I will disappoint you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Bruce

Polished public figure

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

Bromides. Sentiment. Boilerplate statements. Glib.

Zero scandals. Zero analysis, too.

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

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

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

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

Rote. Marketable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Bruce

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

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

Welcome to the world of conscientious gastro-blogging.

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

yeahnah
Yeah nah.

My response was admittedly a tad scatological.

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

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

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

Either way: Don’t eat the food.

~ Bruce

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.

01

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

My tweet got two likes.

02

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

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

03

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

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

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

~ Bruce

“Identity politics”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Bruce

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).