The Pledge

If you’ve been around political, quasi-political, or life-stance groups for long enough, especially secular or left-ish communities, you’ve seen more than one wave of acrid disagreement; “The Clusterfuck”, “Elevatorgate”, any number of demarcation disputes, internal disputes among allied Radfems, various fronts of The Culture Wars, etc., ad nauseam.

A lot of the time, at least in the initial dispute, you’ve found yourself arguing at odds with someone who’s a genuine asshole (e.g. Gamergaters). Afterward, you’ll possibly find yourself among more principled people, albeit ones you don’t necessarily know so well. Perhaps in the glow of finding new allies, you’ll embrace them too – perhaps a little too closely.

If you’re actually serious about your beliefs and your ethical inquiry, some of your friendships will at some point still be pushed beyond breaking point. And to be clear, I’m talking about friendships with more principled types – not the trolls or abusers.

You can’t be friends with everyone forever, even the kinder, more considerate types. Reality isn’t that romantic. There are too many dimensions in politics for you to agree on all of them with terribly many people, and some of those disagreements will be the shits.

This is sad, but I think people need to be more accepting of the fact.

So this would be the first clause of a pledge I’d like people to take: The acceptance that yes, even among caring, honest, principled people, friendships can be casualties, and this is okay. Everything comes to an end, and amity is no different.

If you’re a political type, look around your immediate social circle; none of these people are guaranteed to be your friends forever. Try not to be jealous or possessive – you don’t own these people. Why hold them captive? Why allow yourself to be held captive in an increasingly strained friendship? Why should any of you be so taken for granted that you’d be expected to agree to the details and significance of every single political detail to the nth degree anyway?

And why would political marriages be magically immune to divorce when normal ones aren’t? It ends: Accept it.

Because this is sad, a second clause: Allow yourself to grieve for these lost friendships, ideally as soon as it becomes clear it’s all heading that way. Grieve as much as you need, but try to do as much of it as you can up-front so it doesn’t fester.

You’re going to meet new people. Perhaps you’ll fall out with them too. It happens. It’s to some extent a cycle.

Taking your values seriously comes at a cost. If you aren’t feeling that cost, then perhaps it’s because your values aren’t being tested, or perhaps it’s because they’re too cheap to cost you anything to begin with. No? It still hurts? Congratulations – you’re not a nihilist.

The third and final clause: While accepting that friendships end, allow yourself some dignity in how that happens. Do everyone a favour; don’t end it all in spite or vex. Purposely unravel your alliance or friendship. Allow it to be bittersweet, but realize that however righteous your cause, it’s not going to be served by prioritizing vengeance, nor will construing the first possible morsel of evidence as proof absolute of malicious intent advance your objects.

And again, these are the better kinds of former friends and allies we’re talking about here, not inhuman monsters.

I suspect a lot of wonks and activists try to distract themselves from the disappointment and sadness of a political friendship ending, and if they can’t do that, then a lot of them try to externalize blame – even when there’s none to apportion. Why? Because if they blame themselves, and they can’t find forgiveness, it could very well weigh on them heavily.

But this kind of self-pity is selfish and there’s another option – accept and take responsibility for your emotions. You’re allowed to be sad, but it doesn’t entitle you to terribly much. Cry if you have to. It’s allowed. Guide yourself through that pain and try to articulate the reason for the end of your friendship, even if only to yourself.

Use this information. If your disagreement was worth enough to end a friendship, then the details are worth further reflection at some point.

Codify your disagreement. Get it inscribed into the minutes if you have to. Someone may learn from it further down the track, and if you’re not being vexatious it’ll be easier for good people to pay attention when that day comes.

You don’t have to tell them you told them so, but you can tell them.

It may be too much to expect you both to at least respect each other above and beyond the basic package, granted. If your views on humanity turn out to be too antithetical – or even just appear that way due to the narcissism of small differences – then a begrudging respect may very well be impossible.

Unless you’re at war though, or unless someone’s committed a crime. Unless there’s an actual victim at the base of your disappointment awaiting liberation by your hand, then you should be able to manage something along the lines of a cool co-existence in whatever domains you’re left sharing with your former friend.


So here’s the pledge again – perhaps you could mutually agree to it with a friend today: Accept that political friendships can end. Allow them to end when it’s clear they will and allow yourself to grieve their passing. Work through your grief without vex or spite, towards an purposeful articulation of your political disagreement.

I hope you find this fruitful.

~ Bruce

The Bots have always been at war with Eurasia

Expressed a long-held sentiment on Twitter earlier today.


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.


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?


“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

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).

Still waiting for that bus (to fall under)

In October of last year, I wrote that metaphorically, I’m waiting for a bus to fall under. I made a few assertions that I honestly believe, but which have got other people – particularly women – in trouble when expressed.

By rights, at least by the standards of a lot of the discourse I’ve seen over the past couple of years, someone should have called me a transphobe, but nobody has. It’s not like I went out of my way to be inconspicuous either.

While I may have avoided inflammatory rhetoric, or strong claims that I’m not sure I can commit to, or statements that serve as answers to questions that I think are malformed, the post from last October was shared on social media by “known TERFs”. I saw the traffic come in, and yes, some of it may have been channeled via social media “bubbles”, but there was enough traffic from either open circulation or sources that have been ideologically policed, for me to be able to suspect an impending “TERFening”. And yet it didn’t occur.

I’m not actually intending to make a habit of harping on about transgender politics in future. This isn’t my gig. I’m not a stakeholder and I have other things I do want to write about. I’ve only got involved this far in because I think some of the elements that are pathological within trans-activism are generalizable, present in other forms of activism, and it’s these generalizable problems that I’m particularly interested in. While I’ll address these problems again in future, I can’t and won’t guarantee that it’ll be in reference to trans activism.

I’m nobody’s soldier in this, and all the blame here is my own, just so you know where to lay it.

However, because I didn’t get any tar, nor so much as a single feather the last time around, and because I want to be quite clear about where I stand for anyone who harbors any suspicions, I feel I should re-iterate. Allow me to repeat, re-phrase and add a few assertions more bluntly this time around:

  • Having an interest in dolls or the colour pink does not make a child a girl. Boys can and do like these things on occasion too, and would more often, only they’re discouraged from doing so.
  • It’s not bigotry for people to refuse to have sex with someone else, irrespective of whether or not that someone else is a member of an oppressed group. Sexual intercourse is not a part of the commons to be dolled out via social justice campaigns.
  • Nobody is obliged to find penises sexually attractive. Nobody.
  • “Women have a right to abortions” is a legitimate political statement.
  • The concept of the “cotton ceiling” may not have originally been intended as rape-cultured, but it’s at least acquired that status.
  • Telling women on social media to suck your cock because they disagree with you makes you a misogynist.
  • Without assuming gender essentialism, “cis” doesn’t mean anything.
  • Sexual discrimination, as distinct from gender discrimination, exists and is enforced by implicit and explicit gender roles, sexist laws and institutional biases.
  • Intersex people exist.
  • The violent individuals who bash trans people in public toilets are far more likely to be men who don’t read Germaine Greer or Julie Bindel than women who do. They’re far more likely to be men who are far more likely to pay attention to the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and Sam Newman (i.e. not feminists).
  • Whatever their mistakes, laying blame upon radical feminists for the actions of violent men they have no influence over is disingenuous at best.

Each of the above statements has met at least two of three selection criteria to be listed, the first two criteria being necessary, and the third optional; I actually believe the statement; I have seen people castigated by purportedly liberal-left or radical-left individuals for expressing the statement , and that I have seen a good number of my reflexively GLBT-supporting friends essentially making the same statement themselves.

If the above really does make me a transphobe, and you happen to be one of my lefty friends reading it, the odds are that you’re a transphobe too and I’ve seen you being it. Congratulations. Although I suspect the odds are that you’re less likely to be called on it if you’re a man, you never know. I’ll leave you to ponder what you’ve done wrong, because obviously I’m not going to be able to enlighten you, what with thinking all of the above is just lemon-peachy.

Trans acquaintances reading this will likely already know about this far better than I could articulate, possibly having been told that they’re self-loathing transphobes for expressing similarly verboten sentiments. (From where I’m sitting, this kind of condemnation looks an awful lot like calling vanilla-gendered men “misandrist beta cuck mangina” just because they happen to believe in enthusiastic consent, personal boundaries and so-on.)

As for those who I’m not acquainted with, I suspect either you’ve got enough here to judge me by, or you’re not inclined to judge. If you are inclined to judge, but can’t find anything objectionable, I’m sure you can copy and paste something from somewhere that makes you feel suitably righteous. Either way, it’s your call, and I can leave things at this point knowing that I’ve been forthright and open.

If it comes to it, please be decent to one another in the comments. I’ve seen this stuff get nasty before. Now if you’ll excuse me, a bus has got me to catch.

~ Bruce

10 Things To Consider When Reading That Progressive Listicle

As much as I’d like it to be otherwise, the reality is that listicles are going to be around for some time yet, and would-be progressives are going to use them in trying to get their message across. Rather than just condemn them outright, I’ll swallow my pride and raise some issues concerning the way they’re read, for the benefit of fans/addicts of the format – i.e. in listicle form.

1. Rote content isn’t geared for maximal moral comprehension because it can’t be. Listicles of the morally persuasive kind don’t have the space for complex moral calculus, counter-factual analysis, meta-ethics, interpreting statistical outliers or handling large arrays of case studies. Either a listicle is confining itself to simple issues people may have overlooked, or giving a limited glimpse at something more convoluted – it’ll never be the last word on serious ethical inquiry.

2. Gospel is for kids. Specifically, I’m referring to the “pre-conventional” to early “conventional” stages of Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development.  Rote rules are more or less great for avoiding punishment… if you’re in kindy or a cult.

Kohlberg’s stages are contentious – more so than you’d want to go into in a listicle, so I won’t – but one of Kohlberg’s points that isn’t that controversial is that literal obedience to commandments, in thought, is not indicative of fully-developed moral reasoning. You may have not have a choice in the matter, but if the limiting factor in getting beyond gospel is the way you think about right and wrong, then developing the way you read a given progressive listicle may be more important than the content of that listicle.

“BUT [THOUGHT LEADER] SAID! *Inserts link to unoriginal electronic pamphlet*” – Derpy McInternet demonstrating poor moral reasoning.

3. Discussion is important, and not everyone is as good (or bad, or mediocre) as you. At no level of ability is it going to help ethical discussion for a person to consider themselves the pinnacle of correctness. Even at the top end of ability, doing so models poor mental strategy, and it’s not as if the very best will ever be right about everything ever published on lists of right and wrong anyway.

4. “But Hitler!” It’s not hard for everyone in a group to be right about the Nazis. A lot of propositions concerning the Nazis are pretty easy. I’m not going out on a limb by saying that “don’t kill all the Jews” is pretty fucking good advice.  But if you think you need to share a listicle to trot off things that obvious, for your friends and family on Facebook, then you may have bigger problems to deal with.

Are your friends and family on Facebook really that bad, or do you just like stating the obvious?

5. Progress doesn’t magically equate with the future, or with youth. I’ve been seeing a few millennials taking it for granted that prior to the last few years, with Trump and all, things had been getting more progressive year after year. This is not to condemn millennials, it’s just that left-wing Gen-Xers have been bemoaning the shift to the right for decades now. Homelessness and poverty, among other terrible regressions, have been increasing across the board in English speaking countries, and in spite of increases in economic productivity. For years now, politicians have been treading on egg-shells around proto and neo-fascist elements, yet if you put the same fascist wankers in proximity to a 1980s Australian Prime Minister, there’d be fireworks. Some thing have become more progressive, others not.

“We are the future!”

Everyone fucking is up until the point they die. Please spare us this bullshit.

6. Progress is a work in progress. How arrogant do you have to be to think that a few abbreviated principles on a clickbait article positions you as the end-point of a discourse? Unless it’s something obvious like “don’t kill all the Muslims”, the odds are that people will have more to say on the matter, and that there are people other than you working on it; possibly even people who don’t learn their politics from clickbait listicles (they exist!) People socially adjacent to you will likely be at different levels of understanding at least on a few topics. Some, as smart as they are, will be years behind you, while others may very well see your sharing of “10 Wokey-Woke Things To Make You Uberwoke” as representative of where they were years ago.

This works at all scales – entire countries on average lag, and advance, accelerate and regress, changing in terms of progress on any given issue, relative to other nations (e.g. Australia used to be a world leader in environmentalism, and now we’re shit at it). And the discussions between and within are similarly stressed. Unless you are the most progressive person that can ever live, at some stage something’s likely to come at you from a place of relatively greater enlightenment, and it could come at you from any angle. A listicle won’t prepare you for these circumstances. Progress is messier than that.

7. This also means there’s a backstory. How much do you know of the internecine disputes that lead to a contentious position being articulated, and why those internecine disputes happened in the first place? Did you even know, for example, that sections of the left have been criticizing “identity politics” for decade upon decade, or did you just assume that “identity politics” was something only grumpy, white, male, racist retirees up in Queensland complained about? Are the different groups invoking the words “identity politics” even talking about the same thing as each other? What happens when two or more lefties from the same disadvantaged social group come along with differing analyses? Are you going to just “shut up and listen”? What then? How do you decide when there’s contradiction? How do you tell which one’s right on a given point (or less wrong)?

Here’s something to ponder; how do you effect progressive change without making decisions? Even if you’re entirely obedient, you’ll still have to decide who to obey. Is your beloved listicle apt to help you with this kind of quandary?

8. The medium alters the message, especially when the medium is the market. Sometimes it’s not profitable to tell the whole truth. Sometimes that’s because things like long form are more informative, but disengaging, and at other times it’s because the whole truth is wildly unpopular with exactly the demographic who needs to hear it. How much less confronting is it to tell white people to just not think about race, than it is to point out that they’re probably to varying extents the beneficiaries of structural racism? There’s a profit motive in not pissing off your audience, and not infrequently media outlets will moderate the truth not as an educational strategy, but as a marketing one. Further, if a social group, even a disadvantaged one, has enough money in aggregate, there’ll be some marketing asshole contriving ways of influencing them to spend it on baubles and bullshit, and some of those marketing assholes will be apt to sell those baubles and bullshit as liberatory.

If your listicle is published from an outlet with a profit motive, you may want to pay closer notice to the lexicon they use and the language they erase. (E.g. Keep an eye on that dematerializing “i” in GLBTi, while it fades away out of marketability).

9. Class matters, as uncomfortable as that may feel. It’s very easy for presumptive progressives from the upper middle class to say “I support a progressive tax structure and increased spending on services, infrastructure, health, education and welfare”, even when there’s actually a chance of it happening. It’s so easy, that even conservatives argue for it on occasion; just tick that box. Actually staring the consequences of class in the face is not so easy, for anyone. That shit’s ugly.

It’s oft complained about; the spectacle of condescendingly telling a homeless or working poor white man that they have privilege. I don’t buy into the idea that it’s wrong, per se, for a middle class person to have a discussion with a poor person about privilege, where the middle class person may have the bulk of the theoretical content to impart. Rather, when it does goes wrong, I suspect the problem is that you have people who are usually middle class or better off, trying to curtail discussion of uncomfortable topics; functionally, valid concepts like white privilege and male privilege are being (mis)used as a bulwark against discussion of class – a diversion to protect middle class egos. Does your listicle do this?

10. It’s a heuristic approach. You’d possibly be helped realizing when you’re using a heuristic. A heuristic is a process, or rule, that while not able to be proven universally true, produces true results in enough cases to be usable. Anti-virus software uses heuristics – they attempt to locate viruses using a set of rules, rather than computationally intensive proofs, and when all is well and good, these rules will identify viruses correctly. Occasionally the virus checker won’t find a virus that is present, or it will wrongly identify desirable software as a virus, but as a rule, it’s still better to have a virus checker than not*.

The odds are, in dealing with things as complicated as social phenomena, and with the limited nature of listicles, the progressive rules you’ve adopted from listicles are heuristic in nature. Like the rules of anti-virus software, occasionally even well crafted listicle rules will turn out to be wrong. Like anti-virus software, progressive heuristics can date and be circumvented by malicious parties. Like anti-virus software, progressive heuristics can even occasionally be co-opted to become a part of the problem (again, the market is good at this).

These drawbacks make heuristics neither inherently good nor bad – it just means you have to be vigilant and know there are limits, and beyond those limits you need other, usually more demanding methods. Methods to spot tricky regressive ideas, and to fix the heuristics that fail to find them well enough.

If you’re busy, and you don’t have to time or resources to deploy such methods, then like a lot of other people, you’re in a pickle. You can either trust your heuristics or trust someone else who has the time to check them for you. The bind in this is that you’ll have to trust someone, or something, at some point, and it can be hard to know who or what to trust, such that’ll you’ll be bound to be disappointed at some point. Get used to it.

And it would probably help if you’ve learned your politics from listicles, to not pretend to be an infallible moral authority, above and beyond your fellow progressives. There’s a listicle heuristic for you.

~ Bruce

* This sentence is a heuristic as well; “it’s still better to have a virus checker than not” will likely be untrue in some cases, and possibly increasingly so as virus checkers fail to keep up with newer security threats.

Self-indulgence and political lexicon

I’ve had a conversation with a friend today, who I’ve known since the ‘80s. He’s a decent bloke. Imperfect like all of us, but fundamentally decent like a lot of folks aren’t; he’s very sincere and more than most he doesn’t want folks hurt. He’s stood up to some pretty noxious fuckwittery when most others wouldn’t.

Only – gasp – like most people, he’s not at the bleeding edge of political terminology and he doesn’t pretend to be; not the academic variety, nor the Tumblr dialect. Accuse me of having low standards if you want, but I think this is perfectly bloody well acceptable.

But this post isn’t about him. (Sorry D).

There’s been an attempt to school him these past couple of days, in response to which he’s remained mostly open and not-too defensive. The manner in which this “schooling” has taken place is, unfortunately, familiar.


Rote repetition of talking points: Anyone who’s studied towards an education degree worth half a fart in a bottle or more, knows that exposition is a bad way to teach conceptual knowledge. Learners aren’t passive recipients of knowledge, they have to engage to learn. Stating facts or opinions at them will not magically result in understanding.

Spurious citation: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was recommended as a general starter on the topic of oppression, and I certainly seconded this recommendation in private correspondence. The problem though, is that specifically we had folks trying to nut things out on their own Facebook page, on a friends-only post, in relation to the language of trans politics, with others rocking up to “educate” them through rote repetition and citing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Now, if you’re familiar with Adichie you’ll note that she’s not automatically accepting of the terms of trans politics, nor the kinds of conversations where people are just blindly accepting in general – this issue went viral only a few months ago. Thus, it’s hard to credit the person dropping her name as being familiar with her work. Anyone who’s seen enough undergrads pretend to have done the readings will know how this comes across.

Conspicuous self-aggrandizement: There was more than one person trying to do the “schooling”, but two were conspicuous; one, a presumptively woke marketing type (i.e. superficially progressive up front, and Pepsi commercial all the way down out back), and the afore mentioned rote fan of Adichie. The latter was incredibly condescending, while the former – Pepsi – fark… I looked up her “About Me” page on her professional website and the kind of language she used to describe herself… Don’t get me wrong: women cop all sorts of unfair shit just for being confident in a way that men don’t, but this was something else. She claimed among other incredible things, as a professional writer, to have a “unique” ability to capture “perfect” tone; she was literally saying that only she is perfect at tone!

(I don’t want to start a bun fight over this, as it’s pretty obvious from my position that no party involved is interested, so I’ll be depriving you of a link to her literary supremacy. You can either thank me or scold me later).

Cool words: You could call it the semiotics of woke narcissism if you liked. Take a term that may or may not have political salience, and use it as a signifier of your supposed awareness. Never mind if your use correlates well with the way social scientists use it, or understanding the way the person who coined it intended (oh, the ever-present pretense of being “intersectional” – never mind trying to understand Crenshaw et. al.), or – gasp – asking questions about the assumptions underlying the terminology; wear it like a fucking badge! If you ever experience frustration “educating” people, just say-the-words, and if your interlocutor doesn’t immediately fall into line, then they just aren’t “woke” like you.

Think of the words as being like a spell from Harry Potter, except for casting at Sheeple to illuminate just how not-like-you they are.

The Passive Aggressive “Lol”: I don’t mean the incredulous “ha ha, you’re clearly full of shit” “Lol” – that’s unequivocal, up-front and even sometimes sincere. I’m talking about what is essentially the same “Lol” used by MRAs and Douchebros who’re setting you up for an “only kidding” when you get “irrational”. A friend was commenting on this phenomena just before D copped his “schooling”. Basically, the supposedly “lolling” are unwittingly signifying that they’re going to abuse or at least be rude to you in one way or another if you don’t fall into line, and if you respond critically, or angrily (even if warranted), you’re going to be told to calm the fuck down or otherwise gaslighted.

Splitting: Otherwise known as “black and white thinking”, albeit more associated with Cluster B personality disorders from the DSM. You know the phrase “It’s not about you, don’t make it about you”? It has a bit of utility, often when defensive white men get pissy and try to derail discussions of race and sex. But it can also be invoked speciously, and for motives that aren’t even remotely altruistic. Some folks will say “It’s not about you, don’t make it about you”, when what they mean is “It’s not about you, it’s about me. It’s always about me. I am my classes’ representative. Hell, it’s almost as if my class doesn’t exist! IT’S JUST MEMEMEMEME!” Alternatively, some folks will use “It’s not about you, don’t make it about you”, when they’ve just started a discussion that focuses heavily or even exclusively on you. I’ve seen people on the receiving end of that one, too. Blech.

The thing is, when this phrase is used in all sincerity, it’s used to address someone else’s derailing of the conversation for the sake of their ego. But there are people who behave – pathologically – as if any conversation that is not about them is a conversation that is being being derailed. They act as if it’s a zero sum game where it has to be about someone’s ego; yours or theirs, not neither or both. Someone is always the dominator in conversation and everyone else must be the dominated. Ego-driven Black. And. White. Thinking.

I’d coin a rule, only I don’t have a name for it, but I think it’s a truism that any rhetorical device used to combat derailment can be re-purposed to perform derailment, all while retaining some semblance of being purposed for maintain relevance. The person likely to be doing just this will be an egoist.


Now, pretty much everyone in the Facebook conversation who I consider a friend, or could ever conceive of being a friend of, was some variation of lefty. Not necessarily academically inclined, and not necessarily activists, but people who would never vote conservative, and who’d be more inclined than most to tell racist or sexist abusers to back the fuck off – too their faces. People who all regard Cory Bernadi as not being a decent human being. None of them are huge fans of neoliberal economics either. So there’s a general consensus, among those in the conversation that I give a shit about, that left wing political aims in general are at least somewhat desirable.

It’s hard to imagine the presumptively woke opposing this too strongly. I think it’s safe to assume, actually, that they’ve obligated themselves to sentiment along these lines.

The thing is though, is that the left absolutely needs to be able to discuss its own ideology unflinchingly. Sure, there are people who’ll peddle the “I’m just asking questions” gambit, and troll their way through discussions under false pretenses, but this doesn’t negate the need for discussion, it just makes it more difficult.

Members of the left aren’t cannon fodder to be drafted around the political scene by self-appointed generals. Some degree of autonomous organization is needed in order to campaign effectively, and that means that committees and individuals and so-on, will to varying extents need to be able to think for themselves just to ensure a chance of political success. The head honchos can’t have perfect and absolute oversight, and certainly not in real-time – that’s simply not possible. (Nor is it even remotely close to reasonable that any given self-identified leader should just be handed over even a smidge of power on their say-so).

Hell, folks need to be given a margin of error, too. They can’t know all the things and they don’t need to.

You just can’t understand the political concepts that are in play without discussing them critically first; without subjecting them to thought experiment,  case study, critique or the like. Terminology needs to be teased apart on some level just in order to be understood, improved, or heaven forbid, rejected for contradicting core values. And this is before even considering the matter that discussing these things is a basic human right – I’m just arguing in terms of pragmatism at this point. You just don’t get this necessary kind of understanding from being talked at, and then submitting.

The shutting down of discussion in this manner functions to serve the political right, but is purposed to serve a sub-section of the presumptively left; narcissists in the guise of altruists. It is crucial for the left to get a handle on this shit, and to stop giving free passes to the raving egoists who engage in it. That person blasting you on your Facebook timeline may even be technically correct, but they’re an asshole, and they’re not doing it for the cause – they’re doing it for their own indulgence at the expense of the cause.

Their method is wrong.

~ Bruce