Waiting for a bus (to be thrown under)

Okay, so I do have a low profile in the remnants of the Oz blogosphere these days, and I’ve got a block list on Facebook that’s over a hundred-and-fifty-strong. Still, it’s not as if a few people of (largely self-constructed) virtuous standing don’t know who I am, or how to find me.

And it’s not as if I haven’t made comments that should rile these people. Yet, I’ve been left alone. People haven’t got the message that I’m persona non grata. Allow me to make a few more inflammatory comments that I regard as true, in one convenient place so as to incriminate myself. As I’m not trying to convince anyone, but rather trying to get them to condemn me, I’m not going to put too much effort into justifying myself.

***

Not all oppression is based on identity. Do you think the oppression suffered by pigs entails their identity as porcine? An organism doesn’t need to be self-regarding in order to be oppressed – it doesn’t require an ego, just nerve endings and oppressive surroundings. Oppression can be and often is arbitrary and indifferent to people’s inner states. Sure, the likes of fascists can and do attempt to author the identities of the people they oppress, and it’s even possible to harmfully foist an identity on another inadvertently, but while often relevant, identity isn’t a necessary criteria of oppression. The humans who oppress pigs aren’t trying to get the pigs to identify as tasty, they’re just trying to eat them, and indifferently going about a lot of cruelty in the process.

Women have a right to abortions. Among atheists who still read anything I publish, and wonky sorts from the Australian blogosphere of ten years ago, this statement probably reads as a repudiation of right-wing misogyny and/or religious fundamentalism. But if you think this is all a-okay, and that’s all there is to it, then congratulations, you’re probably a bigot like me too. The transgression here is that the statement says “women”. If you don’t make like Planned Parenthood and erase the mention of “women” from your references to abortion, then you’re probably a “TERF”.

Oppressed people can still be bad people, and their oppression doesn’t justify it. There are a hundred and one reasons why this is true; even in Nazi concentration camps, some Jews turned on their fellow oppressed, and collaborated with the guards; some politically motivated workers treat other workers like useful idiots, while yet other oppressed workers willfully scab off of the labour of the rest of their class. Some folks go further. Some canny members of oppressed classes realize that Good Sheltered People have a propensity to downplay the bad behaviour of members of oppressed classes, and exploit this failing to help prey on their own. Keep your eye out for this latter variety when dealing with spokespersons who provide a few too many bromides for their benefactors, but little in the way of benefit for the groups they’re speaking for; they’re a dime a dozen at some arts festivals.

And then there’s vengeance; a fantasy in the hearts of some that after liberation, a whole new category of oppressed people will be manufactured for the delectation of hungry sadists, often involving walls folks will be up against after a good scapegoating, Animal Farm style.

If your purported sympathies for trans women go so far as to be even equivocal in your condemnation of the concept of the “cotton ceiling”, then you’re fundamentally not competent to protect anyone from rape culture; trans or otherwise. I’ll just let you Google “cotton ceiling” (warning: probably NSFW).

Everyday Feminism is a pseudo-leftist publication. Really, the tip-off for anyone politically-minded, over 40, and hailing from countries further left than the US, should be terms like “social entrepreneur”. The editorial direction is also loose to the point of being unprincipled, and enables some of the worst navel-gazing solipsism to ever be dressed up as social justice activism. And how do you work against rape culture while also trying to create an accepting and nurturing climate for apaths and cluster-B personalities, un-partitioned, in the very same sphere?

The Huffington Post can climb into the same bin, on account of its habit of not paying interns and writers. Sharing “progressive” articles from these sites is like sharing “science” articles from The Mind Unleashed.

Solidarity matters. Apparently solidarity entails telling people to suppress their interests to better serve the alliance. Call me odd, but I don’t think you have to break solidarity in order to combat things like racism and sexism within the left. Rather, combatting things like racism and sexism in the left actually buttresses solidarity, because racism and sexism are some of the most effective means of divide and conquer tactics ever deployed against oppressed populations.

If you’re a Vegan because of the way the dairy industry handles bobby calves, but you embrace the sex industry despite its involvement in human trafficking, you’ve got one hell of a blind spot. I can’t believe how often I’ve seen Vegans failing to generalize this kind of analysis, all while managing to be condescending to people who do. (Disclosure: I don’t eat meat or dairy).

“Not In My Name” is a shitty slogan used by self-absorbed people. I thought the purpose of opposing things like offshore detention was the welfare of refugees, not the status of sheltered white people’s reputations. The self-focus is caustic to solidarity, if not annoyingly vain, and centers discussion away from the purported cause. Apparently holding this view about the phrase makes you a right-wing hawk, so be careful not to sympathize too much, here.

Pole Dancing Doesn’t Seem Very Feminist. Just because it’s athletic, and  you have a right to it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cater to the male gaze by design. Maybe feminists will devise a new form that’s more feminist, and it may even turn out to be an erotic performance of sorts, but it won’t be without the kind of subversion that does away with catering to the male gaze (and a whole lot less “#SundayBumday”). Call me an obtuse “whorephobe”, but I can’t help but think that a pole dance, or any expressive dance that aims to be feminist, would not render women as objects, but instead express their subjectivity in some manner.

Validation isn’t respect. How many women have failed in their attempts to leave an abusive relationship, at least in-part because their partner has psychologically whittled them down to the point of becoming dependent on a drip-fed supply of validation? If something is truly liberatory, in respect of validation, then it’ll let you validate yourself. It won’t get you hooked on affirmations, click-bait memes, shallow compliments, crappy products, feel-good subscriptions, quick-fix “self-help” gimmickry, and the phony respect people get out of things like “#SundayBumday”.

A lot of the affirmation given by, and on occasion expected from “good allies”, is validation dressed up as respect. Be wary of it.

“Brand-conscious narcissism” is a thing. This is a part of the supererogated “identifying” that’s a problem for the left, above and beyond the whole becoming-yourself egoist shtick better suited to fans of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand; it’s great for selling values in the marketplace. Selling them after watering them down, that is, and packaging them with other superfluous, or even pathological commodities. “Here, buy some pole wear and show everyone just how validated you are on #SundayBumday by thinly veiling your sphincter for the boys on Instagram. #SexPositive #Feminist”. If you want to see where the narcissism comes into it, just point out to these people – especially the guys on the sidelines – that “sex-positivity” is just a brand, whereby people get to perform the ordinary as if worthy of attention and praise.

People like sex.  Look at the human population of Earth. Yes, some folks are sexually repressed, and that’s bad, but it’s telling just how often you run into the slur of “sex-negative” being fired off at people who aren’t at all ashamed of their sexuality. If you’re a narcissist surrounded by people who like to fuck and are unashamed of it, and you need to stand out, then you need to brand yourself better; you’ll need to identify; “Sex Positive!” Never mind the similarities to calling women “prude” for not fucking you.

The commodification and debasement of left-wing values doesn’t require a conspiracy of capitalists, although people in advertising very well do take advantage (e.g. Greenwashing, Whole Foods, etc.) All it requires is the appearance of a progressivism desirable to people with egos, money and a willingness to publicly identify with the product, and the market will do the rest. Resemblance to actual left-wing values is only necessary in as far as required to sell shit, and beyond that, is purely coincidental.

There aren’t “boy brains” and “girl brains”. There isn’t a sex-based preference for blue or pink. That’s neurosexism. More on that here. (Warning: Watching the linked video may make you a “TERF”).

If your feminism “will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”, and you haven’t read Crenshaw and/or Dorothy E. Smith, then you’ve admitted your feminism is bullshit (and probably culturally appropriated). I’m just going to leave this one here for the irony. No analysis. Sorry (not sorry). Google is your friend.

***

Normally I wouldn’t be so ‘splainy, but for quite some time now I’ve been waiting for the bus I’m supposed to have been thrown under and it still hasn’t arrived. I belong under that bus. I’ve said The Things.

So go ahead and call me a “TERF” or a “whorephobe” or a “shitlord”, just don’t address me personally if that’s your take; I don’t owe you that. Shun me if that’s the case. Add me to your block-lists. Unfriend or unfollow me on social media. Dis-approve of my person. Don’t put me on your Christmas list. I’m not “woke” or “with it” or one of the cool kids, and I don’t care to be. I will insist though, if you’re going to consider me at all, that you give me the same degree of smear you’d give to women for writing what I have. I’m rather over this particular form of special treatment I seem to be getting.

If on the other hand, you think any of what I’ve written above is even defensible, but you still treat claims of “TERF” status, “whorephobia” and crypto-right-wingedness as self-evident, semantically obvious and unchallengeably evil, well, you may want to consider the possibility of contradictions in your political view, or that there are definitions of “TERF”, “whorephobe” and “right-wing” in circulation that  you don’t actually agree with. I’ll leave dealing with that up to you.

Honestly though, I have no idea just how representative these people are. I don’t know how they poll in their constituent groups; I don’t know how common their views are, statistically speaking. They could be a loud minority within their respective populations, or they could very well be the majority. I’ve seen dissenters within these groups get abused and dehumanized on the basis of having said some pretty anodyne stuff, but I don’t know what proportion of their community these dissenters make up. Maybe the dissenters are a silent majority.

My beef is with the people adopting these contortions and absurdities, whatever their number, not with their communities as a whole. If you don’t like that, well, you don’t like it. I’m not here to be liked, I’m not obliged to be, and I’d rather that we not waste each other’s time pretending otherwise. Now please do throw me under that bus.

~ Bruce

“The Left”, Capitalists and Identity Politics

I’m not entirely sure where to start on this one. I’ve got all the parts, but they are many, the order in which they should be arranged is largely dependent on what I’m responding to, and what I’m responding to seems muddled and riddled with contradiction. I’m pretty sure that after assembly, I’ll have bits left over ala post-Ikea nightmare.

Bringing the summary to the introduction, I’d say something along the lines that the left has been entered through sheer declaration, by folks who seem too at-ease with the profit motive, and too unfamiliar with history of arguments and political camps within the left.

I’m not entirely averse to profit myself I’ll confess, especially when the alternative is loss and potential subsequent malnourishment and homelessness. I’m not overly happy with the system, but I’ll comply with the economic coercion – I can’t deny being complicit in that respect.

This isn’t about ideological purity so much as it’s broadly about the nature and purpose of left-wing politics in light of newer ideological developments. I’m not so sure where I fall into the scheme of things myself anymore, although I do still cast a wide net when defining “The Left”. My definitions, while still showing some resemblance to the “New Left” of the 20th century, may also seem at least a little obscure. People may wish to exclude me from the Truest of True Lefts, and I’m not sure I’d have a problem with that. This isn’t a pissing competition.

Before I directly address what I’m actually responding to, as a form of confession and calibration, I’ll disclose a few potentially contentious assumptions, positions and attitudes relating to the topic in general. I can be dismissed up-front on that basis, if you so please.

This will be wordy. The funnier bits are towards the end.

***

A Few Assumptions About The Left

Technology: In some cases technology is essential to left-wing progress, while in other areas merely beneficial. There’s no point in simply changing people’s values if after such alteration, they still don’t have the material means to bring about subsequent social change. In other instances, people may have the means, but not the inclination to alter their values and practices, technology sometimes offering an lazy way to get things done; green electricity is easier for a lot of people to live with, than no electricity. I’m not about to stop blogging to go live in some candle-lit Luddite commune. Some folks would shit-can me out of the Left as a liberal-technocrat for this reasoning, if not the conclusion. Maybe they’re right.

The Market: Along the lines of a lot of the “New Left”, I’m a mixed-economy advocate. I don’t seek the absolute abolishment of the market in my lifetime. I don’t even see the mixed-economy as a political compromise – I see it as an improvement over the traditional socialist state-controlled means of production, albeit as a solution that may not always be optimal in the future. Swinging back the other way, again, I’m agnostic about the future possibility/practicality of abolishing of the market – it’s all a bit Star Trek to me, and at any rate, it’s something for future generations to decide upon without my ignorant input or intercession.

Late Capitalism: I can’t even get on board with Late Capitalism as an idea, other than as the idea of an era that can only ever be described after its passing. Serious devotees of the concept of Late Capitalism come across as fundamentalists to me, parsing the contradictions and catastrophes in capitalist economies into fateful signs of Revolution, all much the same way that devotees of Harold Camping would look for omens of The Rapture. Too often this comes bundled with fantasies about people being lined up against the wall and the like, which echos the kind of violent fantasy that has vengeance and hellfire awaiting unbelievers following the final return of Jesus – I really don’t like this kind of vindictiveness.

Even when people describe Late Capitalism more casually, without the secular Rapture and the lining-up of enemies before firing squads, it still comes across as unwarranted triumphalism flirting with disappointment. So un-restrained capitalism is dying, and you’re gloating about it? What happens if it doesn’t die? What happens if it’s always dysfunctional, but still long lived? What if it reaches a compromise that forestalls revolution permanently, while not substantially resolving oppressions? What then?

History as a Force: In much the same way that the belief in Late Capitalism is akin to belief in the Rapture, the idea of history as a force functions too much like a God hypothesis for my liking. If Late Capitalism heralds The Rapture, then History as a Force delivers the end-times, hellfire and damnation. ‘Nuff said. Well, almost. There’s this too.

Queer Politics and Change: You only need to look at the history of Cuba to see how queer folk can be thrown under the bus by revolutionaries. Too often in history, things like homosexuality has been viewed by left-wing agitators as bourgeois excess – a perspective bringing with it all the deprivations, violence and human rights abuses you’d expect to follow. That being said, queer activism (not queer qua queer) can be regressive, reactionary, and utterly capitalistic. You only need to look at the unpaid labour used by a number of popular clickbait sites sporting a leftish veneer; they earn a wad by establishing a marketable, commodified version of progressivism, all while queer writers and interns can expect to be left with nothing more than “exposure” and “experience” – things which do sweet fuck all to help vulnerable people counter the risks of homelessness, or any number of the other problems GLBTIQ folk are more likely to encounter. I’m gob-smacked every time a purported GLBTIQ activist on the one hand makes the entirely reasonable objection that too much emphasis is placed on the relatively cute issue of marriage equality, at the expense of issues like homelessness among gay and gender non-conforming youth – all before then going on to laud clickbait slave-drivers as Good Allies.

I don’t have a stake in it, but cripes, the contradiction seems pathological, and I’m not looking forward to a day when queer writers end up blowing the whistle on the editorial policies of outlets like The Huffington Post and Everyday Feminism – not because I don’t like whistle-blowers, and not because I hold high expectations of these media outlets (I don’t), but because if it happens, it’s going to be a fucking sad story to have to read.

Liberal versus Radical Critiques (of Gender and Sex Work): I’ve never really seen liberalism and radicalism as entirely distinct – probably because they’re not. While the camps who overtly identify as either can and often have become incredibly polarized, the history of the ideas don’t seem nearly as divorced. Resultantly, at least because it seems that way to me, you can expect that I have some potentially weird and impolitic views on gender and sex work that could alienate me from, well, everyone.

While I view gender identity as non-intrinsic, and not by itself a valid basis for welfare concerns, I view identity politics as generally being somewhat inevitable; people are going to have identities, so unless you live in a box, you’re going to run up against them at some point. Any comprehensive system of civics has to allow for this, but this doesn’t mean that identity is all their is, or that all identities need to be cared about or even tolerated. Steve who identifies as “Steve: Crusher of Fags” can get in the fucking sea.

I don’t have a problem calling sex work, “sex work”, which isn’t saying much because I don’t have a problem calling scabs “workers”, or slave-work, “work”. I find the idea that “sex work” is liberating, incredibly sad, and even if actually liberating for some (e.g. sheltered but horny ex-Baptists), that doesn’t negate its status an imposture for others (e.g. trafficked sex slaves). Remember when women who said they didn’t have a problem with harassment from Skeptic Bros, and that other women just needed to shut up, harden up, get some perspective, don’t feed the trolls, and so-on, were criticized for being dismissive of the concerns of women who did have a problem with harassment? A lot of the people I saw fight that particular fight – ostensibly in defense of friends, allies and otherwise useful people – have since abandoned this logic in order to dismiss women’s concerns about sex trafficking, on the grounds that such concerns are disparaging towards the sex workers who apparently feel perfectly fine. The sheer hypocrisy would be more galling if it weren’t so mind-numbingly muddle-headed.

Still, I don’t care so much if the state can superficially be described as analogous to a pimp, if the substantive result is that less women are raped, assaulted and trafficked, and I’m sceptical of whether or not it’s empirically true that the Nordic model actually achieves what it sets out to, at least not on a meaningful multilateral level. But I’m not going to fall into the dangerous and disingenuous practice of dismissing feminists as “sex negative” for their being concerned about the sex industry status quo. The status quo is an ethical ruin. The status quo is objectification, rape, assault, trafficking, addiction, engineered dependency, abduction, extortion, blackmail and all the affiliated evils of organized crime. If the Nordic model doesn’t in actual-fact work, it still doesn’t follow that there isn’t still a massive problem to be addressed, nor does it follow automatically that other solutions do work.

Pretending that sex work is actually all hunky-dory isn’t going to solve a fucking thing, other than the PR issues faced by Johns, brothels and pimps. And god, watching wealthy “feminists” who’ve never been economically coerced into anything in their lives, not just adopt pole dancing, but the attitude that they’re “honoring” sex workers of yore with their performances – that’s just patently absurd. You wouldn’t “honor” a native American like that, buy donning a feather bonnet for Halloween.

Now, colour me a mansplaining whorephobe, if you will. I surrender on that front; white flag; no contest.

***

After Such A Long Rant, What The Fuck Is All This About?

So yes, I identify as being of the left. Does this actually make me of the left? No. Self-identification is insufficient, even if what is sufficient is unclear. Even if you adopt the provisional charity of taking people at face value for certain purposes, identity is still insufficient when it comes to the matter of the actual fact. It’s one thing to unquestioningly accept a person’s identity for the purposes of naming their coffee, and another proposition to accept it for the purposes of banking.  And how many racist whitebros on the Internet have identified as “non-racist” as if it mattered? In – suff – i – cient.

According to the criteria of a number of the old left, I’m not of the left at all. I’m not even going to contest that. I’m not sure I can honestly reject their criteria. Wanting to and identifying don’t even enter into it.

Now I’ve focused on my own perspective far too much already, and there’s been a lot of words typed only for their importance to be downplayed, except that downplaying personal perspective and identity as demarcation criteria is to quite some extent, the point. This brings me to what I’m responding to.

Apropos of nothing, a bunch of personalities of an at-least vaguely social-justice flavour, have recently released an open letter identifying themselves as “The Left”. Not “leftish”, not “left-wing” nor “of The Left”; we’re talking capital-T, capital-L, “The Left”. And they’re making demands!

These aren’t simply personalities who’ve collaborated with the market because they have no choice here either. We’re talking about people who’ve embraced it and to varying extents, thrived. I’m not at all happy – fucking livid, actually – with the abuse and threats thrown at Brianna Wu, but c’mon, adding a treatment of social issues to private-sector commercial game design is left-wing? The objection my incredulity is based upon doesn’t make Brianna Wu an evil person, nor Giant Spacekat a Bad Thing, it’s just that it’s all a bit hard to swallow having a commercial game designer, and others of a similarly capitalist background, asserting themselves as if they could ever actually self-appoint anything tantamount to delegate status among the left. It’d be incredibly fucking bold just for unelected trade unionists to do that, but representatives of business?

I mean, my own leftism is up for questioning, but this?

There are a hundred names on that list, and the ones who stand out at a glance to me are people who’ve I’ve seen treated poorly by Internet knuckle-draggers, and who’ve at least earned a modicum of respect from me on account of standing up to said knuckle-draggers. Only, this current act of supreme bumbledom is really wearing that wafer of respect down an incredibly thin slice.

As Meghan Murphy points out, scathingly, it’s quite a galling proposition for the left to be told it needs to include capitalists for when the revolution comes. The left will need them for that push up the hill, apparently. What self-importance. (My own concerns about Late Capitalism, History as a Force and violent ideations come into play here – revolution may not come at a discreet moment, and please, leave the fantasist analogies about charging up hills to re-enactment societies, thanks.)

Beyond the less-than-astute appropriation of Firestone’s rhetoric which Murphy also acidly notes – rhetoric taken from a movement with a basic premise inimical to the project of the authors of the open letter – the project falls apart at the first demand.

***

Identity

“1) We call upon progressives to acknowledge that all politics are identity politics.”

Aside from failing to even clearly define the terms of the demand, the demand is followed with further declarations likely to induce a “huh?” from the open letter’s intended audience; the rest of the left.

Evidence of the allegedly identarian nature of politics is loosely detailed through a roll-call of obviously bad things;

“That sexism and racism exist cannot seriously be in doubt for any progressive person in the year 2016. Everyone has an identity; every identity is political, whether because it is marginalized or because it benefits from the marginalization of others. It is not “enlightening” or fresh or radical to ignore identity-based oppressions, or minimize them, or demand marginalized people stop talking about them. Oppression is not a “debate” or a “discussion.” It’s a fact.”

Look, I’ve already ceded that identity is a thing, that with other premises can constitute the basis of a social justice concern, and that this kind of conflict is inevitable. If some faction wants to ban books authored by marginalized groups, purely on the basis that the identity of these marginalized group members are gaining expression, then you’ve probably got a good case for a social justice campaign. There are obviously other examples. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not sure the left – the actual left being addressed – have a problem realizing this.

However… People’s interests don’t always entail identity to a substantive degree, or at all. People are so much more than identities, and framing the discussion as being about the marginalization of identities, rather than the marginalization of people who happen to have identities that may or may not be involved in the marginalization, is something to be incredibly wary of. Some people are simply marginalized for having wombs – their sex – gender identity never coming into it. Some people are oppressed or simply exterminated because of their locale of birth, irrespective of whether or not they actually identify with that locale.

Back to that first demand though. Even the basic logic is invalid, by affirming the consequent – while all identities may be political, it doesn’t follow that all politics must therefore be identity-based or involve identity. All cats are mammals; Fido the dog is a mammal; Fido the dog is a cat? Bad logic right there.

This is also to say nothing of an implicit, yet glaring contradiction; if all politics are identity politics, then why use the phrase “identity-based oppressions”? To distinguish these oppressions from the non-identity-based oppressions that supposedly don’t even exist?

But the real fuck-up in terms of silly-arguments in this case, its magnum bogus, is this implication that rejecting identity politics is tantamount to rejecting the existence of the problems of racism, of misogyny and of the whole fucking mixed-bag o’ evil. I mean really, literally, what we have here is a bunch of people with a substantial representation of capitalist interest, who seem to think they need to write an open letter to the left of all people, to inform that very left that oppression is a fact.

What do they think the left has been focused on up until now? Organizing bathroom snorkeling trips? Yelling poetry at rocks? Trying to beat custard at chess?

It’s as much of a concession as I can make to observe that yes, some right-wing trolls, pundits and know-nothings have thrown the term “identity politics” around in the motivated defense of racism and sexism and everything else nasty under the sun, and that not all terms thusly appropriated by the right can be salvaged. But “identity politics” has been a term in left-wing critique for much longer than I’ve been on the planet, and it’s not clear that despite ample talent in this area, the right have debased it beyond repair.

And “identity politics” is only one in a long list of terms used by the left to critique the itself from within, that’s then been appropriated by the right to be thrown around with thoughtless abandon, triumph and perversion. It’s been happening observably in real-time over the last year or so with the right-wing appropriation of the term “regressive left” – a term originally meant to be used against actual relativists, enablers and authoritarians – the own-goal contingent of the left – not against the feminists and mere critics that chauvinists have recently used the term to flog.

***

The authors of the open letter purport to be critiquing the left from within themselves, so they may wish to reconsider these kinds of issues with a little more seriousness, and a lot less self-importance. What if their own language was co-opted and semantically mutated by the right, before being re-purposed as a stick to beat the left with? What if this was already happening via capitalists in the new media?

And how many years will it be before another hundred people calling themselves “The Left” come along to demand that the left cease, desist and acquiesce to a grab-bag of demands, because self-regard, myopia, and a poor grasp of political history and logic, leads this bright one-hundred to over-emphasize the observation that right-wingers can use the same words as older generations of leftists? Call me a fool, but I think it’d be a good habit, that if instead of taking the right’s use of these terms at face value, and blithely acting as if lefties mean the same thing, some folks just familiarized themselves with a bit of left-wing political history. This way they may even manage to not fuck up their Firestone references too.

~ Bruce

“Useless”

When, as a boy living in my redneck part of rural Australia, I’d stuff up some task allocated by my late father, there’d be a reasonable chance of my being labelled “useless”. While I’m quite thoroughly uninterested in one of those “must have made you feel” discussions, what with all the confected reciprocity and bogus empathy that such exchanges entail, there are still things that can be said of the insult in question.

It – “useless” – is intended as an insult, but I’m afraid I can’t receive it as such. I’m quite happy to be useless. Consider the corollary of taking “useless” as an insult; receiving “useful” as a compliment.

To be “useful” is to count yourself a tool among tools. It’s to position yourself alongside instrumental luminaries such as pencils, auto-rewind and Preparation H. It’s not for no reason that “useful”, as applied to people, has negative connotations in politics.

I’d encourage anyone else who’s been called “useless” to give this some consideration. Unwittingly, you’re being paid a compliment akin to “not a Muppet”.

It’d be far better to be considered, in lieu of being “useful”, as “cooperative with qualifications”. At least this way you’d have some of your agency acknowledged in the mix. And I certainly don’t enjoy the prospect that my “usefulness”, should it ever present itself, may one day entail someone else being fucked over – avoiding this would be one of the qualifications for my cooperation.

Admittedly my concerns don’t condense down well to a single adjective, and I’m not in a mood for coining neologisms, so I think I’ll just happily settle for “useless” and let the connotations land where they will.

~ Bruce

Adventures in Ipso Facto Land…

Kremlin There’s a golem of rubbish that rears its ugly maw every now and then, spewing invective and irrational sanctimony whenever The Enemy’s Enemy gets something right, in spite of how often they get things wrong. Or at least, when The Enemy’s Enemy doesn’t mess up as badly on some singular point as does The Enemy. The upshots are romanticised while the down-sides are de-emphasised, ignored, or actively written off as non-existent – accounts to the contrary being propaganda of The Enemy.

Supposedly you’d know this if you were tuned-in to The New Paradigm, or had taken The Red Pill, or availed yourself of whatever other means of squinting with head askew required to parse complete garbage into high truth.

The particular denizen of Ipso Facto Land I currently have in mind is the Putinophile – the breed of supposed lefty that simply on account of the transgressions of the United States of America, views a murdering theocratic tyrant as a flawed hero. “USA bad, ipso facto Russia good”. With the recent release of Citizenfour, which reminds certain folks of Russia’s protection of Ed Snowden – all out of the good of Putin’s heart, no doubt – you’ll possibly have to listen to these tuned-in types prattle on about Russia just being misunderstood.

***

Putin’s regime, devoid of strong opposition as it is, is leading its people to tolerate gays, only while respecting tradition in the process. Leaders have to take The People with them.

Pussy Riot? They were needlessly provocative. They could have couched their concerns in a less obscene tone. And let’s remember, religion was horribly persecuted under Stalin – you have to expect that today’s Russian Orthodox is a religion still licking its wounds while shivering in fear. Pussy Riot should have taken that into account before sinking the boot in.

Why don’t more lefties understand Putin? The guy is sending troops into Ukraine to fight neo-Nazi militia. Ipso facto that makes him progressive. The right-wing never fight amongst themselves. What’s wrong with you? Are you a Right Sector supporter?

Tony Abbott said he was going to shirt-front Vladimir Putin, and Tony Abbott is right-wing, ipso facto

Russia Today, or RT as the kids say nowadays, isn’t a bad thing. Why, “state television” is just right-wing propaganda designed to make “public television” look evil. RT is just like the BBC, or PBS or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – wholesome, and not at all like the Murdochracy.

It’s not a “prostitution of journalism”!

The deaths of journalists like Anna Politkovskaya, whistleblowers like Alexander Litvinenko, and opposition leaders like Boris Nemtsov could all just be coincidental. Just like the “at least 29 journalists” that Joan Smith claims were killed in connection with their criticisms of Putin’s regime – they could have all just written bad restaurant reviews. People get shirty over all sorts of things.

And why hasn’t Joan Smith been bumped off by Putin yet, if he’s so terrible?

***

Increasingly it seems, you’ll be told, along with the afore mentioned kinds of evasions, that RT and Russia really care about Palestine, and that the Kremlin (which RT tows the line of) would never cynically use a Middle Eastern nation as a proxy for its own interests. The US would, ipso facto

Never mind that you may be able to recall all of the criticisms of the US Government made in Citizenfour, and may very well agree with every single one of them – if you don’t obsess over what a hero Putin is, you’ve missed the point. You’ll be told to watch the documentary again, or with unintentional irony, be told to “think about it”.

If you don’t experience the paradigm shift, then supposedly you’re not getting to the truth.

It’s almost as if not being able to articulate a serious criticism of Western hypocrisy of their own, their entire pretence rests on an ipso facto argument arising from the delusion of a heroic Russia.

~ Bruce

(Photo Source: Dion Hinchcliffe).

When requesting condemnation from Muslims…

Before I proceed, not as a caveat nor a qualifier, but because I haven’t said as much here as yet; the Charlie Hebdo shootings are unequivocally and without qualification, an atrocity. In as far as a meagre site like this, with its meagre traffic and meagre output can be capable of noticeably contributing to the global outpourings of sentiment, the editorial position at Rousing Departures is one of solidarity in freedom of expression, and sympathy for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. If anyone reading has a problem with this, or if they want to append a “…but” of their own, they should just walk away.

***

Don’t jump to conclusions on account of the title – condemnations of atrocities are always desirable. That being said, you can’t nor should you demand that any given person enact a condemnation.

When I condemn Islamist atrocities I do so for the obvious reason that they are ethically undesirable, and frankly, because it’s easy for someone in my position to do. Unlike the Charlie Hebdo staff, or Saudi Arabian atheists, or Sufis subject to Taliban rule, and unlike a whole range of other populations, I’m not under any threat of violence.

Some folk don’t seem to understand their own relative safety.

ruppie “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” – Rupert Murdoch.

An obvious retort (there are many), is that holding cancer victims responsible for treating themselves is more than a little silly. At the very least, this is a bad analogy, but then Rupert didn’t get his riches on account of his wits, so I guess we can’t expect any better.

A somewhat less obvious retort, although entirely more salient, is that Rupert’s prescription would have Sufis labouring to reform or repeal Wahhabism. Sufis who never blew or shot anyone up. Sufis who never contributed to Wahhabist theology or Islamist politics. Sufis who’s relationship with the excesses of Wahhabism/Islamism can simply be summed up as having been on the receiving of sectarian violence.

Before people start attributing responsibility for anything to Muslims, it’d first help to know about the various kinds of Islamic believers there are out there. Let Information Is Beautiful help you get started on that. (Keeping in mind, that not only do the various branches read their texts differently, but that they don’t all have the exact same religious texts*.)

It would also help, before asking anything of anyone, to make sure they aren’t already doing it. Just because you’ve never seen a Muslim condemn Islamist violence, doesn’t mean that such condemnation doesn’t happen – that’s the argument from ignorance right there.

Not only do many Muslims criticise Islamist terrorism, but they have sometimes been known to really rise to the occasion. This is desirable, and laudable, and very much so because such action is voluntary.

(And if you want to see a Muslim being really critical, you can always head to this arcane thing called the Internet to read such material. Hell, I’m pretty sure even old Rupert would love such reading, should he ever find it.)

***

If you’re going to frame your demands for condemnation under the banner of The West And Its Values, which you’re probably free to do if you’re in a position to make such demands, then you may want to actually be just a little in-touch with history. Let me furnish you with a few facts.

  • Fact: The Ottoman Empire, while certainly guilty of its own crimes, kept Wahhabism in check until the 20th Century. The West did not because the West just doesn’t factor in in the early history of Wahhabism. From the 20th Century onward, The West has been pretty rubbish at opposing Islamism.
  • Fact: Ideologically, modern Islamism syncretises doctrinal elements from certain Western values; specifically, those of Nazism/Fascism. (This is something, incidentally, that should obligate Western anti-Fascists to actually oppose Islamist groups, rather than voice solidarity with them).
  • Fact: Financially, Wahhabism and Islamism for the past few decades, have been propped-up by the Western hunger for oil. A hunger that has seen past Islamist/Wahhabist atrocities wilfully ignored by Western powers, as well as into the present in cases like that of Raif Badawi.

Perhaps, if you’ve owned a car over the last few decades, you’d like to reconsider your own responsibilities, given your own potential indirect funding of Islamic terrorist cells. Or perhaps you’ll review your patronage-by-extension of the regime responsible for atrocities during the Grand Mosque Seizure of 1979. Of course, such a likelihood is slim because the likelihood of substantial indirect financial contributions to these atrocities by Westerners increases with wealth/fossil fuel use – right Rupert?

(Before turning a blind eye to Islamist extremism became the hypocrisy of choice for a portion of the post-Soviet-era Western left, this was the right’s stock in trade**).

I don’t mention any of this to denigrate The West, and I certainly do hold the Enlightenment values of tolerance dear; values that stand on their merits. But I do have to state that I can’t empathise with people invoking these values for the sake of having something to brag about or barrack for. While these values permit triumphalism, they’re not about triumphalism, and it’s not like any of us are Enlightenment intellectuals capable of taking credit anyway.

This kind of thing seems suspect to me, and has a whiff of hypocrisy about it – do these Brave Heros of The West really hold these values dear, or are they just playing Dungeons and Dragons? And as with connecting ordinary Western motorists with Wahhabist oil barons, the basis for targeting average every-day Muslims with charges of responsibility seems incredibly tenuous.

***

As alluded to earlier, you have to consider the risk speaking out would subject Muslims to; consider the distribution of terrorist attacks.

A thought experiment: Would you really demand that a gay Sufi from Şanlıurfa Province in the south-east of Turkey, come out to denounce ISIS, on pain of being tarred a sympathiser by avid readers of The Sun? How would you weigh their responsibility for ISIS against the risks involved?

On the other hand, it would hardly be beyond the pale to argue with some sheltered, never-vilified, can-always-run-back-to-their-parents, with-it white dude from the upper-middle-class suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, over their newly found religious affiliation with radical Salafism. This could hardly be any worse than giving someone an earful for joining Golden Dawn or One Nation. Not everyone is free to toy with their religious identity like this, and not everyone faces the same consequences, nor indeed, the consequences of their own ideological choices.

Between these extremes there is a whole lot of context, and the details matter.

***

During the time I’ve been gasbagging over these things, no doubt know-nothings will have had their egos stroked and their anxieties soothed at their regular pub, no doubt trolls will have frothed in the comments sections online, and no doubt other atrocities will be hypocritically overlooked by too many of those demanding condemnation, as well as those engaging in apologetics.  No doubt more Muslims will have taken to the streets in protest. No doubt Muslims like Tehmina Kazi will have spent more of their time directing their liberal-secularist organisations in light of all the horror and pontificating.

All without thanks or acknowledgement from certain quarters, no doubt. Quarters that require both left and right eyes to see.

~ Bruce

* Spare me the No True Scotsman Fallacy – pretending that All True Muslims read all the same texts, all the same way, is a fatuous observation to make when you don’t use the same criteria in identifying Muslims to hold responsible in the first place.

** Which is probably as good a juncture as any to suggest that people look into the writings of Kanan Makiya, giving special consideration to how he was a darling of the left prior to the collapse of the USSR, and thrown under the bus afterward. Even if you’re not going to go away sold on ideas like interventionist regime change, Makiya’s writing is a necessary challenge to endure if you aspire to be well read on such matters.

Signs of the alien…

hockey It’s been just over a month since the loveable, cuddly, Shrek-like-grump otherwise known as Joe Hockey, apparently outed himself as an elitist jerk through the simple act of smoking a cigar. Apparently, cigars are the hallmark of fat cats, investment bankers and the like.

This narrative isn’t particularly convincing, and seems to me, more like a facile inversion of former Prime Minister John Howard’s out-of-touch remarks about lattes and chardonnay. I found it just about as convincing when Republicans in the US too, speculated about the dining habits of Al Gore and John Kerry.

In order to be petty enough to both appreciate, and to find confirmation in these kinds of damnation-by-commodity associations, people have to first be pretty well polarised for one reason or another. Welded-on party loyalists, haters, the politically humiliated, the desperate and the short-term-angered.

Which is to say, once you can sell this kind of thing to an electorate, you’ve already got them. At best, this stuff’s for shits and giggles, or for preaching to the choir.

At worst, which is often the case, its abject foolishness. (I include in this category, marketing-driven “analysis” that merely capitalises on the political resentment of a target audience in order to sell subscriptions and draw advertisers).

***

Now the budget that Hockey has delivered; that’s doing a lot of the left’s campaigning for it. If there’s anything that screams “Elitist Bastard” louder than cigars, lattes, chardonnay and Perrier ever could, it’s fiscally pummelling the stuffings out of the poor and the aspirational.

This, rightly, has pissed people off. Parents don’t want their kids living with them until thirty, much less are they happy to continue feeding them if fairly paid work isn’t available. Few Australians are willing to be targeted to take the brunt of the current account deficit, much less the many who can’t, or are less likely to be able to afford being weathered by austerity measures.

This is before considering education cuts, and fee hikes, and repayment scams, which a cynical elitist government could conceivably pass off to some extent, as Making Those Educated Folk Pay Their Way. A good raft of the fiscal restraints of the current budget are like this; potentially passable with old-school conservative guile. But a good few also, are clearly not.

At the time of Hockey’s supposed cigar transgression, Australians’ rage over the budget was starting to boil. A month later and it’s now spilling over. But the cigar had nothing to do with this.

***

Policy points are squidgy things. Ordinary folk don’t always vote on them, because they often don’t keep the details in working memory for long before something else in their busy lives comes along to distract them.

This budget of Hockey’s may be an exception though, much as was the Work Choices legislation during the last Howard Government. But if we’re talking about signs of elitism, other than in pure policy terms, and if we’re not talking about whether politicians prefer Iced VoVos over Biscuits Roses de Reims, what else can we turn to for a diagnosis?

***

On Wednesday, Treasurer Joe Hockey told The Sydney Institute that “…criticism of our strategy has been political in nature and has drifted to 1970s class warfare lines, claiming the budget is ‘unfair’ or that the ‘rich don’t contribute enough”, and that “…only in a closed economy, based on old style socialism, can a government hope to deliver uniform equality of outcomes”.

There’s a lot you could say about this purely on the basis of policy points; a mixed economy has been part-and-parcel of the New Left since there was a New Left; the Hawke-Keating government opened the Australian economy to the world more than any other, and few-to-none of Hockey’s mainstream critics actually seek to reverse this, or, one could point out that there is a vast multitude of possible fiscal platforms more equitable than Hockey’s that don’t even approach being socialist.

In short, in terms of policy points, you could point out that what Hockey is saying is unequivocally false; that it’s horseshit.

But being tricksy or false hardly signifies that he’s being an elitist dirtbag. Rather, what it does show us is that he’s either or both foolish, or dishonest. This wouldn’t be telling us anything that we don’t already know.

Currently, opposition leader Bill Shorten is hounding Hockey for his dividing Australians into a cynical dichotomy of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’. With little doubt this is something worthy of criticism, the banal outrage element amongst consumer-reader markets not withstanding. Indeed, if only Shorten could be more the media darling on this, that he was during the Beaconsfield Mine collapse in 2006.

What this particular language doesn’t do though, is highlight the very real division between Joe Hockey, and “Average Joe”; that he is not one of us. Hockey’s divisiveness, in this case, is pure demagoguery of the Alan Jones, or 1990s Current Affair variety, and like the politically dishonest and the foolish, the political demagogue experiences little difficulty blending in with us commoners.

Indeed, wealthy demagogues are particularly adept at passing themselves off as battlers or hard workers; it’s a good part of what makes them so politically dangerous.

***

No, it’s Hockey’s remark about 1970s socialism that does the trick, more than cigars, foodstuffs or demagogic bloviation ever could. Outside of the sheer wide-ranging cruelty of this latest budget, it’s this arcane and somewhat abstract point that Hockey makes that best signifies that he is alien to us little people.

Labor could almost be forgiven for not realising it. Almost.

Oh Labor

Despite the achievements of the Hawke and Keating governments, there’s still a fiscal insecurity lurking at the back of the minds of many an ALP member; The Spectre of Gough. Beating back the Global Financial Crisis under Rudd may have exorcised this anxiety to some degree, but I’m sure it’s still there in no insignificant measure.

So when the Liberals concoct an imaginary “Budget Crisis”, and the Australian public reject a perfectly fiscally competent government, you can expect that folk in the Labor party are going to worry about their party’s (allegedly) long-standing reputation for these things.

Only, outside of the political classes, nobody really gives a rat’s posterior about this anymore. The public’s interest for political history isn’t as great as the average party wonk, and is easily subsumed by urgency and practicality. The “Budget Crisis” was such an urgency, and the in-fighting that made Labor appear impractical, was clear, apparent and immediate.

This had nothing to do with the hauntings of The Spectre of Gough.

Similarly, and to my point, aside from the party faithful, and the welded-on, the Australian electorate couldn’t give two farts about Hockey’s venture into the shortcomings of “1970s socialism”. Aside from being factually dubious, which many a wonk will be tempted to address, and aside from alluding to fiscal ghosts, which many a Labor-type may be baiting into defending, it’s just too alien.

Talk of historically closed economies, and the alleged unattainability of attempts at absolute and uniform equality, are at least for the time being, too far removed from the electorate’s immediate concerns, which thanks to Hockey’s callousness, are now many.

If Labor want to take full advantage of the way Hockey has alienated the Australian public, it needs to jump on the arcane and abstruse qualities of his ideations, and use them to portray him for what he is; out of touch with most Australians, and utterly unconcerned with their welfare.

Hockey is far too busy chasing ideological spectres of his own imagining to be worried about us plebs.

A stark, alternative approach, would be for the ALP to continue overlooking openings like these, instead remaining distracted by their own flirtations with the abstract and the tenebrous, thereby opening themselves up to fair speculation that they too, are too busy with other things to care about the little folk. It shouldn’t need saying that I don’t think this is a good idea.

Shake off the fog, the ghosts and the long shadows, Labor. A strong opposition is needed.

~ Bruce

A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…

StartrailsI first felt the tidal forces wrought by being flung out of social orbit two or three years ago, when silently, both other persons and myself, went our own ways. Their trajectory sent them in professional directions I can’t say I’d endorse 100%, while I may or may not have been relegated to the status of ‘crazy guy they knew on the Internet’.

For my own part in this, I was getting tired. Tired of passive-aggression, of in-jokes (some poorly veiled), and tired of a few people being too egocentric to realise that no, they weren’t dealing with someone who was gullible, they were dealing with someone who was being charitable; someone who was humouring them, not the other way around.

If I regret anything from this particular period, it’s my lame participation in what passed for some of the humour – which often involved my riffing off of someone else’s bad joke.

All the same, while we were friends, I did get something out of some of them, during what was a difficult time for me, mentally. I don’t know if this admission would injure their egos, or comfort them, and I can’t say I’m particularly worried either way.

If there’s anything I’d be concerned about with them, if I hadn’t put them behind me, it’d be the prejudicial assumptions and leading questions; annoying for me, worse for them if it insinuates its way into their journalism.

The greatest imposture in all of this though, comes from my own faculties – particularly my relative inability to forget things, even small things I don’t much care about. Inevitably something comes along to remind me… like goings on over the past few weeks.

At the very least I wouldn’t be recalling all of these details if I hadn’t been reminded.

***

Continue reading “A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…”

Open letter on The Cabinet of No Credibility

Dear Nick Champion,

I’m writing as a member of your electorate concerned with the attitude of our new Federal Government; its attitude towards climate change in particular, and towards science in general.

Specifically, both the axing of the Climate Commission and the dissection of the science portfolio, signal at an early stage, this new Federal Government’s capacity to treat scientific research and education as expendable casualties of culture war. The composition of Tony Abbott’s cabinet further reinforces this view, with extreme ideologues gaining quite a few choice positions.

That this has occurred shouldn’t surprise anyone. Rather, it’s a reminder to be vigilant. People may have suspected that the election of an Abbott government would see a return to culture war, but the fact that so soon into its first term, with no prior announcement, and with zero debate of the merits, drastic action has already been taken, allows such suspicions to now be treated as confirmed.

Ulterior motives, not grounded in research or scientific consultation, and not subject to due scrutiny, are clearly the guiding lights of The Abbott Government when it comes to science. From where I’m standing, when it comes to science, Tony Abbott has assembled a Cabinet of No Credibility.

There is little doubt we will see talking points from the Australian Right’s cottage industry of gadflies and pseudo-intellectuals elevated to the status of principles-to-be-acted-upon, while also with little doubt, there will be little room made for these talking points to be debated or properly subjected to scientific inquiry. The senate will surely have its hands full.

Not that I want to insult players of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, I think your observation about the credibility of the assembly of extremists in Canberra in 2011 is likely to hold true for our new Federal Government; they will treat discussion of science as a fantastic game.

Subsequently, I have enclosed a twenty-sided dice in the hope that you are able to gift it to our new government in protest. Perhaps it could help them roll-up some better policies. I hope this is not too much of an imposture.

Yours sincerely

Bruce Everett

Addendum (1st October, 2013): The twenty-sided dice is used in, and an icon for, fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons.

Book Review: Freedom of Religion & The Secular State

for-blackfordFreedom of Religion & The Secular State, by Russell Blackford.

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons.

Philosopher and self-styled whipping boy, Michael Ruse, once described Russell Blackford as a ‘Junior New Atheist from Australia’. Ruse fancies himself, amongst other things, as a veteran of secular court battles, and an opener of dialogue between believer and non. Good for him.

I’m not sure, however, that Ruse is being wise in dismissing Blackford.

***

Blackford starts from a tolerant Lockean basis for the separation of church and state, justifying this in a historical context, and comparing it to competing theories, before moving forward to argue how in essence, the Lockean treatment is still applicable to modern disputes.

Anyone familiar with Blackford’s small-l liberal leanings, will not be surprised by his arguing against burqa bans, while those looking for black-and-white posturing will be disappointed; Blackford doesn’t deny there are situations where secular contractual obligations may reasonably require, say an employee, not to wear the burqa in a certain space.

Similarly, against ‘New Atheist’ type, Blackford doesn’t treat the religious establishment’s arguments with categorical derision, notionally agreeing that defensible arguments can be made to indefinitely postpone various secular reforms. This especially where the social costs of reform could exceed the benefits of implementing them.

(This kind of utilitarianism may upset more radical secularists – but at least there’s room for difference in this debate.)

Of course, there are various religious privileges that don’t fall into this category, and it is here, after consideration, that Blackford takes a stronger stance. The idea that Catholics can’t become a head of state, in any modern democracy (or for that matter, any modern soft-theocracy), and ridiculous orthodox notions like these, are given the (admittedly polite) rebuke they rightly deserve. (Malcolm Turnbull, and an Australian Republic, appear in-mind whenever I encounter issues like these in Blackford’s work).

The book is incredibly concise. It doesn’t tarry, taking time to make quips – the necessary technical detail is raised, and in a manner amenable to us laypersons.

(Although I wouldn’t have minded a little needling of Alister McGrath, the respect he’s shown in the section on the history of religious persecution, is more in fitting with the rest of the text.)

Again, against ‘New Atheist’ type, Blackford’s effort isn’t remotely populist, at least in as far as populism is a negative – it’s intellectualism accessible to members of the lumpenproletariat such as yours truly (making it a valuable addition to any public library).

Only the most precious could find the tome objectionable. Blackford for example, doesn’t outright dismiss the possibility of justifiable persecution of religion X, by a hypothetical secular state. Those with persecution complexes will perhaps convince themselves, ‘he means me’, whereas more sensible readers will think more along the lines of ‘sarin-gas-death-cult’.

In being concise, the reader isn’t treated like a dolt – ridiculous interpretations aren’t endlessly qualified against, and this does at some points leave the text open to spurious readings. No doubt at some point, somewhere, a close-reading paranoid, working away in their bunker, will uncover in Blackford’s little tome, the kernel of a ‘New Atheist’ conspiracy to enslave the religious, and crush human flourishing.

Most of us however, should be able to sleep soundly, all the more for not having had our time wasted or our intelligence insulted.

***

I’m left wondering, because I’ve never seen anything like it, how Michael Ruse has made a contribution to the secular public debate at anything approaching this quality. Correct me if I’m ignorant.

More importantly, the Australian discourse on secularism seems wanting. The history of debate surrounding the issue of federally funded school chaplains, erecting their ministries (under a different name) in public schools, seems impoverished after reading Freedom of Religion & The Secular State.

I’m left wanting yet again better justifications from politicians, and much more challenging counter-arguments from the beneficiaries of the current arrangement. It’s not just that I think people have been wrong, I think the debate has suffered from low expectations – the media has been especially compliant in allowing tripe pass as informed comment.

Freedom of Religion & The Secular State will raise your expectations.

This shortfall in discussions of secularism is framed against a bleak political backdrop; Lindsay Tanner’s Sideshow, and George Megalogenis’ essay, Trivial Pursuit, can meaningfully lament the dumbing-down and privileged insularity of Australian politics of the age, without resorting to populism, all with the general approval of political wonks. For its part of the broader political debate, Blackford’s treatment of the secular state is met with a needing polity.

I doubt that this is significantly less true in most other modern democracies.

I want for people to read this important book.

I want the Greens to read it. I want the major parties to read it. I want Bob Carr to read it it to see if he thinks it could be a worthwhile subject of discussion in the training of Young Labor members. I want to see the moderates in the Young Liberals to read it to see how it could inform their politics.

I want unionists to read it to see how their views on workplace discrimination are influenced.

I want secular Jains, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Anglicans, Unitarians, Buddhists, and all the other colours of the theist rainbow, to read it.

I want you to read it.

Rating: 5/5

~ Bruce

Note: For those free in Melbourne, this Thursday night, the 12th of April at 6:30pm, Russell Blackford will be appearing at Embiggen Books with Meredith Doig and Graham Oppy to discuss how Australia can move forward as a secular nation. Secularists of all stripes are welcome – theist or non – and I’m planning to be in attendance myself, which means I’d better get back to packing!

Bluffing…

Debate and public discussions, even when hosted formally, often weigh in favour of the worst representations of fact. ‘Gish Gallops’ of dubious truth demand time and careful attention to verify or refute.

Worse, for every truth, there seems to be several intuitively satisfying falsehoods – each a contender for belief without recourse to evidence. This is all grist for the mill for the Skeptics (capital ‘S’, and a ‘k’), and there’s a lot authored on the topic for the most part I’ll simply defer to.

My interest is in how ‘woo’ manages to hitch a ride on the often legitimate moral anxieties of its victims.

Continue reading “Bluffing…”