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

Connotation creep

Something I’ve been noticing increasingly with the rote use of political/civics language, is a curious, somewhat sneaky attachment of connotations to otherwise unobjectionable terms or phrases. The “creep” comes into it, not because it’s creepy (although it sometimes is), but on account of something akin to mission creep; an array of new connotations starts to steer the use of the phrase away from it’s original purpose.

Consider the pair:

1) “You’re free to speak, but you’re not free from the consequences of your speech”.

2) “You’re free to speak, but you’re not free from the consequences of your speech” *Taps baseball bat in hand/[insert implied retribution]*.

The first is often deployed in response to bigots of various stripes who think their public speech acts are immune to criticism – I.e. as a rebuttal to authoritarians who think they’re entitled to be viewed as liberal and to have their critics gagged at the same time.

The second I’ve actually seen deployed by people who’ve tried to pretend that they’re being oppressed by another on account of a speech act, and therefore that a retaliatory threat (or act) of violence is justified – E.g. what boils down to InCels warning women that they reserve the right to violence should they hear the word “no” too often. There are obviously other possible instantiations of the corrupted form as well.

I use the above example not because I’ve seen the connotation deployed recently, but because in its more extreme state, it makes what I’m talking about relatively clear. The difference between the furthest extremes in meaning is stark and hard to forget, but only once you’ve had the opportunity to see it. The creep is usually more subtle in the wild.

You get to wondering, once you’ve seen the creep and then the uncorrupted meaning being used again, just who a person’s been talking to. Have they borrowed the phrase without thinking it through? Do they know how else they could be read? Are they, somewhere, unwittingly co-operating with someone who’s got an investment in the creep? Do they on some level sympathize with these motives, or have a bias that prevents them from seeing them in the first place?

***

This corruption isn’t like the right’s overt co-opting of language (particularly the co-opting of terms that the left has used to criticize itself). That’s usually pretty blunt – more of a connotational lurch, than a creep. If they weren’t jacking our shit, I’d almost respect their openness.

But no, the creep is a worry too. It’s insidious, especially among bros.

“You’re denying her agency!”

A phrase meant to highlight how a women’s role as a decision maker and interest holder is being sidelined from consideration is relatively apt to creep towards something that serves the bros. Just remove power from the analysis, and treat all the current options on the table as the only ones logically possible, and all that’s left is to smear the people criticizing the situation as “denying her agency”. Never mind that the bros may be actively restricting the options she has to choose between in the first place.

Consider the bro who’s gaslighted and socially isolated his partner to the point where she’ll accept any crummy choice from a list of crummy choices. Consider the bro who’s deliberately selected and “helped” a partner with body image problems. Consider the bro who’s rendered his partner deliberately vulnerable through a hundred ratcheting steps. Then consider her modelling on social media to impress bro’s friends, submitting to injurious sex acts, you name it.

“Maybe she likes performing ass to mouth for his gurning bro friends to watch and laugh at! You’re denying her agency!” There are other examples along the continuum both less and more extreme, and if you line them up in graduations you can creep, creep, creep your way along them – if you’re that kind of asshole. If you’re really good, and have the aid of a compliant crowd, you can pass your shittiness off as woke in no time at all.

***

It’s practically a law of the Internet that as a phrase or term goes viral in social justice circles, it’s meaning will creep towards something more regressive. The corrupting agents are plural; marketing departments, MBA speak, narcissists, aspiring social media cult leaders, hipster brocialists, and on and on; the usual eaters of meaning.

It didn’t take long for the “spoon theory” disability metaphor to be used by “good allies” without disabilities who were just looking for a convenient term to express their exasperation.

“This thread is tiresome. I’m all out of spoons”.

“WTF Byron? You don’t even have a disability!”

And fark. “Good ally” itself doesn’t necessarily connote what people think it does anymore (if ever). I’m sick of getting a pat on the head for that one. Don’t be shocked if you call someone a “good ally” only for them to ask you what you mean, and to quiz you on your expectations.

“Safe Space”: That’s been creeping since the 80s at least. It used to be the product of women’s officers on campus, and it had little to do connotationally with “trigger warnings” or “no-platforming”, both of which have had their own substantial creeps as well. Think better lighting, women-only spaces, security guard patrols/escorts during the late hours, intercoms, anti-harassment policies and so on and you’ll be closer to the “safe space” of yore.

I’d ask you this, a favour: If you consider yourself progressive, travel in progressive circles, socialize enough, and still wonder what the fuck I’m on about here, keep an eye on something for me. When you see a designated “safe space”, keep an eye out to see how lesbians are catered to.

Lesbians – lesbians of colour especially – have often been the first to go under the bus in ostentatiously progressive spaces. As a social group in political circles, they’re easy to isolate and then exploit, attack or easily exclude.

***

The examples of connotation creep aren’t lacking if you pay attention. There are things that I suspect, though, that could be of help in keeping conversations from being corrupted. If the thought of my offering advice seems too didactic, feel free to ignore me and skip the rest of this piece.

Don’t reward or encourage people for rote-repetition of cant. This just encourages people to say the words more, but without encouraging them to really think about what they’re saying.

Don’t be quick to dismiss things as “semantics”. Possibly there are few better climates for the corruption of meaning than those where people have decided to deride discussions of meaning.

Do avoid political cant when plain language will convey your meaning with economy. This way you can keep your meaning without edgelords wanting to pervert it – and you’ll be more easily understood. Orwell was right.

Get to really know political language if you can, especially its etymology. I keep seeing people saying that etymology is irrelevant ala the genetic fallacy, but this strikes me as wrong-headed in much the same way as the “why are their still monkeys” creationist argument. Old meanings can still be in play in every day language, if not the foundational literature. Knowing what’s out there as best you can helps you get your point across without participating in the corruption.

Don’t let people guilt you about being careful with words, especially if you’re a writer. You don’t have to be self-flagellating, but writers are supposed to give a shit about words. Allowing others to manipulate you is often tantamount to giving editorial control to people who aren’t entitled to it.

Be fair on yourself and adopt the lexicon at your own pace. Don’t beat yourself up if you need to ask someone to explain a neologism clearly, although give them a little leeway for pace as well.

If people are quick to anger with you, and accuse you of being obtuse, reconsider whether they’re worth having a discussion with. You can’t have an honest discussion with someone who doesn’t want an honest discussion.

Try to preference publications that take a care with these issues. Personal choice isn’t the world-changer some people think it is, but you may be able to positively influence discussions in your own space if the media you take to it is more carefully selected.

***

I doubt there’s more I can say on connotation creep at this point that’s not redundant, vague or boring. I’m trusting that people reading this can get my point. It’s not that hard.

I’ll confess this is all somewhat shaped by the kinds of conversations I’d like to have – but if you’ve got this far then possibly you’re similarly inclined.

I hope this has been helpful.

~ Bruce

What a week in Australian politics

After two leadership challenges in one week, I expect the Australian public are quite fatigued with the state of our federal politics. That is if they haven’t managed to switch off entirely already. It takes a morbid kind of fascination to keep a laser focus on this unsightly mess.

“I don’t want to talk about it! I’m pissed off!”

This could be the public’s anthem, I suspect.

And yet we’ll have another federal election within months. Do you think the public will have enough patience for a long campaign? Do you think it’ll be able to make an informed decision with a short one?

Earlier in the week, when it was just Dutton versus Turnbull, a friend suggested that the media didn’t have their eye on the ball, and were ignoring Morrison moving in the shadows. Just days later, we now have Morrison as Prime Minister.

Dutton was just an agent of disruption. A political cluster bomb encouraged from a safe a distance, while those who’d personally wield the scalpel waited to see what would result, and how best to respond. The result is ScoMo.

Not that a many of us can be enthusiastic about the bloodbath at the moment. If we haven’t written all the leadership candidates off as horrible – ineffectual Malcy, police state Dutton, asbestos Bishop and “This is coal” Morrison – the din of the circus music emanating from Canberra is making it hard to concentrate.

“I can’t keep up or even remember half of it! Leave me alone!”

This is a dangerous state for a modern democracy to be in. It’s not like Morrison’s new government – nor anyone else in parliament for that matter – are going to take a break from making plans that will influence people’s lives.

A thought: Rather than opponents of the – ugh – Morrison Government running around absolutely independently, telling all and sundry why to vote a certain way because X, Y, Z, perhaps they could drip-feed their messages in a more organized fashion, and otherwise respond to the Government’s assertions, primarily with questions geared to remind the public of salient matters?

The government is likely to be replete with contradiction, presenting all sorts of opportunities for raising short and succinct hold-on-a-minutes. And if that pisses the public off, well, the government raised the matter in the first place. Otherwise, empathizing with the public’s frustration, and doing one’s best not to replicate just what frustrated them in the first place, seems like the way to go, at least until the election.

Needless to say, as pissed off as people are with the current mob, overwrought moral indignation is probably not going to appeal to swing voters still experiencing disorientation, and raises its own contradictions.

“Oh my god. Government is taking a day off again! At a time like this!? How selfish!”
”Get off your high horse Black Wiggle. You didn’t caterwaul like this the last umpteen times Government took a break, and those times were no less important. You aren’t relating to me!”

I make no attempt to disguise my loathing of this current federal government, and I wish the more humane and sane all the best in taking them down. But if you lot could start by toning down the affectations, it’d be a nice start. We’ve already got headaches around here without any additional drama.

~ Bruce

Creeps

So. Apparently the “Refuse to date men who use porn” Facebook group has been reported and banned on the grounds that it’s a hate group.

You get the feeling that if only they’d named themselves “Refuse to date men who wear green felt hats” they’d have gotten away with it, not that that would actually be any less innocuous.

Human beings are allowed to not date other human beings for whatever reasons they fucking well like. I certainly reserve the right to refuse to date anyone on the basis of anything and I don’t see why women can’t have that right either.

It’s not a hate crime to say “no”. It’s not a hate crime to criticize clients of the porn industry either, any more than it’s a hate crime to not be that into green felt hats.

Surprisingly – I guess – this seems to be one of those scenarios where there aren’t red herring cries of “you hate women in “sex work”” levelled against women who just happen to be criticizing men, and male-centered culture. Nope.

If you search on Facebook right now for “Refuse to date men who use porn”, you’ll wind up with the “Refuse to date women who refuse to date men who use porn” page instead. A page dedicated to whiny incel-like dweebs, which aside from being childish on the face of it, is entirely redundant; they’ve already refused to date you, bro.

You can’t refuse what’s already been denied you. You’re not being offered the chance. Move along Nigel.

From what’s visible in the form of screencaps and whatnot, these clowns became aware of the original “refuse to date” page about a month ago, committed to trolling it, and now the page has been taken down for hate. Yes, post hoc ergo propter hoc; it’s possible it’s a different bunch who’ve made the bogus complaint, but I couldn’t tell you who else they were. There’s no other visible candidate right now.*

***

No, this isn’t a commentary on porn per se, or the sex industry in general; as is often the case around here, this is meta-commentary, and committing my thoughts on the primary subject to writing would result in something a bit long-winded.

You do have to wonder though, why it is that an industry that clearly caters to the urges of pretty nasty customers can be viewed as magically unproblematic by supposed progressives.

~ Bruce

* Correction/update: While there was talk of the page being a hate group (boo-hoo, wha), the page was ultimately shut down due to being spammed by spurious requests from trolls. Otherwise, points made above still stand.

I will disappoint you

I’ve been meaning to write this post for the past five or so years, it’s just that I’ve either had more pressing things to consider, or I’ve had trouble working out what I wanted to say exactly. Enough of that. I’ll get around to it now and get it out of the way and done with.

To be clear: Like an awful lot of bloggers, I’m a political person. I’m entirely ordinary in this respect; unapologetically normal. Not. Special. At. All.

I may have briefly been paid to do advocacy work, but that’s a long time ago now, in a different setting, and in a pre-social media world. Nobody’s paying me to do politics now, so I’m my own boss. I’m my own editor.

There are camps, and ideas, and sentiments I’m more closely aligned with than others. But, this blog is not the property of any political organization or clique. I’ve sworn fealty to no-one, despite people having occasionally expected it of me during the past few years. The look of shock when I don’t follow through on a promise I’d never make: galling really.

Towards the start of this decade someone had the bad idea of referring to me as their “knight in shining armour”. This was in the atheist scene, and despite the lingering trope of the “white knight” male feminist, it was before “Elevatorgate” too. It made me cringe. It still does.

I really don’t think some people understand how independent political writing is supposed to work.

Sure. I’ll criticize misogynists. I’ll criticize racists. I’ll laugh at libertarians and I’ll groan at naïve liberalism. Conservativism? No thanks. But I’m not your guy, left. A comrade isn’t a piece of property.

I’m not trying to impress feminists or appear woke, so telling me I’m not cool in this respect is really going to be insufficient as far as I’m concerned. I reserve the right to criticize anything I see fit to, the only promise I make in this regard being to attempt to do so in good faith. But that’s more about what I think makes for good writing than about making friends and allies.

If you don’t like me, that’s okay. You don’t need my permission to not like me. Go right ahead and not like me.

Am I a “good ally”? I don’t know. I’m not going to incorporate any of the listicle hot takes on the issue into my writing goals, so maybe not. It depends on what you mean by “good ally”. I have any number of problems with the term, depending on the specifics or the lack thereof. So what? It’s not a crime, that much is clear.

I’m not young anymore, and part of that entails not needing the kinds of social re-assurance and reality checks younger people calibrate themselves with. Maybe you’re young. Maybe you’re unaware that you do this. That’s okay. That’s normal. You’re doing fine. But that’s not me now, and it may not be you in future, and we’d both be better off coming to terms with it as it unravels, rather than letting it unravel us.

I may check in with people from time to time because I think they have some kind of interest or propriety, but I’m certainly not going to ask you for approval if I don’t think it’s something you personally have authority over.

Ask yourself, why do you read political writing at all if you expect it to conform to a number of rote points? If those rote points are sufficient, and you already know them, how much more do you need to read? Surely you could just get the facts regarding new cases from a more neutral source and apply the rote rules yourself, if the rules are sufficient.

Political writing would be made largely redundant. Why read this blog at all? Why read this post? Why be bothered with anything I write if that’s the case? Surely I’d be irrelevant and not worth you time to begin with. What are you doing here?

“I’m trying to help you understand…” No. I’ve long since learned to recognize passive aggression.

The role of a serious political writer to my mind, even if not a professional, is to mine new veins of political truth. This carries an increased risk of error due to the unavoidable lack of precedent. But if it’s done well, it’s ultimately worth it, and the errors made in the enterprise, if not too serious, can be examined and corrected for later. If too serious, well, you can work out the sanctions.

Maybe I’ll fuck something up. Maybe I’ll double down on it. Or maybe you’ll be wrong and I’ll double down on something you’re just not understanding. If a political writer doesn’t risk doing this, they’re doing a shit job, and the only way to deal with the inevitable fallout is in hindsight, with analysis and possibly apologies, not cowardly acquiescence. At all points, being candid is key.

I don’t expect you to like this. I know that it’s not always pleasant. It’s not entirely comfortable at my end all the time either. But if you can’t accept it as a cost of political reality, then I don’t care for your lectures, thanks. I’ve come to terms with it and I don’t care if you haven’t. But you need to if you want me to take you seriously.

Feel free to apply hot take logic to anything I write, and to condemn me if you want. But don’t expect me to be a part of your audience, or to grovel for your approval. It won’t happen because short of being dragged before a court or statutory authority, I don’t need to comply.

If you project your hopes on me, if you adopt the expectations of some political clique I’m not a part of and not understand that I’m not bound by those conventions, then I’m bound to disappoint. But I’m not under any illusions that I’m here to be anyone’s saviour. I’ve got plenty of horseshit issues, just not that one. I know I’m nobody’s knight. And I’m not an angel either.

But if you can handle this, then I think we may be all good. Possibly, this is the hardest obstacle to deal with in dealing with me. Well, that and perhaps wondering if it’s all worth it after a while – but that’s pretty much par for the course with anyone writing about these things, frustrating as they are. And like I said, I’m not at all special in this respect.

~ Bruce

Polished public figure

A friend and I have just had a brief discussion about a political candidate we’ve had interactions with going back almost a decade – back from before their political career. Said candidate has had a long track record of getting involved with various movements. Although if you went looking for specifics on his views, such as the whys and wherefores of his positions on a range of issues – the kinds of considerations you need to make to actually formulate policy – you’d not actually find much publicly available, if at all.

Bromides. Sentiment. Boilerplate statements. Glib.

Zero scandals. Zero analysis, too.

How does a politician commit when they don’t give you much in the way of details to be committed to? Perhaps when they appear to have a personal stake. Although without the pertinent personal details it’s not really possible to know how true that is, and I don’t want to burrow too far into that side of his life.

At any rate, there’s only a single policy area he’s advocated for that he seems to have a personal stake in. What about all the others?

Maybe – and I’m just putting this out there – maybe on the level of local politics he’s committed himself to things that the rest of the country isn’t privy to. That’s a possibility. But he isn’t running for local council. It’s not unfair to want to scrutinize him in light of a broader context.

Said political candidate became a topic of discussion between friend and I after he weighed in on a controversial topic my friend has been studying at great length. This he did by sharing a memefied bit of rote social justice advice, lavishing superlatives upon the party ally he shared it from. Again, no evidence of consideration or reflection was evident.

Rote. Marketable.

Understandably discussion with my friend didn’t go on for long. There was hardly a surfeit of details to consider.

I haven’t read much of politician’s writing, because to be fair he hasn’t written terribly much. What I have read of it is all motherhood statement and declaration of intent to further certain issues and outlooks – and that (but not how) he will do the job. Oddly enough, he doesn’t further any of these issues themselves in writing. This is odd, because at the very least he’s been willing to write about himself in relation to these issues. You’d think the issues themselves would be relevant.

I once attended a talk he gave. He introduced himself as an activist in relation to a given, loosely-defined movement that had some momentum going at the time. The objectives of the movement were barely referenced, much less discussed at length. He talked about himself and that was more or less the sum of it. Upon reflection, I should have been less charitable at the time.

Digging around for why this guy was even on the stage to begin with didn’t help much. People were impressed with him but I wanted to know why. It turns out that the impressive thing about him was probably his ability for people to be impressed by him. People would literally reference other people being impressed by him, to answer any question of why the guy was impressive to begin with.

It was being impressed all the way down, or at least, if there was something material at the base of this apparent recursion of regard that set the cycle in motion, I couldn’t find it.

But you don’t get the feeling that the guy’s a narcissist, or at least, not the grandiose kind. There’s no imminent doom of him exploding in a fit of rage. Not a snarl, nor a twitch. There’s self-regard, but not terribly much in the way of aggrandizement.

He’s even friendly. But he’s calm. Too calm. Calm when a human should be frustrated or excited just a little. And he doesn’t seem terribly curious, which is odd, because a lot of the people in the demographics he seeks to serve could face an array of potential consequences based on the specifics of the policy areas he’s professed an interest in.

It’s almost as if he doesn’t actually care. It’s almost as if every time he’s made a display of associating with a cause or an organization it’s been nothing more than a branding exercise, and any decision to stick it out (or quietly disassociate) has been purely on the basis of PR.

It’s almost as if there’s nothing to the guy. If not the violence, at least Christian Bale’s line from American Psycho is evoked; “…I am simply not there”.

To infer anything about the guy’s inner political mind, you can’t look to his largely threadbare political statements. There’s just not enough of that to work with. You have to look to the kinds of conversations you know he has to have participated in behind closed doors, and to the decisions he’s made subsequently. In as far as you can infer moral decision making from this, though, in his case you still can’t distinguish morality from marketability; the possibly moral is also the definitely marketable in all cases. Or at least, in all of the cases I’m aware of using the limited privileged information I have available.

He’s clearly had differences with the directions taken by more than one organization he’s been involved with, and has left them in his past with a career-savvy degree of quiet. Not that grandstanding is what the public needs more of, this kind of silence isn’t what you want from a politician either.

If something was morally significant enough for him to part with former allies, some who’ve themselves gone on to campaign with other parties with sitting members, then it relates to differences the electorate are probably interested in. Why is the electorate being denied these discussions? Why is the substance all behind closed doors, rather than in his public declarations?

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for journalists to quiz him on these matters during future election campaigns. “What was the issue that caused you to part with so-and-so, who has themselves gone on to campaign for such-and-such? What will be the most likely sticking point between your party and theirs when it comes to debating this issue?”

This is, of course, if he found his differences with former allies to be morally significant, rather than just promotionally inconvenient. If his past disaffiliations have been PR motivated, then that’d be politically uninteresting. It’d also possibly leave him standing for nothing given how little else he’s actually put out there.

If this guy stands for something, perhaps in a more local context, then his rather enthusiastic supporters need to sell it to more than just the local electorate and their Facebook friends. At the very least it would let us know just a little more about his party. Presumably they’re proud enough of the guy to want to do this, right?

Alternatively, if they can’t do this because there’s nothing to sell, then perhaps they need to realize they’ve bought into a budding personality cult.

~ Bruce

The Bots have always been at war with Eurasia: Paleo poop edition

It’s funny what a benevolent bot will like on Twitter. This time it’s not “social entrepreneur” spam, though.

Welcome to the world of conscientious gastro-blogging.

Mischa takes a pause to consider Conversations In The Kitchen. Sort of the politics-meets-cooking gimmick popularized by Kitchen Cabinet, albeit in book form… and by Alan Jones and Mark Latham.

yeahnah
Yeah nah.

My response was admittedly a tad scatological.

paleoshit“Wherein every recipe is a paleo shit sandwich (i.e. they leave out the bread).”

This time around my comment copped a like from Paleo Touch and Frank – both social media advocates of the Paleo cult diet. Apparently also aficionados of eating poop.

I don’t know which is more Orwellian; the idea that Paleo Touch and Frank provide sound, carefully sourced health advice, or the notion that Alan Jones and Mark Latham are warm enough to speak from the perspective of friendship.

Either way: Don’t eat the food.

~ Bruce