Here’s to those we don’t deserve

 

As we lurch through the end of days and watch the complete degeneration of Question Time into clickbait vying with GMB’s Piers Morgan for YouTube views, thank god we still have those we can stare up at.  Enjoy:

 

Mark Steel, ‘If you say Muslim women look like letterboxes, the only job you can get is prime minister – it’s the woke brigade’s fault’

 

Stewart Lee, ‘Laurence Fox is the hero we deserve – and I have just the role for him’

Lovett or Leave it

I’m a big fan of the podcast Lovett of Leave it, brought to us by the chaps and dames at Crooked Media.

A weekly round up of the American political situation, packed into 40 minutes of hilarity as well as experienced insight into Washington’s machinations. The panel varies from political leaders, grassroots activists and organisers, writers and comics, and an impressive representation of identities. On this episode, John speaks to author, screenwriter and journalist Laurie Penny.

As the most amateur of hacks, capable only really of repetition, I thought I’d transcribe a few bits and pieces. Re-listening and typing these prose out was a joy in itself.

 

Gays Against Equinox, 10 August 2019

 

John:

 

How much is the internet, in your mind, to blame for someone like the El Paso shooter’s radicalisation?

 

Laurie:

 

It’s very difficult to say how much the internet, as a sort of total entity, is involved in any phenomenon because there’s barely any phenomenon in our lives – for example, buying shoes – where the internet is not, in some way, involved.

 

One of my favourite quotes on this is by Melvin Kranzberg, who says, ‘technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral’. You can’t say of any situation, “the internet is bad for young men” or “the internet is good for young men” because the same internet where this culture of white supremacy is fostering is also the same internet where young, queer and trans teenagers are able to find each other and explore their identities and find support groups; this is all happening on the same forum. It’s not just about the technology, it’s about the mood.

 

But one thing I think is important, when people talk about white supremacists and Nazis, what a lot of people I know are still imagining in their heads is people with uniforms, people marching, people with one manifesto; and they say, “when those people turn up, I’ll be ready”. But the thing is that those people are already here and the nature of the network, the nature of the internet, means that they don’t need a party anymore. Why would you  join a party when you can be involved in that kind of community, you can be welcomed into a story that says you’re big and powerful and heroic, and you can be part of this grand narrative? You don’t need to join a party for that anymore. It’s distributed fascism. A sort of gig economy fascism. The real Nazis are already here and that’s what the internet does, it allows that to be networked.

 

John

 

So, we’ve just seen one company refuse to work with 8chan – 8chan quickly found another home. What role does government regulation have in trying to cordon this part of the internet off or make it harder for these communities to form?

 

‘Cos there are, you know, speech implications, right? That’s one of the great defences that’s offered. Ya know, people have a right to their First Amendment expression.

 

Laurie

 

Yeah, well, that’s one of the things that’s always confused me about America, to be honest.

 

Umm, sorry, you’re looking at me like I’ve just hit your baby. I don’t know if you have a baby, I’m really sorry.

 

John:

 

I don’t – other than the First Amendment. (and a dog, a very sweet dog)

 

Laura:

 

But honestly, the idea that “free speech” is an absolute defence to incitement of violence, I think absolutely needs to be challenged.

 

John:

 

So, we have now this metastasising, contagious idea that spread amongst people looking for this community, right? This idea that this glorious way of killing yourself, killing others, going out in this big way, right?

 

There’s research that shows that there is this social contagion aspect, that these happen in clusters. This is something that Zeynep Tufecki writes about that this spreading idea is hard to contain. What do you see as the ways to contain it? Obviously, in the media, it’s about not sensationalising and glorifying what these people do – not elevating their manifestos, not using their names – but what do you do about these online communities?

 

Laurie:

 

Well, I think it’s beyond time 8chan was shut down, to be honest. I mean people who make this decision to publish this sort of disgusting nonsense and to host these kinds of disgusting communities ought to be held accountable, they should. Just because they’re technically allowed to do it doesn’t mean that it should be considered morally decent or morally good. I don’t believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but those sights weren’t taken offline because new laws were made or implemented; they were taken off line because the people who ran them were shamed into doing so, right – because they don’t want to be involved in that stuff. I think it’s a good way forward. It’s a change in ethics rather than a change in laws. It’s not just about implementing laws, it’s about implementing social norms.

 

I don’t think that’s a way of chickening out, to be honest. I think we should have been asking long, long ago. It shouldn’t have taken three manifestos, posted on 8chan, for people to think, “Mmm, maybe we should really shut this down” and “who knows who runs that sight anyway, maybe we should talk to him”. It’s a bit late.

 

John:

 

We’re in a debate that often talks about masculinity and I think we hear a lot about toxic masculinity. We hear a lot about the ways in which masculinity manifests itself in harmful ways but it does seem like part of what is going on here is people who are unmoored in some way, seeking out a kind of masculinity that makes them feel strong, that makes them feel powerful. What role do you think that is playing in what’s happening/in what’s radicalising these boys?

 

Laurie:

 

It has everything to do with it. It’s the thing that links together white supremacists, links together Islamic extremists from the so called Islamic state, it links together the two shooters from this week. They came from different places in terms of everything politically apart form the fact that they agreed that they hated women and misogyny is really often the gateway, it’s the gateway to everything. I mean, women were raising the alarm on the internet in 2014/2013. We were saying, “We are being harassed. We’re getting waves of rape and death threats and these people are serious. It is this gamified, disgusting, commodified, objectifying cult. A cult of modern misogyny.” And people said to us, “Oh, nono nonono, you’ve got to grow a thick skin. It’s these young men in their parents’ basements. They don’t mean it”.

 

Now firstly, I want to stand up for young men in their parents’ basements cos I know a lot of young men who literally live in their parents’ basements and play video games and rarely get laid and do not go on shooting sprees and are very gentle, kind people.

 

John:

 

Yeah, like some of them are just there cos its prom night and its time to play Mario Kart. Cos what else are they gonna do… but play Mario Kart… on Prom night.

 

Come to ‘Lovett or Leave It, Radio City’, September 13

 

Laurie:

 

I’m really happy things worked out for you.

 

John:

 

So far, yeah.

 

Laurie:

 

You turned out alright, see.

 

But, umm, the idea that men are entitled to own women and that young men are entitled to a certain kind of sex with a certain kind of woman and, if they don’t get it, they’re entitled to take revenge on the entire world and on the female sex in particular, that’s universal across these little cesspools of radicalisation, whatever the other politics. That’s often a sort of gateway drug to the other hardcore stuff for white supremacy because, you know, when people are recruiting young men to become Nazis, they don’t just wonder up and say, “Would you like to be a Nazi, today?”, because everybody knows, well most people now know, that Nazis are the bad guys – that’s why people don’t like to be called Nazis still. But what they say, instead, is, “Do you ever think women whinge too much? Ya know, do you ever think… I mean… look at what she’s wearing. Don’t you think like a guy like you should be having a better kind of life?” That’s what they say. I’ve been to their rallies and that’s what they lead with. They lead with this weird parochial idea of what women are and what men are entitled to be and do to them and that violence is not exclusive to the alt-Right or the far Right. That undercurrent of misogyny is everywhere in American culture, it’s everywhere in British culture, and one of the reasons people haven’t taken it to task earlier is because what these young men are saying is a more extreme version of what people are saying in non-Nazi communities and that attitude has become normalised and I think that’s very frightening. I think the trouble is that analysing that current forces all of us to look at ourselves and to look at the men in our lives and people we love and that is very, very uncomfortable.

 

It’s also about guns.

 

John:

 

One final question, AOC gave a speech talking about these issues and one thing she said that I thought I hadn’t heard anyone else really say is she spoke directly to those who are becoming radicalised, who maybe do feel, whether they know they feel lost or not, are in a sense lost and she said we’re here and we love you and you can come back.

 

Do you think there’s value to a kind of openness to seeing people who have been lost to these communities as retrievable and loveable and people who need to be brought back, if only to protect us from how these communities are festering?

 

Laurie:

 

That is a really interesting and important question. I think there is value in offering people a dignified bridge and it is very smart what AOC’s doing there but it can’t be the only answer. You have to have both. You have to have the combination of somebody saying, “If you want to step back into decency and common sense, then we’ll be here, we’ll let you do that”, but you’ve also got to have people saying, “this  behaviour is not acceptable, you get one chance”.

 

We treat all men like children, let’s be honest. In terms of their emotions. We don’t expect them to take any kind of emotional responsibility and this is an entire movement founded on the basis that people are too cowardly to handle their emotions like adults.

 

They experience their feelings as facts.

 

I think if there’s one thing we could change in terms of how we discuss the undercurrents of emotion and isolation a in this society, it’s to just tell these young men again and again that, just because they feel that every woman in the world is out to get them, doesn’t mean that its true.

 

One of the things they say again and again is, “Fuck your feelings!”, but their feelings are unassailable. It’s the most astonishing act of projection. They experience every feeling as god’s honest truth.

 

It’s very odd.

 

John:

 

Thank you so much, Laurie Penny.

 

 

Laurie used to write for the Guardian and was recommended to me by a friend several years ago. I disagreed with the article I read so didn’t bother reading her again. The extraordinary disquisition above has certainly given me cause to reflect upon my over-confident judgement and pretentiously zealous purity.  

Lovett or Leave it

I’m a big fan of the podcast Lovett of Leave it, brought to us by the chaps and dames at Crooked Media.

A weekly round up of the American political situation, packed into 40 minutes of hilarity as well as experienced insight into Washington’s machinations. The panel varies from political leaders, grassroots activists and organisers, writers and comics, and an impressive representation of identities.

As the most amateur of hacks, capable only really of repetition, I thought I’d transcribe a few bits and pieces. Re-listening and typing these prose out was a joy in itself.

 

Big Little Lies with a Smokey Eye, 15 June

 

John:

 

Mark Zuckerberg: He wants to rate girls’ faces, next thing he knows, he’s built a one of a kind monopolistic corporation that monetises human attention by pumping our brains with micro-doses   of every human emotion until the emotions themselves are commoditised and manipulated by partisans, corporations  and foreign intelligence organisations where the value of the emotional response – to keep us paying attention to adds and sharing ad-sponsored content with friends and strangers – becomes more important than the truth and integrity of the underlying content itself.

 

Also, Plants vs Zombies.

 

Anyway, earlier this week, a story broke that Mark Zuckerberg had been trying to contact Nancy Pelosi over his refusal to take down a fake video that was slowed down to make the Speaker sound drunk. But Nancy Pelosi isn’t picking up his calls. Wow, that doesn’t sound like her at all. She seems like the kind of person who would just love to shoot the shit with someone looking to apologise without actually fixing a problem.

 

But Zuck keeps calling and, lucky for us, someone on Pelosi’s team has leaked the voicemails and we’ve got ‘em.

 

Let’s hear them.

 

Voicemail #1

 

“Heeeey, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. Born Nancy D’Alesandro. Age 79. 5 Children. It’s Mark, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, the company. I know you’re experiencing a feeling called “being upset” about our refusing to take down a video that was manipulated to make you sound drunk and I am sorry. Not sorry enough to take it down but sorry in the sense that I’ve been told to be sorry. Which now: am. Good news though, soon your noradrenaline levels will return to baseline and the human proclivity to seek out novelty (a product of our brain size and the conditions that led to bipedalism) means you will soon stop thinking about this regularly and, eventually, at all. FUN! End transmission.

 

Voicemail #2

 

Hi Speaker Pelosi, it’s err Mark from Facebook again (and imagine I’m sweating through this).

I was skimming your private messages, which you consented to when you clicked “I accept these terms” in order to use the WiFi at the Marriott Grand Marquis in 2013, lot to unpack in there!

Are you mad that a manipulated video is being spread by malicious right wing groups and that Facebook isn’t taking it seriously enough, even though we are about to enter a new age of incredibly realistic fake videos that will only further erode the trust people have in our society? Trump already lies about what we see with our own eyes. What if we can’t trust what we see with our own eyes? Tough questions. But, you know what else is a tough question? How do we get the average 16 year old girl to spend 15 more seconds absorbing make-up tutorials on Instagram – because that 15 seconds translates into millions in additional revenue? Another tough question: What is the truth? Boom! Anyway, call me back. Bye Mum. Oh er Fuck.

 

Voicemail #3

 

WAZAAAAA!? Like Budweiser, one of my favourite beer brands. I always choose Budweiser when I’m consuming liquid. In fact, maybe we can sort this out over some crisp, wet alcohol. It’s on me, Mark. I’ve got cash to burn – ya know, ever since we got that four hundred million dollars in tax refunds thanks to a sweet loophole. I just wanna say, Mark to Person, how sorry I am for everything. The video, the privacy violations, handing over user data to Cambridge Analytica, letting Facebook become a swamp of misinformation to White Nationalism, allowing Facebook to be used to incite violence against and ethnic minority in Myanmar. Oh, and I’m sorry about Facebook’s role in swinging the 2020 election – just wanna get ahead of that one too (cos let’s face it, I haven’t learnt a fucking thing).

 

Voicemail #4

 

Speaker Pelosi, I’m sorry to call so late. Actually, you know what, I’m not sorry, Nancy. I’ll be the first to admit, Facebook hasn’t lived up to it’s founding ideals: Me, experiencing a sense of belonging the way it seemed to come to athletic, handsome boys who don’t always look like they’re trying to think of what to say. How do they do that? How do they know what to say? I watch them and think, “Do they know how lucky they are?” Do they experience what it’s like to be lost in a moment – to laugh and not think about how the laugh sounds to the beautiful girl, who smiles back but never is more than a friend – to be truly, easily wanted? I believe Facebook is a force for good. I cannot be convinced otherwise. I see the complaints of people who pass for smart in Washington and New York. I connected the world. I did it. Do I get a thank you? Do I get a parade? No. All I get is 66 billion dollars and a lot of negativity. You’re not even mad at me, not really. All the liberals on Twitter (or, as I call it, Tiny Angry Facebook), all the complaints about our algorithms, what if all it boils down to not liking people? When you get bitten by a shark, you don’t blame the ocean. No-one complains that the Nile is too long of a river because a Hippo ate a tourist. I gave humanity a tool to build a better world and then you hairless, upright gorillas with smart phones use it as a weapon to fight each other for scraps. So, keep that in mind. Your quarrel is not with me, it is with your creator. And don’t you dare endorse Elizabeth Warren’s plan to appoint anti-trust regulators who will reverse Facebook’s merger with Instagram. I can’t compete with Instagram again. They just added a thing in stories where the song lyrics pop up when you choose a song. HOW WOULD I COMPETE WITH THAT!? Sorry, let me get myself together here. OK, I’m OK. Let me check my notes, “I’m a genius; Facebook is perfect; Humanity is the problem; I would give your face a high rating if that matters – I still secretly rate all the faces; bye forever, Zuck.”

hack /hæk/: a journalist

 

Journalists have been getting an awfully bad rap recently. The proliferation of “alternative facts” seems to have undermined their authority (indeed, their very purpose) and various world leaders, representing nations traditionally supportive of the Fourth Estate, have recently been appointed who deem them as nothing more than a biased, elitist mouthpiece who speak like defenders of democracy, but act as unelected legislators.

 

So, never one to fly in the face of public opinion, I thought I’d chip in to mankind’s apparent preference for authoritarianism. This particular thumb biting is in response to a flurry of articles by my favourite brown-noses, the Financial Times. In this recent spew, they have been temperately covering the, almost benign, little “shift” to the Right in the world’s fifth most populace country. [‘shift to the right’ – FT; ‘faith in Bolsonaro’s free-market conversion’ – FT; and many more…]

 
While The Telegraph is for middle-class morons too prudish for the Sun (when I taught English as a foreign language, The Telegraph was the go to newspaper as it contains the simplest english), FT occupies a terrible middle ground. Some of its writers are excellent (Sandbu), some of its brains intimidating (Tim Harford), much of its news valuable, but there can be little doubt that they do represent what populists accuse them of being and, with them, I find the fawning fetishisation of power and the status quo particularly unxious.

 
Like the girl with no friends, joining in the chauvanistic “banter” of arseholes, in the hope they’ll let her join the gang and not bully her as well, you can always trust FT to print whatever line of argument will appeal to that familiar, self-serving worldview that says, “They may be harsh but classical economics and laissez-faire markets are practical, sensible, and we are practical, sensible people. It may be tough but there’s an unsubstantiated MBA logic that’s long served us well. It’s common-sense.”

 

As I haven’t been posting nearly as much as I’d like and am keen to get this out, I thought I’d save myself some time by lifting the following elucidation of ‘common sense’ straight from Ania Loomba’s life-changing read, Colonialism/Postcolonialism:

 

“Gramsci makes a crucial distinction between ‘philosophy’ and ‘common sense’ — two floors or levels on which ideology operates. The former is a specialised elaboration of a specific position. ‘Common sense’, on the other hand, is the practical, everyday, popular consciousness of human beings. Most of us think about ‘common sense’ as that which is obviously true, common to everybody, or normative. Gramsci analyses how such ‘common sense’ is formed. It is actually a highly contradictory body of beliefs that combines ‘elements from the Stone Age and principles of a more advanced science, prejudices from all past phases of history at the local level and intuitions of a future philosophy which will be that of the human race united the world over’. Common sense is thus an amalgam of ideas ‘on which the practical consciousness of the masses of the people is actually formed’ (Hall 1996b: 431)…. Hegemony is achieved not only by direct manipulation or indoctrination, but by playing upon the common sense of people”

 

Before we get back to FT, I have another passing thought regarding the rationalizing, normalizing tendency known as ‘common-sense’. Orwell wrote, “There will be no revolution in England while there are aspidistras in the windows” and who could deny him?

 

Today, Britain stands “a little offshore island, poor and cold”. It’s people are the most powerless, wretched and denigrated in the Western World bar (by some margin) its offspring over the Atlantic. While the Swedes have their Independence, the Danes their Happiness, the Germans their Success and the French their Republic, the Brits have their hierarchy and an empty promise of Greatness. Be you proudly working class, proudly middle-class or proudly upper-class, you will be proudly British despite it all – likely, because of it all – and because class, “subjects”, “betters”, negative freedom, “ambition” are all part of British common-sense, the sick man of Europe will remain the sick man of Europe (before leaving Europe), and there will be no revolution in Britain.

 

Now, back to the flinching cowards..

 
Painting Jair Bolsonaro’s election as anything other than an utter disaster for everything we as a species have managed and hold dear, is not much of an exaggeration. He threatens an environment already on the brink of irreparable damage [12 years to apocalypse]; despises indigenous peoples, blacks, women, and gays; has zero understanding or appreciation of democracy; and has already proven himself a deft hand at misinformation and manipulation via social media. The terrifying thing is, with Brazil’s moral benchmarks, he could really make some headway on these fronts. Ethnic cleansing of Brazil’s black favelas is almost certainly on the cards as he sends stormtroopers in with a license to do whatever the fuck they want (if that sounds like an exaggeration and not calm and measured ‘common-sense’, I encourage you to read… anything about Brazil). Women can say goodbye to the recent promises of abortion access (though, I have to concede, most Brazilian women seem more than happy with this – I wonder how they’ll feel about narrowing the definition of rape?). The world as a whole can bid adieu to our diverse brothers and sisters in the Amazon – and perhaps the Amazon itself. Legal procedures and representation, voting eligibility and access, sedition and political opposition…. we’ll see.

 
But never mind all that! I’m simply being a naive dreamer; cliché of Generation Snowflake that I am. I’m just thinking about the wet, softy human rights issues. We’d all like to think about them but, first, we must consider the economy and – “Haven’t you heard!?” – #Bolsomito has employed a Chicago-trained investment banker as his Finance Minister; Phew!

 
Because countries the world over are known for growing into prosperous economies when they have financiers in the Treasury, right? Human capital is raised through well financed education and healthcare which taps into the potential of the entire population, infrastructure is improved, R&D and patient capital are invested in, healthy reserves are built up in the Treasury and pension funds. That happens, right? Right?…

 
After all, look at the standards of living and human attainment levels coming out of the world’s Social Darwinist, low tax, low welfare, oligarchies; like the US – the world’s worst people – or the many African nations the US remade in their image; paragons of Freedom the lot of them.

 
Of course, here again, I’ve let my snowflake concerns for the bottom 99% get in the way of the adult considerations of the common-sense FT. I should be thinking of the hard facts of stock markets and government budget balances, which always benefit from Chicago-trained financiers running the Treasury. Look at what a sterling jobs Greenspan and Paulson did in the US. After all, bar every other example in history, Chile proves that a psychopathic Fascist, leading a cabal of feudalistic oligarchs, sat atop of shockingly violent and repressive pigmentocracy, is always a win for long run, economic prosperity.

 
“Now”, says the FT journalist, “With this common sense well established and us all in agreement that the Far Right’s benefits far out-weight their negatives, let us proceed with cutting the taxes of the cool guys across the bridge from our offices and removing any supports which may create opportunity and challenges to their children’s privileged birth-rights.

 
See, cool guys? I’m sensible. I’m one of you. Please let me join the gang.”