I can’t help but notice

Maybe it’s the algorithms doing me a favour, but in the past week I’ve noticed a sudden up-swerve in the left-leaning media I subscribe to in terms of their coverage of atrocities against the Kurds – above and beyond what I can explain by citing the recent up-swerve in violence against the Kurds. There have been peaks and troughs in this violence over the past few decades, albeit without corresponding peaks in coverage. Why the concern now?

Ditto when it comes to violence perpetuated against Syrians by Russia. Until now, if you’d been watching only moderately left-leaning mainstream press, you’d think that America was the only one guilty of this, or at least the prime culprit. If you were silly enough to consider RT a serious news outlet rather than a propaganda machine engaging in social-media-driven entryism, you’d probably go further. But Russia has been pretty damn bloody though the whole affair.

I can remember as a nascently political kid in the late 1980s, the view that the welfare of the Kurds and Iraqi people was a left-wing concern – and that Saddam was a right-wing dictator responsible for their deprivations. Of course, it helped that the US was chummy with Saddam for a while.

Then when the US decided that Iraq was the enemy instead of an ally, the Saddam-is-a-right-wing narrative was at least de-emphasized. Some supposed lefties got quite cozy with Ba’athism themselves. And you didn’t have to travel too far in the far left to find some loudly ideating goose proclaiming that Saddam was secular and left.

“Yeah, okay, the Kurds are being killed, but if we want to help them, first we have to win against the True Enemy, and to do that we’ve got to act as if the Kurds aren’t a concern! Asserting the worth of the Kurdish cause and defeating the right at the same time? Too hard! So shhhhh! We’ll get back to them once we’ve won, honest.”

”Oh, and if you don’t remain silent, I’ll have to suggestively question whether you’re progressive at all.”

Now I’m not suggesting we bomb the fuck out of anything. Like a lot of people, I marched against the second Gulf War in 2003 and have only really since changed my stance in terms of the particular details – shedding some of the waffle about hegemony and adopting an even more somber utilitarianism.

And I’m not suggesting that the right’s purported concern for the Kurds over the last few decades hasn’t been largely hypocritical. Clearly Trump has now effectively declared that he never cared (as if this wasn’t clear before, nor clear concerning many of his Republican predecessors). Not that this should ever have been needed to license left-wing concern in the first place, which again seems too widely to be the case.

What I am suggesting is this: The welfare of people in the Middle East, this welfare’s status as a left-wing priority, and the merits of any given editorial policy on the topic, aren’t contingent on what either America or the right purport to think about the matter. The Kurds, and the lives of everyone living in the Middle East, have worth entirely independent of what any part of the left’s declared political enemies happen to be thinking on any given day. We shouldn’t just be noting what The Baddies(tm) say, simply saying the opposite when the opportunity arises, and then referring to deaths on the ground as confirmation after the fact.

This knee-jerk contrarianism that’s been running through parts of the left for as long as I’ve been paying attention betrays a callous disregard for some truly fucked-over people, and it’s heart-breaking. Moreover it’s contrary to what and who the left in the most simple of terms is supposed to stand for: the downtrodden.

    • The Kurds have always been worthy of our concern.
    • Saddam was always a right-wing dictator, and Iraqis his victims, for as
      long as he reigned.
    • George Galloway has always been a numpty.
    • None of the above has been more or less true depending on the US
      or the right’s position on the Middle East.

Political tribalism dressed up as incisiveness may help an advertiser sell consumer tidbits to discerning wankers, but it makes for poorer news. Meanwhile, people continue die for no good reason, popinjays posture and pontificate, journalists continue to convince themselves that they’re triangulating for a good cause rather than for self-interest, or indeed that they’re not triangulating at all, and media consumers and credulous sorts in the grass roots get a warped view of it all.

It’s too fucking sad.

~ Bruce

“Stupid feminists…”

At much the same time, but aside from the whole fallout following the ‘ElevatorGate’ non-controversy, has been a curious little phenomena I’ve seen over the past few years on the Australian blogosphere/Twitterverse. It’s not something I’m going to generalise to the wider population – it’s more a case of who’s been saying it that makes it interesting.

It’s too far out to name names – to dredge up something say three years old, for what at best would be a shit-storm, but I’ll provide a few biographical details when and where it’s relevant.

***

The phenomena; “…stupid feminists…”.

Taken at face value, logically, the phrase refers to feminists-who-are-stupid. You could, if this was as far as you wanted to go, write this off as another reference to stupid people among the whole range of walks of life; stupid lefties; stupid right-wingers; stupid arts students; stupid accountants; stupid brick layers and so on.

You could be forgiven for simply concluding that as a concession, the phrase implies the existence of feminists who aren’t stupid – I mean, why point out that a given feminist is, or a group are, stupid, if they’re all stupid?

I’d be lying if I said I thought every feminist I’d ever encountered was a genius, or honest, or sane. In fact, I find some of what I’ve come across that’s been passed off as serious, worthy of harsh parody. Luce Irigaray’s drivel about E=mc2 being gendered (‘Sujet de la science, sujet sexué?’, 1987), and fluid dynamics being underprivileged on account of being feminine (‘The “mechanics” of fluids’, 1985), come to mind as being particularly bankrupt.

(I was once told, by someone trying to advance a particularly weird epistemological argument, that intellectual clarity was masculine because clear delineations resemble the sheer outline of an erect penis. This was served up to me, in all seriousness, as academically sound feminism.)

It’s not just amongst academic feminism – Laurie Penny, in line with a series of other criticisms by feminist authors, lambasts the recent writing of popular feminist Naomi Wolf for being particularly silly. I’m inclined to sympathise.

My subjective impression though, is that most of the feminists I’ve encountered are on average, smarter than average, truthful in as far as human nature allows, and perfectly sane. Ditto for the feminist literature I’ve read (I tend to find authors like Laurie Penny quite reasonable).

This is, I repeat, a subjective impression; I don’t have a statistically sound survey of feminist thought, and neither do the people using the mentioned phrase, “…stupid feminists”.

***

Now back to the curious phrase…

Again, we could take the logic at face value, and it would at least be a charitable way of taking it out of context. But context matters.

During the last three years, in addition to the repetition of the phrase, I’ve witnessed a relatively high-profile Australian “Skeptic” swear off the night’s QandA on the ABC, on account of having had to have put up with too many “stupid feminists” at university. Incidentally, it was one of Leslie Cannold’s appearances on QandA that night, that got the fellow all riled up.

I’d liked to have asked two questions at the time, questions I think it’s worth revisiting now, albeit with less heat.

What proportion of “stupid feminists” at university warrants being considered intolerable, such that a reasonable person would avoid future contact where possible?

And…

What exactly was the fellow’s objection to Leslie Cannold, and his familiarity with “stupid feminists”, such that he could dismiss her in advance? (Put another way – “how is his data predictive?”)

Answering the former, if you were being charitable, you could suggest was due to a generally low tolerance to stupidity – he’s just sensitive.

But the “Skeptic” in question engages with creationists on a semi-regular basis, all without affording them relief from a single drop of his vitriol. Even if you assume he’s right about “stupid feminists”, why can’t he engage with his feminist opponents equally?

A low tolerance to stupidity clearly isn’t the answer.

As for the second question… an honest “Skeptic” should be able to point out the error in attributing such significance to subjective impressions. Surely as a “Skeptic”, he’d seek an opportunity to be proven wrong?

Bloviation and a beard does not a rationalist make.

***

Leslie Cannold seems to have a knack for bringing this out in some of the guys. This is especially the case Twitter, and it’s a kind of response that’s always another disincentive to using the technology.

I can recall in 2010, one chap who will also go unnamed, placing scare-quotes around “ethicist” and going on to call Cannold a “cunt” (as a supposedly more apt job description). This apparently in response to this article at Crikey.

At no point did he actually address the substance of the article. Rather he simply treated the conclusion as if it was self-evidently wrong, and proceeded to engage in sanctimony.

“So what?” you may ask. It’s Twitter after all!

I’ll tell you what.

The guy in question was (and I think still is) a respected tech-writer, who’s been published at the ABC, and has in fact had more articles published at Crikey than Cannold. He’s also often re-tweeted by a clique of journos from the ABC – a crowd he is in with in the material world.

He’s not exactly a nobody. (He’s also not an ethicist.)

And back on topic, he does seem to float in the same wonkish circles I’m reading this “stupid feminists” meme in. Albeit, with a little more standing than most.

While I haven’t seen him deploy the phrase himself, instances of it do seem to be captured in his orbit like space junk around a suitably massive object.

There’s something to be said about a sub-culture where a semi-prominent journalist can slag off like this at another media figure, without much in the way of a response. This is the culture I’m seeing the phrase deployed in.

***

“…Stupid feminists…” has been doing the rounds of wonk circles for a while now; “Stupid feminist…” doesn’t understand X. “Stupid feminist…” called me a misogynist just for criticising her ideas. “Stupid feminist…” etc.

No, the phrase itself, in isolation, doesn’t logically connote a sexist generalism, but there’s always something iffy about the context. It’s never just a criticism of a feminist’s argument, if you’re also calling them stupid.

And it seems a rarity that anyone wants to discuss the points of contention at length, in essay form, or even as a blog post –  even if they’re willing to call someone else stupid on account of their disagreement.

You know who else doesn’t understand the points of contention? People who can’t articulate the points of contention, that’s who.

Sure, there’s the complexity-stifling aspect of Twitter. It’s never a good forum for a detailed discussion. But these wonks having trouble with “stupid feminists” often either contribute to popular blogs, or have the option of articulating themselves via the established media.

They express their vex so strongly. Surely if it’s all that important, they could go to the lengths to spell it out in detail?

“X accuses people of misogyny with as much discretion as people throwing rice at weddings.”

We’ve all heard the story about the boy who cried wolf. Nobody’s going to balk at someone crying “Naomi Wolf”  if it’s a fair cop, save perhaps the occasional, random troll.

I find some people’s actions in all of this, to be at odds with their expressed or apparent motives.

~ Bruce

‘I’m an atheist, but…’, revisited

It’s a bit of a dead horse, the issue of the self-degrading token atheist. Part of this I think is because the discussion has been dominated by the American perspective on token atheists; there is real antipathy towards the godless in the US, so there’s a real incentive for tokens to put up their hands for a few scraps from the table.

I live here in Australia. While I personally know of a few cases of workplace discrimination against atheists (such as by an sportswear manufacturer associated with a local pentecostal church, another example involving your’s truly and a Catholic employer, and others in the social services), and I’m aware that it’s part of a broader context of discrimination by religious employers, I have no objective information that tells me that an Australian atheist is more likely to be discriminated against than a Catholic or Muslim. I’m not willing, on the base of this, to abandon the null-hypothesis – which is that atheists aren’t singled out like this in Australia.

Subjectively, in general, I don’t feel oppressed. My main concern, is Australia’s soft theocracy, and privilege given to religious not-for-profits. The fact that religious organisations can lobby government for exemption from anti-discrimination legislation, and still be taken seriously, and the way S116 of the Australian constitution has been less than robustly enforced by the High Court, is all the justification I need, generally, for these concerns.

(Maybe one day, I’ll try to generalise what my problems with religion and various theocracies are, rather than this occasional piecemeal criticism of this-and-that issue).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t hot-spots of animus against atheists, or other issues of concern to us godless types. This isn’t to say that hostility towards atheists shouldn’t be resisted – especially when considering the roll-call of some of the Australians doing it; Prof. Greg ‘atheist plague’ Craven of Australian Catholic University (which has a mission statement of ‘tolerance’, bah!); George Pell; Dr. Peter Jensen and Prof. Gary ‘secularists are trying to shut down mosques’ Bouma (check some of his appointments to get why this is an issue) to name a few.

It’s just that I’m not going to get worked up about it on a personal level, or feel sorry for myself. Again, I don’t feel oppressed.

But… (meta-but?)

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have token atheists in Australia, especially not in the media. The implications are just a little different, and perhaps interesting if you’re a little jaded about the issue of ‘atheist, but…’ infidels.

John: I’m an atheist, but I respect religious people.

Jane: Why do you feel the need to point that out? Do you think that people will think you’re a bigot if you call yourself an atheist? You sound like you think you’re oppressed.

John:

John: I’m an atheist, but I respect you, my Muslim friends.

Jane: Why do you feel the need to re-assure Muslims? Are you paranoid they’re going to blow you up or something if you admit to being a non-believer? You sound phobic. You do realise that Muslims in Australia are generally pretty moderate?

John:

John: I’m an atheist, but I won’t rock the boat, dear religious employer/manager/editor…

Jane: Geez, I can tell you’re going to be fun to work with. You do realise that if your boss isn’t in the business of prejudice, you’ve just delivered them one whopping great insult? And if they are in the business of prejudice… well… cripes. Yellow stripe…

John:

You really have to wonder why, in a country that’s so tolerant of atheists, there are still atheists willing to sell out their own for a few scraps from the table. Maybe it’s just general back-stabbing, and cowardice. Office politics for dolts.

Maybe some of these ‘but’ atheists have been bullied by religious employers/lecturers/parents in the past, and don’t know any better. I can’t say I’m in a position to sympathise.

Maybe, in context, locally, there is discrimination in practice. Maybe some atheist sod just needs a job, and happened across one of the bad workplaces.

Aside from any concern about the well-being of atheists as a group, there’s the issue, a big issue, in the media, of what exactly the dynamic is when editors are appealed to in this manner.

An editor’s a theist, so their journos start peddling garbage misquotes about atheists and whatnot to appeal to them. This presupposes that a religious editor actually wants this kind of tripe; it’s either an insult to a good editor, or unethical brown-nosing to a bad one.

But more than this, what you have is an up-front commitment by an atheist writer/journalist to negotiate truth in return for presumed career favours. Journalism born of this can only be of dubious ethics, and it’s something for interested atheist and theist readers to take serious umbrage over. It’s contemptuous.

Journalists and writers who do this knowingly regard their readers as fools. Journalists and writers who do this unwittingly are at best, flaky.

(Reflect for a moment on the plight of good editors having to manage this kind of ‘talent’).

This kind of career brown-noser is a class of social commentator I’m really getting quite impatient with; ever increasingly as I encounter repeated instances of such simpering cowardice.

~ Bruce

‘Pope Nazi’, cognitive bias and intellectual myopia

First of all, seeing as we’re on the topic of bias, I’ll make a disclaimer relating to the content of this post.

Andrew Bolt, whose work is criticised in this post, is a member of my extended family.

I’ve never met him in person, our paths merely having been near misses. But outside of my own family nucleus, his sister’s household is easily the family residence I frequent the most. She’s a good person and her husband, a cousin of mine, is almost a brother to me.

This compromises me in some ways. On occasion, I’ve consciously withdrawn from discussion of his writing, simply because things became too personal. I have an unwillingness to generate any ill-feeling in the family, and that includes Andrew.

I suspect I’d be more excoriating if I didn’t have this association.

When you come to something with different preconceptions, you can’t always be guaranteed to walk away with the same conclusions.

Something to keep in mind when considering what I’m writing here.

Continue reading “‘Pope Nazi’, cognitive bias and intellectual myopia”