Thursday, 11 May 2017

The iPod People

I've been reading the book 'Invasion of The Body Snatchers' and I'll be damned if those pod people don't sound a lot like some Facebook friends I've known.

The passion is still there in them but, because it's all wrapped up in Facebook, it may as well not even exist.  Taken out of real-time circulation. Their shape still exists as a data trace, but the substance has been extracted. Or to be more honest, it's been dumped as excess baggage, due to space constraints. (The medium is inadequate to transmit it, you see).

After their transformation from reality to Facebook, we can still access exact replicas of our friends: see their familiar smiles and poses, their recognizable styles, hear their unique speech patterns, but it's all just a representation. Leftovers, placeholders of what and where they used to be. They still appear to exist and can be tracked through a series of snapshots - evidence always gathered after the fact, having always passed you by without a tangible trace.

A dead friend is never forgotten but a vanished Facebook friend? They may as well have never existed. One presence is bought at the expense of another, the more you pay the less there is value, in the end.  

Facebook makes you a caretaker to your avatar, reassembling you in cybernetic units made up of the snapshots, soundbites, tunes and memes: personalities reconfigured to suit a data farmer's needs. The precision of that fabrication can never be resurrected in the flesh (and its emptiness  is usually unwelcome there anyway). Each time that avatar's clarity sharpens, a part of the person it's made of vanishes into the mainframe to sustain it.

A Facebook friend's avatar always has time to chat and 'share' and laugh, even as the real person behind it becomes ever more remote: a vacancy on the street, in your flat, at the end of your phone line.

Facebook is a vessel... but what for?  Nothing that really matters, that's for sure.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Men's Rights and "Reverse Discrimination": A Violence Survivor's View



The Unbearable Darkness of Non-Being


A few years ago I was having a rant to a male friend about sexual harassment against women. I mentioned a specific party we'd been to where I'd had my arse grabbed about four or five times by different guys.

He broke in to say, "Yeah, but that doesn't just happen to women. I've had my arse grabbed once too, you know."

That anecdote sums up the difference, for me, between discrimination and prejudice.  It also sums up the difference between what many men think discrimmination is, and what it actually is.  There's no question that a lot of men walking around today have had someone wolf whistle at them or try to cop a feel...once, maybe twice in their lives. That is prejudice, but it's not discrimination. They ain't the same at all.

Like many women, I've actually lost count of the amount of times I've been touched up by strangers, casually stalked by 'admirers' at pubs, clubs, or down dark streets, had abuse shouted at me on the streets, been rubbed up against on trains, had my arse grabbed by fellow managers and staff, fielded degrading questions by employers, landlords, fended off friends' husbands and boyfriends. The list gets longer every few weeks.

Added to which the advertising, film and media industry paints my entire gender as wanting and enjoying sex the way that all these male aggressors seemingly expect us to: all the time, indiscriminately, and without personal boundaries.  It paints us as egging them all on.

A clear trend emerges, and it never changes: the media gaze isn't just a male gaze, it's also an abusive one: the gaze of a transgressor that's intent on both blaming AND shaming the victim of his actions, as well as the victims of other transgressors like him. In effect, the entire female gender is fair game.  

The miracle is that I still go out and engage with men, have relationships with them at all in the face of all this cumulative negativity and aggression. There was a time when I'd barely leave my house though, but you eventually have to harden yourself and carry on... and then you face yet another backlash against asserting yourself: 'What a fucking bitch! Is it your time of the month?' Etc.

That's what men can't really ever grasp about sexism against women; what they can't empathize with, even after they've had a rare, one-off encounters with harassment, themselves. It's the relentlessness of it all.

A few of these experiences were traumatic enough that they were burned into my subconscious and changed my personality forever, but many, many less appalling ones have eroded parts of me entirely that'll never be recovered. These are the reduced tendencies that I'm barely aware I ever had, the deadened sensations that I never got a chance to explore. That's how gender discrimination drags you down (as opposed to one-off acts of prejudice, which tend to enrage a person, instead of numbing them).

I'm aware that something similar happens to many men with respect to their sensitivity to others - that many of them are shamed for crying or having feelings when they're young, and end up acting a bit psycho later, as a result - but those men usually end up endangering people like me.  Therefore, my empathy for their plight can only go so far before the need for self-defence takes over. My survival takes precedence... as is my right.

In my experience, discrimination's effects are measurable by the absences it creates. By that curious sensation that I get when watching men taking the stage or arguing their viewpoint fearlessly, and I realize that I have no such reserves of self-assurance to draw on... not anymore. Although I can remember that I once did, the exact place and time that they ceased to exist can't be nailed down; it was a culmination of so many small jabs and slaps that these same qualities in me almost seemed to evaporate. Except it wasn't a passive process, this evaporation: it was an eradication. An assassination that was planned and executed by nearly every man & every woman around me, nearly every day. 


Male Supremacy, Reversed

It's ironic that feminism, as many Men's Rights activists see (and resent) it, isn't really feminism at all. It's a fantasy of female supremacy - male supremacy, but reversed. This is "equality" re-framed in an unequal paradigm, where the 'haves' are always at war with the 'have-nots'. That, to me, really IS reverse discrimination. Female liberation is its own thing... not just the opposite of what currently happens between women and men.

This view presumes a reality that's made up only of takers and givers, leaders and followers, aggressors and victims, "top dogs" and "bitches". It presumes that women can never get what men have without men somehow being beaten down. It presumes that there is only one enough room at the top for one gender. That women can only reach that same height by making men OUR bitches. I find it ironic that anyone can believe this 'brand' of feminism - the brand that men are taught to hate - really exists, because feminism has put forth an endless succession of arguments AGAINST such a mentality. It's endlessly struggled to replace male supremacy with gender equality. Any textbook can tell us that.

It doesn't help that some women are outspoken advocates of the 'feminists are victimizing men' argument. One such woman is Christina Hoff Sommers.  A thorough takedown of her views has already been published here, so I won't laboriously dismantle each argument that she makes. I'll just take, as an example, her argument that young male students suffer worse grades because of feminism. She assumes that, because male students are doing badly at a time when feminism is in the spotlight, feminism is somehow to blame: a straight-up false conclusion, which is a logical fallacy if ever there was one. What is worse, she offers no real evidence for this conclusion. (Sommers rarely uses research to prove her points directly: she draws inferences from what hasn't been written or said, instead, and 'estimate' is her watchword). 

I don't dispute that many boys do badly in school today, but they do badly because they're rewarded for the exact same behaviours that schools frown upon, whenever they're anywhere BUT school. And who is rewarding them... is it the feminists? Are feminists telling them that it's cool to be a loud, rude, stupid thugs? Um, no: that negative precedent has been set by Hollywood; by the mainstream television; by the sports industry; by the military; by big business etc., etc., etc.

Young men and boys are being steered towards bad-student behaviour by the same male-dominated, patriarchal institutions that feminists have been trying to reform ever since the dawn of the Industrial Age. Yet, instead of supporting feminists in that reform, Sommers lashes out at them. Mindlessly blaming women for all that's wrong in the world in spite of any evidence to the contrary - that is about as sexist as you can get. And since Sommers is a favourite 'expert' of the Men's Rights movement, I can assume they are pretty much the same.  The vile (yet scarily normalized) hatred  toward women that can be found on its websites certainly backs this assumption up.

Equality = Equality

Gender discrimination is a depressing and inescapable reality in many female lives. Yet for the most part, feminism has always asserted that male victims of rape, domestic violence and child abuse share a common struggle with women. Men who really are suffering from these crimes can benefit from what the feminist movement has learned about challenging things like rape and partner assault. There's no need to oppose feminism in order to 'be heard', as Men's Rights activists claim.

It's true that the few men who experience sexual or violent assaults by women are usually afraid to admit that they've been abused, because they don't want to be ridiculed. In this respect, though, they are identical to every other survivor of male-on-female assault.  To claim that there is any glory in women reporting violence or rape is to ignore the testimony of nearly every survivor, which recounts horrific shame-and-blame tactics that are used by police and lawyers... not to mention family members, friends, teachers, neighbours, and so on. 

There is really no need for men to frame their struggles with gender violence as if it exists in opposition to the struggles women face. All these struggles face similar problems, and as such they should work together, not against each other, for the good of all.

The opposite of discrimination is not reverse discrimination, it's equality... despite what the Men's Rights movement says.


Got something to add? Share your views in the comment box



Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Populism, by Unpopular Demand


The term post- truth, coined by blogger David Roberts, refers to the way that many people today seem to create facts to match their opinions (or the opinions of their peers) rather than choosing opinions (or peers) to match their interpretation of the facts. Roberts points out that, since this runs opposite to the way that things have worked from the Enlightenment times, it may signal a reversal of the intellectual advancements set in motion by the Age of Reason. 

So the symptoms of the breakdown of logic have been named, but its cause has yet to be established. Is the post-truth era here thanks to the existence of fake news websites? Is it because politicians are ignoring - and even flat-out inventing - new facts? Is it encouraged by the absence of qualified experts on debate panels that we see on TV? Or by the media sensationalizing all debates that involve polarized views?

Yes, yes, yes and yes... all the above things have helped to place reactionary views on equal footing with rationalist ones. But the awful truth is that none of them should be enough to persuade the public... not unless its built-in defence system against bad logic has already been sabotagedIt's becoming obvious that this sabotage has been achieved through a sustained onslaught by people wielding dodgy logic, as if it's a weapon. Reading through 'debates' between left wingers, right wingers and middle-road moderates, one witnesses how the right wing 'side' keeps moving from one fallacy to another, as if on a loop. They seem as if they've been trained in the art of disinformation. Maybe they have; the attack on logic seems to have been unleashed in much the same way as all the other attacks on minorities that I discussed in my  series of articles on trolling. This is a shock & awe tactic designed to mire necessary debates down in murky & shifting, bitter sentimentPerhaps an all-out campaign to stop the public from making any headway toward truth really is underway. If it is, though, then the best defence is more logic, not less. 


Here are 12 of the most common logical fallacies that are employed by the right wing / alt right today. They are, of course, sometimes employed by more moderate commentators, as well, but the difference between how the right and left use them is one of degree. The right wing are, by and large, the worst offenders when it comes to crimes against reason; one reason why all the memes used in this piece come from their 'side' of the 'debate'



1) AD HOMINEM ATTACK

 


What it means: The Latin of this term, translated, means "argument against the man". It's a logical fallacy because it attacks the person making the argument, though, rather than their facts / interpretation of the facts.

AKA: "Bullying"


Who does it the most: The far- right and alt-right.


Ad hominem attacks tend to be "circular" in nature because the critic wants us to believe that their rage or hatred is proof enough that their target is in the wrong. A true debate requires a person to prove his or her point with facts, rather than merely re-iterating it in more aggressive terms. 

Most used by: People on all sides of any debate, but again it's a question of degree. The far right's websites and discussions seem riddled with every insult under the sky, whereas left-wingers tend to stick to a limited range of accusations that are related to ethics and fairness.

Using ad hominem arguments is a flawed approach regardless, though... no matter how funny / self-righteous it might make you feel. It doesn't offer any evidence for the other side to consider, which might not seem as important when the other side is flinging their poop at you, but it is important for persuading anyone who is reading, or watching the debate.

As Milo Yiannopoulos, a poster boy of the alt right, says: “I have never lost a battle, because I have nothing to lose. You don’t fight a pig, because you both get dirty. Nothing is too low-rent or dirty enough for me.” In essence, these are scare tactics meant to avoid discussion altogether, rather than participate in it.  And then the person employing it can tell himself that, because the other guy ran away, he's somehow won. It is, at best, a temporary victory though.



2) BANDWAGON APPROACH

 


What it means: Argumentum ad populum is a fancy old Latin way of saying, "Do it because everyone else is doing it."  

Who uses it the most: The pro-Trump and pro-Brexit camp. A common variation on this style of argument is the 'So and so won the election or referendum, so just shut up and deal with it.'

Why it's wrong: Clearly, if a true majority were in favour of, say, Brexit and/or President Trump, then protests against them would not happen in the first place. Even if that weren't the case though, a debate is not decided on the popularity of one view over the other, but on facts. Even if only 1 person represents the opposing view, it doesn't necessarily follow that his or her argument is weaker until it has been disproven.

Citing argumentum ad populum is also illogical in the Brexit or Trump debate, because it dodges the question of how to resolve the concerns of nearly half the voting population and create a true consensus based on compromise... which is, after all, what democracy is about. It's not a death-match between opposing views, regardless of what our more macho leaders might like us to believe.



3) THE PATRIOTIC APPROACH

 



AKA: "Draping oneself in the flag"

What it means: Asserting that one's stance is correct because it is patriotic. Conversely, it means suggesting that anyone who disagrees with you is automatically unpatriotic, and therefore wrong.  

Who uses it: This logical fallacy is most common in America and Russia, and especially during elections. Many mainstream parties also employed it during the Brexit campaign.

Why It's Wrong: This argument is not illogical by default, but it's only relevant if the person making it can prove that the way the country 'has always been' works better than adopting the proposed changes, or that its traditions are still practical. Generally though, claiming that something is good for the country without proof is a cop-out since, obviously, almost anyone could make that claim about almost anything. It's an entirely subjective view.  



4) APPEAL TO IMPROPER AUTHORITY

 

AKA: The 'Cause s/he said so" approach

What it means: Citing a non-expert 'authority' as if they were an expert on the subject (for instance, a celebrity). 

Who Uses it the Most: This is a tough one to find a visual "meme" of in the far right's repertoire. In fact, after spending the last few months on a steady diet of alt-right websites I've noticed that, the more 'right' a group is, the less likely they are to come up with any research or experts to back themselves up. They usually just employ insults, and/or the bandwagon approach.  

But there are numerous think-tanks which constitute improper authorities in the U.S., such as the American Enterprise Institute, which uses its 19 million U.S.D. privately funded annual budget to buy extra influence for marginal 'expert' views which, strangely enough, all seem to benefit big business. The AEI has defended the sustainability of big oil, the health benefits of big tobacco, as well as the invasion of Iraq, even when findings from independent researchers conflicted with their position on all of the above. These sorts of think-tanks, along with AstroTurfing campaigns, make up the largest part of improper authorities out there.

Example: The author of the above piece, taken from the National Review website, uses a paper by Monsanto to prove the safety of one of Monsanto's most controversial products, glyphosate. 
Monsanto sees a direct financial profit from every sale of Roundup (a glyphosate-containing product) so this glaring conflict of interest alone would tend to make it a non-credible expert, but especially when their report ignores all of the recent studies that have been put forward by independent bodies, casting doubt on Roundup's safety.
The most infamous example of Appeal to Improper Authority to date has got to be the climate change denial lobby, which chronically defers to other big-name deniers (George Bush, Donald Trump) whilst ignoring the estimated 90-99% of scientists who agree that climate change is related to human activities.

Of course, left-wing and moderate commenters are also wont to quote the opinions of celebrities and fellow activists or journalists as if it were proof that their stance is correct, when in all fairness, they should focus on facts. This can set a bad precedent - one that the right is all-too willing to follow. 



5) ARGUMENT FROM PERSONAL INCREDULITY

 

AKA: The "I just don't believe you" approach.

What it means: Arguing that your failure to understand something is proof that it does not matter / happen / exist.  

Example: The meme above is a classic statement of incredulity because it suggests that, since this woman hasn't experienced any serious assaults, feminism is unnecessary in her country. Many Western victims of sexual violence, domestic violence and discrimination would probably love it if that were the truth!

Who uses it the most: Those who deny the existence of discrimination against another group on the grounds that they've never personally experienced / witnessed the acts in question. Also, white nationalists who deny the need for refugees to seek asylum because they haven't personally seen the harsh conditions in their countries of origin. And so on and so forth. 
Why it's wrong: Because obviously, it's physically impossible for any one person to see, hear and know everything that happens to other people. Limiting all truths to what one sees and hears with one's own eyes and ears is also a tad egocentric and therefore, wholly biased. 



6) BEGGING THE QUESTION & LOADED QUESTIONS

 


AKA: "Bait & Switch"

What it means: You focus on proving a point that you know no almost one will disagree with, rather than proving the point currently being debated. Or else you pile a bunch of unproven assumptions into a single, innocuous sounding question, in the hopes the other side will take the bait and swallow all of them without you having to make any further effort. Both approaches are attempts to slip a contentious premise past your opponent, under the guise of being something more benign.

Who uses it the most: Most of the far right
Example: See above. Instead of addressing the central premise - whether 'Western Civilization' actually does lack a country or society of its own - David Duke shifts the viewer's focus to a less-contentious assertion: that wanting one's own country is not a bad thing

See this archived Reddit thread for another classic example of how such a logical fallacy unfolds in a debate.


7) THE RED HERRING
 



AKA: "I didn't start it, s/he did!"

What it is: Another kind of bait & switch but this time, the arguer is trying to divert attention away from a contentious point by citing an even more sensational claim. It's the verbal equivalent of saying, "Look behind you!" and then sucker punching them while their back is turned.

Who uses it the most? The "Clinton-Was-Just-As-Bad-As-Trump" brigade, as well as those who constantly attempt to frame vegans as plant-murderers, or environmental activists as sign-dumping polluters.

Example: In the above meme, the claim that Trump is as bad as Hitler is countered by an accusation that, "Clinton was worse!" The person making this argument is hoping we'll get so caught up in comparing Hilary Clinton's vision of social welfare to Hitler's distorted, race-specific vision of it, that we'll completely forget that s/he still hasn't addressed the accusations against Trump.   


8) STRAW MAN ARGUMENT

 

AKA: "Going on a witch-hunt"

What it means: Strawmanning means you're making an oversimplified and negative caricature of your opponents, in order to make your position seem fairer, more rational or just by comparison.

Example: The three UK high court judges featured on the Daily Mail's front cover, above, were labelled 'enemies of the people' after they ruled that Parliament should be consulted before the Brexit could be set in motion. 

Calling the judges 'Enemies of the People' was an extraordinary claim, yet still within the realm of possibility. But to prove it The Daily Mail would have had to prove that 1) a Parliamentary consultation would definitely result in the Brexit being halted 2) that the Brexit truly represented the will of 'the people' rather than just the will of 52% of voters, and 3) that the judges made their judgement based on malice, not on evidence. Maybe the Mail was just hoping that its readers would be so angered by the mere possibility that the judges were their 'enemies' that they would turn against them without further proof

Why it's Wrong: Well, lynch mobs work on a similar premise - and when was the last time you heard about one of them making a good call?


9) FALSE DICHOTOMY

 
 

AKA: The "Between a rock and a hard place" argument.
What it means: Arguing that there are only two options available when there is clearly a middle ground that has been left out. A classic example of this is, "Immigration needs to be halted or else our country will be overrun by immigrants." There are many alternatives between no immigration and being "overrun" but the vast majority of right wing reactionaries pretend there are only two ways that the immigration policy can end. With feminism it's, "Women should stay at home in the kitchen, rather than setting out to replace men," an argument which presumes that there are no models in which men and women both work and/or share chores at home. And so on, and so forth.


The Brexit campaign was one big, endless succession of false dichotomies. At least it had the defence that the campaign itself was dichotomized though, but the either/or comparisons were not always logical


Who uses it the most: People who oppose immigration and asylum law.  Oh: and loads of advertisers employ this tactic too... but that's a discussion for another time.


 10) EQUIVOCATION 
 


AKA: "Rewriting the rules whenever it suits you"

What it means: Using a word in a different way than the other side uses it, without agreeing the change in definition with them first.  I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that this has happened in approximately 90% of 'debates' between reactionary right wingers and moderates, or left wingers, that I have seen.

Who uses it: Anyone who is trying to shift the debate away from a field that s/he is not familiar with, in to one that s/he knows better.

Example: In the image above, the term 'privilege' has obviously been redefined to mean 'freedom from working as a cleaner'.  Most feminists would probably argue that the concept of male privilege refers to the overall trend of men getting easier access to a range of basic human rights. By revising that definition to a single, narrow meaning, it becomes much easier for an anti-feminists to dismiss it as frivolous

Why it's wrong: Kind of like the False Dichotomy and Straw Man approaches, this approach is an attempt to re-frame the debate in terms that one is able to rebut instead of rebutting the point that is actually being discussed. But since it's impossible to have any debate at all when the definitions of shared terms are not agreed, this amounts to an obstructive tactic. 


12) NO TRUE SCOTSMAN

 

AKA: "You're not a real man/woman/American" etc.

What it is: This fallacy gets its name from the old stereotype whereby a Scotsman was seen as a die-hard fighter on the field of battle, and any Scotsman who didn't fit the stereotype was mocked as being not true to his nation. It is used to describe any argument where the debater is employing a tired stereotype as proof of his/her position... but refuses to admit it. Instead, they will claim that a person who doesn't fit that stereotype isn't really true to their type, whether that be a Scotsman... a woman... a lizard... or whatever

This is used most often against women, trans and queer people who defy gender stereotypes.  
 As a side note, it's also widely used by music snobs and left-wingers when they disagree on their methods and/or tastes: "People who eat honey aren't true vegan" or "The only truly radical solution is the socialist alternative" or "You're not a real punk unless you like the Damned". Etc.

Why it's wrong: It presumes that applying a one-size-fits-all approach to human beings is workable, desirable or fair. As always, it may be possible to prove this point in some cases, but you'd really need to draw on evidence to do that... not on lazy stereotypes.



13) FALSE CAUSE


 

AKA: "Guilt by association"

What it means: Implying that a relationship between two things is always a cause-and-effect relationship, even when there are many other possibilities. The most common form of this is to say that an event is caused by the people who are most affected by it. i.e., "Women are employed in worse jobs because they're less qualified". "Blacks do worse in school because they're less intelligent", or  "Middle Eastern wars happen because the Muslims live there." 

Who uses it the most: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the alt right and far right. Just have a look at any one of their websites if you don't believe me.

Right now, the anti-Islam faction is rinsing this particular logical fallacy. "Islam is inherently violent," it says, "just look at Al Qaeda, ISIS, Syria, and the war-torn Middle East!"  But to claim that radical Islam is the sole root cause of violence in these homelands is to ignore the West's repeated bombings and invasions, and the CIA's interference in Middle Eastern politics
The person making this claim may of course, be in the right but, to establish that, s/he must provide proof. Clearly, not every relationship between two things is one of cause-and-effect.



Is "Right" the new "Wrong"?

Many of the claims that the far right and alt right are attempting to foist on the public - via a mix of manipulation, over-exposure and brute force - fall into the category of logical fallacy. And that's not a political distinction, it's an academic one.
That's not to say that there aren't, or have never been, logical arguments in favour of right wing ideas; it's to say that they have all been drowned out by the volume of dumbed-down, reactionary ones. I'd love to see what a real debate between the left and the right looks like when it follows the rules of logic, but I've not found one recently. 
Instead, the average right-winger online is a troll who substitutes rational arguments for a hail of faulty logic, falling so thick and fast that it threaten to destroy all sense of what constitutes a debate. In all likelihood, this is the whole reason WHY they're throwing so much trash talk around in the first place; because, like so much that online trolls do, this is about controlling a discussion, rather than having one

Even before the advent of the alt right, though, the word 'debate' had already been severely damaged by the mainstream media, in its attempts to frame nearly an opinion, criticism or reaction as a legitimate "side" of every debate... regardless of how coherent or factual it was. Maybe the media does this because it makes it easier to keep the viewers watching, or the readers reading, when they feel involved. (Well, it worked for the tabloids, didn't it?) Maybe it's because it's run out of good stories. Maybe it's because the people in charge of the media are, themselves, that incoherent & uninformed.

But as with 'truth' and 'logic', the definition of a 'debate' is not really open to interpretation. To do it right, one should stick to logic and facts. That's because logic is the closest thing that we humans have to an absence of bias. 
Bias is a bad basis for any decision - let alone decisions made in a world with as many different classes, races, genders and religions as ours has. If the tradition of debate is bound by the rules of logic, it is probably because so many debates are used to decide national, or global, policy. Unless your vision of this planet is one that is filled wtih mass-produced cogs, holding a singularity of views... like soup cans churned out on a factory line... then bias has to be left out of the debate. And that means logical fallacies have to be left out of it, too.
But then again, it may be that a world of mass produced cogs is the exact the one that autocratic businessmen like Trump are trying to create, by bringing populism back into fashion again.

Thoughts? 

*Edited to remove a few typpoes (<--- but that one was a joke)