The Great Unfriending

It’s official: I’m a very rare breed of social media user.

A scientific study of Twitter interactions on climate change discovered that almost all people who tweet about climate change are only listened to by people who already agree with them. Or to put it another way, they’re probably wasting their time. The people who bridge the gap between the two sides are so unusual that some are listed by name. They include Richard Betts of the Met Office, New York Times environment writer Andy Revkin, “… and an account named @moronwatch”.

This isn’t to say that I’m ambivalent on climate change: I’ve often taken the piss out of climate change deniers on this blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. So I was very proud to learn that I’m one of the tiny minority that has had the opportunity to change minds on climate change.

But beyond my personal little triumph, the finding is profoundly depressing. Increasingly, and globally, people on social media are building themselves tight little echo chambers. After May’s general election, I saw a spate of updates from Facebook friends, proudly boasting of unfriending Tory voters. Then, following the historic and wonderful Supreme Court decision last week that finally brought gay marriage to all 50 US states, it happened again. People who should have been overjoyed (and magnanimous in victory) instead showing off that they had deleted friends who expressed concerns over the judgement.

But why? What purpose is served by deleting someone with opposing views? If one holds a view strongly, surely one also wants to influence other people’s views too? That, after all, is why I blog, at times, about climate change: because it’s an important issue, and it’s important to change minds.

And likewise, I want to challenge homophobic, racist and other views I encounter. I have many black friends on Facebook, many of whom are religious; black Christians (in my experience) are far more likely to express homophobic, or at least anti-gay marriage views (it’s debatable whether these are the same thing or not). Last week I witnessed anti-gay marriage comments from three Facebook friends – all black Christians. In each case I could have unfriended, or just ignored. But this issue matters to me, so in each case I responded, and made similar points: 1) I disagree with you, 2) I respect (and will defend) your right to hold your views, 3) I’m open to further discussion and would like to change your mind.

In interacting with these three people, I believe I did far more for the cause of combatting homophobia than did any person that decided to delete “homophobic friends” on the basis of their own supposed “tolerance”. In fact, if anybody turned back the clock on gay rights, it was those people who witnessed homophobic views, and decided to ignore them.

To delete “homophobes”, “racists” and other evildoers is to create a childlike view of the world in which every person can be stamped with a simple label of either good or evil. It denies the existence of shades of grey, or the fact that good people can be flawed. It is the action, not of a liberal or tolerant person, but of a self-centred and selfish individual. It expresses a simple belief that so long as MY view of the world is shiny and nice, then the world is a shiny and nice place. It is an abrogation of responsibility to improve the world. I’ll go further: by burning bridges, it makes the world a worse place, building up walls between increasingly hostile tribes.

Ironically, most of the people I personally encounter expressing racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, sexist, transphobic or homophobic views are black. To selectively cleanse my friends would be to make my circle whiter. Most of the “liberals” I see deleting friends have almost exclusively white, middle-class social circles. What kind of liberal doesn’t extend their social networks beyond their own narrow social and racial groups?

How do you tackle racism, if your world-view says you must unfriend anyone expressing what you consider to be a racist view? How do you deal with homophobia if you won’t talk to homophobes? By deleting friends, you reveal yourself as intolerant, closed-minded and apathetic. You show yourself incapable of, and disinterested in, making the world a better place.

In 1984, Orwell wrote about doublethink, which twisted the meanings of words beyond recognition. Aptly, this was a creed of English Socialism – INGSOC – which had taken left-wing values and twisted them to mean the exact opposite of their original meaning. An INGSOC slogan was: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”.

Let’s add one more to that: Intolerance is Tolerance. By turning on the minority opposed to gay marriage, today’s mob is no different from any other majority that hated any other minority. In this case, the mob is more likely than the average to be white, middle-class and well educated. A white, privileged mob shunning and marginalising a poorer, darker minority. Ring any bells? Same shit, different era.

What Does Fascism Look Like?

Let me first apologise – my ‘three part’ series “Are Women Oppressed?” is taking its time: only part 1 has been written so far. I’m working on a book, which I hope to announce soon – this (and caring for a young child) has sapped my available blogging time. Tangentially, the book will cover the same subject area as this post: the renewed rise of fascism, and the need to reinvent the left as a progressive force once again.

The book will be announced soon, I hope. please join my mailing list to learn more. I will also be dropping my pseudonymity… who is MoronWatch? Watch this space…

Inevitably, a comment on the first post accused me of being “reactionary”. This makes my point. The new, conservative left uses the language of the old, progressive left but without the understanding that was once there. The “Are Women Oppressed?” series is to demonstrate this point: the old organs of the left – including the feminist movement – have become reactionary. Their language is similar, but their goals have reversed. The new claim of “female oppression” (which has only really surfaced in the past few years) is a fascistic one with the purpose of turning back the clock on women’s rights. All progressive movements will decay, if they’re allowed to survive long enough.

I hate to pull rank (OK, cancel that – I enjoy it), but I have impeccable left-wing credentials. I descend from a century of socialists and communists, and was very active on the left from the late-70s and through into the 90s. I had – still have – links into the old revolutionary movements, including the ANC’s radical generation. 35 years ago, the bright young things were tempted by the fragmented Trotskyist movement. Today, smart young people in politics appear to be clustering around libertarianism. The point for progressives then is to make the case for left-wing libertarianism, as I have tried to do.

Fascism is a deep, socially conservative, anti-sex, authoritarian and anti-science ideology. It is neither inherently right nor left. Yes, the left is correct that 1930s fascism, born in Italy and then in a more extreme form in Germany, was a right-wing movement. That doesn’t mean it will be this time around. The key thing to understand about fascism is that it comes from the grassroots, not from above. It is the mob, mobilised to attack progress. That’s why it is the most frightening of all political tendencies. To see how 21st century fascism might look, don’t get too distracted by the UKIP types. They are the dying embers of the old fascism, endlessly rehashing old xenophobic messages. It’s no accident that the typical UKIP voter is older than average. The creation of UKIP, in the longer run, will be beneficial to the centre-right. The Tories have shed their most poisonous tendencies and are thus able to move back towards the centre. This will benefit them in the mid-term.

Where are the young fascists? Those are the ones to watch.

A look at the No More Page 3 campaign gives a hint. hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition against female nudity: the progressive feminists of the 1960s would be horrified. Although it operates under a veneer of feminism, those who have encountered the movement close-up have found it to be heavily religious in nature. This campaign has united Britain’s largest trade union with the girl guides… The old anti-rape organisations that emerged from the Women’s Lib era have given up chasing rapists, and put their names to a movement that seeks to claim women’s bodies are dangerous and must be covered up. They are blaming women for rape, though a little more subtly than the old “don’t dress like a slut” brigade. If the campaign had called itself British Mothers for Chastity, the left might have been suspicious. But fascism moves on; it is a worm that seeks to embed itself in the softest spots of society. If masquerading under the banner of “women’s rights” is to tactical advantage, that’s where it will be found.

When the British Christian morality movement fizzled out, its ideas found a new home. If you can’t beat feminism, you reinvent it as a wholesome, pure, anti-sex idea. NMP3 has cleverly used the left’s tribal hatred of the Sun and Murdoch… and what’s not to hate? But the Sun’s heyday is long gone. It is a declining force, and so makes for an easy target. To see the ranks of the organised left march in (goose-)step behind a closeted Christian morality campaign is worrying indeed.

The anti-racism movement has gone the same way. Just as with “female oppression”, the new shout of “white privilege” didn’t originate in the civil rights era, or in the anti-racism movement of the 70s and 80s. It’s a new slogan, and created with the intent of turning back the clock on equality, and trying to redefine people by their skin colour. Tellingly, this expression seems designed to taunt poor, white, working-class people into joining ranks with the far-right. It is good, old-fashioned race-baiting. A century after the peak of European power, and with China, India and even Africa rising, now fascists have decided to proclaim the end to racial equality with the creation of the bogus idea of white privilege. Attacking racial equality is the home turf of fascism. Only the slogans have changed.

In South Africa, fascism today means that immigrants are lynched by locals. This isn’t the first time – it happened on a larger scale in 2008, and back in the 1940s. If this was happening in Europe, the left might understand what was going on, but when black people kill other blacks, they don’t recognise fascism in action. Instead, ludicrously, this is blamed on “the legacy of Apartheid” or colonialism. And so the left has adopted the most colonial type of thinking. Black people, they seem to think, are like children who copy the bad habits of we white adults. It doesn’t seem to cross their minds that Africans are just as capable of xenophobic brutality, for their own ends, as we are. Just as elsewhere, the old South African heart of progressivism – the ANC – has imploded, become conservative and corrupt. The ANC’s new generation of leaders have enriched themselves. So has the left-wing “outsider” opponent to the ANC, Julius Malema: simultaneously a “revolutionary” and a multi-millionaire who spreads racial division. Once a revolution is done, the revolutionary organs will rot.

The very concepts of “left” and “right” have dissolved into meaninglessness. Progressives need to take a step back and re-examine their beliefs: equality, individual liberty, democracy and evidence-based thought form the bedrock of progressivism. The last great liberal era – of anti-colonialism, anti-racism, women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights – was a full half-century ago. Nostalgia for the good old days of revolution, Labour, trade unionism and equality is blinding the new left to the reality of the new fascism. It’s time to move on.

Are Women Oppressed? Part 1…

By definition, a political movement needs a shared set of political goals. By that measure, there have been two feminist movements in history: first wave, which fought primarily for the women’s right to vote, and second wave (aka Women’s Lib) which fought primarily on issues of sexual liberation (abortion, contraception, recognition of rape within marriage) and equality under law.

Although there are still plenty of people calling themselves feminists, and one hears of third and fourth wave feminism (anyone raise me to fifth?), political feminism fizzled out in the mid-1970s, having achieved its goals. From that point on, we’ve been landed with cultural feminism, putting forward a vague, often contradictory set of values and beliefs, but no coherent political movement. I’ve often asked “feminist” friends what feminism is, and the answer generally goes something like: “I believe in women’s rights. Well, I guess I believe in human rights really. So…”

The basic problem is that feminism requires a set of goals that apply to all women. Unfortunately, it can’t seem to find any that weren’t already addressed 40 or more years ago. This doesn’t stop feminists claiming they know what women want or need; and in turn, this explains why most women have no interest in defining themselves as feminists any more. There are no identifiable political objectives that unite all, or even most, women, any more than there are issues that unite all men.

In place of political demands, which can be fulfilled, today’s feminists instead claim that women are “oppressed” or suffer from “structural misogyny” or similar. And thus, unlike the short-lived first and second wave feminist movements, today’s “movement” has no goals, and so can live forever. Feminism has morphed from a political movement to a quasi-religious one, railing against its own demon, The Patriarchy. Today’s feminism claims it wants to bring down The Patriarchy and end Female Oppression. Since The Patriarchy is imaginary, this movement can live on forever.

But what about female oppression? Given the widespread belief in this phenomenon, one would expect it to be easy to define and quantify. Once quantified, a political programme could be drawn up to end it, and feminism can be victorious once and for all. But it turns out that the idea of systemic female oppression has little or no solid evidence to back it. Indeed, it is based on a series of myths that, over the decades, have become cemented into articles of religious faith. Try to question these beliefs, and believers will respond like the disciples of any other religion: with anger and abuse. Blasphemy against this faith will make you a Misogynist, a Rape Apologist or a tool of the Patriarchy. You will be burned at the virtual stake.

In the following two articles, I will look at the evidence for female oppression: firstly, the economic case, and second the issue of gender violence.

Parts 2 and 3 are coming soon: to ensure you don’t miss any MoronWatch articles, please join my mailing list.

Should Progressives Vote for the Green Party?

British politics are getting more interesting. The two parties that have shared power for most of a century, along with the traditional third party, are all in decline. Scotland is undergoing a nationalistic surge, and has become – for the time being – a one-party state. Insurgent parties of right and left are in the ascendency. Much discussion goes on about the nature of UKIP, but the Greens have been under far less scrutiny. Urban liberals, disenchanted with Labour and the Liberal Democrats have drifted greenwards.

The Green Party has adopted the kinds of left-wing talking points that would appeal to disenchanted progressives in search of a new party, but its roots lie in environmentalism. Although the environmental movement has become associated with the left in recent decades, its instincts lie in true, small-c conservatism: a deeply-held belief that the old ways are the good ways. Because of this, the Greens have a dodgy relationship with science and high-technology solutions.

Continue reading Should Progressives Vote for the Green Party?

Right-wing vs Left-wing Libertarianism

MoronWatch came into existence to take snarky aim, on Twitter, at right-wing stupidity, religious/superstitious fundamentalism, bigotry and state brutality – a mish-mash of interests which all come under the umbrella of “moron-watching”. Those who have followed my blog for a while will realise the wheels began to come off this objective a couple of years ago, as my eyes were opened to immense depths of stupidity on the left as well as the right. Having been active on the left for a while in the 80s, I’ve been shocked and saddened by the intellectual decline that has taken place on the left while I’ve not been paying attention.

Continue reading Right-wing vs Left-wing Libertarianism

Dear Co-op …

A letter from Edie Lamort, feminist and sexual freedom activist, to the Co-operative Group about their latest censorship decision.

Just over five years ago I bought a flat in London SE1. One of my local shops happened to be the Co-op and on my first visit I picked up a Co-op membership form. Loyalty cards can come in handy after all, you get discounts and bonus points. This week the Co-op announced that they had given in to pressure from extremist groups and decided that Lads Mags must come in modesty bags. So as a Co-op member I decided to write a letter to Chief Executive, Steve Murrells. Here it is:

Steve Murrells
Co-operative Group Limited
PO Box 53
New Century House
Manchester
M60 4ES

31st July 2013

Dear Steve Murrells

As the Co-op is one of my local stores I decided to become a member and to use it when I can. I prefer use the independent shops and the Co-op rather than give yet more money to the ubiquitous Tesco. However with this weeks news that the Co-op will be demanding that Lad’s Mags to be sold in modesty bags I will no longer be shopping my local Co-op. The reasons for this are as follows.

As a woman I find the current trend towards more puritan values very disturbing. Lobby groups such as UK Feminista and Object represent the more extreme and fanatical end of this trend and I am very disappointed that the Co-op has buckled under pressure from them. With the proposed censoring of the Internet last week and the general moral panic at the moment about ‘sexualisation’ this is another retrograde step. It is almost like we are experiencing a sexual counter-revolution.

I am worried about this overall message that demonises the female body and buys into centuries old patriarchal tradition that female flesh is sinful and corrupting. It is this mentality that spurred the Witch Trials of the 16th Century and in more recent times has cast a veil of silence over sexual abuse. It leads to an environment where people are made to feel shame about a perfectly natural urge leading to anger and frustration rather than self-awareness and understanding.

The message the Co-operative is sending out is that it agrees with the backward idea that female sexuality and the female body is essentially a corrupting and bad thing and therefore must be hidden. That the female body is dirty, wrong, and bad. It is also extremely hypocritical as celebrity magazines such as OK and Heat are far more salacious and negative about bodies. I find it bizarre that you are ok with these gossip mags that foment insecurity around cellulite, weight etc but are not with ones showing confident and liberated women. Will you also require them to be covered up? What about videos games that regularly feature violence?

We have come along way since the 60s, and the emancipation of all of us to wear what we like (a woman will not longer be branded ‘tart’ for wearing a short skirt) and to explore our sexual selves, which has been a very important social force. I can guarantee you that if this trend towards puritanism continues we will see a rise in sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. This is because the message you and others are sending is that sex and especially of the female kind is inherently wrong. This will make zealots more confident about chastising the ‘temptress’ or slut-shaming women who dare to be emancipated. The train of thought that goes ‘oh she’s a slut look at her she deserved it’ will be encouraged by actions such as modesty bags.

It also seems like a cheap publicity stunt, similar to David Cameron’s unworkable Internet porn ban. I am aware that the Co-operative Group is not the best financial shape and that a sensational press release will raise brand awareness for far less money than a broadcast advertising campaign.

I would urge you to reconsider your actions; meanwhile please find enclosed my membership card, as I no longer wish to be associated with your company.

Regards

A member

Please feel free to add your voice at steve.murrells@co-operative.coop or write a letter to the Manchester head office address above.

Sex Work & Feminism, This-ism, That-ism, Ism! Ism! Ism!

Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism
All we are saying is give peace a chance

In the 1980s, lefties like me dismissed John Lennon’s lyrics as utopian hippy bullshit. Those people who identified as Socialists, Marxists, Maoists, Trotskyists, Communists, Feminists, Fabianites, Anarchists etc. were dismissive of those mindless ideology-free fools. If you couldn’t put an -ism to your name, what kind of spineless person were you?

It became apparent as I grew older that -isms are not so much about believing strongly in something as wanting to belong to a tribe. And who doesn’t want to belong? I used to think that people like Marx and Trotsky had created brilliant new ways of looking at the world. And I still do. But I suspect that Marx and Trotsky would be deeply embarrassed at most of the Marxists and Trotskyists in the world. Great men are great for the very reason that they think for themselves. The reason so many people like -isms is because they would rather let somebody else think for them.

These labels of tribal identity have become so ossified that they have lost their meanings. I’ve met conservatives who call themselves Marxists, and progressives who think they’re conservatives. A label comes with a handy set of “beliefs”, which people can adopt without going through the tiresome process of actually thinking.

As I’ve blogged before, it’s not that I’m no longer left-wing – it’s more that the left has become dogmatic, conservative and stupid in its thinking – the very opposite of what it used to be. All groups become stale and stuck in conservative ways of thinking. The left’s intellectual heyday was in the 19th century – no wonder it is tired and conservative these days.

Feminism is another label that has lost all sense of its roots. First wave feminism fought for the vote and women’s property rights in the 19th century. Second wave feminism fought for gender equality, the recognition of rape as a serious crime (including in marriage) and sexual liberation for women. Having moved on from these goals, 1980s feminism split into various opposing fragments.

Like all other -isms, most people call themselves feminists as a handy tribal label. Most feminists today don’t know much about feminist history, any more than Marxists have read Marx. I’ve heard people say things like “I’m a feminist, so I am opposed to porn”. This is dumb at two levels – first, that feminists don’t automatically oppose porn (though some do), and second because it isn’t a reasoning process, but a mere statement of identity. People who make such statements have clearly not thought through the issues for themselves, but simply adopted somebody else’s ideas as their own.

I’ve written quite a lot about conservative feminism vs. sex-positive feminism. Some people who haven’t paid enough attention have accused me of attacking feminism; and yet, I’m pointing out that feminism has been attacked from within. Social conservatives have adopted the feminist label in order to make their ideas seem progressive, and in doing so, have undermined feminism itself.

I’m both amused and pleased that my writing has not only persuaded some progressives that they are no longer feminists, but that I’ve also persuaded at least one male conservative that he is in fact a feminist.

Today marks a day of protest to end violence against sex workers. Although sex workers are of both genders, most of the stigma associated with sex work, and most of the violence, is targeted at women. If there is a cause for feminists to embrace today, this is it. Feminist sex workers are on the front line in this battle, fighting for recognition and against criminalisation. And yet, the most vociferous opponents to recognising sex worker rights include both the religious right and “radical feminists”. These two groups come from very different roots and use very different language, but all too often share platforms to fight for the same goals: censoring sexual expression, stigmatising sexuality, criminalising prostitution, closing down striptease and burlesque venues.

Sex workers have little doubt that criminalisation and stigmatisation increase violence against them. Yet some feminist groups refuse to listen to the workers, claim that no woman in her right mind would choose sex work, and call for the trade to be pushed underground. Feminists succeeded in this goal in Sweden, which introduced the so-called Nordic Model to criminalise the sex trade and push it underground. The Nordic Model is being held responsible by sex workers for the murder of a sex worker and activist known as Petite Jasmine, an event which triggered today’s protests.

I personally doubt that anti-sex work feminist groups genuinely have women’s interests at heart; they have been caught twisting the facts too often to be credible as feminists (as Brooke Magnanti exposed in her book, The Sex Myth). But if they want to call themselves feminists, that is, of course, their right.

As for me, I’m in favour of decriminalising sex work, and agree with sex worker advocates that the Nordic Model is bigoted and dangerous. Does that make me a feminist? Ism ism ism… I’m with John Lennon on this one.