Quotulatiousness

December 18, 2014

“[C]onservatives are underrepresented in academia because they don’t want to be there, or they’re just not smart enough to cut it”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

The advantage of the quote in the headline is that it allows the person saying it to feel more positive about his or her own worldview, while side-stepping the real issue. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry looks at a new report that addresses this issue:

I have had the following experience more than once: I am speaking with a professional academic who is a liberal. The subject of the under-representation of conservatives in academia comes up. My interlocutor admits that this is indeed a reality, but says the reason why conservatives are under-represented in academia is because they don’t want to be there, or they’re just not smart enough to cut it. I say: “That’s interesting. For which other under-represented groups do you think that’s true?” An uncomfortable silence follows.

I point this out not to score culture-war points, but because it’s actually a serious problem. Social sciences and humanities cannot be completely divorced from the philosophy of those who practice it. And groupthink causes some questions not to be asked, and some answers not to be overly scrutinized. It is making our science worse. Anyone who cares about the advancement of knowledge and science should care about this problem.

That’s why I was very gratified to read this very enlightening draft paper [PDF] written by a number of social psychologists on precisely this topic, attacking the lack of political diversity in their profession and calling for reform. For those who have the time and care about academia, the whole thing truly makes for enlightening reading. The main author of the paper is Jonathan Haidt, well known for his Moral Foundations Theory (and a self-described liberal, if you care to know).

Although the paper focuses on the field of social psychology, its introduction as well as its overall logic make many of its points applicable to disciplines beyond social psychology.

The authors first note the well-known problems of groupthink in any collection of people engaged in a quest for the truth: uncomfortable questions get suppressed, confirmation bias runs amok, and so on.

But it is when the authors move to specific examples that the paper is most enlightening.

December 16, 2014

The real problem with socialism is that the family model doesn’t scale well

Filed under: History, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Despite it’s almost unbroken streak of disaster whenever full-blown socialism is tried, many people still find the ideas to be attractive and are willing to entertain the notion of “doing it right this time”. Why does this happen to so many people?

The answer has two parts. First is the nature of mankind. Humans are tribal animals. Socialism is a top down model, and tribes are almost always run in a top down manner. Humans respond to this on an instinctive level. Ordered liberty, free market capitalism, rule of law and other bottom up organizational methods are the aberration in human history. Humans are not wired to respond to these concepts the way they respond to a hierarchy. It’s better for them, but it isn’t instinctive. Think about it like throwing a ball. Humans naturally throw “like a girl”. Give a kid who has never held a ball a ball and tell him to throw it, and that’s how he’ll do it. We have to be shown how to throw properly. Once we learn how, man, we can throw so much better and further and more accurately, but it’s not instinctive. So humans are hard wired to identify with one of the basic tenants of socialism.

Second, there is one structure that is inherently socialistic, one that is familiar to and revered by almost everyone, and one that works quite well. That structure is the family. Families are little groups of people functioning on the socialist model. There is a central authority (mom, dad) that sets the rules and makes sure that the resources of the family are distributed “fairly” (let your sister have the last piece of chicken!) for the benefit of all (survival of all its members). That is the basic unit of human organization, and it’s completely socialistic. Whether they realize it consciously or not, most people are predisposed to think favorably of socialism because that’s the model that defined their world as they grew to self awareness.

The problem is that what works for four people likely won’t for forty and damn sure won’t for four hundred. Families are bonded by love and dedication to each other, forces that are much weaker in a tribe and non-existent in a nation. Socialism can only work within groups that have that level of bond to each other.

However, because of these two facts, socialism feels “natural” to most human beings until they take the time to reason it out. Most people don’t bother to do that, so when a Socialist happens along spouting their Utopian garbage, it resonates with people on an instinctive level, and the cycle starts over again. Socialism inevitably fails, but damnit, it “feels” like it SHOULD work.

And that’s why it is so bloody hard to defeat socialism.

QotD: Gentlemen and politics

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I do not say that a gentleman may not thrust himself into politics under democracy; I simply say that it is almost impossible for him to stay there and remain a gentleman … If he retains his rectitude he loses his office, and if he retains his office he has to dilute his rectitude with the cologne spirits of the trade … the man of native integrity is either barred from the public service altogether or subjected to almost irresistible temptations after he gets in.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

December 15, 2014

UKIP’s changing demographics force changes to ideology

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In sp!ked, Patrick West explains why as UKIP’s electoral chances have grown, they’ve been talking less and less like they used to:

This weird synthesis is a product of the global downturn, globalisation and UKIP’s reaction to these developments. In recent years, UKIP has started to pick up voters in the north of England and from traditional Labour constituencies. It’s a different beast to that which, during the 1990s, was supported mostly by middle-class, golf-club types and anti-EU monomaniacs.

UKIP has noticeably moved leftwards in accordance with its broadening appeal. A recent YouGov survey for the The Times showed that 56 per cent of the population wanted the state to take back ownership of utilities, and 59 per cent supported renationalising the railways. But the clamour for renationalisation was even higher among UKIP voters – 64 per cent for utilities and 67 per cent for the railways. UKIP now openly speaks of renationalising the railways, with its financial spokesman, Steven Woolfe, earlier this week saying he was open to the idea.

Indeed, today’s UKIP speaks of a ‘living minimum wage’, a tax on the super rich and protecting the NHS from the private sector. It now comes in for as much criticism from Tories and the libertarian right as from the metropolitan left (check out the hashtag #RedUKIP on Twitter, for instance). Why, asks the right-wing libertarian commentator James Delingpole, is UKIP now ‘flirting with the kind of wealth taxes and turnover taxes you’d more usually associate with the Greens or the Socialist Workers Party?’.

It’s no coincidence that free-market, pro-immigration publications such as The Economist and the Financial Times are as hostile to UKIP as the Guardian is. It’s often said that UKIP wants to ‘turn the clock back’, which is a fair accusation. But keep in mind that its supporters also increasingly want to turn the clock back to a pre-Thatcherite Britain.

QotD: The “purity” of Marx

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

You or I, upon hearing that the plan is to get rid of all government and just have people share all property in common, might ask questions like “But what if someone wants more than their share?” Marx had no interest in that question, because he believed that there was no such thing as human nature, and things like “People sometimes want more than their shares of things” are contingent upon material relations and modes of production, most notably capitalism. If you get rid of capitalism, human beings change completely, such that “wanting more than your share” is no more likely than growing a third arm.

A lot of the liberals I know try to distance themselves from people like Stalin by saying that Marx had a pure original doctrine that they corrupted. But I am finding myself much more sympathetic to the dictators and secret police. They may not have been very nice people, but they were, in a sense, operating in Near Mode. They couldn’t just tell themselves “After the Revolution, no one is going to demand more than their share,” because their philosophies were shaped by the experience of having their subordinates come up to them and say “Boss, that Revolution went great, but now someone’s demanding more than their share, what should we do?” Their systems seem to be part of the unavoidable collision of Marxist doctrine with reality. It’s possible that there are other, better ways to deal with that collision, but “returning to the purity of Marx” doesn’t seem like a workable option.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Singer on Marx”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-13.

December 14, 2014

Jonah Goldberg on the Gruber hearings

Filed under: Government, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In this week’s Goldberg File, Jonah Goldberg talks about the show Jonathan Gruber put on in front of some Washington political types:

I learned from Twitter this morning that Gustave Flaubert, born this day in 1821, said, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” So, as Jay-Z says every morning he enters a music studio and as Joe Biden says every time President Obama gives him a fresh 64-pack of crayons, “Let’s make some art, bitches.”

Let’s start with Jonathan Gruber. I have to say I was disappointed by the hearings. Oh, sure, it was good theater-as-human sacrifice of the sort Washington does so well (though I am glad they stopped short of rectal rehydration).

But this was one of those moments where they really could have put the system on trial. Gruber’s consistent answer was that he’s a shabby, shallow, little man who belittles others, including the American people, to make himself look good. “I tried to make myself seem smarter by demeaning others.”

In almost every exchange, Gruber fell back on language you’d expect from a stockbroker tied up in an S&M dungeon. I did it because I am a flea! A worm! I am no master of the universe, I am nothing! Punnnniissshhh meee!

All that was missing were some riding-crop and melted-candle-wax welts, and maybe a shorn scrotum. But, hey man, it’s a defense.

But it’s not a good one. You can blame your arrogance for calling the American voters stupid, but you can’t blame your arrogance for claiming that the bill was designed to hide taxes and deceive the public. If I stab someone 34 times, the jury might want to hear about my arrogance, but whether I’m arrogant or humble, it doesn’t change what I did — and apologizing for it doesn’t clarify where the body is buried.

Gruber’s strategy of emotional self-abasement was very clever because it distracted from the central arguments of fact.

[…]

As for Gruber, he said this week that he wasn’t an architect of Obamacare. And yet, for several years he let the New York Times, The New Republic, PBS, and countless other media outlets describe him as exactly that. That label was of great financial value to him. But it was probably of greater social, psychological, and professional value. And that is probably why he seems to have not once taken the time to ask them to stop calling him that. Gruber is of a class of people who take great satisfaction from the belief that they are not only smarter and better than normal Americans, but that their superiority entitles them to manipulate the public and system in whatever way they think necessary.

There’s another reason Gruber never corrected anybody when they described him as an architect of Obamacare: Because it’s true!

Which leads to another important point: Gruber’s a huge, monumental, Brobdingnagian liar.

To believe his testimony before Congress is to believe that on one occasion after another, he baldly lied over and over again to his peers, colleagues, students, and friends. Darrell Issa sort of gets at this here at the end of Gowdy’s interrogation when he asks Gruber, “Did anybody come up to you and tell you that what you were saying was inappropriate?”

That’s an interesting question and tells you a lot about the sovereign contempt the expert class has for the American people. But a better question would be, “Why didn’t anybody correct you on your factual claims? Or simply say ‘What you’re saying isn’t true’?” Gruber was on panels with other health-care experts. The audiences were full of people who were deeply informed about Obamacare and all its details. And yet no one said, “Hey, that’s not the way it happened.” Why? Because Gruber was telling the truth when he said they had to deceive the American people. And before you ask me what proof I have, I would like to direct you to the fact that Barack Obama deceived the American people over and over and over again when he said things like “You can keep your doctor” and “You can keep your insurance” etc. (and not one liberal journalist cheerleader for Obamacare ever felt compelled to push back on this obvious lie). Are we really so stunned that the same president might be willing to play accounting games with the CBO?

Sure maybe Gruber exaggerated his role or involvement. Maybe he embellished this or that. But you can’t exaggerate a lie; you can only exaggerate the truth. For years he told the truth to anyone who would listen, and now that it’s politically problematic he says it was all a lie.

So we’re forced to choose: Was he lying when talking to countless audiences full of peers, colleagues, and experts, or was he lying in front of Congress in order to save his team any further embarrassment and preserve a law he’s sincerely proud of (because he was an architect of it)? Personally, I think you’d have to be too stupid to beat Joe Biden at tic-tac-toe to think the “real” Gruber testified before Congress this week. But whichever side you come down on this question, one thing has been established: He’s a huge liar.

December 13, 2014

QotD: Political careers

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Out of the muck of … swinishness the typical American law-maker emerges. He is a man who has lied and dissembled, and a man who has crawled. He knows the taste of boot-polish. He has suffered kicks in the tonneau of his pantaloons.

He has taken orders from his superiors in knavery and he has wooed and flattered his inferiors in sense. His public life is an endless series of evasions and false pretences. He is willing to embrace any issue, however idiotic, that will get him votes, and he is willing to sacrifice any principle, however sound, that will lose them for him. I do not describe the democratic politician at his inordinate worst; I describe him as he is encountered in the full sunshine of normalcy.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

December 9, 2014

Colby Cosh on the recent “unprecedented” terror attacks

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In his latest Maclean’s article, Colby Cosh talks about the recent “freelance” terror attacks on Canadian soil and points out that no matter what the reporters say, they’re hardly “unprecedented”:

There has been much discussion about how to think of the type of freelance Islamist terrorist that has recently begun to belabour Canada. What labels and metaphors are appropriate for such an unprecedented phenomenon? I possess the secret: It is not unprecedented. This has been kept a secret only through some odd mischance, some failure of attention that is hard to explain.

I discovered the secret through reading about 19th-century history, particularly the years from the 1848 revolutions to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The key was Bismarck, the Prussian minister-president who unified Germany. If you want to learn about Bismarck, you will probably pick up a book by some historian of international relations, such as A.J.P. Taylor. That’s the right place to start. But it means you can read a lot about Bismarck before finding out about the time in May 1866 when a guy shot him.

Ferdinand Cohen-Blind, a Badenese student of pan-German sentiments, waylaid Bismarck with a pistol on the Unter den Linden. He fired five rounds. None missed. Three merely grazed his midsection, and two ricocheted off his ribs. He went home and ate a big lunch before letting himself be examined by a doctor.

[…]

The point is not that Bismarck was particularly hated, although he was. The point is that this period of European (and American) history was crawling with young, often solitary male terrorists, most of whom showed signs of mental disorder when caught and tried, and most of whom were attached to some prevailing utopian cause. They tended to be anarchists, nationalists or socialists, but the distinctions are not always clear, and were not thought particularly important. The 19th-century mind identified these young men as congenital conspirators. It emphasized what they had in common: social maladjustment, mania, an overwhelming sense of mission and, usually, a prior record of minor crimes.

In my Origins of WW1 series, I quoted from The War That Ended Peace (which I still heartily recommend):

Margaret MacMillan describes the typical members of the Young Bosnians, who were of a type that we probably recognize more readily now than at any time since 1914:

    [They] were mostly young Serb and Croat peasant boys who had left the countryside to study and work in the towns and cities of the Dual Monarchy and Serbia. While they had put on suits in place of their traditional dress and condemned the conservatism of their elders, they nevertheless found much in the modern world bewildering and disturbing. It is hard not to compare them to the extreme groups among Islamic fundamentalists such as Al Qaeda a century later. Like those later fanatics, the Young Bosnians were usually fiercely puritanical, despising such things as alcohol and sexual intercourse. They hated Austria-Hungary in part because they blamed it for corrupting its South Slav subjects. Few of the Young Bosnians had regular jobs. Rather they depended on handouts from their families, with whom they had usually quarreled. They shared their few possessions, slept on each other’s floors, and spent hours over a single cup of coffee in cheap cafés arguing about life and politics. They were idealistic, and passionately committed to liberating Bosnia from foreign rule and to building a new and fairer world. Strongly influenced by the great Russian revolutionaries and anarchists, the Young Bosnians believed that they could only achieve their goals through violence and, if necessary, the sacrifice of their own lives.

The “peaceful century” from the defeat of Napoleon to the outbreak of the First World War was far from peaceful — we only see it as such in contrast to the bloodbath of 1914-1918. And terrorists of a type we readily recognize from the front pages of the newspapers today were prefigured exactly by the anarchist revolutionaries of a century ago.

The intra-feminist arguments over sex work and video game portrayals of it

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Noah Berlatsky talks about feminist videographer Anita Sarkeesian’s criticism of the portrayal of sex workers in video games and how that contributes to negative views toward all women and the sex workers who take issue with Sarkeesian’s presentation:

In her series of controversial videos critiquing sexism in video games, Anita Sarkeesian often focuses on the way games treat sex workers. She points to games like Hitman: Absolution, in which characters can dump the dead body of a stripper over a railing as a way to distract police; or Saints Row, in which characters are encouraged to steal prostitutes from one pimp and deliver them to another; or Grand Theft Auto, where having sex with a sex worker increases health much like quaffing an energy drink. Sarkeesian concludes that sex workers in many video games are viewed as commodities and objects, rather than as people — and that they are often targeted for violence. In Red Dead Redemption, for example, the player is rewarded with an achievement for kidnapping a sex worker and murdering her.

Violence against sex workers is a serious problem, both nationally and internationally [PDF], and Sarkeesian makes a good case that the games she discusses treat that violence as fun, enjoyable, or even laudable. But Sarkeesian’s videos have not garnered much praise from those most directly affected by these tropes. On the contrary, many sex workers have argued that Sarkeesian’s videos contribute to the objectification and stigma that she claims she is trying to reduce.

Much of the criticism of Sarkeesian has centered around her terminology. She doesn’t call sex workers “sex workers.” Instead she refers to them throughout her video series as “prostituted women.” That’s a term often used by writers who see all sex work as automatically exploitative or harmful to women, and by those who want to criminalize sex work. Sex workers have repeatedly tried to ask Sarkeesian on social media to reconsider her language, but she hasn’t responded, and has continued to use the term. For example, in this recent tweet she says that fans of Grand Theft Auto have been harassing her by sending her images of “gameplay of the use & murder of prostitutes.” The fact that gamers are using images of sex workers to harass Sarkeesian seems like it fits into her analysis—violence against sex workers is deployed in a misogynist way, in order to harass and intimidate a woman. But at the same time, Sarkeesian, by referring to the “use” of sex workers, seems to buy into the same logic, treating sex workers as things or utilities, rather than as human beings. (Sarkeesian did not respond to a request to comment for this article.)

This seeming contradiction is tied to longstanding tensions between some strands of feminist cultural criticism and sex workers. Sarkeesian’s criticism of video games is in a tradition of feminist analysis that goes back to the 1980s, when theorists like Andrea Dworkin argued that “Pornography is used in rape — to plan it, to execute it, to choreograph it, to engender the excitement to commit the act.” Dworkin saw sexualized images of women as directly implicated in misogyny and violence against women — which could mean that women taking part in pornography, or in sexualized imagery, were seen as themselves culpable or morally flawed. Thus anti-porn feminists like Julie Burchill declared that, “When the sex war is won prostitutes should be shot as collaborators for their terrible betrayal of all women.” Anti-porn feminists and video games here come together in celebrating violent attacks on sex workers.

December 6, 2014

The “low-information voter”

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:02

At The Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson charts the sad decline of Michael Chong (whose brave attempt to reform our political system has been thoroughly neutered by the powers-that-be), and talks about the infamous “low-information voters” who somehow keep screwing up democracy … or something:

There has been much bemoaning in recent months about the “low information voter.” This is a polite euphemism for “lazy dumb asses.” The lazy dumb ass is a universal phenomenon but our age has take this once marginal figure and made him central to our political concerns. Different eras would have simply ignored the lazy dumb asses and restricted the franchise to people who give a rat’s ass about the political process. Oh what a Golden Age that was!

Why does it matter? A politician who knows that he must confront an engaged and informed electorate won’t try to pull half as many political stunts. Politics is the art of the possible which is another way of saying the art of whatever hell you can get away with. When a critical mass of the electorate are lazy dumb asses the job of the politician becomes easier. Lying is easier. Evading responsibility is easier. It’s the difference between dealing with an omniscience mother and an idiot man child. The electorate was never quite the former but it has now largely become the latter.

Sometimes half a loaf is worse than no loaf. Mr Chong earned some very impressive brownie points with the civic minded set when he resigned from cabinet and then proposed this bill. There was a kind of teary eyed delusion when it was first introduced. A principled politician making a principled stand on the very important principle of responsible government. Many of us nearly fainted from righteous appreciation.

The spectacle of the great and the good talking about the “low-information voter” is quite amusing: what you think they’re talking about isn’t actually the case. In most cases, they’re talking about you.

It’s been less than a century since the franchise was extended to most adults (by chronology, anyway) and a decade or so less for those with two “X” chromosomes. Harking back to some imaginary golden age when voters actually cared seriously about how to cast their votes is nonsense … the vast majority of voters — regardless of how broad or restrictive the franchise might be — were, are, and will forever continue to be low-information voters. This is because of our old friend from the dismal field of economics, the opportunity cost.

The cost to you for educating yourself about the political situation and the current contenders in any given election is almost always orders of magnitude higher than any possible benefit you might personally derive from getting your vote “right”. As a rational being, it’s insane for you to spend any time at all in figuring out who to vote for — this is why party labels are so important. You don’t know whether to vote for Saba Chen-O’Toole-Wenger or Mohammed Jean-Claude Campbell-Mirkovich? Check their party affiliations for a cheater’s guide. Ms. Chen-O’Toole-Wenger is for the Jacobins, while Mr. Campbell-Mirkovich is for the Falangists at least lets you know whether option A is better (for you) than option B. I’m not really a fan of the party system, but it clearly does provide a useful benefit in the voting booth.

December 5, 2014

The urban light-rail mania

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics, Railways, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

If you live in a city, chances are that the politicians of your ‘burgh are talking light rail. Unless, of course, you already are suffering under the burden of a light rail project snarling traffic during construction … and snarling traffic in operation. Light rail, in general, is an attempt to resurrect the streetcar era by vast infusions of tax dollars. It’s an attempt to solve a traffic management problem in one of the more inefficient ways possible: to get a few people out of their cars and into modern streetcars instead.

I’m not anti-rail by any means. I travel five days a week on a heavy rail commuter train that does a pretty fair job of getting me where I need to go in a timely and economical fashion. Worse than that, I’m a railway fan — as I’ve mentioned before, I founded a railway historical society. I’m not against light rail due to some sort of anti-rail bias … I’m against it because it’s almost always too expensive, too inflexible, and too politicized.

Georgi Boorman wonders why so many cities are still falling into the light rail trap:

In a previous piece, I discussed the radical ideological roots of the mass transit scam. There are some, such as Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant (who urged Boeing factory workers to seize control of the plant and begin building mass transit) who believe centralization and a complete shift to mass transit are crucial for cities’ futures. Others simply buy into this myth that light rail and trolleys will somehow elevate their cities to the next level of sophistication — the very prospect of which is ignorant, at best, and self-indulgent, at worst.

The overwhelming evidence shows that these mass transit projects do little to improve our quality of life, in terms of easing congestion and expanding access to jobs and, despite popular perception, have no significant net environmental benefits since they rarely succeed in their express goal of removing cars from the road or decreasing congestion-induced idle times, a frequently cited contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions. As the satirical online newspaper The Onion reported, “98% of Americans favor public transportation for others.” That statistic may be fake, but we’ve all experienced the sentiment.

Even the writers of The Simpsons seem to understand the comical nature of light-rail adoption in American cities, brilliantly satirizing the salesmanship by transit authorities. The salesman, “Lyle Lanley,” begins by comparing the Simpsons’ town of Springfield to Shelbyville. “This is more of a Shelbyville idea,” he says slowly, turning his back to the crowd. “Now, wait a minute!” the Springfield mayor responds hastily, “We’re just as smart as the people of Shelbyville—just tell us your idea and we’ll vote for it!”

Gleefully, Lanley begins his presentation; with a grand sweeping gesture, the salesman uncovers a model of the city, complete with buildings, trees, and a brand new Springfield Monorail zooming through the town on its miniature tracks. Holding up a map labeled with all the towns to which he’s sold monorails, he exclaims, “By gum, it put them on the map!” Continuing his pitch, Langley heightens the townspeople’s imaginations and sells them on the “novel” idea of their very own monorail.

In other words, the buy-in had nothing to do with demand for a certain kind of transportation, and everything to do with wanting do the same as other cities that have, or are building, the same thing. Of course, 50 years ago the Seattle Center monorail (built by the German company Alweg) could easily have been said to have elevated the Emerald City at the 1962 World’s Fair, being the cutting-edge of rail technology at the time; but building monorails, light rails, and streetcars in 2014 is a regressive move that mirrors the past rather than engages with the present while leaving room for future innovation.

QotD: The art of political leadership

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

[A politician’s] ear is ever close to the ground. If he is an adept, he can hear the first murmurs of popular clamour before even the people themselves are conscious of them. If he is a master, he detects and whoops up to-day the delusions that the mob will cherish next year.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

December 2, 2014

Joanna Williams talks to the author of Stand By Your Manhood

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Joanna Williams talks to Peter Lloyd about his recent book and the ongoing vilification of all things masculine in the popular press:

Lloyd, who somehow combines writing for both the Daily Mail and the ‘women in leadership’ section of the Guardian, was prompted to write Stand By Your Manhood in response to the ‘dismissive, patronising and skewed narrative about heterosexual men’, which he suggests is apparent in the mainstream media. He argues that it has become normal to consider masculinity as entirely negative and problematic, and to present boys as ‘defective girls, damaged by default’ who need to be medicated, educated and socialised out of their masculinity. Whereas once manhood was celebrated in all its stiff-upper-lipped glory, it is now considered threatening. Lloyd welcomes the progress society has made in recent years, and he is happy that homosexuality is no longer so stigmatised. However, he warns that there is a danger that things have gone too far in the other direction, and that shame is now attached to masculinity, with heterosexual men, in particular, being made to feel guilty if they don’t frequently display a more feminine side to their personalities.

Lloyd suggests today’s men’s movement is a response to strains of feminism that first appeared in the late 1970s — these strains were far more explicitly anti-men than pro-equality. He claims today’s feminists perpetuate the idea that women are oppressed and ‘refuse to let go of old arguments’ despite the changes that have taken place in the real world. Often, Lloyd argues, there are monetary incentives for feminist campaigning groups, such as the Fawcett Society, continuously to propagate an image of women as victims of a non-specific patriarchy. He cites the case of Erin Pizzey, who established one of the first refuges for female victims of domestic violence, but who later received death threats for suggesting that women were also capable of violence. Certainly it is not in the financial interests of groups like Hollaback and FCKH8 to question the facts promoted in their campaigns against sexism. Lloyd blames the media for unthinkingly picking up on such campaigns and escalating an anti-male sentiment. As a result, he says, feminism can seem like a ‘hate movement’ and men have not had a voice to challenge these newly dominant perceptions.

[…]

While it may seem either naive or disingenuous of Lloyd to suggest that the men’s rights movement won’t embrace victimhood and a crusading ethos, he does follow his own arguments to their logical conclusion. Success for the men’s rights movement, he argues, will be when it is no longer needed — that is, when there is true equality, and people are judged according to merit rather than gender. It’s a long time since I’ve heard feminists arguing anything similar. However, until such a point in the future, the inescapable fact is that both the men’s rights movement and feminism continue to cast people as victims of their gender identity.

Feminism today is premised on the assumption that women are persecuted by an oppressive patriarchy; the men’s rights movement considers men to be equally as persecuted by feminists. Both sides need a reality check. Arguing the toss over who is the most oppressed serves only to pitch men and women into battle against each other. It fails to look at what people have in common and how society can be made to work in the best interests of everyone. To achieve individual emancipation today, it’s not feminism or men’s rights that we need — it’s a movement to liberate us all from the stifling constraint and moral authoritarianism of being defined by our biology rather than by what we have the potential to become.

December 1, 2014

Seeing your political opponents as cartoon villains

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:42

Nicholas Frankovich on how at least some liberals view their conservative foes:

In the liberal imagination, the conservative plays many parts, all of them villainous, the most flamboyant being that of the crank who combines political activism with mental instability: a dangerous combination. Earlier this week Ian Tuttle documented a few random but typical reports from those who have recently sighted this menacing character. I especially liked Ian’s excerpt from a column by Charles Blow, who sees “the fear that makes the face flush when people stare into a future in which traditional power — their power — is eroded.”

Blow means status anxiety. The idea is that conservatives are either downwardly mobile or fearful of becoming so. Conservatism is reduced to the image of people blustering and raging as they tumble down the social ladder, either in fact or in their fevered delusions. The term “status anxiety” has fallen out of fashion, but obviously the concept has not. As an explanation for conservatism and for anti-Communism particularly, it came into vogue in the mid 20th century, popularized by the sociologists Daniel Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset but especially by the Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter, who in the run-up to the 1964 presidential election published “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” (Harper’s, November 1964), the classic essay on conservatism as mental illness.

Hofstadter began with a reference to the “angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority.” This was less a news hook for a groundbreaking psychoanalysis of American history than the psychoanalysis of American history was a context in which Hofstadter could situate Barry Goldwater and his supporters.

Meanwhile, “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater” appeared as the October–November issue of the newly founded (and short-lived, as it would turn out) Fact magazine. “1,189 psychiatrists say Goldwater is psychologically unfit to be president!” the cover read. (The American Psychiatric Association later established the “Goldwater rule”: “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer [to media] a professional opinion [of a public figure’s mental health] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”)

November 30, 2014

Even the Marxists think laws “protecting” women are paternalistic and patronizing

Filed under: Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In Britain’s Weekly Worker — subtitled “A paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity” — Yassamine Mather argues that the demand for “safe spaces” is insulting to women and denies their legal and moral equality with men:

In her speech to LU conference the Communist Platform’s Tina Becker, arguing against the proposed ‘safe spaces’ document, said it was patronising and bureaucratic. What did she mean by these two adjectives?

The idea that women in leftwing organisations need ‘protection’, as opposed to ‘empowerment’, is what is patronising. No doubt Felicity Dowling’s extensive work in dealing with child abuse cases and fighting for children’s rights is commendable. However, time and time again when she speaks about safe spaces she starts with abused children, before moving swiftly to the need for safe places for women, gays, blacks in society and, by extension, in the organisations of the left. I disagree with such a classification of women, gays and blacks as weak creatures — actual and potential victims who constantly need ‘protection’ from the rest of society.

On the contrary, as adults they need a progressive culture that encourages them and everyone else to challenge sexism, homophobia and racism. Comrades in Left Unity are not weak creatures: they are conscious individuals who recognise capitalism as their enemy — that is why they are in politics. They do not need protective legislation of the type social workers use when dealing with vulnerable children.

Here the example that comes to my mind is the struggles of Iranian women over the last 35 years. They had to fight misogyny not only at home, but in every aspect of social, political and economic life. The state claimed that their ‘safety’ was best maintained by segregation — in the home, or beneath the hijab in the street. But women rejected this from the first days of the Islamic Republic. They took to the streets and fought against misogynist legislation and, although there are still many battles to win, they have made great strides against all odds — to such an extent that the women’s movement in Iran is by far the most significant social movement of the region. Would they have been able to achieve this if in their battles against misogyny they had retreated to ‘safe spaces’? Of course not. On the contrary, it is precisely the ‘safe spaces’ provided by the clerical regime that they are rebelling against.

On the left the most effective way to fight sexism and racism is to make sure we battle against privileged positions and the abuse of power, against secrecy and cronyism. It was not lack of safe spaces that led to the disastrous situation in the Socialist Workers Party. It was secrecy, the power of those in authority, their ability to use ‘confidentiality’ to suppress reporting. A ‘safe spaces’ policy cannot protect women from a ‘comrade Delta’.

H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.

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