Sympathy for the Fascist

I was reading today about Peter Cvjetanovic, identified as an “angry racist” from the Charlottesville march this weekend, and his claim that he’s “not the angry racist that they see in that photo”. And his classmates’ response that yes, he is.

The guy is clearly a low-life. Many on the left are hoping that he never gets a job, that this taints him for life. And then it occured to me: that’s what the Fascists want, too.

They want their followers to be nobodies, with no hope, who don’t believe they can think for themselves. They want grunts with no faith in their own abilities, who can be taught to kick down and salute up.

When we tell a Fascist that they’re a nobody, we cement them into their organisations, because they have nowhere else to go.

They would rather be a Fascist than a nobody – that’s already the choice they were faced with, and made, and we’re just confirming it for them.

So: Fascists, if you’re reading this (unlikely, I know) – you can be somebody. You can be anybody. But not on the path you’re on. Because your leaders don’t want you to be somebody. They want you to be a cog in the machine that’s lifting them up – and leaving you stuck right where you are.

They want you to recite the talking points they gave you (yes, James Damore, I’m talking to you too) and not question them. They want you to know that your leaders in your little Fascist club are smarter than you and better than you, and you’d better follow them because no-one else can help you.

But they’re wrong. You can be better than gunfodder, and you can do better things that beat up on women and black people. You just have to decide to do it. This is literally your choice. Be a nobody in the Fascist cause, beating up other people to feel less useless, or start to take control of your own life.

Your choice.

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Platt case: inflexibility wins

I’ve been following this¬†case with worry. I’m not entirely comfortable with Jon Platt’s confrontational approach, and I can see the need for schools to have high attendance.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/apr/06/supreme-court-upholds-ban-on-term-time-holidays-jon-platt-unauthorised-break

Regardless, I really can’t approve of this judgement. I understand that there is a need to balance (a) parents’ needs for flexibility, (b) schools’ needs to have children there at predictable times, and (c) children’s needs for an education. But this ruling seems to say that rules can/should be enforced rigidly, regardless of circumstance, and that’s rarely helpful.

Remember that the original rule change was the government *removing* headteachers’ rights to agree to absence in term time. This was not a school vs parents case, it was about whether the government rules can override parents’ and teachers’ judgement.

Why aren’t banks called ‘house builders’ any more?

So I just made a joke on Twitter.

And then I realised that, since I used to work in a investment bank, and I know plenty of people who still work in investment banks, I was probably going to have to justify the joke.

So firstly, I’m going to emphasize that this was a joke. Banks have good sides and bad sides, I don’t really think that they’re all the enemy.

But secondly, I think that the joke was totally justified. Because we don’t call banks ‘house-builders’ since 2007-2008. I’m sure you know the joke. It starts “In the winter that I moved here, I built this house from the ground up with my own hands. But they don’t call me ‘Jan the house-builder'”.

Like it or not, in 2007-2008, we had a bad crisis, and the banks played a very large part in that. We’re still suffering the after-effects which include austerity and, possibly, the return of fascism. It’s not a small thing. Sloppy bank risk management and a general attitude of “if we make money, someone else can clear up afterwards” played no small part in creating the problem.

So if anyone in a bank objects to being the butt of a joke, I’m afraid this isn’t going to go away. If you don’t want people making jokes about you, don’t fuck a goat global economy.

Is Trump a Fascist?

I’m figuring this out quite slowly, so apologies if this is all obvious to you. I haven’t lived through something like this before, and it’s a bit startling when it happens. But I have just reached the following conclusions.

After the first few hectic days when Trump took power, and started doing everything he could by executive order, things seem to have settled down to a more stable pattern.¬†Trump’s Muslim ban is on hold, by order of a court. Trump is facing a legal challenge that he is in breach of the constitution.

What is at stake here is this: can the US constitution’s checks and balances actually be enforced? The US model of separation of the powers¬†between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary is well-known. What Trump has done is clearly in breach of conventions and laws designed to put checks on the President’s power. What Trump (or Bannon) are trying to do is find out whether those checks hold.

What is at stake is nothing less than whether the US does actually have rule of law.

As a quick reminder, Bannon’s a pretty unpleasant guy. He’s also linked with the international far-right (neo-Nazis), who he has helped to rebrand as the alt-right. These are the typical racist thugs that in the UK we know as the BNP, historically.

Bannon and his ilk see the checks and balances on power as things that stand in their way. The idea that there are legal restrictions protecting other people’s rights are simply blocks to be overcome. This is a concerted effort to overcome them. It seems long-planned and co-ordinated. The fact that Trump’s first executive orders were illegal is not impetuousness or incompetence, it’s essential. Because the first thing that Trump needs to do is manage to break the rule of law, to defy the courts and win.

And that is what he is trying to do now. He will not be bothered that a court case is being brought against him; that’s part of the plan. He probably expects to lose. The decisive question is, when the courts rule against him, can they enforce that?

If not, then the rule of law is broken and Trump can do what he likes.

The answer to the question in the title is: Is Trump fascist? He’s trying to be. Let’s hope he fails.

Morgan vs McGregor, or the problem of trolls

I’m sure that if you’re alive, you’ve heard about the row between Piers Morgan and Ewan McGregor.

What’s interesting is the outcome for each person.

For Piers Morgan, he already has a reputation as a nasty guy, and he boosts his popularity amongst his followers by attacking anyone who disagrees with him. Because, let’s face it, his followers are people who like seeing him attack anyone who disagrees with him. The overall outcome for him is positive.

For Ewan McGregor, very few people are likely to boycott his films because of his politics so long as he makes good films. And anyone who actually would bother to boycott his films probably already does, because his politics are fairly well-known. So the overall outcome is unlikely to be negative.

And this, friends, is why trolls exist. No-one is actually suffering from this exchange. Well, no men. Women’s rights are still being held back, but Piers Morgan doesn’t care and Ewan McGregor can say that he’s done what he can.

If there’s a moral to all this, it’s don’t bother reading the celebrity gossip, get out and protest.

Free Speech Faces Empirical Test #Trump

I have been witness to a lot of arguments about free speech over the years, and I haven’t made up my mind where I stand. On the one hand, there are strong arguments that freedom of speech preserves other essential freedoms, and that we must be able to speak truth to power. However, there are¬†also strong arguments that hate speech is harmful and that ‘free’ speech embodies and exaggerates existing power imbalances. However, it occurs to me that with the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, we have a unique opportunity to see an empirical test¬†on the key arguments for and against free speech.

Here are a few of the key arguments for free speech.

  1. Free speech by itself is not, and can never be, harmful. If free speech encourages people to violence, the laws already exist to deal with the violence itself, there is no need to criminalise free speech.
  2. Free speech can be used to air extreme positions, but it can also be used to argue against them. Allowing extremists and zealots to speak freely will show up the inherent flaws in their arguments and weaken them in the long run.
  3. Free speech must be protected because any limitations on free speech would inevitably be used by authoritarian leaders to limit their opposition. We must therefore protect free speech in its purest form to prevent authoritarians from silencing speech against them.
  4. Freedom of speech is a Good Thing in its own right, needing no purpose to justify its existence.

If these hold, then I would predict:

  1. Donald Trump’s campaign and election should not cause an uptick in racial violence, or if there is such an uptick it should lead to successful prosecutions which suppress the violence quickly. (See also Brexit).
  2. Donald Trump’s racist arguments should have led to widespread ridicule in the media and amongst the populace, and weakened his campaign whenever he made them.
  3. Donald Trump will be unable to limit or restrict criticism or opposition in the media or by the public because free speech is an important right in the US and limiting it would not be tolerated.
  4. Okay, so #4 isn’t really empirically testable. We’ll let this one pass for now.

So how does the evidence look?

I would argue that currently there is¬†strong evidence against #2, and strong evidence from the UK (Brexit) against #1. There is also starting to be evidence from the US against #1.¬†We don’t know as yet about #3; we will have to wait for Donald Trump to actually take power. I will be interested to see the results.

By the middle of next year, we may be in a good position to be able to decide empirically whether it is acceptable to ban hate speech. Although by then it may be too late to do anything about it.

Note: I am not against freedom of speech broadly. I do feel that there should be limits on speech inciting hatred or violence. I broadly believe that anything taken to its extreme,tends to be a bad idea, and that includes defending freedom of speech with absolutely no limitations. However, *if* Trump is unable to prevent criticism or limit the media, then maybe it was all worth it. 

Why I Will Not Stop “Moaning” About Brexit

I just had a discussion on Facebook, prompted by this article, and I would like it to have a wider audience. Because I am pissed off.

Leave voters, who wanted out of the EU, are arguing that it would be unfair if some Britons are allowed to keep their EU citizenship because it would be “discrimination”. FFS.¬†Now I think it’s quite unlikely that some Brits will get to choose to keep their EU citizenship, but that’s a side issue.

Rant warning….

What pisses me off is that I’m losing a whole bunch of rights. I’m losing my EU citizenship. I’m losing my right to vote in EU elections. I’m losing my right to travel freely in Europe. I’m losing my right to live in Europe. I have no say in this, it’s all being taken away from me without my consent. And Leave voters are saying “Just stop moaning”. NO. Like fuck! I’d like to see them not moan if they suddenly had a whole bunch of rights taken away from them. And instead they’re complaining at the *horror* that they might not be able to deny me those rights, and I might get to choose to keep them? I’m fucking furious. I WILL NOT shut up about having my rights taken away without my consent, no matter how many other people voted for it. It. Is. Not. Okay.

Walking Home, Late at Night

Did you read the title and think “Don’t do that”? Would you have thought that if I was a guy?

I just read this story about sexual abuse. And I wasn’t going to comment, because nothing too bad¬†has ever happened to me.

I mean obviously, there were all the times in senior school, when I was eleven or twelve, that men tried to chat me up at bus stops. Too many to remember, although one in particular stands out for asking me to guess all the things he wanted to do to me. I wanted to get away, but it was the bus stop I got off at and my mum was meeting me there. I ran to the car when she arrived.

I’ve had men rub up against me or grab my butt more times than I can remember on the Tube, coming home late at night. Sometimes I had been out with friends and was dressed up, sometimes I’d been at work and was in a suit. Sometimes it wasn’t late at night, just crowded enough for someone to get away with it. Christmas shopping crowds¬†are a pain in the butt, literally.

It was a bit scary¬†the time I went out with a group of female friends in London for New Year’s Eve. About ten of us in a line, trying to weave¬†through the crowds to where we were going, holding hands so that we didn’t get separated. I was last in the line, because no one else wanted to be. One guy grabbed me by the crotch and literally lifted me off the ground, trying to drag me away from my friend. He was with a group of about five or six men, so I was clinging on to my friend’s hand trying not to be dragged away, and she was clinging on to me and the person in front of her, trying to get the line to stop and come help me. That was quite scary.

But the scariest bit is that this is all routine. So many women¬†I know have the same sort of stories. It hasn’t happened to them once – it happens regularly. We just don’t go out at night, or don’t go out alone, we self-censor our lives. Being in a pub or bar alone – dangerous. Being in a crowd alone – dangerous. Travelling at night alone – dangerous. Going to a club alone – wouldn’t even think of it.

Men sometimes make fun of this. Women – always hang about in groups¬†at a club. Women, always going to the toilet together. Women, walking each other to a taxi rank. Aren’t they supportive? Aren’t they gossipy? Aren’t they silly?

No, we’re not silly. We’re afraid. And all the harassment and abuse is just there to remind us that we do need to be. If we venture out alone, if we’re over-confident, bad things happen.¬†I don’t think men, even really supportive feminist guys, really have a clue how deeply ingrained in our behaviour this stuff is. And it all starts with these accounts of abuse that¬†you’re reading, happening when we’re still children, that show us that we’re not safe alone.

The Labour leadership contest’s elephant in the room is trust

Social media is an echo chamber, and I know a lot of Labour supporters. So I have read a lot of articles on the Labour leadership recently. Just this morning, I read this Fabians article by Andrew Harrop, this article by Owen Jones, and this by Neal Lawson.

And then it occurred to me that despite the differences of opinion, one thing that¬†they all have in common is a lack of trust. Andrew Harrop doesn’t trust Corbyn supporters to think about the voters who need Labour or to want to win elections. Neal Lawson doesn’t trust any of the candidates supported by the PLP not to try moving Labour back towards the right again.

Owen Jones poses some very important questions – to which I haven’t seen satisfactory answers by either side – but the candidates answering the questions would still be pointless if we can’t believe what they say. And to believe them requires a trust that is missing in Labour at the moment.

Owen Smith talks a good left-wing policy, but he also talks about immigration being a problem, and it’s not so long since he joined in Labour’s shameful abstention on the welfare bill.¬†The Labour PLP say that they want to win elections, but have spent the last twelve months undermining their leader, before taking the first chance to try and oust him. And Momentum say that they want to be inclusive, but then turn a blind eye to intimidation and abuse of anyone who disagrees with them.

I probably won’t be voting in the Labour leadership elections, having left the party in February 2015. I haven’t rejoined because I don’t trust that the party has changed in any permanent way from the party that I left. I would very much like to be part of a Labour party that I trust to represent me, and to represent that people that desperately need its help.

But trust seems to be the thing that we’re short of.

Not a Corbynista

I’m getting quite fed up of being called a Corbynista. Not, I should add, because it’s an offensive term for someone who supports Corbyn; not because it’s reductionist, deliberately trying to imply that anyone who supports Corbyn is a left-wing revolutionary extremist; not because I dislike the dichotomy of splitting the whole of the Labour Party into two camps, Blairite and Corbynista.

I mean, I agree with all of those points. They’re just not the main reason that I hate being called a Corbynista. The main reason it really winds me up is that I don’t particularly support Jeremy Corbyn.

I don’t hate Corbyn. I like some of his ideas. And I strongly believe that the Labour Party needed to move back towards the left, having followed the Tories too far to the right and conceded too many arguments without a fight. But I can definitely see that Corbyn seems to be struggling with the “leader” part of being the party leader. He would be better, I suspect, in some kind of policy think tank¬†where he can work through the various arguments and produce ideas for the party to consider.

Nevertheless, any expression of approval for anything that Corbyn does gets me branded as a Corbynista, and any disapproval gets me branded as a Blairite. I have already¬†been called both. Not yet by the same person – but it feels like it’s only a matter of time.

Also, I’m not even currently a member of the Labour Party!

What I would really like is for Labour to find a leader who is willing to stand up to the Tories and fight their ideas, to develop a strong platform of moderately left-wing ideas, and to communicate those well to the public. That would be great. If they could form an electoral alliance with the SNP and/or Greens against the Tories, that would be even better.

Until then, I will carry on watching with interest, and hoping that things improve enough that I no longer feel unwelcome in the party that I have been a member of for much of my adult life.