should be regarded as pathological.

Maybe I’ve just been incredibly unlucky in running into this kind of thing repeatedly, or maybe I just bring the worst out of “Freethinkers”, but the vain bunker mentality is not a good look for movements that advocate critical thinking and criticize cults.

~ Bruce

Netiquette

It seems a little bit self-regarding writing-up a comments policy for a small blog these days. Due to changes in the way people consume media online, and the frequency with which I post, I don’t get nearly as much blog traffic as I used to a decade ago. Furthermore commentary is largely something that’s migrated away from the blogosphere towards social media, which for the most part is out of my hands.

Why write a policy confined in scope to an outlet folks won’t use? Why put yourself in the position of being able to be questioned on matters of policy compliance for so little? What kind of reader would press for the precise exercise of such a policy in such a circumstance, anyway?

So this isn’t a policy document. This blog doesn’t have a comments policy. To paraphrase old Art, “I reserve the right to be a capricious bastard…”

Still, what makes for good discussion online is interesting and important, if elusive and ever changing. Instead of delivering edicts limited to an incredibly confined scope, this post serves as a discussion piece, should it be needed, wherever it may be wanted.

***

In the ‘90s, if you joined a discussion list or USENET newsgroup, and “netiquette” was enforced, the kind of edicts you’d see invoked often entailed technological concerns; top-vs-bottom-posting, cross-posting, HTML vs plain-text content and so on. If you were new to the conventions – that is if you hadn’t used email prior to the popular uptake of the World Wide Web – it was a bit like learning the conventions of CB Radio for the first time.

In 1995, Intel’s Sally Hambridge wrote a seminal text for the Network Working Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force; Netiquette Guidelines.  Being largely a response to an influx of “Newbies”, and geared towards providing a blueprint for policy makers at the time, the document has noticeably dated. For example…

“Never send chain letters via electronic mail.  Chain letters are forbidden on the Internet.  Your network privileges will be revoked.  Notify your local system administrator if your ever receive one.”

(Hambridge, Netiquette Guidelines, ‘2.1.1 For mail’, 1995)

By today’s standards, just over two decades later, this clause seems over-reaching and authoritarian. It’s certainly, in as far as the social media equivalent is concerned, un-achievable. If you were to contact your ISP to inform them you’d received a chain letter in 2017, maybe you’d get a reply from the help-desk, but you can pretty much guarantee that the sysadmins wouldn’t be that interested in your query.

What I’d like for you the reader to consider though, are the likely concerns behind, and the context surrounding this rule.

In terms of concerns, to this day chain letters and their equivalents degrade the signal-to-noise ratio in Internet discussion. The best case scenario is some mild entertainment, while the worst, especially when such spam is particularly both viral and dis-informative, is an effect that undermines democracy.

In terms of the context, in 1995 and discussed elsewhere in Hambridge’s text, is the reality that people often didn’t have their own Internet connection – often they had an account at work, or on campus, or so-on. The implication of this, not expressed so clearly in Hambridge’s text, although more obvious at the time, was that your sysadmin was a flesh and blood human being you may very well have even mingled with in meatspace; someone you basically had a pact with rather than someone institutionally removed from you to the umpteenth degree. The illusion that the Internet was a public space, rather than a construct built up on privately owned servers, wasn’t nearly as strong as it is now either.

There also weren’t the same automated bells and whistles more modern sysadmins have today, and this meant that they may very well had to have gotten up close and personal with your drama. Algorithms are copping a lot of flak lately, having introduced an array of self-perpetuating biases into democracy itself, but at base, they’ve saved sysadmins an awful lot of work as well.

So back in the day, if you handled yourself courteously – thus potentially saving your sysadmin an array of thankless and resource draining chores – you got your Internet privileges. Over a more manually-run Internet, over more obviously private infrastructure, saying chain letters were “forbidden” was a far more reasonable expectation.

***

Without wanting to sound ecclesiastical about it, one of the best ways to kill a comments policy, or any policy regarding discussion, is to use the letter of the law to violate the spirit of the law. You’ll see this in particular in any instance where someone who’s abusive online engages in a narrow parsing of the rules in order to confect the case that They’re The Victim Here(tm) – that everyone else just feels that they’ve been abused, but that objectively, by the rules, they’re the one’s engaging in wrongdoing.

If you’ve ever argued with a Men’s Rights Activist, or other, similarly querulous sorts, you already know what I’m on about.

I’m no doubt re-inventing the wheel by making this observation, but I strongly suspect that as technology ages, literal rules of communication, heavily grounded in the particulars of a given medium, are bound to act as an anchor upon civil, open discussion. This rapid dating of rules then further compounds the problem of the letter of the law being used to violate its spirit.

It wouldn’t have been out of place, for example, for a 1990s sysadmin to consider what someone did over a different Internet connection and a different medium, outside their purview. However, even late last decade, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for someone moderating blog comments to take Twitter harassment into consideration when considering who is or isn’t allowed to participate.

It’s not that the concerns have changed, it’s that the technology, the specific consequences, and hence the range of feasible implementations of the rules, have. This, I think, is true much more for online discussion than for say the conventions of formal meetings in meatspace.

New conventions were needed after Gopher gave way to the World Wide Web, the latter eventually bringing in an influx of “newbies”. Newer rules were needed with the explosion of Web 2.0 in the Aughts. Social media has subsequently thrown the specifics of a lot of this out of the window – supplanting the older technologies all while increasing the size of a user base that largely doesn’t care about how it was all done before they arrived, much less why.

***

So what, then? No rules? Maybe not here, but in general I don’t think it’s all a lost cause.

While the specific acts have changed – SkeezBros don’t ask “ASL?” on Facebook like they did on Yahoo! Chat, and you don’t have to manually accept that dick pic on Facebook the way you had to on IRC – the mentality of abusers has not. Instead of grounding the rules so heavily in tech, then, why not base them on something more persistent, like basic attitudes?

I can think of a few good reasons why this may present problems. It is easier for example, for both algorithms and humans to target cuss words, than it is to run your text through something based on the DSM-V. While something based on the DSM-V may provide insights into more far reaching behaviours than what the current tech used to enforce the ToS does, it would be more expensive.

That is until Facebook finds a profitable way to sell the results of a DSM-V-based test to the likes of potential employers, insurers and so on. (Assuming they haven’t already).

Ultimately though, I think that in as far as human involvement in facilitating online discussion is concerned – and at least until AI is more field-proven as democracy-friendly, I think humans should be more involved here – it’d be good for folks to familiarize themselves with a bit of human nature and its implications. (Viewers of Halt and Catch Fire can consider me Team Comet on this front.)

***

What sort of things about human nature? What kind of considerations?

At the risk of appearing to create a set of rules for this blog, here’s a list of a few things that come to mind. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it highlights the kind of attitude-based, rather than specific-tech-based approach to moderating online discussion I’m talking about.

This bit will probably blow out the word-count, so don’t feel obliged to not skip forward if you get the gist.

No media outlet, nor its authors, are apps on your computer.

Automated, near-instantaneous electronic gratification may have conditioned you to expect a certain response at the click of a button. But unless shoe-horned into inequitable conditions, humans don’t offer this feature to end-users. If you’re in the habit of being indulged this way, try to grow out of it, and certainly don’t expect it from actual people in discussions of contentious issues.

(Nor, if you manage to get humans to be largely compliant with such expectations, should you expect quality discussion; reduce a human to the role of a bot, then don’t expect them to produce output of a higher standard.)

If you still have trouble with this concept, consider taking your technological solipsism to a therapist.

You are not the editor of someone else’s media.

Unless you’ve got a heap of state power behind you, or a contract employing or otherwise positioning you as an editor, you’re not participating in discussion in that capacity. Bloggers etc. get to make their own mistakes in their own space. Think you’ve got legal recourse to change that? See a lawyer, or ask Napoleon The Boar.

There are occasions where a friendly, professional editor may chip in with editorial advice for an emerging writer, but even then, from what I can tell, said editors tend to observe and appreciate the emerging writer’s creative autonomy. Unsolicited editorializing is something I’ve only really seen either from people who aren’t editors at all, or who are recently-graduated, self-employed editors with massive entitlement biases. (Admittedly, my experience is limited).

If you try hard enough, maybe you’ll be a shit lawyer.

Lawyers tend not to push judges as far as some trolls try to push admins, because if they did, they’d be turfed for contempt of court. This seems funny to me, because a lot of Internet trolls appropriate the terms-of-art and dramatized rhetoric of TV lawyers.

Not that I think lawyers are perfect role-models, but I think folks cribbing their lines from Rumpole of the Bailey could at least emulate a little of his self-restraint (such as it is).

You’re not owed affection or affirmation.

Sure, people shouldn’t dehumanize you, but it’s not incumbent upon individuals, as individuals, to tend to your wounds after the fact – even individuals with opinions about the nature of the kind of dehumanization you’ve experienced. There are a lot of ways this matter can play out, politically.

Even if you’ve been dehumanized by an oppressor, conservatives may very well tell you to harden the fuck up. This wouldn’t be my approach. Rather, I’d argue that its the responsibility of a progressive state to cater to your psychological health via a universal public health care system. (That, and for the system causing the initial oppression to be overturned).

I can’t however, see myself as being personally responsible for providing this kind of health care; for a start, while interested in these kinds of issues, I’m not a qualified practitioner. Nor incidentally are most bloggers. You don’t need people like me tinkering around in your brain. Further, there’s a whole load to unpack here concerning the issue of individual action versus collective organizing (and how progressive causes have been undermined by such individualism).

This is where I’d find common ground with a number of conservative bloggers; it’s not our job as individuals. We’re not obliged to love you. We’re not personally obliged to provide care. Suffice to say that those who aren’t actually oppressed (yes you, MRAs), can reasonably expect even less sympathy.

“Practitioner of pathological behavior” is not an oppressed class.

The mentally ill may on occasion exhibit behaviour that is pathological towards other people, but as any number of people affecting social justice concerns have rightfully pointed out, pathological behaviour towards others isn’t something mental illness guarantees, nor that mental health prevents. We mentally ill are not incapable of occasionally keeping our shit together.

The corollary that some people seem unwilling to make, though, is that while the mentally ill may form an disadvantaged class, a predisposition to abusive behaviour does not qualify as membership in this class.

If you’re a clinical narcissist, and that’s the limit of your psychological flaws, then sorry, no, you’re not mentally ill and you’re not being stigmatized/oppressed on that basis. All this means is that you have a particular set of character deficiencies that makes you a pain, and that this may be of diagnostic use for people with an interest in that kind of thing (e.g. employers, prisons etc.). The pathology is in what you do, not in what’s being done to you.

This doesn’t make you a victim of SJWs/2nd Wave Feminists/The Family Court/Reductive Positivists/Psychiatry/[Insert Anyone Else You Wish To Scapegoat]. Nor, back on the matter of this piece, does it make poor behaviour on the Internet magically excusable.

If this is you, people get to exclude you from their spaces on precisely this basis, not in spite of it. No amount of trying to shoehorn yourself into a category where you don’t belong changes this.

Connotations

Intending your words to have different connotations than the ones people attach to them won’t change the connotations attached to them. Sure, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate that some, possibly many people may extend a degree of charity of interpretation to you. Yes, some other folks will vexatiously attribute any connotation to any word you use if it serves their ends.

But if you wind up with dishonest interlocutors, and they’ve not come to you, then a solution is as easy as walking away. Why spend time and effort at a blog, or Facebook page, or IRC channel, or wherever else where you’ll be intentionally misunderstood?

And if you’ve honestly been inept in your use of language, and you haven’t been abused for it, you’ve got an opportunity to learn. Why squander that by letting your ego get in the way?

Why would your very first instinct be to be skeptical of the sincerity of a person attaching different connotations to a word than you; a skepticism that kicks in before even a consideration of the semantics of the word, let alone the context your interlocutor argues from?

The bots have to pass a Turing Test, and so do you.

The Turing Test, put simply, is a test to see if an artificial intelligence can act so much like a human, that it becomes indistinguishable from one. There’s probably no good reason why actual humans should be held to a lower standard online, so it’d also probably be a good idea for people to lift their game to a level more convincing than that of an automated advertisement for penis pills.

Best not to make your contributions boilerplate if you want actual discourse. (Sam Harris fans, I’m looking at you, but not at you in particular).

You get no receipts.

So someone’s blocked/banned you from their own space online. Their reason: …

Get used to it.

***

It’s maybe a bit much to expect everyone with control over an online outlet to exercise judgement in-line with a thorough study of human nature. Despite the verbiage, I certainly haven’t reached that benchmark here. Like most people I haven’t majored in psychology.

To some extent, the success of a healthy place for open discussion is going to rely on the discernment of readers, at least in as far as supporting good hosts of discussion. A world where the likes of The Mind Unleashed and The Freethought Project can masquerade as the hosts of serious discussion, in front of millions no less, possibly hints at a need for moderated expectations. The mere existence of the Alt-Right as an Internet powerhouse makes this seem all the more daunting.

And not everyone who wants to host discussion in good faith – as is their right – can be a good student of human nature to begin with, let alone put things into practice. The hurdles are many, and it’s not the case that we’d all want to discourage argument in good faith, even if hosted a little ineptly.

As personally confronting as the prospect may be, I’m finding the prospect of judging people by their character, rather than moderating them according to the precise letter of their word or the formation of their metadata, is going to be the best way to be fair to the fair-minded. For all the risks, I’m hoping this outlook will be the more sustainable in the long run, for anyone who takes this approach.

~ Bruce

More Plebiscite Madness

800px-Rainbow_flag_breezeIt’s just been announced via the ABC and other outlets, that the planned marriage equality plebiscite – the non-binding plebiscite that will cost taxpayers a bundle just so that people can tick a box as to whether or not we arbitrarily give a group of humans their human rights – has a enrollment registration period ending on August the 24th. That’s basically a fortnight from now, as of writing.

The plebiscite already contains a massive potential source of sample bias in that being non-compulsory, it selects for more strongly held opinions, and it’s pretty much an established fact that conservative Christian fundamentalists for example, are dab hands at organizing their base to skew unrepresentative polls. (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like Shannon Noll, but see then-fundamentalist Guy Sebastian’s Australian Idol win all those years back for an example of the power of fundamentalist poll skewing). A short enrollment registration period only further helps lower casual, non-organized votes.

This cynicism is sure to provoke apathy, and I have a number of friends who think this is a deliberate aim of the plebiscite. I don’t know that I disagree with them.

Still, as shitty as the plebiscite is, and as repugnant as the idea of simply voting on someone else’s rights is, there will be political consequences to the vote. If the anti-marriage equality crowd win this thing, then despite an unrepresentative result that would contradict more accurate polling, they’ll have a talking point to rally around. Politics has become more and more fact averse, so the political capital this would provide fundamentalists shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Why are those communist social justice warriors still trying to get gay marriage if we won the vote?!?! Why don’t they respect democracy!”

Further, the intrinsic lack of worth of this plebiscite, should the anti-marriage equality vote win, will not stop fundamentalists using it as a stick to beat parliamentarians, gays and lesbians with. (As if the plebiscite itself wasn’t bad enough in this respect).

If on the other hand the plebiscite indicates that a majority of voters want marriage equality, then while parliamentarians won’t be bound, the anti-marriage equality groups will have a huge rhetorical stick taken from them. It will, in a sense, alienate their lunatic platforms further from the rest of the Australian public.

It also offers, or improves the possibility, that cowardly equivocators in parliament will be further exposed and hung out to dry.

So, I’ll be registering and voting for marriage equality. Despite all the bullshit, I’d encourage others to do the same. (Albeit if the poll doesn’t get shot down before it gets to the postal vote – cripes this is getting absurd).

~ Bruce

Photo Source: Benson Kua (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike).