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Sunday, 15 April 2018

Cult of Feelings

Love! 💖
We are good! 🌈🌟
They *urgh* are bad 💀 & wrong 🚯 & stupid 🙅 & misinformed 👹 &

'We' can't be criticised because
'they' can never be correct ---
don't be unhelpful, unconstructive,
leave behind your negative traits and doubts ---
only 'we' have the correct understanding
of the way the world is ---
'they' only want to stop and destroy
everything that 'we' stand for ---

If it feels good it must be good, feelsgoodman,
But only as long as 'we' think so too!
You wouldn't want to be like 'them'
Those are just 'bad' feelings, so bad, so sad,
So make sure that your emotive reactions ---
Have been properly pre-conditioned ---
And anyway, don't it feel so right to be good?
No wait, feel so good to be right?
Feel so right to be right
Be right
Be right
Be right

Time was you'd have to think real hard about things on your own;
How do I fit into the world?
What if I was wrong?
Who decides what is of value?
What is my place in society?
Are my decisions my own?
Is any of this real, what matters?
And all sorts of silly puzzles like that
Not anymore! Yay!
We'll tell you how and what to think to the point that you are practically indestinguisable from anyone else and isn't that what we all really want?
a Final solution

All you have to do is...
Leave you family
Give up 'certain' behaviours
Change your name
Stop bad thoughts
Alter what you eat/drink
Do not question
Give away all your money/possessions
Do what we say
Sacrifice your self when instructed

& doesn't that small price seem worth it?

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Further freedoms: Comedy, Defamation and Truth in Art

Continuing from the discussion on comedy and offense, I recently found out about the stand-up comedian Louise Reay getting sued by her ex-husband, for a stand-up show about totalitarianism and the Chinese government that included a joke or 'bit' (apparently two minutes of material in a fifty minute show), that the ex-husband took offense to and is therefore suing her for defamation and breach of privacy.

I’m conflicted about this, because I do see the argument against controlling what people can say, but there’s also the impetus on the person to take personal responsibility, to check what they’re saying and how it might be interpreted or the context it is used in, but then you might say, “How could anything be shocking or new or provocative? What’s wrong with someone being purposely vile?” Some performance art, made to outrage sensibilities is actually a good thing (and considered great art) it’s pushing us towards something else that shows a different perspective. The problem is that we don’t know if it’s worthwhile, so we shouldn’t stop it (before it’s time), unless it is 'obviously' offensive, but then maybe someone’s overreaction to a lewd joke might comparable only on a scale to the reaction to want to ban what are more rightly considered offensive images like child pornography.

Some see banning topics from public discourse as being “just like the Nazis” and totalitarian itself, but this is a weak argument I would suggest. Being stopped from making racist remarks isn’t the same as being a fascist. The argument though is to stop language that is not merely offensive (that is itself not illegal and I would agree in defending the right for people to actively use offensive language in context) but that it also leads to directly or indirectly effecting another's personal safety, well-being, or advocates removing their human rights. That is to say, it is not just your opinion that what you have heard is offensive (a perspective) but rather that it can be shown or proved to have been meant deliberately to help (directly or indirectly) disadvantage you or place you in a situation that results in marginalisation, discrimination, or encourages other negative bias and potentially violence.

However, the ability to see how negative language or 'just words' could lead to more than just hurt feelings is apparently incredibly difficult for some people. Perhaps this is the privilege that the Left are so often talking about?

Take your pick of recent or not-so-recent examples of 'borderline' racist language being used, I'm thinking of the recent Heineken advert controversy, but you can use your own. The response to this tends to go a little like this:

“Why’s this racist? I’m not black; therefore I cannot see why it could be racist.”

This is normally the first step towards the very common response that you can find all over the internet in just about every comments section:

“People just get offended. People are too easily upset.” (on purpose, i.e. they are acting or exaggerating).

Which is, actually something that I would agree with, because those people that are too easily upset include the people who feel the need to go on the internet to complain and say, “Well I’m upset that people are too easily upset, it’s upsetting to me how easily upset everyone else is. I take offensive in other people taking offense.” And so on and so on.

People have different backgrounds, different worldviews shaped by their experience, maybe have similar experiences and come up with different responses because of their backgrounds and because they’re wrong... no, because they’re different people. They are sometimes wrong, obviously, when dealing with a matter of definite facts or logical analysis and they just haven’t done that, they’ve just gone with the gut. Hence, a lot of our current problems, are caused by people just are going with the gut. For example, off-the-cuff political remarks that would previously have been challenged are taken as political fact.

The threat to free speech is not; from the Right’s perspective the Left, and from the Left’s perspective the Right, because when everyone is too busy slinging mud at each other and not looking at the laws, then nothing’s really getting challenged, then the laws keep changing, at the time no one seemed that concerned about the Snoopers’ Charter, and this gets us back towards the heightened level of control and influence a certain few companies (Facebook) have over our lives, either directly (via advertising) or indirectly (influencing political parties and media).

But to return to the initial topic that we have more direct contact and control over.

Reay's offensive language, that ‘attacked’ her ex-husband, was part of a comedy show, it was intended as entertainment. The insult was already part of the performance. Did this include private data? However, this has now been removed from the routine in agreement with the ex-husband's lawyers and no copies or recordings have been made so it no longer ‘exists’ and we cannot answer this.

If we’re going to say that the ex-husband should or does win the court case, does that mean that you can’t insult anyone in a stand-up show, without some sort of consent? His argument could be, “she didn’t ask me whether I wanted to be referenced/used as material in the show.” So, if I sit in the front row and a stand-up makes fun of me for looking like a twat (fairly likely, as I do) can I then sue them? Or would it instead be thrown out as I choose to be at the show, and that’s consent to participate, which that seems fair.

What about offensive jokes about a wider general group? Jokes about; Muslims, Jews, Gays, Blacks etc. Could you as a member of one of those groups sue the comedian for not asking for your personal consent? Who gives the consent for a joke about a religion, or a country, or ginger people, and who’s making that distinction? Without the possibility of consent given at a singular level, does this mean we should be more or less sensitive about the jokes we made and the language we use? Well, not to sound like a broken record, but context is the guide. Calling a collection of developing countries "shitholes" for example, is different when one is the POTUS than when one is not. Indeed, one could think of a situation where that phrase would be a joke rather than merely an insult masquerading as a joke.

And if this is true for individuals, what about institutions? You can (I think) criticise an institution (fairly) under freedom of speech (in certain conditions and in the appropriate context).

However, if you can’t make a mocking/defaming performance about somebody without them knowing about it and/or consenting to it in some way, that seems fine. Maybe then, Reay does deserve to lose the case, as much as I want to defend the right of comedy to be pushing boundaries.

[Side Quest: a related example #1]
Kathy Griffin, appeared in an image apparently holding Trump’s severed head, much offense was taken (especially by Trump and his supporters) and it was widely condemned. However, although an individual, Trump is also a public figure and part of a wider institution, whereas she is a comedian and not a member of ISIS. She is not ‘really’ threatening to kill him or incite violence against him, if Trump can also say “...although the second amendment people, maybe there is...” (Taken as a threat against Hillary Clinton who wanted to ‘take away their guns’) and that was explained as a joke after the fact, and if Trump as a politician can have that excuse then surely Griffin as a comedian has more of a claim to the ‘it was only a joke’ defense. However, there wasn’t a legal case against her, she wasn’t sued for defamation, and Trump instead insulted her, stoked resentment from his support and unleashed a wave of negative attention (with no comeback).

[Side Quest: a related example #2]
Sarah Silverman, once made a joke that she had been raped by Joe Franklin (in 2005 docu-comedy film 'The Aristocrats'). Discounting the fact that she now says she would no longer make a similar joke, this piece is so obviously a joke, it is about a famous off-colour joke and is interpreted and performed by one hundred well-known comedians. However, at the time, Joe Franklin (a famous elderly presenter) was 'not amused' and had allegedly considered a lawsuit against Silverman. Despite Silverman's straight-faced presentation of "Joe Franklin raped me" it could not be said to be without it's context and it could further be argued that it had no "actual malice" which is key to a claim of defamation.

To move us towards a conclusion, does Reay deserve to be sued? Even if we disagree with the action or the motivation of the ex-husband, what then is the alternative? What are our limits of 'free expression'? Many internet commentators seem all to willing to state that Reay has made "false allegations." Has she? How do they know? She has not confirmed this. On her gofundme page, which she started to raise her legal fees she says, "I accused him of abusing me in my show."

Another similar allegation is that Reay was personally insulting whereas Meechan's 'Nazi pug' was "only a joke!" This strikes me as a failure to identify one's own personal prejudices, because as described you could reverse that statement, Reay only made a joke about her recent breakup whereas Meechan insulted all Jews. It's just a question of belief and perspective. Let's try and keep it to the law and facts, where possible.

To continue this comparison, whereas Reay has offended a singular individal, Meechan has offended a general audience. In both cases you might say (and some do) that they (those offended) are purposely taking offense, but when it's a particular group with a well-known recent history then it seems more difficult to quantify. Why indeed choose the holocaust? If Meechan wanted to pick something horrific then history has plenty of examples, why pick the most commonly mentioned 'pop-cultural' description of the 'worst thing to have happened'. Certainly in numbers there's the 'Great Leap Forward' famines in China (15-45 million dead), or the Rwandan Genocide, or Armenian Genocide, or massacres the UK has had a part in; Indian (e.g. Amritsar), Northern Ireland (Bloody Sunday) and so on. But that wasn't his point, he was being a lazy troll, and lazy trolls go after the most obvious targets.

The problem also lies with the law, especially for Reay, in that it does not deny or take account for the person's emotions in bringing the case. The ex-husband is obviously motivated by 'hurt feelings' and yet the law cannot mediate for that. As for Meechan, are people just saying that they're upset about something that happened in the 1940's, is this merely manufactored offense? Well, if the world was totally free of anti-semitism and being Jewish meant that that did not carry a potential for negative biased treatment by others, then we could say that this is merely a historical offense, but it is clearly not the case (cf. Labour's current problem with anti-semitism and the ongoing difficulty of people to separate the critism of the Israeli government's actions with the reputation of all Jewish people world-wide, i.e. conflating anti-zionism with anti-semitism). One person might be exaggarating, pretending, or motivated by revenge, but the entire Jewish people? Perhaps one person (from a 'generalised' audience) could be pretending to take more offense, but can you really say that when anti-semitism is a real ongoing thing in the world? Unless we also deny anti-semitism as a thing. Oh wait, Neo-Nazis do that too!

I'll make a final summary of both of these threads of thought once both respective court cases have concluded, but I find it difficult (for different reasons) to find either Reay or Meechan not guilty and yet I still want to say that neither is entirely to blame. Further, that there is a time and place for willingly offensive language in our society, mediated by forethought and attention to context.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Filosophy on Friday: Have you heard the one about the Nazi Pug?

The Case of Count Dankula or Comedy v. Propaganda or Just because you’re a **** doesn’t mean that you should go to prison or Doin’ time for the lulz

I wasn’t aware of Markus Meechan, AKA Count Dankula, before the court case that ended with his conviction of performing a hate crime at Airdrie Sheriff's Court, but I was certainly aware of the style of ‘comedy’ that he perpetuates. He self-applies the labels of; ‘professional shitposter’, and ‘edgi boi’. All these sorts of juvenile comedy tropes AKA ‘surreal troll humour’, and that’s exactly what they are, they aren’t anything new it’s just that the internet has allowed them to develop a life of their own outside of the schoolyard. It reminds me of the language and the style of bullies, quite comically sharp, and very personal. So it’s fair to say that there’s not a great deal about ‘his work’ and his personality that I like, but that’s not what this post is about. I’m not interested (mainly) in him, I’m interested in the outcome of the court case and what this means (for 'freedom') and indeed how this is being used as propaganda (by the alt-right, but also pro-government centrists, misinformed libertarian pseuds, and reactionary lefties, most of whom are missing the argument and making their own political statements).

However, it is useful to try and discover what the basis of the humour is and to do that we need to look a little at Meechan himself, otherwise we’re just taking a statement (or joke) out of context. He also calls himself an advocate of free speech, “Pro Free Speech” (@countdankulatv on Twitter), but most of his interactions (that I’ve observed on Twitter) are either retweeting Right-wing ‘dog whistle’ memes:

Making Right-wing talking points:

Or attacking “far Left screechers” and closing down the argument by blocking them or ‘insulting’ them by saying, “you’re a virgin” or “you’re gay,” which is something that is so obviously what a fourteen year-old bully would say, that it’s practically a joke on itself, but it’s still doing the same thing, so it doesn’t actually escape the orbit of being juvenile inflammatory derogatory s***e-talk, but all that being said being a juvenile c*** doesn’t mean you should suffer censure (although this isn’t a general rule, there are exceptions, again context will be our guide) or indeed go to prison (I think this is pretty generally true, otherwise we’ll be jailing the actual 14 year-old bullies for calling someone a “bender”).

To be ‘shocking’ is be part of a reaction against what is considered normalcy, and yet Meechan has also been described as a ‘Centrist’ or ‘Centre-Left’ politically, but I see no evidence of that (which doesn’t mean that it isn’t the case), and he defines himself as being for ‘equality’ and ‘gay rights’ from the Left, but likes ‘Freedom’ from the Right. However, I don’t think that ‘Freedom’ is of the Left or the Right, it could be equated to Libertarianism possibly, but avenues of anti-authority and anti-government are found in both political theories of the Left and the Right. However, I don’t really think that this a discussion Meechan needs to make or can particularly ‘win’ at, especially if he is calling himself a ‘comedian’. Your personal political perspectives are just that, personal, and so long as it doesn’t include depriving others of their rights or lives then keep quiet about it unless you’re engaging in a political message (public or private).

Although we could (and will) debate as to what counts as comedy, this being a personal perspectival aesthetic decision, there is a wider reaching issue of comedy being appropriated for another point. Whether or not you find something funny isn’t the end of the debate, the bully (and the bully’s mates) always finds their insults amusing, those being ‘picked on’ very rarely laugh along (truthfully). That someone finds something amusing, doesn’t always give the joke teller a free pass. Again, this depends on context.

Can any behaviour, an actual Nazi rally for example, be waved away with, “it’s only a joke!”? Obviously, the answer to this really is, “no, of course not,” but perhaps we could jokingly answer in the affirmative, simply to aggravate those that are easily aggravated by such and perhaps that’s the joke here. To mock those that are overly serious or too earnest in their beliefs (something that I’d consider to be a particularly British approach). If the joke is just to annoy the easily offended (and take pleasure in that), can the jokers really be surprised when their targets are indeed offended and complain ‘to teacher’? Don’t poke the moany Tiger if you don’t want him to bite.

So, what’s the joke of “m8 yer dug’s a Nazi” exactly? If it’s not a joke; it’s trying to provoke a reaction, which (especially with a subject like Nazis) is pretty easy to do and this goes back to the whole 14 year-old attention seeking style, and there is an element of this in the humour. If the joke teller has to explain the point of their joke then typically their joke has failed to find an audience. That I don’t find it funny doesn’t mean that I deny that others can find humour in it.

The context of the joke is important. I do want to defend the comedian’s right to make a joke about the sort of thing that might be otherwise upsetting, that is, to be able to make jokes about the holocaust, about 9/11, about those sorts of things. This is part of the role of the comedian as subversive, to push boundaries, to make people think about things in perhaps ways that they had not previously. In being offensive or shocking the comedian can pull someone out of their comfortable ‘bubble’ of opinions (their limited sphere of engagement) and force those people to consider a point of view or perspective that they had refused to entertain before. That context works for the comedian, in that they are a comedian and are indentified as such, but is Dankula to be afforded that protection, is he a comedian?

The question could therefore be, “what makes someone a comedian?” Is Meechan a comedian, because he says he is, or because he made a joke? This leads us into the old debate, ‘when is an artist an artist?’ Is it, when they sell something, that is, they make a living as an artist, it is their occupation. Or perhaps, it is when another confers the title of ‘artist’ or ‘comedian’ upon you and not just anyone, but a recognised authority in the area. Or is it more a matter of self-determination, I call myself an artist because in my mind I have done the work, the thinking, and have made the commitment in my life to be so. Certainly if you went to his channel, if you looked if up because you knew the sort of stuff he makes, but if you just happened upon him on YouTube and this was how he came into prominence when his video was viewed millions of times and shared by people, who then took it out of context.

We might say that the difference is between being a willing participant and finding yourself involved without being asked. Think of the famous ethical thought experiment of someone shouting “fire!” in a crowded theatre. If you were going to a performance were you had prior knowledge that someone was going to cause some sort of an actual disruption, or that they were likely to, then this is a totally different experience to that of the unexpected cry of “fire!” especially as it wouldn’t be considered to necessarily be a false cry. Compare this with, going to see a comedian that is known for making ‘close to the bone’ commentary, you are willingly entering that space, you might expect to be harangued (if in the front row) or hear certain ‘shocking’ language being used, and so on. Similarly, with our interactions online, if you follow a person online, go into a certain online forum expecting a certain level of debate and language, in all these cases you are willingly entering a particular space, but coming across it online accidentally or being sent it unsolicited isn’t a willing engagement. Without asking, without context, the video of Meechan's could be seen as offensive. You don’t have the right, as a comedian, to enforce your comedy on people.

There is no right to not be offended, but there is also no right for you (as a comedian) to expect everybody to engage with you as an audience member without asking them whether they want to be part of the audience first. However, to Meechan's credit, he does give a précis that he’s getting the dog (his girlfriend’s) to do the most horrific thing possible, which is apparently the Nazi salute, that’s the joke. The command phrase for the dog to do this is “gas the Jews.”

Historical context is also important here as well then. Teaching a dog a Nazi salute is one thing, the use of the phrase “gas the Jews” is another. There is an understandable and enormous sensitivity amongst many in the Jewish community to ‘jokes’ such as this. In these cases it is not just what is being said, but who is saying it and in what context.

Then we come back to, what if it’s a cover for something else, all that these edgy jokes seem to manage is to push the Overton window further to the Right. Compare this to the recent controversy of PewDiePie’s ‘joke’ when he got two men to hold up a sign for $5 saying “Death to all Jews,” which was apparently intended as some sort of commentary about how easy it is to get people to do things for money. Well, thanks YouTube millionaire for telling us about capitalism and how broken society is! However, it’s also a method of making those who are the subject of the ‘joke’ look like the bad guys for complaining and ‘spoiling their fun’. Indeed, that’s how Stormfront (a well-known neo-Nazi website, only recently shut down in 2017) saw the usefulness of PewDiePie (in 2015). Although they probably learned that active support from them would then ‘scare off’ a great number of other potential recruits. Could Meechan therefore be a willing or unwitting participant in this?

There is also the ‘problem’ of Meechan’s company. Various ‘rationalists’ and others, who lightly or firmly, place themselves within the Alt-Right, not least, Tommy Robinson the former EDL leader who helped ‘support’ Meechan during the trial. The defence that, “you can associate with people of different political persuasions, and you can learn from that relationship.” This strikes me as incredibly glib and a distraction technique that puts the impetus on the accuser to define their parameters rather than the accused to make any reasonable defence of their own actions.

Markus Meechan and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon AKA Count Dankula and Tommy Robinson (above)
Paul Joseph Watson, Carl Benjamin, and Meechan (top)

Frankie Boyle once made a joke/analogy/comment inspired by the story of a Gail Porter nude being projected unto the Houses of Parliament that people then gave her grief about that. Boyle’s suggestion was what if someone was to project hardcore pornography onto the side of a school, would they then arrest Ron Jeremy? (i.e. the Porn Actor in the film rather than the people who actually projected the image.) Although I can’t now find a clip of him saying this, hopefully it does exist.

So, similarly, the (assumed) ‘viewer’ who did not choose to view Dankula’s comedy video, in which it was sent to them by a friend, that wasn’t Dankula that did that, not personally and not by direct action on his part. It was someone else who decided to do that, so he could not be held as culpable for that. Dankula did make the video and he didn’t control how it was distributed, is that more to do with the companies involved (i.e. YouTube) and with how we share information on the internet now? And perhaps his culpability was simply that he chose to allow to make it shareable, the possibility that others might share it was already known to him, and although he gave a précis it didn’t stop it being shared, he is therefore the creator of the content and despite not being the sharer it did end up being viewed by someone who found the video offensive. However, he couldn’t stop it being shared either, not if he wanted it to be seen by many people, was his error then narcissism? He could have made it private and only available to his friends and he did not. YouTube could have blocked the video, but they did not. Should the offended parties have therefore taken their complaints up with YouTube (the ‘projectionists’) rather than Dankula the content creator (the ‘porn star’)? What YouTube did do, was to ‘demonitize’ [sic] Meechan’s videos:

They’ve refused to make a moral decision, but have made instead a financial one masquerading as a moral one and as such they have failed to take any real action or stance here. Indeed, why would they without any external intervention? Internet service providers as well as internet media companies have a history of not controlling their spaces, not for fear of the loss of freedom of speech, but for the loss of revenue.

Freedom of speech doesn’t give one the right to make statements that seek to destroy (actively or indirectly) the right to free speech of others (by making them afraid to speak out for themselves or their group, if such is being targeted). Take, for example, this definition from the British legal case Norwood v. United Kingdom in 2003.
The Court said the purpose of the European Convention on Human Rights is to ensure that no-one can rely on human rights to destroy the rights or freedoms of others.
Let’s end this, by giving Meechan a chance to set out his beliefs about freedom of speech and what that means.

The problem here is that, yes Nazis are indeed people too, but freedom of speech doesn’t mean allowing those that want to “destroy the rights or freedoms of others” a voice. Murderers are still human beings, which affords them some rights (if I hadn’t gone on so long already, I’d start a discussion about the Death Penalty, but let’s save that for another day) but not their continuing freedom. For example, denying the holocaust isn’t just an ‘opinion’ like whether Dankula is funny or not, it’s an attempt to deny facts (see Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, 2000). However, and this is really important, not everyone you disagree with is a Nazi, some just have different ideas or a different perspective. Being able to disagree without someone, almost fundamentally, and still have a reasoned debate about something is what cases like this make more difficult. It is a skill that, I worry; we are losing in our emotive internet age. Although I do not blame the internet directly, it is merely a tool, but it is our lack of collective and individual responsibility that is leading to this. We look to an authority to make our decisions for us and then fret that these companies who are in charge are not moral agents but only financial ones, if our masters are merely concerned with making money, who is making our moral choices for us if not ourselves? It seems we are losing the ability to even articulate what we think freedom actually is and what it really means to us. Is it simply being able to say whatever ever we want when we want without consequence? If that’s all freedom of speech means to you, then you are missing the point.

Freedom of speech should mean being able to disagree with authority and persons in power and not fear retribution, to discuss alternative ideas and be held up to fair scrutiny not merely mob justice, to be able to be wrong and then to be educated of your fault, to highlight errors and potential problems as you find it in society and be dealt with in an even-handed manner. Indeed, in all of these things we might say that what we want in advocating for freedom of speech is a fair, rational, humane and open society where consequence and context are regularly and thoroughly analysed.

Meechan is not completely innocent, nor can blame be removed from him entirely. He is after all, as the judge said an intelligent and articulate person. At the age of 29, we cannot expect that he had not foreseen the potential offense of his ‘Nazi Pug’. I think that Meechan made a mistake, the mistake was not simply making a joke ‘in bad taste’, because being shocking, vile, and insulting absolutely on purpose is the point of being an internet troll and it is this that I think constitutes the basis of the original joke, not the ‘prank’ on the girlfriend, but by gleefully abusing ‘triggering’ phraseology and behaviour. No, the mistake Meechan made came after the attention spike that greeted the video online.

There were two options available to him, there are always many more of course, but boiled down to two distinct paths of actions they are:
  • Apologise; learn the historical and social context of what you have done that is wrong, accept personal responsibility and culpability, take down the video and/or suffer abject humiliation, be crushed by ‘the Man’ and by a society that wishes you would just shut up and do what they tell you, or
  • Stand up for yourself; fight for the fundamental right of free speech itself, gather around you fans, admirers, supporters, like-minded folks and ‘activist’ leaders, all of whom offer you praise and congratulate you for the stand you are making, they tell you that you’ve done nothing wrong and that it’s in fact the totalitarian liberal elite and their army of whiny deranged autistic far left screechers who are the ones that are really in the wrong, you’re totally right...

Apologies, but you might have noticed that I wasn’t been utterly truthful with my portrayal of Meechan’s choices there. Indeed, I was making a possibly accurate parody of how, I think, he ended up seeing the situation. It might have started as ‘only a joke’ but it’s ended up being a political action, albeit one that is based in a failure to take personal responsibility.

In conclusion, Meechan was no angel to begin with, but I still believe that the original video that while crass was by itself no crime. However, ‘post event’ he seemed to become, for want of a better expression ‘radicalised’ and became a mouthpiece (willing or unwitting) for far-Right efforts to normalise hate and to further push the Overton window. Comedy was never really on trial here, because we were aren’t dealing with comedy as we currently know it, perhaps ‘trolling’ will become the comedic style de jour in years to come and then all this will look very silly (and oppressive) in hindsight, but I sincerely hope not. The comedy of bullies, while still technically comedy, should not represent a society that holds a rational compassionate outlook, but maybe I’ve just missed the joke.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Further thoughts on Privacy and being an Individual

Here's a very big 'what if' for you.

In yesterday's post I wrote about people being happily compliant with the orthodoxy of the state being applied to their existence, the mediated way in which they are allowed to be. I wrote about this, in the first instance, with a reaction akin to horror. We have pulled back the curtain and haven't found a singular big Other in charge of the controls, but instead countless shifting forces competing over who gets to push the levers slightly in their favour for now. No one intention driving these choices, but rather a shifting 'cockroach' mass pushing us towards... Towards what?

In my horrified mind it is something like a loss of personal rationality; the distinct singular voice, talking not amidst a cacophony, but as a participant in a fair and truthful dialogue with many others.

Here's my 'what if' then. What if, my view isn't the one we should be fighting for? What if, the course of humanity is already driving us towards "deselfing."

Here's an idea... Maybe it's okay to no longer want to be an individual.
 And maybe... Feeling unique is no indication of being unique...
... yet it is the feeling of uniqueness that convinces us we have souls. 
Individualism may, in fact, be a form of brain mutation not evenly spread throughout the population.
Many people are happy to belong to a group - any kind of group - and someone who isn't is a threat.
The Age of Earthquakes, by Basar, Coupland and Obrist. 2015

In the 'Age of Earthquakes' the authors describe deselfing as, "[w]illingly diluting one's sense of self and ego by plastering the Internet with as much information as possible."

You cannot die if you aren't an individual, aren't a person, are just a chemical response that is part of a larger amorphous other, part of an ongoing algorithm.

Comforting, no?

Perhaps not. do not think so at least, but then perhaps that's just a result of my 20th century mind. My reliance on the written rather than the spoken.

However, we aren't there yet, and the more people let 'authority' make choices for them, the more they are made tools for others, they willingly participate in their own exploitation... but what if they're okay with that? Do we, as 'rational' minded persons, disbelieve them. How do we know that our perspective is the correct one?

Perhaps we might comfort ourselves with a saying from Bertie, "the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people are so full of doubts."

We think then that moderation, that good old Centrism, and the status quo are not to be feared. Why break a system, before it is broken? We must make the best of what we already have.

Perhaps the farmer has the best of intentions for us turkeys. Besides isn't Christmas all about peace?

We are today under the tremendous pressure of what we should call 'enemy propaganda'. Let me quote Alain Badiou: "The goal of all enemy propaganda is not to annihilate an existing force (this function is generally left to police forces), but rather to annihilate an unnoticed possibility of the situation." In other words, they are trying to kill hope: the message of this propaganda is a resigned conviction that the world we live in, even if it is not the best of all possible worlds, is the least bad one, so that any radical change can only make it worse.

Slavoj Žižek, Trouble in Paradise, pp.233-234.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

In defence of the indefensible: Cambridge Analytica and the Status Quo

It's interesting to see some people defend Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

They say things like, "I know what I'm giving and what I'm getting, I'm happy with it." & "Misusing data you have legally is not data breach." & "All the top advertising agencies also download Facebook data..."

Let's go over these arguments & intuitions, describe where they might be coming from and what they might represent.

My initial reaction to the exposé of Cambridge Analytica advocating certain 'underhand' (i.e. illegal) tactics in their method of corporate and public manipulation was relief.

Relief that I wasn't going mad with paranoia, that the various academics and reporters who have been describing these very tactics by companies like Cambridge Analytica were not false, or exaggerated, or otherwise wrong.

Secondly, I thought of how this massive public 'data breach' would be received and I felt hopeful that the outcry would be such that people would look again at how they are using social media and how it was using them.

Then I felt the cynical wave of, "what else did you expect?" Of course, these companies, these politicians, were always corrupt, were always working in co-operation to collectively mislead, misdirect, and control. "Why bother? Nothing will change, it's just the way things are."

So, here's where we are now.

There are those that steadfastly stick to their political lines, by supporting their team, because they've taken this as a direct attack on their boys because they happen to be the one's named; that is, Trump, UKIP, Leave Campaign, etc. Their defense is to retort, "why blame Trump (et al) when Hillary, Obama (and so on) are doing the same thing." This is already a popular tactic in 'debates' on Social Media, to simply shift blame or distract the initial complaint with accusations of their own, i.e. "we're not Nazis, you're the Nazis for calling us Nazis, Nazi!" This makes the initial complainant then have to defend their position, rather than the initial point, that is, it is made personal/emotional and is therefore deflected. Now, whether those who employ this tactic are simply 'team supporting' and are therefore missing the broader point, which is, it doesn't matter who is doing this, but that there is high-level support of voter manipulation and corruption underway across the so-called democratic 'Western' powers and that they are getting away with doing it. This should be an issue that is beyond party politics and should unite those of use who purport to speak for freedom and other apparent democratic virtues.

Then there are those who take this as a definitional problem. It's not data breach, it's not a theft on me because it was legally acquired, they didn't hack into computers, the companies gave up the data, it was just that it was 'misused' which is an ethical choice rather than legal choice. Basically, the problem here is not the ethical conundrum, but that people are misusing the word 'breach' that's the real problem! Words mean nothing anymore and we can't even have this debate until people are clear about whether it was a breach or not. What exactly is the legal definition of moral culpability? And so forth. Indeed, this is very close to the defense of the rich and famous (and every global corporation) who 'hide' their finances in offshore accounts so as to avoid paying taxes. "Well," they say, "it's not illegal illegal is it? I mean. it's certainly bad ethically, but they haven't done anything wrong by law have they? And anyway, if YOU had that money you'd DO IT TOO!"

Next, we've got those that say, "I've got nothing to hide, so why should I worry?" That is, I only share a certain amount of data, I'm careful with what I post and say online, it doesn't effect me directly, so I'm probably alright. There are plenty of problems with this attitude, as I've expressed before, but briefly the error is that it's not actually up to you whether what you do and say is 'of interest' or not, but as usual if you're in the majority group(s) there's probably less chance that you'll be targeted, let's just hope that things don't change then and that you suddenly find that your views are now 'outside' or such like...

Finally, as I see it, we've got I'm okay with it. "I know the circumstances, I was always-already aware of the possibility of data loss, there's nothing I've shared that I'm worried about, I'd signed up willingly and it doesn't effect me." So, similar to the last one, but more blatant. It, like all of these positions, are different levels of endorsement of the status quo, of not wanting to 'rock the boat' on the chance that something bad might happen to me or my group(s) of interest.

If you already find yourself labelled a radical, or an outsider, there's certainly less for you to lose, or so it might seem, but even the everyday 'allies' of these groups are participating in this rejectionist behaviour. The retreat to "that's just how it is."

There is something more endemic going on here, it seems to me, the fear to break the control of our masters, because that's how it's always been. Even if, these structures aren't ancient and long-lasting as they are presented, but that they are instead constantly being developed and reacting to changes in society. (A society that they seek to control and mollify.) The first step would be to stop participating in their propaganda for them.

However, if you've never known of a different way of thinking, if the only way is Capitalism, then this is just how it has to be. It might not be the best of all possible worlds, but it certainly isn't the worse either. That is the lie, to help us sleep on. "Worry not, keep shopping, keep participating, because what's the alternative?" If every possible change to the status quo is portrayed as potentially violently destructive and damaging, who in their right mind would sign up for it? Sure, it's bad now, but kicking back will only make this worse, all we have to do is 'grow up' and deal it with it in the way that we've been taught to.

And even if you are still thinking that this is wrong and that there must be a better way, you can't name it can you? You can show how it would immediately work to totally replace our current system with complete success, CAN YOU? So, therefore, why even try?

So, where do we start, can we break this cycle, do we really want to?