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Interpretative Frameworks

Do you see what I see?

I have two wonderful (but difficult, at times) autistic children. If there is one thing that allows people to realize just how vastly different worldviews can be, it is autism. In fact, I could presume here and now that almost none of what we take for granted is justified. Because in order to form a picture of the world, we inevitably need the eyes and ears and hands of other people, to understand just how subjective most of our judgements are.

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « chagall »

In the above picture by Marc Chagall, you may see nothing more than some wild circus frenzy. An art history major could see something far more profound, a child could see a funny picture of a woman standing on a horse. Depending on our perspective, our own contexts, we will see a vastly different picture. Objectively, then, what is this picture about?

We can’t say, because whatever terms we could use here would be our own, derived solely from our cultural background and our affinity with art. Some of us might just want to look at the piece of art to see what the rage is all about and come out with a very simple and short-sighted analysis (if analysis there is). In the end, is there really a proper way to analyze this painting? If you were to speak with someone who studied the arts or is an artist themselves, they would tell you there’s some fashion in which we should appreciate art, and that some people just do not have the intellect or the mind to see the fullness of a piece and its beauty.

Interpretation is but one part in the whole of the communication process, and this process occurs both with objects and with people. It occurs both verbally and non-verbally. There can be signal errors as well: is something beautiful necessarily artistic? Likewise, can something ugly BE beautiful symbolically? These questions are not meant to be answered here, because they tell a story of the varieties of subjective experiences we can get from speaking about something as simple as a painting.

What happens however, is that everyone has their own bias, and these are created by interpretative frameworks. Although we put a negative connotation to bias, it is as inescapable as breath. You can simply have “less” of it than others, given certain circumstances apply. So when someone tells them they have no bias, you should be very skeptical of that. A bias is not for example reducible to one side or the other – that is a bias in itself: To think that any which issue can be reduced to two sides.

The reason why we have these biases is because of a nasty little psychological thing called “anchoring”. It happens when we use references to judge things given to us. We do that through intuition. So if I give you a number right now, say… 72, and then I ask you a question of some nature or other.

How old was Gandhi when he died?

As a reflex, if you don’t know that number by heart, you’ll likely have given a higher number than 72. If I were to tell you a lower number, and then do a similar experiment, you’d give a lower number than you probably should. Now, if bias can occur as simply as with random numbers being shown to us, imagine what happens when it comes to worldviews and interpretation of more complex subjects?

It gets messy, that’s what

When someone communicates a message to another, they transmit information from their own mind. It starts as a concept, then it gets “encoded” in words that make sense to the person and can be put into a vocal transmission. That information then reaches the other person, who starts first by receiving the message, DECODING it and then interpreting it. The decoding part is crucial, because that is when most people let their intuition run free.

As our brains are fairly outdated tools, they still function as if we were playing prey and predator, so when we’re presented with a concept, it needs to pass through our filters of intuition. Now, that intuition is often wrong, contrary to what we might believe. We just use it so often that we don’t realize when it fails. If we’re discussing something complex, and in a situation of confrontation, it is much – MUCH – more likely that the information will be decoded with a fair amount of bias.

So if what I am trying to communicate is “diluted” by my own bias and I transmit it to another person who then dilutes it further with theirs, what is going to be their interpretation? It’s going to be a gross misrepresentation of what I am telling them. Even under optimal conditions, it is likely that complex ideas will take more than one attempt to be completely concretized, partly because of these obstacles and partly because the interpreter may be getting the wrong information.

How can we resolve something like this? How can we overcome bias in any meaningful fashion?

No single solution

There is no single solution to the problem that interpretation poses. When it comes to internet skepticism, for example, we are faced with the phenomena of “fake news”. These dreaded news articles that twist words in order to make certain things seem worse than they are. What is definitely of help in these cases is being capable of analyzing idiosyncratic structures. For example, a use of qualitatives when reporting on something, can indicate that the paper expects a certain emotional reaction from the person reading.

Let’s take two papers and compare them:

http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/12/28/poll-mark-cuban-could-beat-president-trump-2020-texas/

“The left-leaning Public Policy Polling released findings from a poll on Thursday, which showed Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban beating President Trump in a prospective 2020 race.”

Although the words themselves are not from BreitBart, it does seem like the intent here is to highlight that the fact that PPP is left-leaning as if to give the poll diminished value. BreitBart particularly despises left-leaning politics and makes a habit of committing itself politically in their articles, and will often choose specific things to report upon and often omitting key pieces of stories.

This is all the more obvious when one reads the comments in the BreitBart article, with Texans claiming that the poll cannot possibly reflect reality, and must have been made with citizens from Austin, among other things. The intent is clear and those who follow BreitBart are swept by the interpretative framework that is imposed to them through the filters of the newspaper.

When I did a search for Reuters and this same poll, I could not find any articles related to it from that news agency, but plenty of politically-minded newspapers had included their take on it.

The Washington Examiner, for example, makes no mention at all of PPP being left-leaning.

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/mark-cuban-leads-trump-in-texas-2020-presidential-race-poll/article/2644535

A new poll predicts billionaire businessman Mark Cuban would beat President Trump in a 2020 contest in Texas if he were to run as a Democrat.

A Thursday poll from Public Policy Polling released to Business Insider has Cuban ahead of Trump 47 percent to 44 percent in Texas where he owns the Dallas Mavericks.

In this case, the idiosyncratic structure is much less evident. When I investigated the possible biases of Washington Examiner, I found that its owner has supported Republican administrations in the past (Bush’s 2001 administration, for example). The owner himself is definitely right-leaning, with a report in his Wikipedia article saying:

 In 2009 Anschutz purchased the conservative American opinion magazine The Weekly Standard from Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corporation.[48]

So, if a right-leaning paper managed to not accuse the PPP of being left-leaning, why did BreitBart do so? Because one of the two papers is trying to tell a story, while the other is reporting upon the facts as they are. It would be worth mentioning that while the Examiner speaks only of Texas, the BreitBart article seems to be a bit more loose, leaving it up to interpretation whether this poll would be representative of the country as a whole, then attempting to reassure its audience by saying it is unlikely he would run.

Whereas Washington Examiner simply takes from what Cuban HAS said in the past: He would run only as a Republican, not a Democrat.

The point I’m making here is that there is a clear difference in how this story is being reported by two different yet similarly-minded papers. Both papers are working with a right-leaning agenda, yet only one reported the facts adequately. If I was naive and had read the Breitbart snippet and left it at that, I would have walked away thinking that the PPP makes biased polls to spite Republicans, whereas such is not the case.

In 2010, the PPP correctly predicted the win of a Republican candidate in a Senate race.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Policy_Polling#2010

“PPP was the first pollster to find Scott Brown with a lead over Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate special election; Brown ultimately won in a major comeback, and PPP’s final poll in that race predicted Brown’s winning margin exactly.”

The message being sent by the Business Insider and BreitBart is clear: “We want you to think that if something is left-leaning, it will obviously be ill-conceived and have been made with an outcome bias.”

BreitBart, although a newspaper website, has a vastly different interpretation of a story from other papers. That is how you can find fake news, not in that they are either left or right-leaning or center… But in the way that the news is being reported. Now, here’s where things get a little bit more complicated.

Why did I choose BreitBart? Am I biased against BreitBart? Yes, I definitely am. That is why I chose them as part of my example on fake news. Yet, contrary to what I could have done, I didn’t simply take the article and give it my own interpretation without double-checking with other sources. Not only that, I picked a random newspaper from a Google Search: I didn’t go for a paper that I knew would give me the result I expected. In fact, I initially found an article on a Russian rocket launch failure on Breitbart to be quite objectively written, but by a different author. Odd, then, that Breitbart would not be capable of keeping their objectivity when it comes to polling?

More peculiar still, the author who wrote the Russian Rocket failure article was identified as working specifically on online censorship and free speech issues: Not Russian space missions. Typically, when someone in a newspaper is stuck in a box, they will write only about their subject. For example, you don’t see me writing my personal critique of the theory of evolution, because I know fully well I cannot give an analysis worth anyone’s time on it.

At this point, what do you choose to do? Do you verify what I’m saying or take it at face value?

Personally, I would want you to do your own research rather than just accept what I’m saying as wisdom incarnate. As I said, I -AM- biased against BreitBart, but I also do find that my bias is sound, because I have confirmed what I thought to be true by verifying sources that I expected to falsify my belief: They did not.

Critical Thinking + Falsification

This is what the above section of my article refers to. In order to defend yourself against ideologically-minded papers, you need to exercise both critical thinking and falsification. If you find yourself thinking: “This is most likely false.” Try to find evidence to the contrary, not something that confirms your belief. I could have easily gone to InfoWars or some such other paper that I have an active bias against, and said: “See, BreitBart and InfoWars are both biased papers, so this is what fake news means.”

But I did not.

What I thought was more important than finding BreitBart to be doing unethical journalism, was to explain how newspapers, regardless of their lean, can be both accurate and misleading. It is very possible that a conservative paper will give you a much better coverage of a story than a progressive one. It all comes down to who reports the facts most accurately and who has a history of reporting them accurately more often.

Reputed papers are therefore authoritative sources that you can rely upon, but those who stir controversy are those you should avoid. I would daresay that you should avoid BreitBart just like you should avoid certain parts of BuzzFeed, because both can be just as biased and have lesser-quality journalism under given circumstances.

Sovereignty of self begins first and foremost with being capable to think for yourself, so that when a newspaper reports on something with insufficient data, you withdraw your judgement until sufficient data has been gathered. A way to do so, is to look for other reputed sources to back up the first one. If  there is a lack of articles on the subject at hand from reputed sources, you can rest assured that either:

A. The facts as they are presented probably never happened.

B. Whoever wrote the initial article did it with maligned intent, in order to mislead and spark controversy.

La Meute and The Mosque

Recently, in Quebec, the news network TVA reported upon an alleged situation in Montreal, where a Mosque had demanded that maintenance work from a construction contractor should be halted, because of the presence of women on the construction site. Most of us in Quebec who know TVA to play fast and loose with facts, withdrew their judgement immediately, but the group La Meute which distinguishes itself with having nationalistic and ethnocentric activism, immediately called for a protest against the Mosque in question.

During the same day, both the Mosque and the construction contractor released statements stipulating that they had no idea where the reports came from. The Mosque itself said they had never requested such a thing, and the contractor had not heard of any such complaints from the Mosque or anybody else. Work had not been halted, in fact.

A few days later, TVA had to release an apology statement with a thinly veiled accusation toward their sources. La Meute’s swift reaction to the news also drew suspicion and some people have been claiming that the group might have faked the complaint to TVA, in order to spring the local chapter into action over non-news. The damage has been done, however. During the small amount of time where the news was out and people were undecided as to its validity, social media was ripe with comments from concerned citizens complaining about the “islamization” of the province, and that our government did not have balls.

This situation repeats itself very often in different scenarios. It is up to us as citizens to be informed enough to know when we are dealing with “fake” news and “real” news. If some people with ill-intent are going to hurt the industry of journalism as a whole, it’s up to the consumers to put a stop to it and think before acting.

You can find another such problem with how feminism is reported and perceived on social media.

A vegan cafe reportedly demanded men to pay 18% more than women when coming in as paying patrons to their establishment.

That turned out to be false: The owners are using one week per month to “ask” male patrons that if they so desire, they can pay a symbollic 18% extra for the services received, in order to donate that money to a non-profit and also to raise awareness about the wage gap.

This news was reported as is, but the interpretation that a lot of people got was that men were being forced to pay 18% more than women by virtue of being men. Such was not the case.

In conclusion

Our takeaway here is this:

Everyone is biased, everyone has blind spots but it’s up to everybody else to help us see where we refuse to see.

When something seems so outrageous as to be difficult to believe, usually, it’s because it is. 

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Book Review: Mark Bray’s “Antifa: An Anti-Fascist Handbook”

This remarkable book is at once an easy and challenging read--your reading comprehension will not be challenged, but your accepted premises on anti-fascism may be, should you dare to explore its pages. Mark Bray has created a remarkable work of history, biography, and apologia all at once, useful either for the curious moderate or the neophyte anti-fascist in need of an apologetic framework.

Its introduction outlines the message, history, and perspective of the author himself. Bray paints a picture of a nation in dire straits, facing a remarkable uprising of hatred and organized fascism that appears at first insurmountable. The introduction begins outlining in both individual and statistical terms the wave of hate crimes spreading throughout America since election day 2016, and then proceeds to inform (perhaps warn) the reader of the message contained and how the author approached both his conclusion and his means of research.

At only 250 pages and 6 chapters, the term "handbook" is well-earned, and no page is wasted as Bray builds his argument for militant anti-fascism concisely and transparently, relying on meticulously sourced historical record and over five dozen interviews with active anti-fascists. Of the six chapters, three are dedicated to summarizing a history of American and European anti-fascism from its nascent days in 1920s Italy to the present, and the next summarizes the lessons modern anti-fascists might take from history. These lessons, however, are not exclusive to anti-fascists--the curious skeptic may find answers to questions often posed on the group summarized here, if they have not already gleaned them from the preceding pages. Once the handbook has outlined the history and summarized its most useful lessons, Chapter 5 places the premises into practice, answering the broad-stroke arguments against militant anti-fascism with meticulously sourced, empirical counter-arguments. 

While the skeptic in a hurry may wish to scuttle the rest of the work and focus on this chapter, it is important to read the preceding chapters thoroughly, as Bray builds his arguments upon the events and tendencies he outlines. Chapter 6 concludes outlining anti-fascist strategies, hoping that the reader is convinced by this point and will begin to think about how they might be involved with such militancy--or at least supportive activism--themselves.

This book would be perfect were it not for its conclusion, which jarringly shifts gears to talking about the intricate social construct of race and whiteness, forms of oppression such as homophobia and transphobia, intersectional activism, and so on. Bray did not include any such reflections previously, and this hurts both the aesthetic flow and argumentative strength of the work as a whole. These are serious and complex topics that it appears Bray has summarized as a three-and-a-half page afterthought, and it mars an otherwise pristine work. 

The conclusion is followed by uneditorialized quotes from active anti-fascists given as advice to any potential neophytes. Bray warns that some of the advice is contradictory, but leaves it in to "reflect the diversity of opinions within the movement." Whether this is meant as genuine advice or further apologia is up to the reader. This denoument settles into some recommended reading before it finally completes.

There appear to be three main goals in Bray's work: First, to make a brief and relevant outline of anti-fascist history containing points the modern American ought to find salient. Second, to create an apologia for anti-fascism as it exists, principally by counter-arguing the broadest criticism the group may receive from mainstream media, talking-head pundit, or informationally challenged Facebook comment. Third, once Bray is satisfied that such broad-stroke, uninformed arguments are quieted, he moves to more direct, serious criticisms of modern anti-fascism in terms of organization and sectarianism. Bray's work shines as a work of approachable and transparent historical analysis applied as apologia, but stumbles when it approaches any form of societal criticism, either of antifa's organization or of the regrettably bare conclusion. The primary reason for this is actually outlined in the introduction--Bray states he will avoid delving into any sociological theory, as this would certainly prerequisite some level of familiarity with those topics. While an ultimately worthy tradeoff, no reader should consider their education on topics of sociology complete--or perhaps even begun--from this work, though Bray charitably cites sources which would better serve such an endeavor.

Accessible, useful, and immaculately well-timed, any discussion on Antifa ought to be considered incomplete without Bray's meticulous and approachable guidance. Regardless of political opinion, any book club, discussion group, or pair of like minds in conversation who wish to discuss anti-fascists--whether as saviors, revolutionaries, militants, hooligans, or menaces--will be far more informed and enlightened when equipped with Bray's meticulous, empirical perspective.

Ideas Incorporated

Ideas Incorporated: A Criticism of “The Free Marketplace of Ideas” as a Prescriptive Model, with YouTube as an example

First, a confession: this essay is derivative of a very remarkable documentary, available on the YouTube channel “The Moa,” called “The Art of the Heel.” While this essay shares a critical base with the essay, it focuses on political discourse surrounding feminism on YouTube, rather than Donald Trump’s campaign strategies. I highly recommend you watch this documentary and, if you enjoy it, consider contributing to The Moa’s Patreon. He works on a shoestring budget, and deserves much more exposure and money than he gets.


Video available here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g74xi650rlc&list=PLF5TzRXz4Z1nYRQEPdnUIpCGMSLGBfpB4&index=1

The Moa’s Patreon:

https://www.patreon.com/themoa/

Introduction:

The title of Louis Menand’s 2010 work, “The Marketplace of Ideas,” coined a term that would garner a great deal of traction in political discourse. The affable Dave Rubin has been most responsible for moving the phrase into public discourse as “The Free Marketplace of Ideas,” and appears to use it as a prescription for how discussion ought to take place.

In this model, citizens essentially ought to become “consumers” of ideology, meeting in a marketplace where they can make an informed decision between a variety of ideas. These ideas are brought into the “sunlight,” and “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” When these ideologies are brought to the forefront, allowed to explain themselves, the citizen—or rather, the consumer—can make their decision wisely from a myriad of options, resulting in universal human flourishing.

This model is interesting, because while precisely wrong as a prescriptive model—as I will argue, we should not strive to be a marketplace of ideas—it is precisely correct as a descriptive model—that is, we currently exist in a marketplace of ideas, to our ongoing detriment. YouTube is an example of such a marketplace, and as I will demonstrate in this essay, its political discourse swerves away from serious, critical, dispassionate political discussion and towards deleterious, toxic, misleading salesmanship.

This essay is divided into six sections:

  1. Establishing YouTube as an example of such a marketplace. Describing how the structure of YouTube lends itself to a particular form of discourse. Describing the marketing of ideas in terms aptly similar to the marketing of commodities.
  2. Demonstration of the performative nature of discourse on YouTube.
  3. Discussing what is considered “winning” a live debate on YouTube.
  4. Describing Guy Debord’s Spectacle and how it relates to the Marketplace of Ideas.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Personal Statement.

1. The Market must be Marketed

First, let us dispense with a bit of romanticism within the term itself. Rather than a ‘marketplace of ideas,’ where you might imagine an exotic bazaar or a homely farmer’s market, let us imagine something more universal—and much more accurate. From now on, let’s call this concept the “Idea Mall,” and let us use YouTube as a particularly thriving example of such a mall.

Imagine this Idea Mall for a moment in abstract, and the problems with prescribing this model begin to show themselves. Only the most naive consumer would enter a mall expecting an honest, forthright exchange between all—or frankly any—of the various kiosk salespeople, the offerings of “free samples” of skin cream they plan to sell you for upwards of $400 because it’s from the Dead Sea, the $99 pre-order pitches Gamestop blares on loudspeaker. A savvy, frugal consumer knows to resist the glitz of the countless brands assaulting their senses, appealing to whatever anxiety or desire or imminent need the marketers might expect from their targets. In the same way, we ought to be critical of ideas we come across in the Idea Mall. We should no more expect a forthright conversation from their salespeople than we should expect a serious discussion on the merits of phone charms from a 17-year-old running a Hello Kitty kiosk.

In a typical mall, your attention is merely the prerequisite for a sale. The final goal is your money. But in the Idea Mall, your currency is measured in attention and devotion as much as dollars and cents. Just as the Simon Properties Group (the largest shopping mall operator in America) carefully structure their malls to maximize the amount of money consumers will spend there, YouTube’s algorithms specifically attempt to maximize your attention. It still comes to dollars and cents in the end, but this is money received from exposure to advertisers or Red subscriptions rather than sales. Tom Scott, a tech vlogger with a significant following, did a video on YouTube’s algorithm, stating that the mysterious “black box” neural network is utterly inscrutable by human eyes except for its goal, given by its initial programmers: maximize watch time. He describes the problems with this approach, as a machine cannot discern what people ought to pay attention to—InfoWars has just as much of a chance as NPR or the Associated Press. Tristan Harris, with three years of experience as a Google Design Ethicist, demonstrates that the maximization of attention length is a universal quality of social media in his TED talk. Both are linked below:

Why The YouTube Algorithm Will Always Be A Mystery | Tom Scott

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSpAWkQLlgM

The video rests upon the research outlined in the following paper:

Deep Neural Networks for YouTube Recommendations

https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.com/en//pubs/archive/45530.pdf

How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day | Tristan Harris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C74amJRp730

While these videos are useful for understanding the structure of the machine itself, the creators are perhaps too lenient towards the creators of said machines. If we were to prescribe an Idea Mall as an ideal to be reached, we would probably want it to point people towards ideas that were researched and logical, discussions that offered insight into serious problems, lectures that made us rethink the way we look at the world and inspire us to improve our society. But these are the consumers’ ideals, and the consumers do not run the Mall—the company does. Just as Simon Property has no interest in ensuring that you have lasting catharsis from your purchases or that their malls really benefit society around them, only that they generate wealth for the group itself, so does Google only have interest in maximizing your watch time, not in maximizing your happiness, knowledge about the world, or critical thinking ability. Their lack of ability is not the only issue—their lack of will is present.

In a real mall, many hundreds of brands vie for our attention. Jingles, sales taglines, the coloring and font choice of a store’s name printed outside of the storefront, are all collected in one place, side-by-side with their competing adversaries. But behind the innumerable texts: “Have It Your Way,” “Power to the Players,” “Turn on the Fun,” there is a single, monolithic subtext: “Won’t you give us a moment of your time?”

Therefore, in the Idea Mall, we should expect something tailored to first grab our attention. It is meant to stop us in our tracks, to get us to stop and listen to whoever is speaking to us. In the Idea Mall, such a tagline might take the form of “Free Speech is Under Assault,” “Muslim No-Go Zones are on the rise,” “Universities are Indoctrinating your Children,” or “Violent Leftists have Disrupted a Peaceful Protest.” You will notice something in common with each of these terms—they are meant to stoke outrage or anger, to say that something you value—the freedom of speech or assembly, law and order the self-actualization of your children—is under assault, and someone is certainly to blame. This is in service to the first principle of marketing; “get consumer attention.” Outrage is overwhelmingly and demonstrably useful in garnering user attention and the “virility” or long-term success of the idea communicated—see again Tristan Harris’s TED Talk linked above, and CGP Grey’s “This Video Will Make You Angry,” listed below:

This Video Will Make you Angry | CGP Grey

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc

Also see the article CGP Grey’s video is based on. Figure 2 on page 8 is the image shown in the video:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1528077

As the video demonstrates, this is not the only emotion played to—humor also plays a vital part in both advertising of products in a normal mall and in our Idea Mall. Search “Feminists” on YouTube and you’re likely to find a compilation of angry women throwing fits in public, followed by a comments section filled with mockery about their weight, lipstick, androgyny, and so on.

Humor plays a vital part in ideological marketing for four major reasons:

1. It is nearly as intoxicating as outrage, and can even be paired with it for a devastating hybrid. A fit of laughter can be as inescapable as a fit of indignation, and indignant laughter doubly so.

2. It avoids the need for a “straight sell;” there is no need to really move beyond the pitch itself and dig deeper into the advantages of the product sold. Indeed, no product need be directly sold at all—the Idea Mall is uniquely pugilistic, and ideas can be sold purely as tonic for the villainized contrasting idea, as demonstrated in Grey’s “Flowers and Butterflies” model.

3. It acts as a shield for criticism, especially if the butt of the joke is mocked rather than counter-argued—there is no counter-argument to claiming someone is a fat, shrieking harpy that no one likes, because an argument is not presented in the first place. But in the Idea Mall, one ignores such mockery at their peril—it is more than enough to activate thousands of people.

4. It allows for one person to be treated as a totem of a larger group. An overweight woman with strange hair shrieking at a public speaking event can be recorded ostensibly for entertainment, but plays an important political role in acting as a totem for a hated other—in this case, angry feminists or “Social Justice Warriors.”

Once our attention is caught, the sale begins in earnest. The salesperson must convince us of the value of their product. This can be done several ways—if the product is sufficiently unique, they need not compare it to anything else, but simply extoll its virtues. If it is not, they might compare it to other “brand name” goods and demonstrate how their bauble is superior. These largely build upon the emotional groundwork laid by the initial pitch. Actual information about the product is incidental—sometimes even optional. The highest priority is communicating how the product will improve your day-to-day, or how it will make you feel, how it will solve some lingering anxiety of yours. This is best summarized by Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, Inc., a cosmetics supplier: “In the factory we make cosmetics, in the store we sell hope.”

In the Idea Mall, this is when the conversation might “calm down” somewhat, the initial emotional response successfully achieved, and the audience suitably hooked. But even then, we should be suspicious of considering this aspect of the sale as honest. We were not attracted to the prospect through honest means—we should not expect to be led through its details in such a manner either. Well-researched, logical argumentation is the last resort of a good salesperson. The truth is often boring, and nowhere is this more true than when discussing political ideology. The actual facts are often revealed through a deluge of dry statistical analyses, some of which may contradict and must thus be meta-analyzed to get an understanding of the scientific consensus. Data must be carefully and transparently collected, and that data must say something about a null hypothesis. Which seems more attention grabbing—a 40 page meta-analysis of dozens of papers recording longitudinal statistical evidence for systemic racism, filled with equations and p-values and line graphs, or a video of black people shouting slogans in the night and throwing firebombs into the shields of a police line? Which is more likely to attract customers? Regardless of the emotional hook used to grab their attention, which is more likely to maintain it? A wise salesperson knows to first appeal to their target’s preexisting anxieties, beliefs, and prejudices—not to their intellectual curiosity.

Not only is such careful argumentation impractical to the salesperson, but in the Idea Mall, it can be quite dangerous. Those who carefully choose their words and how to express them are at severe risk of being overwhelmed by the outrage, mockery, or combination thereof of their political opponents. This is best demonstrated with the (in some circles ongoing) crucifixion of Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist critic of television, movies, and video games who drew the ire of thousands.

2. Rage of the Jesters

A playlist of Ms. Sarkeesian’s work is given below. One need not watch these in full, but note the thumbnail design, titles, tone, and general approach of Sarkeesian’s work. It is prim and proper, professional and academic—everything that the discourse of the Idea Mall abhors, as we will see shortly. Also note that comments and like/dislikes are disabled. The videos did not launch that way.

Tropes vs Women in Video Games – Season 1 | Feminist Frequency

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6p5AZp7r_Q&list=PLn4ob_5_ttEaA_vc8F3fjzE62esf9yP61

If unfamiliar with the ongoing anti-feminist discourse on YouTube, one might find it strange that the academic and relatively droll criticisms Anita puts forward could draw so much ire, or even—given what we have asserted about the Idea Mall—any kind of attention whatsoever. Part of the history of the political context surrounding Anita will be discussed later, but I will offload the details individual to her case to the capable Innuendo Studios, who did a six-part documentary on the GamerGate controversy. The first part is in regards to Anita Sarkeesian specifically:


Why Are You So Angry? | Innuendo Studios

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y8XgGhXkTQ&list=PLJA_jUddXvY62dhVThbeegLPpvQlR4CjF

Anita’s softspoken and simple critiques were, in fact, perfect fodder for an audience that has learned to respect performance over substance. Her assertively worded academic critiques drew the ire of those accustomed to a rough-and-tumble clash of ideas. A literal industry of videos arose damning her. One example lies with popular YouTuber thunderf00t, who released a staggering 75 videos in response (initially) to her work entitled “Feminism vs FACTS.” The videos began strictly as a criticism of Sarkeesian but steadily grew into a criticism of the pernicious aspects of feminism in all of society. Video titles include “Why ‘feminism’ poisons EVERYTHING,” “IF Men acted like FEMINISTS!” and “Anita Sarkeesian BUSTED….AND BUSTED… and BUSTED!!!!!!” Note the use of extreme statements, all caps, an multiple exclamation points—thunderf00t’s approach is to strike the viewer in the gut with a fiercely presented promise of a startling turn of events.

thunderf00t’s entire playlist is linked below here. It is again unnecessary to watch these in full, though it may be useful to watch in part and skim the videos, noting thumbnail and title design, and contrasting them with those of Feminist Frequency.

Feminism vs. FACTS | Thunderfoot

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJeX6F-Q63I&list=PLQJW3WMsx1q3BAZh3XsK1cSwCiaqjSulc

Thunderf00t is only a small player in a larger smear campaign against Anita. Search “Anita Sarkeesian owned” and you will see a variety of YouTubers clamoring to offer shame to heap on the villainized icon. This uproar grew so great that Anita Sarkeesian received a bomb threat when accepting the Ambassador Award from the Game Developer Choice Awards:

Bomb Threat Targeted Anita Sarkeesian, Gaming Awards Last March | Kotaku

https://kotaku.com/bomb-threat-targeted-anita-sarkeesian-gaming-awards-la-1636032301

And the very next month, canceled a speaking event at Utah State University due to a shooting threat:

Feminist Critics of Video Games Facing Threats in ‘GamerGate’ Campaign | New York Times
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/16/technology/gamergate-women-video-game-threats-anita-sarkeesian.html?_r=0

This dialogue shows Anita as a clear loser in the marketplace discourse. This is not because of the weakness of her arguments; in this discourse, the strength of one’s argument is fairly irrelevant. Were the discourse attuned to the serious discussion of ideas, a weak argument could have been counter-argued and dismissed without dozens of videos created over literal years, and it could have been ignored without bomb or shooting threats. Rather, Anita loses because of a larger political landscape which required a scapegoat (described in the Innuendo Studios documentary) and because of a media landscape which inherently weakens her form of discourse.

Another, more clean cut example can be made by the inter-video dialogue between Blaire White and Zinnia Jones. Blaire’s approach is demagogic—she eschews careful research for reinforcing the beliefs her audience already likely holds (or would be amenable to), and backs up her work with a calculated image rather than serious research. In short, is an excellent saleswoman for her beliefs. Zinnia’s approach, by contrast, is meticulously researched—she’s a proper academic, an expert in her field, and backs up her statements with a variety of carefully chosen, peer-reviewed scientific sources.

The interaction begun when Blaire released a video where she voiced concerns regarding children transitioning:

Transitioning Children? NO. | Blaire White
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9VihbrehGc

Note that Blaire sees fit to release this video without sources, confident to merely give her opinion in five minutes. This is not me giving a mark against her—not every context opinions are given in requires substantive sourcing. Rather, it is important to note that this remarkably successful YouTuber saw no need to source her claims. Her work stands on the merits of its performance and political momentum, not on whether the claims made are demonstrably true or false.

Zinnia replied to the video, and included in her reply’s description a respectable quantity of evidence for her counter-claims.

Fact check: Blaire White is wrong on transgender kids, part 1 (Gender Analysis)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUbiFH-8-DU

Zinnia’s video cites an article she wrote in its description which contains a plethora of sources on the subject:

https://genderanalysis.net/2016/10/transgender-youth-fact-check-blaire-white-is-wrong-part-1-fundamentals/

You will note from the like/dislike bar that it was insufficient to convince Zinnia’s audience. Note when watching the videos the difference in audio mastering quality, breath control, camera discipline, etc. Once again, presentation and salesmanship trumps substance in any marketplace. Blaire White responded to the videos with vitriol

So we see that diplomatic, researched, careful criticism has little currency to offer in comparison to the spectacular, or at least comparatively professional show an able salesperson can display. This presents a sort of paradox for a salesperson of ideas—most people know that ideas about weighty topics like immigration, incarceration, inequality, injustice, and so on, ought to be carefully considered, and researched with a detached, critical mindset. It’s possible that a person who consumes the salesperson’s performative, emotional display might feel some anxiety in this regard in quiet moments—are they really looking at the facts? How can they be sure they’re being rational and thinking everything through? This is when branding becomes vital.

Branding is defined as “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.” entrepreneur.com continues:

“Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of

your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”

Small Business Encyclopedia – Branding

https://www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/branding#

There is a particular brand identity within YouTube with a storied history: The “Skeptic” community. YouTube Skeptics largely began their careers debunking the theories creationists, global warming deniers, and conspiracy theorists, and gathered quite a large following in doing so. They quite easily appeared reasonable and logical in comparison to the buffoonery of their counterparts, and quickly developed an image for themselves as representatives of science and critical thinkers. However, the people in question were largely entertainers—only a handful were scientists, and, predictably, not all their arguments were of the highest quality. But again, high quality arguments are unnecessary, and too much attention made to the quality of one’s argument can be detrimental. TJ Kirk, or The Amazing Atheist claimed he was “smarter than Thomas Aquinas by an order of magnitude,” and attempts to disassemble the foundational philosopher and theologian in a 15 minute video with such stellar arguments such as “we cannot understand infinity:”

Thomas Aquinas Sucks | The Amazing Atheist
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3yKxvW9yNA

(If I may be offered a brief rabbit trail at TJ’s expense, there is a special irony to this video. In countering Aquinas’ argument that there cannot be an infinite series of movers, The Amazing Athiest claims “we cannot understand infinity,” before descending into inflammatory rhetoric. Unfortunately for him, the compression algorithm Youtube applied on his video utilizes infinite set mathematics: http://www-users.math.umn.edu/~garrett/coding/CodingNotes.pdf )

But the weakness of these arguments did little to slow TJ’s momentum. Even in what we could now describe as their nascent stages, the performative aspect of their content was clear—TJ’s claims are made with bluster and angry confidence.

But their Creationist counterparts steadily began to dry up—YouTube had decidedly become their domain, and there was no longer an overarching discussion to attract followers. See again CGP Grey’s video—competing “anger germs” are in fact cooperating, and without a position to be angry at, the germ dies. However its replacement was soon to follow. In 2011, when atheist Rebecca Watson reported a minor incident which made her uncomfortable at a skeptic organization where she was discussing sexism in the atheist community, the backlash was vicious and sudden.

About Mythbusters, Robot Eyes, Feminism, and Jokes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKHwduG1Frk&feature=youtu.be

The renowned atheist speaker and writer Richard Dawkins mocked the video:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.”

The original post on freethoughtblogs.com where Dawkins made this statement has since been deleted. It is still available verbatim in Watson’s article:

The Privilege Delusion | Rebecca Watson

http://skepchick.org/2011/07/the-privilege-delusion/

Ms. Watson never compared her situation to those of women in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but even as she attempted to explain that the growing strawmen of her arguments were dramatically overblown, the marketplace had spoken. There was no place for feminist critique of the atheist community, certainly not on YouTube—and anti-feminism, rather than atheism, became the new topic of discussion for the skeptical community. The community divided, and the battle lines drawn then that still largely exist today, though the topics have changed. Anti-feminism has extended into various right-wing positions, and feminism, in turn, has expanded to a variety of left-wing positions. A new argument had begun, but the skeptics’ opponents were quite different this time—largely cut from the same cloth, often highly educated, and accustomed to having a principled discussion. This ought to have been a formidable obstacle, but shockingly, they had no real need for a change of strategy—rather, they simply took initiative and immediately treated their former compatriots with the same derision as they did their Creationist enemies of old, and business as usual largely continued, with only the involved factions changed.

It took some time for feminists to realize that they were no longer discussing ideas with comrades, but in a proper brand war. Rather appropriately, the skeptic community’s critics provide them the pejorative name “Rationals(TM),” indicating, quite accurately, that they have reduced logical discourse to a brand name to disguise the inherently emotional and performative discourse they actually provide. By branding themselves as rational, by giving their promise to their consumers, the Skeptics were able to survive a drastic change in political identity without losing a large section of their audience, and indeed gaining a considerable portion more–many of whom may have been their political rivals a few years earlier. As their acerbic atheism became sidelined to their anti-feminism, creationists and Christians were drawn into a community where they were once a defining anethema. The YouTuber Creationist Cat further demonstrates this in a video linked below.

Behold: The Future of SKEPTICISM! | Creationist Cat

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGiswKPHPD4


(You can see immediately that he came from the same school of performance as the skeptics—note the thumbnail design, title, like bar, etc. I apologize in advance if his shtick is a little grating.)

In this marketplace of ideas, there is no clear delineation between the sales pitch and the product—the outrage and comedy and bluster are what is offered, largely ticketed as entertainment, and once you have bought that you have bought the product proper. Therefore, an enemy is needed to maintain controversy. The salespeople themselves do not necessarily consciously seek out opponents, but understand they rely on such on an instinctual level. They may wish for their enemies to disappear in their videos, but their revenue is reliant on the constant production of some new object of outrage. And there is no better way to produce this outrage than the spectacular live debate.

3. Debate: Entertainment vs. Education

Here is where the differences between our Idea Mall example and a typical mall begin to widen. In the Idea Mall of YouTube (much like its Cable News predecessor) debate is a popular spectacle. Debates and response videos are often framed in gladiatorial terms, an epic clashing of minds and personalities not too dissimilar from a professional wrestling match. Such debates rarely have proper framing or moderation, and instead tend to descend into rabbit trails and personal hammering. Channels often follow-up their debates with a sort of post-analysis, often carrying provocative titles with all caps for emphasis, in the manner seen with Thunderf00t’s videos. This is debate as entertainment, and it is quite different from debate as education. Predictably, the former is far more popular. Let us look at two contrasting examples.

First, let’s look at Blaire White’s video, “Heated Debate with a Genderqueer Feminist,” where she debates with fellow YouTuber ContraPoints. Contra brings many sources to the front when she needs to back up a point, and refutes many of Blaire’s assertions without Blaire offering much in terms of factual counter-argument. But the general consensus in the comments is that Contra lost. Looking at the performative aspect of the debate, it’s not hard to see why—Contra wore a silly-looking wig to pass off as a joke, but became genuinely angry as the conversation went on, while Blaire remained composed. Even as her actual points were refuted or her arguments contradicted eachother within minutes, Blaire never lost the tempo or rhythm of the debate, and remained firmly in control of the performance. Two things can be noted about this debate—first, it’s poorly moderated. The moderator, Sh0eOnHead, rarely interjects in the conversation, or does anything to alter it. Second, the framing of the debate was personal, on Contra’s assertion that Blaire was a “bully,” which offered a natural slide into the personal, mudslinging environment Blaire was accustomed to and consistently slid the narrative of the debate away from any factual points. Throughout the debate, Blaire remains the superior saleswoman, as Contra–despite having a superior argument on her side whenever the debate slid into serious points of facts–simply lacks the performative skill necessary to compete in this particular arena. This is a debate of entertainment–and Contra only succeeded in entertaining her detractors with an incompetent show.

Heated Debate w/ Genderqueer Feminist | Blaire White

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SeCD8tJUhU

Now let us look at a contrasting example, a debate between YouTuber “Sargon of Akkad” and Dr. Kristie Winters. Sargon’s skills are largely complimentary to Blaire’s–he’s an excellent showman, deftly conjuring emotions of outrage and derisive laughter from his audience towards whatever target he chooses. But he suddenly removed from a context where those skills are worthwhile. The debate has a specific question to be answered, has enforced, uninterruptable timeslots, active moderators, and prerequisite sources the debate partners must each cite. Suddenly, the bluster that would’ve won Sargon a debate in his own arena is useless–he is forcibly muted when he interrupts answers to his own

questions or begins on long demogogic tangents, his lack of sources and information become increasingly clear as he runs out, and Kristie remains sportsmanlike throughout the debate, even reminding the moderators that Sargon has some extra time left. His position truly crumbles in the following exchange late in the debate:

Sargon: “Other people will use different theories [than feminism] to analyze this data.”

Dr. Winters: “Like what?”

Sargon “I don’t know–I don’t care.”

Formal Debate: Sargon of Akkad v Kristi Winters | The Skeptic Feminist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTfCkp0Juao

The reader knows what I will extoll now—look past the substance and look at the performance. Sargon performed poorly in this debate not solely because he was incorrect—were the debate framed differently, matters of fact would be made unimportant. He performed poorly because he was prepared for a debate in which facts were secondary to performance.

Sargon made an apologetic follow-up video after his performance:

Reflections on the Kristi Winters Debate | Sargon of Akkad

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlBqt_Q089U

Note that Sargon’s premiere self-criticisms are largely on his rhetoric. Startlingly, he claims he over-prepared for the debate. If one is married to the premise that Sargon was preparing for a meeting of factual claims, this seems preposterous: YouTuber Hbomberguy responds that Sargon “doesn’t know, doesn’t care, and he wants to know and care less,” in the video linked below. He mentions the debate as an aside to criticizing a petition Sargon made. Video linked below:

Sargon’s Petition: A Measured Response | Hbomberguy
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmKGPRXE-xw

But perhaps Hbomberguy missed what preparation Sargon was referring to—Sargon likely over-prepared for a specific kind of debate, the kind that is won with bluster, demagogic rhetoric, and grandstanding—not with sources and carefully constructed arguments.

The principle difference between ContraPoints and Dr. Winters is not solely that Contra was a poor debater and Winters was a good one, or that Blaire was a good debater while Sargon was a bad one–their background, skill set, and approach to debate are largely similar. Rather, the principle difference was a matter of framing and moderation. Freeform debates between people who talk into cameras for money are uniquely disposed to descend to clashes of personality and ultimately goes to whoever is quickest with a quip or loudest with an assertion. Since debate on YouTube is so rarely moderated in a professional manner, we can expect far more examples in lieu of Blaire vs. Contra – the facts, even while being stated, will be obscured by showmanship.

4. The Marketplace & The Spectacle

In Guy Debord’s critique of consumer culture, “The Society of the Spectacle,” he argues that society is taken over by a spectacle as a side effect of late capitalism:

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.” -The Society of the Spectacle, thesis 1

in which passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity:

The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than “that which appears is good, that which is good appears. The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance.” -ibid, thesis 12

Debord notes that not only does this degrade knowledge about the real world, but it also hinders critical thought. We see this demonstrated in the branding of the skeptical community: the spectacle of commodity fetishism has crept into the very ideologies we hold, each one being treated as a brand name, even the very concepts of logic and reason reduced to a sales pitch:

…The spectacle is the preservation of unconsciousness within the practical change of the conditions of existence. It is its own product, and it has made its own rules: it is a pseudo-sacred entity. It shows what it is: separate power developing in itself, in the growth of productivity by means of the incessant refinement of the division of labor into a parcellization of gestures which are then dominated by the independent movement of machines; and working for an ever-expanding market. All community and all critical sense are dissolved during this movement in which the forces that could grow by separating are not yet reunited.” -ibid, thesis 25

This spectacle, which Debord describes as a fundamental aspect of modern capitalism, makes it increasingly difficult for people with opposing ideologies to dialogue with each other, not because those people themselves are simply closed-minded sorts, but because the medium they interact with supplants their discussion with passive identification. While YouTube is our given example of an Idea Mall, it’s far from the only one available online—Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr also have automatic algorithms which conspire to straddle you into a particular way of looking at the world. This is why people on opposing sides of a given political spectrum appear to operate with two different sets of facts or relevant news, and what might be front page news for a solid week on one side might barely get noticed on the other, or only commented on once or twice dismissively.

Worse, we begin to internalize the spectacle as this passive identification becomes a greater part of our self-identification, and we see ourselves, or even the people we’d like to be, in the machine-made gestalt of opinions and data which, ultimately, exists not to uplift us, but to maximize our exposure to advertising. Even being aware of this horror does not offer escape from it—fooling the algorithm gets increasingly difficult, and even attempts at centrism or a balanced media diet can become their own brand with their own competitors—there are plenty of young centrists who extoll the virtues of “hearing both sides” while simultaneously looking down their noses towards either for not listening to each other enough. This is not solely a personal failing, but demonstrates there is no way to game the system–the house always wins.

5. Conclusion

We need not aspire to The Free Marketplace of Ideas. We already live in it—and it is not the calm, collected forum of conversation one might expect from Plato’s Academy, but a cacophony of performative outrage and mockery we might expect from Maury Povich or Judge Judy. Angry laughter will supplant nigh-any chance of serious discourse, and in a marketplace measured in attention rather than quality of discourse, it will always win.

Nor should we aspire to any modification of this ideal, such as a controlled marketplace. Which megacorporation or government agency do you trust to moderate your discourse? Should Google, or the US Government, begin its own official news channel on YouTube and aggressively drown out their competitors by force? What would this even achieve, except another iteration of this marketplace’s previous iteration, similar in form principally to cable news?

Those who want their ideas to flourish in the grand scheme of human thought have no choice but to join this marketplace of entertainment, and there may be ways to eke out a living on its sidelines without ultimately selling your soul to the aggrandized mythology of the debate or spectacular outrage news pieces. But personality, shock, and humor will forever have an advantage on coherent analysis unless we ourselves take initiative to ensure they do not.

Perhaps in focusing on our own, smaller communities, we may be able to create a space where such performances are not tolerated, where people with opposing ideas can soberly discuss their differing approaches and improve themselves. It may feel like we’re fighting a doomed guerrilla war against vastly superior opponents, but it’s doubtful we’re the only ones involved, and we can always do more in our own local communities and with our friends to encourage this approach to discourse.

So, at least in our private lives, let’s boycott the Marketplace of Ideas, and instead, let’s have a Harvest Festival of Ideas—don’t bargain with a consumer audience over competitors, share your ideas freely and let your former competitors, now compatriots, speak too. Perhaps we can reach a point where we are no longer in a struggle with one another, but in a combined struggle towards truth–perhaps our different ideas can cooperate instead of competing, and make the world a better place together. Perhaps there is still a place, somewhere on this blasted hellscape of spectacle and advertisement, for civil discourse in 2017.

6. Personal Notes

With that out of the way; this topic is deeply important to me. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of self-criticism and reframing the idea I have of “culture war” not to mean right vs. left, but rather parties interested in having useful conversations versus parties interested in maximizing the attention aggregated to them. Even as I write this, I have to admit there is a part of me that admits we must descend into Realpolitik—vacuous and insidious as it might be, an idea MUST engage in the marketplace of ideas to flourish, and however well-considered their beliefs may be, those considerations are meaningless if they don’t have the showmanship to back it up.

But engaging in that marketplace seriously inevitably means you’ll get infected by it, drawn into the deleterious, swirling whirlpool of neo-celebrity gossip and putting on your own “showman’s face” to best draw a crowd. Eventually, the line between you and that face gets blurred, and you can even lose control of it as people expect you to adhere to what you present to them rather than who you are as a person.

In a social media landscape, this is a consideration EVERYONE has to bring to the table. I actually feel really uncomfortable showing my real face on most social media because it feels like an admission that a particular swirl of my social media footprint represents the whole of who I am as a person, even though I know it doesn’t. (There’s a great film on this concept written with astounding prescience in the 90s, Satoshi Kon’s “Perfect Blue.” I have to recommend you give it a watch sometime, but be ready for some seriously messed up themes of sexual assault and violence.)

If you actually read this monster, good on you. I worked hard on sourcing everything and keeping a solid, structured, logical through-line. I hope it made you think a bit, and I’m excited to learn what you think.

On Political Correctness

A controversial term

I can’t think of a term nowadays that sparks so much debate as “political correctness”. People see it everywhere, from TV shows, to advertisement, to censorship laws, through virtual signaling… What I think should be highlighted in all of this is not the term itself but the implications behind using it. What are we really saying when we say something is “politically correct” ?

Mind your manners

It’s a habit of our civilized societies to want to police how people speak and direct offensive speech toward the back of discourse. A little bit like unfavorable traits that we try to keep hidden from view, so that our friends can only see that Facebook profile picture where we’re smiling in the company of our friends, our loved ones, our pets, etc… Everyone is living a life akin to a Disney movie, and everything is fine, up until you start asking controversial questions.

  • Who is for and against abortion?
  • Who thinks white people are in part responsible for the attitudes of minorities toward them?
  • Who thinks we were in the right to invade Iraq?
  • Who thinks islam is a religion of peace?
  • Who thinks women should be equal to men?

If you ask these questions, among others, you will not get passive answers. Someone, somewhere will say something that offends another person or causes them to rise up and defend their opinion on the subject, because they know fully well it isn’t “politically correct”. The idea behind invoking an idea as being politically incorrect is that it must be true in some form because it speaks an unspoken truth, one that those who use PC language are trying to hide. That idea is of course originating from politics, wherein it is rare that politicians will say things that are politically incorrect (in theory), because it might cost them their elections.

Obviously, this means that whoever utilizes language that goes against this convention is risking something. Risking backlash from the community, for example. It’s sort of calling out a behavioral attitude to speech, in that certain things should be left unsaid in order not to offend or to disrupt social cohesion. There’s definitely a problem with that, more than one in fact.

Politeness

For centuries we’ve asked of young children that they be “polite”, I.E. that they speak correctly, so as to not offend, typically to not make their parents look bad in front of other parents. As they grow old, this sort of hold on language, depending on the times, is not given as much of an importance. This habit is thus to help shape the behaviors that we desire or wish to uphold in our society. If only it were that simple.

We’ve referred to politeness as simply being respectful of other people, but sometimes politeness is used to hide the most insidious of secrets. Political correctness seems to be criticized due to this, as if the people who demand certain phrases be removed from common discourse are hiding something sinister. Some sort of truth that they don’t want to be heard about themselves.

As such, when people who oppose PC culture hear “fat-shaming”, what they understand is:

“I know I’m fat, but I don’t want to be called that.”

When they hear “slut-shaming”, what registers is:

“I know I’m a slut, but I don’t want to be called that.”

When they hear “ableist”, what registers is:

“I know I’m a retard, but I don’t want to be called that.”

Just like it could have been said that if Timmy was saying something mean about Miss Cosgrove, it was probably true, but best left to ambiguous language. In fact, ambiguity has a lot to do with the criticism of political correctness. There’s the presumption that by making language more ambiguous, we are no longer speaking the truth but half-truths diluted in meaningless phrasing. Something we Quebeckers refer to as “patiner” (ice-skating, or in this case, verbal ice-skating).

You can see that when politicians give a one minute answer to a simple question that does not even answer the question. Isn’t there some kind of error in this, though? Why do we think that changing the way we speak is in itself some kind of evil thing that will dilute language and force us to never speak the truth anymore?

Why care?

Something I’d say a lot when I was younger and a boastful gamer on Counter-Strike is “this is so fucking gay”, whenever a situation was not going in my direction or I was losing the game. I didn’t think anything of it, heck I had done my fair share of homosexual things, as a bisexual. So why did I use that term? Simple: because everybody else was. These words that we ascribe minimal meaning can have enormous implications for other people. “So what?” I hear you ask, “if people are offended by what I say, they just have to not listen to me.”

You are right, and there’s also the issue of being able to hear what “the other side” has to say in every story. That’s always fruitful in some way or another, but you’re reducing a sociocultural question to an anecdotal level. It’s not what YOU say, it’s what EVERYBODY is saying. It’s not YOUR actions, it’s the actions of EVERYBODY. Because we humans are social animals, and if there’s one thing we’re good at as evolved primates, it’s imitation.

So when I heard my fellow dudes utter the phrase “this is so gay”, I would say it as well, and sometimes probably in presence of gay students at school. I thought nothing of them because they didn’t speak up. Why would they? Everybody was using it. They probably started using it themselves as well at one point, off of acceptation that their homosexuality was being used as an insult.

It’s cool to be independent and have a strong personality, hell I enjoy that very much myself. Yet, what trouble is it to you, as a strong and independent individual, to perhaps temper your terms when in the presence of people who you know – and you do – that those terms will offend them? You probably have friends who are minorities, yet you probably do use language that offends them, but they don’t tell you because they’re friends with you and they like you.

I still struggle with my own language at times and I say things that are involuntarily offensive, because I thought it’d make a good joke.

There’s no way to know whether what we’re saying is offensive unless other people tell us, and truthfully, we can’t be the judge of that unless we are in such a condition that those words hurt us. So when you’re with your friends, and you start making gay jokes or black people jokes, yeah they may laugh, but remember that your jokes are probably going to come off as offensive to folks who AREN’T your friends.

There’s a reason for that, and you know it: The Social Contract.

It works in a very simple logic: Your reach extends as far as where mine begins. Therefore, if you intentionally speak words that put prejudice upon my being, I should very well be allowed to call you out for it and vice-versa. It isn’t political correctness, at this point, it’s just human decency. (No you can’t make up reasons to be offended and then use them as some kind of knock-down argument: that’s silly, selfish and childish.)

Dear outraged people

I am turning now to those who are excessive with their usage of terms like “ableist” and “x-shaming”. While I agree that some things people say are definitely hateful and come from a place of bigotry, it is more worthwhile to educate people about why saying these things is wrong than just telling them they are and blocking them when they choose not to comply. If you don’t want to educate them, send them my way, it’ll be my pleasure to sit down and have a chat.

It’s absolutely understandable that because there’s so many people out there who just WON’T understand, that you no longer care to explain your condition and why for the 1000th time. There are people like me who will be glad to help if only to speak on a level-headed perspective. I’m not enabling these people to have this speech of theirs by accepting to speak with them, I’m allowing them to at least not act like they’re being stifled in their freedom of expression.

Because, like it or not, by telling every single potential misogynist out there to “just stop” whenever they ask one of their sealioning questions, what you do is you let those people conglomerate in little groups and become more and more convinced that there’s some kind of agenda. Those people turn into MGTOWs and MRAs and white supremacists, not by your fault alone, of course not, but just like the 1000th guy who asks you a question you’ve answered a 1000 time, these people eventually grow tired.

Nothing excuses hate, but nothing defeats hate better than love.

So if your heart is being tainted by all the hate you’ve received, delegate to people who are willing to chat with these guys.

Those willing to discuss with people who are opposite to you in a civil manner, speak up and take over when you see those conversations are getting out of hand, and invite the person to speak only to you, so you can exchange on the difficult subject with no risk of stigma.

In conclusion

I want to stress that if the movement for equality and equity wants to defeat hate, it must do so not with censorship but with overwhelming love. We need to put love in the market of ideologies, in order to trump hate. Love is not passive, it is active and it is wonderful. Those with hate in your hearts, learn to love. Our history is filled with hate, and we could do, as a civilization, with a bit more love.

Words and Legal Positivism

Definitions and Usage

There is a discrepancy in modern discourse between the words, their meanings and how they are utilized in everyday discussions. You’ve probably read some of my articles on the matter, where I tried to explain why we aren’t really in a democracy. There was also another one where I tried to make the distinction between the American usage of the word “liberal” and what it means in reality. What is really important to understand with words is that they can be used to convey any form of meaning, based on how we use them. Right now, there is a misuse of the word “neoliberal” that I’ve found myself correcting more than a handful of times.

Those who remember the history of politics for the last 20-30 years or so will be able to associate “neoliberal” with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, two people who were elected with the mission to stabilize ailing economies, but did so in brutal economic fashion. Cutting up public funding to vital infrastructures, putting the money gained from this gutting into the hands of private institutions and in police enforcement. Repressive economic measures are called “austerity”, where the government decides to halt all supplementary funding to public institutions in order to stack up on money and to reduce the national debt. In the case of neoliberals, this means slacking on corporate laws and fiscal regulations, spreading an ideology of de-unionization in the populace so that they will all begin to think as individuals and not as a people.

I could go on about this very odious moment of existence in the Western world, but I’ll refrain from doing so. What we must take away from the extremely loaded significance of the world “neoliberal” is that it must not be used lightly. As do most words that we use on a daily basis, this term should be used only when it is appropriate. Some people think that neoliberal nowadays means anyone who supports the DNC plutocracy or votes for a DNC candidate. The danger with this is that neoliberals have traditionally been conservatives, libertarians of the right who espouse the virtues of the free market at all costs and reduced government intervention in national economics. If you associate a virulent and oblivious fan of the DNC establishment to neoliberalism, you’re not only using the word wrongly, you’re allowing for the right to use the word against the left.

It won’t change the fact that both of you will be wrong, but it will hurt the overall aim of the left. Now, why is that?

Legal Positivism

In certain court cases, victory can be decided simply by choosing the definition of words to suit one’s needs. If the prosecutor, for example, says that the defense has “assaulted” the victim, the case can be lost solely by inspecting the lawful definition for “assault” and then deliberating on whether what the defendant did constitutes as “assault”. Translate this into political discourse, and then you get people who have nothing at all to do with neoliberalism being identified as such. So, when someone on the right picks up on this misuse (if they haven’t already), they can use that to manipulate DNC voters to go Republican, because the DNC are the bad guys, not the GOP. All it takes is for people to misuse the word, like how the word “liberal” has become a pejorative for anyone who is for diversity, even though liberalism is literally what the United States is founded upon.

Now of course, the thing here is that maybe the DNC doesn’t need to win and all America has to do is do away with the bipartisan elections. When is that going to happen, though? There’s talk of mobilization and there’s talk of voting for a strong third contender against the DNC and the RNC, but how much of that will really come to pass? I find myself looking in deception at Noam Chomsky, as he becomes some kind of icon for much of the new progressive left right next to Bernie Sanders, but both of them are old men. I have nothing against old men at all, but what the Jack Layton NDP debacle has shown me is that depending on people like that to guide the way can only result in some kind of deception. I’m sorry to say that because of this blind worshipping of old men, there are no viable alternatives, should they die. I don’t believe for one moment that Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks or Jimmy Dore can form an adequate replacement to lead the movement forward. Someone else will have to stand in the darkness.

One could speak of Caitlin Johnstone, but from what I’ve seen, aside from being an overbearing bulldog who condescends to anyone who disagrees with her, she has nothing of real value to provide to the political discourse, just more aggression, more faux-outrage at speculations. I would put her in the same basket as the TYT, Jimmy Dore and really whatever other political commentator out there. Most of these people are there to galvanize and have their 15 minutes of glory, destroying idols that everyone has worshipped for decades. If this is the defense for the Left, in the case words get hijacked the way they have been, I fear for the progressive revolution, because it is extremely ill-equipped to face the eloquence of a reinvigorated right.

Usage and transformation

It is undoubtedly true that words change over time, but not typically in the course of 20-30 years. Neoliberalism is still very much in use nowadays by political commentators and theorists alike. A common mistake people do when they speak of terms and phenomena is base them around their own perspective. So, if I think a liberal is someone who likes equality, then a lot of people will be liberals. In fact, however, a liberal should be someone who simply likes to weigh both sides of a story and come out with the best solution, without regard for whatever both sides might say. You might otherwise know this as “centrism”. Yet, when Americans speak of “liberals” they typically mean people on the left. Most interestingly, when far-leftists refer to “liberals” they hardly ever speak of them as allies. In fact, both the right and the far-left tend to dislike liberals, although the Left is usually a little bit more tolerant of them.

Lost yet? That’s because the point of misusing words is to ascribe negative connotations to things that on their own are relatively harmless. For example: Do you believe in liberty and right to property? If you said yes, you may very well be a liberal, in the philosophical sense. You could also ascertain that most Americans are liberals because “liberty” and “property” are the two things that basically shape most of human rights laws. So why do Americans somehow give a negative connotation to liberalism? Is it because liberals are too lenient toward minorities? If so, this “insult” is more with regards to tolerance. Are liberals too tolerant, to Americans? If so, why is this tolerance negative?

Dig a little deeper and you can very easily find why tolerance of the other is an enormous issue in society and why misusing (voluntarily) words is part of allowing political momentum to sway in your favor. Certain very smart individuals can easily use words that are seemingly harmless and put them at the forefront of their doctrine, to paint an enemy for their followers to detest. Liberalism, although the very ideology behind the Founding Fathers of the United States, is turned into ridicule, a pejorative to be thrown at those who might be too tolerant of blacks, homosexuals, worker rights, etc…

So who are the opponents of “liberalism” in that case? They are also liberals, except of the more conservative kind. They respect the idea of liberty and property, but think that allowing minorities to have more rights will eventually take away theirs. It becomes necessary, then, to separate oneself from the word liberal and simply identify as a “conservative”. Now, being conservative on its own is not ill-meaning, is it? It just means an appreciation of tradition and of moral values that are perhaps more old-fashioned. It doesn’t mean you have to force others to do the same.

Yet, in the eternal feud between “liberals” and “conservatives”, this is the no-man’s land. One side fears losing heritage and historical relevance and the other wishes to pave the way to the future. It is possible that both sides have some things right and some things wrong, but in the end, humanity survives through cooperation, therefore the transformation of words into misusage only serves to hurt humanity’s progress.

Interpretation in philosophy

It is a notion of philosophy that is not often spoken of, but “interpretation” plays a big role in our understanding of the world. Directly between us and the thing-in-itself is our perception, translating what this thing is to us. If we have a skewed imagination which makes us see things where there aren’t any, i.e. an enemy where one should see nothing but a potential friend, we are perpetuating humanity’s sins. Ignorance is not inherent: it is chosen. When we choose to sit upon our interpretation based on a priori perceptions e.g. ideas alone, without experience of the things we interpret, we are much more liable to be wrong. In psychology, this is referred to as System 1 and System 2, which are psychological phenomena and not neurological.

System 1 is our primal instincts kicking in when we discover something unknown to us. It gives us a reassuring thought candy to make us blissfully unaware or it tells us that this thing is outrageous and must be done away with, as an example. We can’t of course reduce System 1 to only this, but what I want you to get out of this example is that the human mind is irrevocably unable to not have a biased reception toward new phenomena. First, we try to associate this new phenomena to our existing sphere of knowledge, and we force it to fit in with the rest of the image we have of the world.

Even if the puzzle does not fit, we’ll keep it there because we aren’t used to being wrong about the things we take for granted. Now, say that we extrapolate this to misusing words. It is inevitable that if we use words with the wrong meaning in the wrong situation, and take that as granted, that we are going to have an erroneous view of the world. My examples above have been with regards to Liberalism but I’ll take something else for the following.

Let’s say you have a debate with someone, and you both argue about the difference between your ideologies and your argument is held around a certain philosophical notion. You say that the attributes of that notion are X and he says it is Y. Well, in the situation where the two of you have separate qualifiers for the same thing, is it at all possible that what you are arguing  about is not even that thing but something else entirely?

Images and Words

Let’s say I ask you to tell me what a person from a certain group might look like. What will happen is you’ll associate an image of the word I am telling you to a stereo-type that’s already been created in your mind. So let’s say I am asking you to think of what a drummer looks like. You’ll probably have the drummer of a band in your head and you’ll base your image of what a drummer looks like on that. There’s no knowing what a drummer looks like because there is no one specific look for drummers. Moreover, some drummers do not work off of a kit but participate in drum lines. Maybe I meant a drum line drummer? You can see then that when the image we’re associating to words is incomplete or based off the wrong information we have “anchored” to our brain, we’ll still come up with it as the easiest shortcut to truth.

This is the sort of thing that makes or breaks a court case, when we invoke ingrained biases as a form of truth that we THINK everyone else should agree upon. Once we’ve been brought into this blind spot, we will become oblivious to the errors in our arguments and those in the other, because if OUR view is wrong, then we certainly cannot properly understand whether the adversary is. We’ll believe ourselves to be right, but in truth, we are wrong. It is paramount, thus, to ensure that when there is litigation between two parties, that the definition of the terms is properly understood.

“When I said this, I meant that…”

“Oh well, to me, this means that…”

Interpretation of law goes a long way to make us understand the importance of properly defining our terms, and this can be inserted into everyday discourse. You can also think of how some fights break out between couples. Sometimes, both parties want the same thing but they have problems explaining themselves, and as such, appear to view things from a different POV but are merely misunderstanding each other.

In conclusion

More than in legal cases, words and their meanings shape the conflict between human beings. You need only look at the primary complain of individuals on social media who try to discuss discrimination: “Idpol poisons everything” they will say. The reason it does is typically a difference in meaning for words that change hands between groups. To an everyday person, a homosexual person is simply a gay individual, but to someone who actively does militant work either on social media or on the streets, the mere reduction of homosexuality to the word seems offensive, because it appears to deny transgenderism. Now, there may be a case for and against such an interpretation, but the problem, at its root, stems from a disagreement in definitions and both parties in an ideological trench war take for granted that their definitions are correct and the adversary’s is wrong.

This must be undone, and people must agree upon the meaning behind words before they start labeling other people and themselves with it. There is what the dictionary says and then there is how it is applied in academic circles and how specialists in the field refer to them. Patriarchy to some is some evil conspiracy, but to most feminist scholars, it is simply the subject of their study. It is not bad unto itself, but its existence cannot be denied. Just like I often write about how we do not live in a democracy, does not mean that democracy is superior, merely that we should at least admit that a democracy this is not.

When we cannot do that, then we are lost and our fight is always going to be for the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Music and Sociology

Art as a social marker

Sociologists will sometimes refer to changes in social behavior as being related to the environment that human beings evolve in. There’s also the way that we describe these changes. Some people go through more abstract functions, others are more direct and incisive in their criticism of society. Rappers and hip hop artists are commonly using social criticism as a starting point for their writings. The reason the lyrics to a hip hop song resonate within so many people is because they usually reflect the reality of those listening to them.

A rap group which I have been fond of for many years is the French band “IAM”, which is comprised of poor, immigrant, working class men who rose above to become big stars in the scene, despite significant stigma for their subject manner. Many of their songs revolved around the quality of life of men living in poverty and trying anything to make ends meet, when they are underprivileged immigrants living in ghettos. In their 1999 album “L’École du Micro d’Argent” (School of the Silver Micro – short for microphone), IAM set out in many of their songs to decry not only the quality of life of individuals like themselves growing up, but also of the inherent inequality in French society, as well as the negative media attention they got for calling these things out.

One of their most famous songs is on this opus, called “L’Empire du Côté Obscur”.

In it, the song describes the racism prevalent in France at the time of writing, by contrasting the so-called “good guys” who are white against the band members, who are all immigrants. The band appears to be embracing the negative image that the French society is reflecting back at them, particularly the Mayor of Marseilles back then, Jean-Claude Gaudin. In particular, the Chorus makes an inversion between the roles of light and darkness.

“Sous les feux / la vérité est masquée” – Which translates to “Under the light, truth is obscured.”

This highlights the fact that immigrants feel like they are unjustly vilified but are ready to play their part to the end, because there’s nothing else for them to do, to combat the system which keeps them down. However, the battle is not physical, as Shurik’N, in the first half of the song refers to a Pilot V5 as his lightsaber. The Pilot V5 is an ink pen, meaning that rather than attacking his opponents physically, he decimates them through his poetic prose.

Hip Hop and Rap end up serving as the only means by which the oppressed minorities can talk back against their oppressors, even though they are still seen as the villains simply for speaking up against this injustice.

It is in this that I wish to present the argument in this article, that art, alike technology, inspires our thoughts and the collective memory of a moment in time. Music is part of culture and culture evolves as a society evolves. For the impoverished minorities of France, this music is some kind of way to expel all the aggression and hopelessness they feel. In one moment, they are equal to their jailors, able to spit back at them and make money while doing it.

First example: Hip Hop

Although I did just present a RAP group (IAM) as an example of how the poverty of minorities inspires their imagination, I want to bring our attention to an older title and probably amongst the first to criticize society and institutionalized poverty / racism.

 

“The Message” establishes itself as an incisive and strong critique of society, particularly the New York subculture. In the very first verse of the song, we are met with this:

Broken glass everywhere

People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care

I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise

Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice

Rats in the front room, roaches in the back

Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat

I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far

’Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

While there is of course the usual rhythm and the rhyme to the song, you can tell that this is not merely poetic prose but a message, hence the title of the song. The first verse lays out the foundation to the rest of the song: People in the same state of being as the Singer are in a situation where everything is miserable, yet there’s no way out. Our subject here is stuck in a hellhole and the moment he tries to leave, someone came and repossessed his truck, forcing him to remain in this place. He doesn’t want to be here, he doesn’t like the ghetto. Then comes the Hook, which is the transition between bits of the story being told here.

Don’t push me, ’cause I’m close to the edge

I’m trying not to lose my head

It’s like a jungle sometimes

It makes me wonder how I keep from going under

He’s already passed the point of no return, yet he’s surviving still. Our singer here is not alone in his plight, however. As we know, poverty is rampant in the ghettos that the Segregation has created in America, and with the systemic lack of support for the residents, in these parts of town, you can easily expect that when someone gets “pushed” through the edge, something violent will happen. Something desperate.

Standing on the front stoop, hanging out the window

Watching all the cars go by, roaring as the breezes blow

Crazy lady, living in a bag

Eating out of garbage pails, used to be a fag hag

Said she’ll dance the tango, skip the light fandango

A Zircon princess seemed to lost her senses

Down at the peep show watching all the creeps

So she can tell her stories to the girls back home

She went to the city and got social security

She had to get a pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own

There are two stories held in this verse. One of a lady who used to hang around “fags” who are of course homosexuals. This homophobic term was used much more easily in the 80s (the song came out in 1982), and it’s safe to presume that this lady used to be someone of some social privilege. Yet, she is here eating out of garbage pails and offering herself up for extra cash.

Grandmaster Flash then goes into the story of a “Zircon” princess. Zircon being a virtually worthless mineral that passes itself off as diamond. This girl is an image of the self-important teenagers who at a distance make light of the problems of the inner city, yet when she got to the city (with no job), she tried to get on with social security. That did not work and then she had to find a pimp, to fill in the financial gaps. Again, these are stories oft-repeated that we can imagine Flash has either seen or heard of repeatedly during his time in New York.

In the next verse, we have another story that has been found repeated across the African-American demographics in the United States as well as in other countries where institutionalized racism occurred. This instance showcases the school-to-prison pipeline:

My son said, Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school
’Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool
And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper
If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper
Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet
Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps

A reality of poorer demographics, and one of the reasons they show up in crime statistics so much is demonstrated above. It is a story, for certain, but the reason music becomes so popular is that people identify with it, and they certainly identified with this song and the “message” it was sending out. It’s often been theorized – and as far as I know, rap artists agree as well – that hip hop and rap music has been a way for minorities and people of color to express their misery to a larger audience, when the government will not listen to them and instead makes their situations worse via (among other things) gentrification.

Metal / Rock

The band Snot is not particularly famous, but like Grandmaster Flash, it was part of a movement in the 90s of cynical music by very talented and (often) troubled artists. In the case of Snot, their lead singer died one year after the release of their first album. The band has been on and off for years since then. A song I want to look at is “Snooze Button”.

 

The song is certainly bombastic, and the theme throughout is the lack of political engagement in American society. In the 90s, there was a lot going on and people were starting to feel like the U.S. government wasn’t really out to help them but rather hurt them. This cynicism was probably exacerbated with Bill Clinton, and the first Gulf War, along with the War on Crime, which mostly targeted poor, working-class Americans.

Well, it’s just another song
Talkin’ about how you let them take your rights
Another redundant verse about how you refused to fight & lost
What cost? Your cause has got no champion
How could you hope to win? By just complaining

Quite clearly, right off the bat, the song is giving off a sarcastic vibe of being fed up with not only the system, but the people deciding to just give up. Nothing’s going to change, so why try? I think a much more scathing segment of the opening verse is “Your cause has got no champion”, which might imply that the author expects the person targeted by this song to stop waiting for a messiah and get up, get out there and make it happen.

As evidenced by the chorus:

Hook:

They took your so-called rights
You didn’t even fight

Chorus:

Well, here’s your motherfuckin’ wake up call
& there just ain’t no way around it
Caught you asleep once again & we ain’t havin’ it
Got freedumb for you to do just what they tell you
You missed that train of thought
You refuse to be taught a lesson
Now this is what I’m guessing
You’ll be held accountable
The things you didn’t want to know
You’re stressin’
Now with your mind they keep messin’
They took your so-called rights, you didn’t even fight

That the things you know exist and can hurt you don’t go away just by ignoring them and continuing to do as they tell you. The danger is still very real, and you know it, but you refuse to fight because you think the cost of resisting outweighs the benefits. In a way, you can’t be blamed for that, but that’s exactly how you become just a sheep in the herd, waiting for the day your fleece will be taken from you. It is a call to action because everyone else is busy apparently sleeping and no one wakes up if you don’t.

While you were busy fuckin’ sleepin’
You know your government was creepin’
Somebody left the door unlocked while you were asleep
Your life was bought & sold, yes, to the highest bidder

With regards to the War on Drugs, phones being wiretapped, mail intercepted, being “routine checked” while you’re walking on the streets of your ghetto. There’s also a lead-in for corporate media, which comes right after this part:

Left you in sitcom hell
So convinced you’re doing well
You sit back synapses are attacked
American gladiators are the only thing they’re given’ back
You’re dying & in your mind, while they keep lying,

A lot of popular sitcoms came out in the 90s, getting people to meet on a routine basis to watch the story of fictional characters unfold. It took their minds off of work and most particularly, off of what was going on around them, because after watching TV, the family was going to sleep and that was it. Maybe the parents would watch the news, but they would either fall asleep in front of it or switch off due to feeling powerless toward injustice. Dying and in your mind implies that the subject of the song is being alienated from the world he’s in, and thus becoming like an unthinking zombie, who swallows the lies that he’s given by his government. So what is the solution to all this?

They took your so-called rights
You didn’t even fight
Now that we’ve given you this message you’ve got a mess
But you can salvage, continue to grow
& soon you’ll know that little things in life can make a difference
You don’t got to be some politician
Take back those given rights
Stand up & join the fight

No need to champion a cause by your own, join the band in the rallying cry to take back your rights. It is a struggle, but there is something that can be salvaged and you can grow, without needing to be rich and buying the things that your TV lets you know are what you should want for yourself: Big screen TVs, expensive cars, a lovely wife and two beautiful children with your own little suburban paradise. What you have may not be much but it doesn’t have to tell the story of you, because you’re a brother to those who fight regardless of who you are or what you own.

Pop Music

Although most people who are deeply interested in music will typically dislike pop music, it is pop music and therefore pop culture that shape what the people listen to in majority and what gets aired on the radio, which shapes a sociological marker in history. Pop music varies in style and intensity based on decades. In the 60s, “rock” was becoming very popular, and the Beatles were at the top of their game during that time. In the 70s, we had a bit more psychedelic styles, and in the 80s was “New Wave”, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Bonnie Tyler, Cyndi Lauper, glam metal, hair metal, etc. etc…

The 80s saw such a vast liberation of musical styles as a result of the 60s and 70s sexual revolution: When sex became less of a public taboo and could be talked about much more openly than in previous decades. The 80s was mostly marked with teenage rebellion and girl power; the 2nd wave of feminism having provoked traumatic changes to the cultural landscape. In the 90s, pop music started introducing Boy Bands, which were bands of “cute” men and boys singing love-drenched songs, along with your “could be” and “would be” and “should be” promises that got teenage girls in that decade to fawn over the vacuous nature of hunky boy-band types.

In the case of pop music, there is no specific message other than being the reflection of values at the time of writing. It’s rather rare that songs in pop music will bear a message poignant enough as to cause a change in culture. Typically, the songs that do will be marred with politically correct language, so as to not offend any political party or partisans involved, to the point of diluting what could be a powerful message. “Heal the World”, which although it was a very moving song, was only really calling upon the poor to change a world that the artists themselves could very well be helping to change, what with the millions of dollars they were making. It gives off a very hypocritical vibe.

There is a good example of music from popular artists that could be part of pop culture (due only to their popularity) and that is the “shock” artists; those who make music with lyrics just offending enough to be put on radio but still too shocking for certain associations to leave radio stations alone for playing them.

Shock Artists: Marilyn Manson

Who else, right?

Marilyn Manson was the marriage of two infamous people: Charles Manson and Marilyn Monroe. The character was supposed to be this beautiful but wretched man who spits venom and dresses oddly, challenging the norms of society at the time. There’s a reason Marilyn Manson was so popular (and still is) and it was because of the attempt by American society to deny the existence of very marginalized individuals. In the 90s, in fact, as a result of the Boy-Bands, what it meant to be a man was becoming extremely difficult on young teenagers in general: Having to be tall, hunky, athletic without a trace of body hair was a tall order for a lot of teenage males. It was also a way of normalizing heterosexuality.

When Marilyn Manson arrived with his androgynous, filthy, blasphemous character, he challenged all of the politically correct at once: No, men don’t need to be hunky. No, it isn’t right to hold your tongue when something wrong is happening. No, it isn’t normal that we treat the marginal the way we do. No, it isn’t okay to legitimize religious indoctrination. Normality itself is a sin, to one such as Manson.

 

The Beautiful People was hugely popular with the rebellious, the goths and the otherwise marginalized in society, but not only in America.

Like with Snot, the song has a definite sarcastic tone to it. Out in 1996, the song was chewing up the hypocrisy of pop culture and spitting it back at it, all at the same time putting Manson on the cultural map. The video itself is ripe with shocking imagery that would become the staple of Manson video clips.

And I don’t want you and I don’t need you
Don’t bother to resist, or I’ll beat you
It’s not your fault that you’re always wrong
The weak ones are there to justify the strong

This speaks from a position of hierarchy: You exist for my pleasure, and although I need you to justify my existence, I send you mixed messages about this. This is a hearkening to the psycho-social effect of power balances in society, where the weak need the strong, but the strong think they don’t need the weak.

The beautiful people, the beautiful people
It’s all relative to the size of your steeple
You can’t see the forest for the trees
You can’t smell your own shit on your knees

Power balance in the case of this song being the superficial attachment to the material, and the inherent ugliness of the sort of behavior that leads people to call themselves “The Beautiful People”. Being unable to see the forest for the trees means that the Beautiful People only see those of their kin but disregard the rest of the forest, and then ignore their own ugliness (shit on your knees).

There’s no time to discriminate
Hate every motherfucker
That’s in your way

This part of the song is the hook, which could refer to a reply to the above or simply be a summary of the thought, being that the Beautiful People are so inherently selfish that they’ll devour each other if it comes down to it. You can imagine the saying “dog eats dog” would apply here.

Hey you, what do you see?
Something beautiful or something free?
Hey, you, are you trying to be mean?
If you live with apes man, it’s hard to be clean

This seems to be a dialogue, but I don’t think so. It seems more like a message from the Beautiful People to the lower masses. Look at us, the rich, the beautiful, the privileged… Aren’t we wonderful? Why are you trying to be mean to us and our corruption? If we weren’t around you people, we wouldn’t have to be like this. It could refer to the habit of the political class in America to blame the poor for their own problems. I also think this can be tied in to the pre-chorus, in that the Beautiful People will blame each other before they recognize their own faults.

The worms will live in every host
It’s hard to pick which one they eat most
The horrible people, the horrible people
It’s as anatomic as the size of your steeple
Capitalism has made it this way
Old-fashioned fascism will take it away

This entire verse is a quip on capitalism and most likely corporatism. With all the corruption, and the “dog eats dog” antics, eventually, someone will come up to the top (as a result of capitalism’s competitive nature) and get rid of the competition: Hence, the Beautiful People will ensure that only their kind of people make the bulk of society; Fascism being authoritarian nationalism and Identitarianism, resulting in a totalitarian regime where one people, one mind exist for the glory of one nation.

At this point, the song repeats the Chorus a few times before ending.

Marilyn Manson is obviously referring, across the song at the hypocritical nature of pop culture and the way American politics are shaped around so-called virtue, while the people who believe themselves to be virtuous are full of worms and selfishness, motivated by greed. Their end-goal is fascism because once they will become threatened by the “horrible people”, they will turn to conservative and far-right politics to get rid of the dissent. It’s not so far from the truth, as the Trump Presidency in 2016 has shown, the more minorities demanded air space, the more extreme the response from those benefitting from the “Beautiful People” normality became.

In Conclusion: What is MY message in all this?

The message is that there is more to kick-ass songs that we like than just the music. A lot of the time, we can hear some of us ask each other to read more books, but sometimes simply listening to a thought-provoking song and primarily its lyrics, can lead one to read on the situation or to at least become aware of a condition they might not otherwise be open to investigate otherwise. In our world of instantaneity, it becomes primordial to have the rapidity of execution to pull off an engaging social commentary, but in order to do so, people have to be willing to listen.

I also think that if you are doing sociology or looking up what people thought or felt during various times of history, you can easily see that from which artists enjoyed fame from their work during their periods of existence. There’s a reason a band like The Doors worked, there’s a reason why Michael Jackson had such a following, and those aren’t just consumerism. What happens in the world surrounding us affects us either directly or indirectly, and causes us to make certain decisions based on this environment. The music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the food we eat are all part of the impacts of events in our society on the collective imagination.

 

 

 

Why don’t Presidents fight the war?

 

Nice song, eh?

Brings back good memories, stuff about my youth and being disenfranchised against the system and just wanting to destroy everything about a world I hated. There’s a fragment of this song that I think is not given enough attention, and has been part of political discourse for a very long time. Boris Vian, in a very touching poem and song, wrote about his experience in the first World War and how he refused to fight in the new one. It was called “Le Déserteur” (the Deserter). Toward the end, the poem goes a little bit like this:

S’il faut donner son sang

Allez donner le vôtre

Vous êtes bon apôtre

Monsieur le Président

“If blood must be spilled, go and spill yours, you are a good apostle, Mr. President.”

This is more or less a translation of the above. At the time, it was quite revealing of the mindset of some people in France. Throughout the song, Boris Vian describes the horrors he went through and his time as a prisoner of war. It’s sung in a rather melancholy tone, one of resignation. One which makes sense, because the song ends shortly after that last paragraph on:

Si vous me poursuivez

Prévenez vos gendarmes

Que je n’aurai pas d’armes

Et qu’ils pourront tirer

“Should you pursue me – advise your officers – that I will be unarmed – and that they can shoot me.”

The song in itself inspires civil disobedience but also a kind of resigned pacifism and pessimism. He knows fully well that people like himself can get imprisoned for pacifism and that desertion can lead to getting executed. Yet, for all the risks that his decision entails, the man portrayed in the song has decided he’d rather die than go back to the front and kill other “poor folks”. Since then, the song has been taken up by various artists, some more renowned than others, but the original I think is still superior to anything else, simply because of the minimalistic musical arrangement.

 

Sure, it’s bloody, but at least only one man died instead of hundreds. I would much rather there never be war, but humanity being what it is, it seems nigh impossible that war will cease to occur in the foreseeable future (barring a complete extinction of the human race). That being said, let’s move on to actually answering the question.

Presidents don’t fight wars, they make them

In order for a state to go in war against another, the decision has to come from the top. Citizens cannot themselves declare war upon another state and say that their warcry represents their country. In order for that to be, they have to be backed by an order from the highest authority in the nation. In America, it’s the President; in Canada, it’d be Parliament along with the Prime Minister. Once that is done, does Congress or Parliament go to war themselves? Of course not, that’s for the lower classes to do. They have a state to manage.

It’s in war that politics becomes truly honest, because politicians are safe from the war they are having the citizens wage. This makes sense, after all, because if the governors and mayors and ministers and representatives all went to war, who’d be left to enact anti-desertion laws? That’s notwithstanding the fact that even if the people are not in the mood for good old state fisticuffs, there’s nothing that some properly constructed propaganda can’t fix. Propaganda has become the new means of political coercion in the so-called democracies we live in.

Once you have a known protagonist and a known antagonist, all you have to do is pit one against the other and proclaim the protagonist as being righteous in HIS violence against the antagonist’s wife and children. Wars serve the appropriate role of perpetuating friction and tension between nation-states, so that very slight changes in political playgrounds open old wounds that are steeped in extreme violence. While we are chanting the praises of the Allied victory, we would do well not to forget the atrocities that Allied forces also committed against conquered nations. These were fueled by an intense hatred that originated not only in the existence of the Axis, but in the way members of the nations that allied themselves with Nazi Germany were described.

The Japanese stereo-type of the squinty-eyed professor with glasses on and buck-toothed grin originated from the American propaganda of the time:

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « ww2 american propaganda japan »

Such a violent, over-the-top caricature of ethnicity was the name of the game even for the Japanese and the Germans. When states engage in such univocal messages of who the enemy is, there is an irrevocable image in the members of nation-states as to who the enemy is, was and will be. At that point, the President can be assured that the people have gained a thirst for war that will be easy to summon, when a new enemy arises and that he only needs to spread some carefully crafted propaganda for the populace to join in.

Thankfully, in the era of social media, such propaganda would be offset by the presence of critical thinkers on the web who would point holes in the imagery, much like I myself had to correct progressives on the usage of “neoliberalism” when used to depict DNC voters. There is one thing that I can see that propaganda can be worthy for, and that is to ridicule an enemy which otherwise has an overly arrogant attitude about themselves. Caricatures exist for that reason: To make fun of that which is seemingly forbidden. Now, the difference here is that caricatures based on faults a person has is good, but a caricature that vilifies an entire ethnicity is no longer just caricature, it is propaganda aimed to galvanize citizens for war.

There’s nothing morally wrong about killing someone whom you think to be nothing more than a buck-toothed hobgoblin with poor hygiene and depravation of all virtue. It ends up feeling almost like putting a bastard animal out of its misery with a merciful shot to the head. At that point, the President has successfully created the recipe for total war, and the people did not even need to vote for it.

Not all propaganda is created equal

Hold on there, my little centrist, I see you. If antifa make gross characterizations of fascists, does that not make them the same as fascists?

Were I comparing two undisclosed parties, you would be correct in your assumption that one party’s actions does not justify the other’s. Astutely deduced, in fact. My problem with such a fallacious interpretation of the ethics of hatred is that some hatred, although unjustified, is understandable. For example, I can understand that some people would hate fascists, whose only existence is to “clean” the world of all non-white supremacists, to create a utopia where only the best and the prettiest exist and copulate. I can’t understand how someone opposed to that would be painted as similar or equal to the same fascists.

I would concur that I don’t agree with ethnic cleansing or the cleansing of Nazi ideologues themselves, but I do believe that fascism has a root cause and that root has to be undone, dissected, burnt to a crisp and thrown in the abyss from whence it came. Antifa would rather get rid of every fascist alive, and that is their choice. I am but one man, and what I am good at is attacking bad ideas. Physically assaulting a person is not my forte and I would probably not be very good at it, even if I have the shape for it. Ask me whether I’d like to be rid of fascists or antifa and I’ll respond to you:

Get rid of the former and you’ll see no more of the latter.

Concluding

The reason why Presidents don’t fight the war, aside from the very obvious institutional conditions forbidding them to do so, is that those who profit from war require a constant influx of belligerents, regardless what country they are from. Weaponry is not fabricated by the State, it is bought by it. Those who make the weapons are those who profit from war as well as the ideologues backing them. War is a lucrative businesses, and military contractors are all too eager to get juicy business deals with the major governments and institutions of this world.

If Presidents went to war themselves, then the connections and the networks that they had to finance the wars would collapse and someone else would have to take over. Don’t ask yourself why America believes itself to be the Big Brother of all the other states, protecting the weak from injustice. It is because the beast has to be fed, and it requires human blood as a sacrifice.

Now, as a parting gift…