Richard Dawkins: Moron or Bigot?

I write this post with a heavy heart: there was once a time when I had a valid claim to be among Richard Dawkins’ greatest fans. There was a time when I would have treasured a tweet from the great man; but when my moment arrived (last Saturday), I was long past getting excited by it.

I had decided I was an atheist around the age of twelve, but on reaching my twenties, I realised I couldn’t fill all the gaps in my detailed understanding of evolution, and decided I needed to remedy that situation. The remedy was Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker, which I tore through in days, enjoying every page. A little later, I read Dawkins’ first book, and true masterpiece, The Selfish Gene, which blows away the idea that evolution necessarily favours the most violent, selfish individuals, and thus gives a little hope for mankind in a godless universe.

And then, in 2006, came The God Delusion, a highly ambitious project. This time, instead of using biology alone to undermine religious ideas, Dawkins travels across a wide range of philosophical arguments in order to destroy the basis of religious belief. Again, I bought the book almost as soon as it was available (OK, perhaps I waited for the paperback) and read it fast. Again, many of the arguments were fascinating and compelling. In his usual razor-sharp way, the author shredded any possible religious response. The God Delusion is a devastating blow to religious thinking.

But there was something a little different and disturbing about this book. For the first time (at least, the first time I had noticed), the mask of scientific impartiality slipped. Dawkins’ hatred of religion became more pronounced, most blatantly in Chapter 8: “What’s Wrong With Religion? Why be So Hostile?” On its own, this was no problem to me: I’ve never been a fan of religion either. But Dawkins was now attacking the basis of religious freedom, arguing that to teach a child irrational belief was effectively child abuse. The subtext was clear: child abuse cannot be tolerated in a civilised society, and so – if society accepts his argument that religion is indeed abusive – then religion cannot be tolerated either. It’s a position that any fascist would be proud of: “we are too tolerant to tolerate you!”

The intolerance of ideas is a deeply unscientific position, and thus an odd one to be coming from someone who has spent so much of his life promoting science. The Enlightenment – which laid the foundations of modern democracies – was based on the twin ideas of reason and freedom of thought. The fathers of the Enlightenment advocated a free marketplace of ideas as the only model for human advancement. Dawkins himself invented the word meme to model how ideas spread and mutate within such a marketplace. Either Dawkins has no faith that his own ideas could thrive against religious ones in a free marketplace, or his hatred of religion is driven by just that: hatred.

There seems to be a particular type of Twitter atheist that revels in attacking, and trying to upset, religious people. Many of these atheists were raised with religion before becoming atheists, and tend to blame their earlier intolerance on their religion rather than on their own innate wankishness. They seem not to notice that they’re just as intolerant as they used to be: they’ve just converted from being religious wankers into atheist wankers. Dawkins, since taking to Twitter himself, has attracted a large following of such people (and simultaneously lost many of his earlier admirers).

Dawkins’ Twitter rants have become infamous, and he has often been denounced as a bigot. Until recently, I haven’t subscribed to the idea that he is bigoted against any one religion or group; he clearly has a hatred for religion (and religious people) in general. But it has been hard to ignore that he, like so many “enlightened” people, has a special hatred for Muslims (although he would no doubt characterise it as a hatred of Islam rather than the religion’s followers). To my eyes, his crime has been far worse than just irrationally hating people: he has shown himself quite willing to abandon scientific principle in order to demonstrate his dogmatic view that religion is evil. Thus, he will happily tweet about the flogging of a woman for adultery (because the abuse has a religious justification) while ignoring mass slaughter in Congo or Sri Lanka (because he has no interest in rapes or murders that can’t be blamed on religion). This, from a man who was the University of Oxford‘s Professor for Public Understanding of Science for over a decade. Cherry-picking data to suit your dogma is the very crime for which he has correctly castigated purveyors of creationism and Intelligent Design.

Dawkins is also happy to spread anti-Islamic mythology when it serves his purpose. His site purports to be dedicated to removing the influence of religion, and yet carries several articles about female genital mutilation; this is clearly done to perpetuate the myth that FGM is an Islamic practise. But it isn’t: it’s primarily an African cultural one, largely perpetrated by women against their daughters and granddaughters. What do articles about FGM have to do with Dawkins’ war on religion? In reality, nothing, but they help him demonise religion as evil, and stir up intolerance. Clearly, accuracy and truth – things that are at the core of science – matter less than creating hatred against religious people. In trying to destroy religion, Dawkins has adopted the methods of religion.

Is he just naively amplifying far-right propaganda against Muslims, or does he have a far-right agenda of his own? I have long supported the former view, but evidence is increasing for the latter. One of many generic far-right Muslim-baiting Twitter accounts is @JihadistJoe. Although Joe claims to be a running a JIHADIST PARODY, COMEDY & SATIRE account, he seems to have forgotten he’s supposed to be a PARODY. Besides forgetting to tweet in character, Joe also forgets he’s supposed to be tweeting COMEDY. Joe does retweet a lot of bigoted comedy, and yes I admit, some of it is even funny if you can get past the small-minded hatefulness of it all. But Joe’s own material is as funny as you’d expect from someone who’s too stupid to know what “parody” means (i.e. not funny at all).

Dickie’s view differs from mine, however, and on Saturday he tweeted:

As a result of which, Joe acquired several thousand new followers. So Richard Dawkins, man of science, thinks that tweets such as the following are “very funny and DEADLY accurate”?

Laugh-a-minute stuff, and oh! such wonderful parody! At least, Dickie thinks so:

In response to Dawkins’ praise for Joe, I tweeted:

To which he replied:

Being attacked by Dawkins for being shit at biology would be hurtful, but being abused by one of the world’s most humourless men for my lack of humour? I can handle that. Note the “.” to make his tweet public – I was then, of course, bombarded with tweets from moronic Dawkins fans for a while; I make no protest, as I’ve frequently employed the same tactic.

So Dawkins has proven a huge disappointment to me, and many others who admired him as a man of science. Is he really stupid enough to fall for the anti-Muslim propaganda that’s become so prevalent? That seems unlikely; but he seems guilty of the anti-science crime of not questioning data if it backs his own bigoted views. And for that reason, however high his IQ might be, I think it’s fair to say that Richard Dawkins is a moron.

Maria Miller, the Expenses “Scandal” and the Assault on Democracy

Knives are out today for the Culture Secretary Maria Miller. Having been caught over-claiming expenses, and forced to pay back £5,800, her latest crime was to issue an apology that was only 32 seconds in length. The public loves the spectacle of MPs, and especially ministers, in discomfort, and the press is unrelenting in pursuing this important story.

Except, it’s not an important story at all. Since the entire scandal over MPs’ expenses blew up in 2009, the press has revelled in its supposed assault on parliamentary corruption. But the biggest story to emerge was how tiny the extent of the corruption was, amounting to a mere £1m in total. Much of this was not really corrupt at all: MPs, having had their pay driven down in recent years, had been given a wink that they could use the expenses system to make up some of the difference. Only in a handful of cases was there a suspicion of criminal activity.

With honest reporting, the outcome would have been a handful of prosecutions, a review of MPs’ pay (which would probably have concluded that they are somewhat underpaid for what they do), and some national back-patting to congratulate ourselves on having one of the least corrupt political systems on the planet.

Instead, the incident has been endlessly replayed, twisted and exaggerated. I’m no fan of Maria Miller or her government, but I would point out that her original “crime” was almost insignificant; and pursuing her now on the basis that her apology was too short is pathetic.

Why has the scandal been so over-exaggerated? Because it has been used as an assault on our Parliament and our democracy. Five years of endless repetition have left the public with the idea that our parliamentary system is rotten to the core. It is one of a number of essentially false stories that are being used to weaken faith in democratic government.

Combine MPs’ expenses with other popular, but untrue memes: that the Labour government crashed the economy (actually this was caused by bad lending in the US); that the UK’s national debt level is unsustainable (it’s high but we could have paid it down without the need for Osborne’s cuts); and that open borders with the EU have somehow caused the country damage (although economists and business leaders are confident that the opposite is true), and you have a potent formula for undermining British democracy.

There’s no shortage of real scandals to obsess over, should the press decide to. Our police forces have recently been repeatedly exposed as being corrupt to the very top – far more so than MPs. We are spied on as a matter of routine. Our postal service was privatised at far too cheap a price, costing us around 750 times the cost of the expenses débâcle.

Many MPs are cowardly, display a faltering grasp of complex issues and fail to provide the parliamentary leadership we need. Many of them are morons. But they’re our morons. We created this Parliament by allowing ourselves to be distracted from big issues by dishonest reporting. By holding MPs to ludicrously high standards of behaviour that we apply to nobody else, we end up by filling Parliament with dull mediocrities. If we want better MPs, we should participate in politics, and elect better MPs. That’s a power we have, thanks to generations of people who fought for democracy.

But instead, the public (or its most moronic members, anyway) is increasingly convinced that democracy is failing, and that action must be taken. This benefits UKIP, the party that once pretended to be all about leaving the EU, but now openly stokes up hatred against immigrants. Never mind that Nigel Farage has claimed more in MEP’s expenses than any British MP – today, he is billed as the heroic outsider who will bring down a corrupt political elite.

The editors of the Mail, Times, Express, Sun and Telegraph (who each earn far more than an MP) know they’re stoking an anti-democratic insurgency. The dangerous rise in nationalism – whether the right-wing UKIP form, or the supposedly progressive variety in Scotland – risks destabilising a country that for centuries has probably been the most stable on Earth. And it risks destabilising a continent which is the most bloodthirsty on the planet, and has never needed a good excuse to go to war with itself.

MPs who over-claim expenses can be exposed and left to the electorate. We have far bigger problems to deal with than that.

Does the Black Community Have a Problem?

Possibly because it’s Black History Month (US/Canada), I’m seeing a burst of Facebook discussions among my black friends on that old favourite: why do black communities underperform others? Various economic, education and health metrics still demonstrate large gaps between black and other populations, and inevitably people wonder why. The old white supremacist explanation – that black people are simply biologically inferior – has gradually faded from grace in recent decades, although this idea is often still hinted at.

Discussion among black people tends to swing between blaming others (it’s caused by racism/colonialism/the aftermath of slavery/etc.) and blaming themselves (why don’t black people invest in each other like Indians and Jews seem to do?) Meanwhile, many white liberals tend to blame racism and colonialism while simultaneously showing an almost colonial lack of faith in black societies to sort out problems for themselves.

It appears to me though that the truth is better, and the outlook more optimistic than any of these viewpoints might consider. I admit that I long supported the “white guilt” viewpoint. The Caribbean Londoners I grew up with undoubtedly suffered greatly from racism and police brutality. They also lagged far behind white people in educational achievement and economic success. There was an obvious correlation between race and disadvantage; many people (me included) therefore assumed that one was the cause of the other. But of course, assuming causation from correlation is the oldest mistake in the book.

It was my own black friends who helped set me straight on this, pointing out that they had escaped council estates, made careers and raised stable families, despite experiencing persistent racism. From their micro-perspective, the difference was clear: those whose families valued literacy and education succeeded. Those who came from families that placed little value on education did not.

The disparities between different racial groups should cast doubt on the idea that racism causes communities to fail. In the 1930s, Jews faced immense prejudice. They were also mostly economic migrants, and lacked capital. And yet many – including both of my grandfathers – opened businesses and moved out of the East End ghetto into the suburbs.

The Caribbean immigrants who began arriving in the late-1940s did not follow the same pattern of success as the Jews. But the East African Asians who fled Uganda in the 1970s did. The Pakistanis who came later did not do so well. But the West Africans who came in the 1980s and 1990s did better.

What kind of “racism” is so selective? When Indian and Chinese children do better in school than whites, but Pakistanis and Bengalis do worse, how can anti-Asian racism be blamed? And now, West Africans (mostly from Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone) outperform white children but children originating in the Caribbean do not. How can this be explained by anti-black racism? In short, it can’t.

I attended the “blackest” school in the UK, where around 75% of the kids were first or second generation immigrants from the Caribbean. While some of the Caribbean migrants had come from educated, middle class homes, the majority didn’t. Many of my school friends left school with scant literacy and no qualifications. Many of their parents too were semi-literate, having come from rural island communities to take up work as bus conductors. Today, I still have friends in their 40s and 50s who have limited literacy.

This generation of black Londoners faced savage racism in the 1970s and 1980s, especially from the police; they also were excluded, by their lack of qualifications, from universities and well paid jobs. It was easy to combine the two things in folklore: to say that Babylon (the Rastafarian word for the white power structure) would never offer opportunities to black people. This was easy to believe. I believed this. To add to the confusion, black British people compared their position to that of black Americans and South Africans. This was deeply inaccurate; Britain never had racial segregation laws or traditions to overturn. The racism may have been superficially similar, but the political reality was incomparable.

But when, starting in the 1990s, many West African immigrants breezed into universities and professional jobs, it became clear that this racial model of British society was wrong. I had to question my own beliefs, forged among the afro-centric viewpoints I absorbed in my teens. When a Nigerian friend graduated as an accountant and invited me to her awards ceremony, I saw a new British reality. Expecting to see a line-up dominated by Jews and Indians, I instead saw Chinese, Nigerian and Ghanaian graduates collecting their certificates.

So does the black British community have a problem? The question is meaningless. There is no coherent black community. Grouping people together based on their skin colour is nonsensical, and indicates a racist world view. The key deciding factor in a person’s economic success in the UK is their level of literacy and education. It turns out that working class black people originating from the Caribbean have far more in common, economically, with white British people than they do with those of West African origin. The same applies to those immigrants from rural Pakistan versus those from urban India.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem with racism – this is still alive and well, and the rise of UKIP reveals a strong xenophobic streak in British society. For black parents wondering how to give their children the greatest chance of success, the answer is the same as for any other parent: teach them to read and write young, to behave at school, and to develop a thirst for lifelong learning. And most of all, tell them that the colour of their skin is no excuse for failure.

2013: Morons of the Year!

Sorry for being fashionably late, but I’ve been suffering somewhat from WTFDISS (“where the fuck do I start?” syndrome). Although I still (perhaps optimistically) believe global moronitude to be in long-term decline, we do appear to be experiencing an upswing at present. One can only hope this is short-lived.

I’ve also decided, for reasons of fairness, that this year’s prize should not be awarded to the American right, although they may well deserve it. Including them in a moron competition is akin to inviting Kenyans to join the Milton Keynes charity half-marathon. It doesn’t seem quite fair.

However, no round-up of moronic outbursts would be complete without America’s Craziest, so let’s start there.

Oklahoma Tornado Madness

Extreme weather in the US always brings out the morons. The increase in extreme weather events couldn’t – of course – be caused by greenhouse gases. What kind of gullible fool would believe what scientists say? So obviously, the explanation for the tornadoes in May that killed dozens of people, including 20 children in a school, lies elsewhere. Take your pick: our old friends at the Westboro Baptist Church said God did it because basketball player Jason Collins revealed he was gay. Another old friend, Pat Robertson, agreed that God did it, but because the people of Oklahoma weren’t praying enough. And conspiracy loon Alex Jones said the government has the capability to create and steer tornadoes, but (modestly) said he wasn’t sure if that’s what had happened in this case.

White-ish Supremacist in North Dakota

The tiny town of Leith, North Dakota, which has one black resident, was shocked when Craig Cobb, a white supremacist, moved there with the stated aim of turning the place into a haven for anti-Semitism and white supremacy. His plans began to unravel when he was DNA-tested for a TV show and discovered he was 14% black, after which his home was attacked by white supremacists. He was then arrested after staging an armed patrol of the town with his remaining supporter.

A New Pro-Life Twist

A Republican congressman from Texas, Michael Burgess, found a new reason to reduce the abortion time limit, claiming that foetuses begin to masturbate from 15 weeks, and so can experience pleasure. Although, since God slew Onan for spilling his seed on the ground, one wonders why Burgess would show mercy to a sinful foetus.

Megyn Kelly and White Santa

Megyn Kelly, Fox News presenter and serial moron, claimed, in a standard piece of Fox race-baiting, that Jesus and Santa were both white, before rapidly backtracking and saying it had been a joke. As ever, Jon Stewart delivered. It was pointed out to me on Twitter that Jesus was Semitic and Santa is based on Saint Nicholas, who was Turkish, so technically Kelly was right; however, since when did Fox News and its moronic, Muslim-bashing presenters accept Semites (Palestinians, for example) and Turks as white people?

Government Shutdown

Having failed to overturn Obamacare by democratic means, the Republicans, led by idiot Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz, decided to act like petulant toddlers and close down the US government, costing the US economy an estimated $24 billion and threatening to unleash global economic havoc if the US had been forced to default on its debts. The tactic was not just moronic for being economic suicide, but because it would clearly backfire on the Republican Party. World leaders and markets watched in fascinated horror as semi-literate Tea Party baboons dragged the economy to the brink of disaster; panic was only avoided because nobody actually believed Cruz and his followers could really be that crazy. The Republicans were forced to back down after 16 days. Scarily, Cruz is seen as something of a rising star in his home state of Texas; watch this space for more fun and games.

NSA and GCHQ

Thanks to the bravery of Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency, as well as the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, we discovered what we had long suspected: “our” spies are spying on us. All of us. The extent of the spying was awesome (in a bad way), exceeding the guesswork of all but the most paranoid observers. The NSA, and GCHQ in the UK, are demanding vast amounts of data from email providers, tapping into key Internet connections, and breaking encryption that was previously assumed to be safe. As Greenwald comments, the NSA can literally watch every keystroke we make. Our data – phone calls, texts, emails and more – are being warehoused for future uses – whatever they might be.

North Korea and East Germany had previously been held up as the ultimate surveillance states, but the extent of the spying by the US and UK goes far further; only Orwell, in his book 1984, had accurately predicted what is now happening. While many world leaders reacted with horror, the British government merely tried to reassure us that we were being spied on for our own good. The endless stream of scare stories about paedophiles, immigrants and terrorists, from David Cameron and his ministers, is perhaps spurred by the need to build an even greater level of fear among morons in order to justify this new state terror.

The Labour Party once again proved itself worthless at defending civil liberties. In parliament, the Labour MP Keith Vaz, in almost fascistic terms, questioned the “patriotism” of Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger in choosing to make the information public. And sadly, the average British moron-in-the-street shows little interest in questioning or challenging the state’s right to watch what we are doing.

Israel

Once upon a time, it was accepted that stronger tribes could expand and take land from weaker ones; thankfully, such situations these days are extremely rare, but Israel’s genocidal treatment of the Palestinians and Bedouin stands out as a rare modern-day example of primitive land robbery, as well as unimaginable cruelty. While the world pretends not to notice, Israel has turned Gaza into a hellish prison camp, which is on the verge of collapse, deliberately deprived of clean water and power, and swimming in sewage. The US and EU avert their gaze rather than intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Separately, Israel is rounding up tens of thousands of native Bedouin people from the Negev desert and putting them into government-built towns away from their homeland.

Netanyahu, however, is increasingly being recognised for the dangerous moron he really is, and is becoming marginalised on the world stage – so much so, that he decided not to attend the Mandela funeral, using the flimsy excuse that the trip would be too expensive. Israel has long been resisting the “Apartheid state” label, but it is losing that battle, and attending Mandela’s funeral would have tempted comparisons that Netanyahu is desperate to avoid.

Nelson Mandela

I had long been bracing for morons to revel in the death of Nelson Mandela, and of course they were ready to scream “terrorist” at the top of their voices. But when the moment came, there was nothing the morons could do: Mandela’s legacy as the greatest leader of his era was set in stone. His former enemies went to pay tribute, fake smiles on their post-colonial faces. The African “terrorist” had secured his place in history ranking far above the “great” white Western leaders who had hated him. In dying a hero rather than a terrorist, Mandela cast new light on Ronald Reagan’s legacy of terrorism conducted in the name of “freedom”.

The attendance of America’s black President at the funeral of a great black world leader sent America’s “not at all racist” racists into a frenzy, and a meme quickly spread via right-wing commentators, especially Rush Limbaugh: why did Obama attend Mandela’s funeral but not Thatcher’s? To which the quick answers were: 1) Thatcher wasn’t a head of state and 2) Her much-disputed legacy pales next to that of Mandela.

Welcome Africa!

Speaking of Africa… the arrival of high-speed digital communications on the continent has had two major results: the fast-growing African economy gets a new boost as it connects to the global economy; and a whole new legion of morons joins the global conversation. For moron-watchers, the highlight of the Mandela funeral was the signer who didn’t know sign language, but perhaps should be nominated as mime artist of the year, as well as winning a story-telling award for claiming he had been under the spell of a schizophrenic episode (although he had been repeatedly hired previously for ANC events).

As I blogged in January, President Jammeh of Gambia probably should win the most-moronic-African-leader award in a highly competitive field. His recent achievements are legion, including the enforcement of a four-day working week for schools and public employees as an encouragement to attend mosque on Fridays.

As the year came to a close, Uganda’s parliament passed a law that would jail people for life for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”. The law was first drafted four years ago but was shelved under threat of the loss of Western aid. As in other parts of Africa, the race card had been heavily played, with the fight against homosexuality being described as a war against immoral Western values. In his inauguration speech after being re-elected, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe took swipes at his two favourite targets: whites and gays.

War on Drugs

For most countries, 2013 was yet another year in one of mankind’s most moronic achievements to date: the so-called war on drugs. However, a few places deserve plaudits for beginning to resist the idiotic tide. Uruguay became the first nation in history to fully legalise cannabis, and the US states of Colorado and Washington followed suit. These examples look to be the start of an unstoppable movement. Those states that decriminalise and tax recreational drugs will quickly reap economic advantages over those that do not.

Morons are naturally outraged by the move towards legalisation – they tend to be allergic to common sense in any form – and were quick to spread a spoof story about a spate of “marijuana overdoses” in Colorado. It is, of course, effectively impossible to overdose on cannabis, but morons and facts are like oil and water, especially when it comes to drugs.

So we enter 2014 with most of the world still pursuing stupid, expensive and dangerous policies against substances which are mostly safe; the world is still around 99% crazy, but a small chink of sanity has appeared.

Woolwich and UK Nationalism

In May, an off-duty soldier, Lee Rigby, was brutally hacked to death in Woolwich, London. The murder became a terrorist act when the killers asked passers-by to film it and the aftermath on their mobile phones. Terrorism only works if morons are terrorised, and on that measure, this attack was immensely successful, helping to further feed a growing tide of nationalism and racism in the UK. The attack was undoubtedly one of the events that has helped UKIP gain support; it may not make sense that a murder could lead to a rise in anti-EU sentiment, but morons rarely make sense.

One might observe that the attack was tiny – one dead, zero injured; or that it was only the second fatal terrorist attack in the UK in the 11 years since British troops have been stationed in Afghanistan. The attack highlights the lack of a serious “terrorist threat”, rather than the existence of one. But morons have now swallowed the threat’s existence, and it is being used to erode a range of British freedoms.

eu

The Ascent of the UKIP Monkey

UKIP, presenting an “acceptable” (although judging from the appearance of its candidates, deeply inbred) face of nationalism, have drained the pool that the BNP and EDL swam in, and drawn away nationalistic supporters from both the main parties. Their arguments are laughable and based largely on false numbers, deep misunderstandings of economics and scare stories that play to closet racism. This year, the party made great mileage by claiming that there were 600,000 unemployed EU migrants in the UK – a false story run in various tabloids and quickly debunked. The Sun ran a small apology (see right), but the damage was done, and UKIP were in no hurry to admit their lie (the story is still on their site).

It may seem odd to conflate the issues of terrorism and the EU, but that is exactly what the nationalistic right are doing. In the absence of hard facts, a drumbeat goes on which is luring in morons in large numbers: “Terrorism… immigrants… EU… our jobs… housing shortage…” It may be an idiotic message, but it is still a potent one.

The idea that immigration causes economic problems is the reverse of the truth; when you do encounter economically-illiterate UKIP monkeys, it’s worth sharing this lovely video with them.

Will Norman Tebbit Marry His Son?

The gay marriage issue was firmly on the agenda, but the tide is now flowing strongly in the right direction. Both France and the UK legalised same-sex marriage in 2013. In France (which despite its “secular” label is still deeply Catholic and conservative) the move prompted large protests, but not so in Britain. Instead, we were entertained by the ageing Thatcherite loon, Norman Tebbit, who mused about whether he might be able to marry his son and avoid inheritance tax (answer: No) and also asked the important question: “When we have a queen who is a lesbian and she marries another lady and then decides she would like to have a child and someone donates sperm and she gives birth to a child, is that child heir to the throne?”

The Global War on Sex Workers

While conservatives are being forced to concede on gay rights as well as racial issues, perhaps (as I blogged in August) the new civil rights front-line is being defined by sex workers. Sex worker advocates have long campaigned for the trade to be brought out of the shadows into the mainstream, where female and male sex workers can benefit from the full protection of the law, as experienced by most of the rest of society. Instead, in countries around the world, prostitutes are treated as lesser beings. Moralists of the religious right attack sex commerce as ungodly, while moralists of the left claim they want to “rescue” the workers – without, of course, first checking whether they want to be rescued.

In America, police in various states were found to be using the possession of condoms as evidence of sex work, and so prostitutes have been forced to work without them, and HIV rates have risen. Perhaps this year’s most shocking case of official hatred of sex workers involved a Texan man who shot a prostitute for refusing to sleep with him; and was acquitted of murder.

Sweden has implemented a “progressive” attack on sex work, known as the “Nordic Model”, whereby the client rather than the vendor is criminalised. But the end result is the same: prostitutes are considered to be working underground, and do not receive the full protection of the law, or respect from the authorities; this was demonstrated in July by the murder of Swedish prostitute and sex work campaigner Petite Jasmine by her ex-partner, who had previously been given custody of their children.

Undaunted by the failure of the Nordic Model to protect workers, France set out this year to do the same thing, cheered on by neo-moralists across Europe, notably the once-liberal Guardian. The Rescue Industry has declared a full-frontal assault on the rights and incomes of prostitutes; attacking their right to work while claiming to “save” them. in practise, they’re being “saved” for lower paid work, or for deportation as illegal immigrants.

In Britain too, brothels were raided to “rescue trafficked women”, but as ever, no “trafficking victims” were found; instead the raids were used to deport illegal immigrants and clean up Soho for gentrification.

In Canada however, the Supreme Court struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws on the grounds that they endanger sex workers. It is unlikely that Canada’s insanely right-wing government will accept this situation, however: watch for more laws soon, probably couched in “anti-trafficking” language.

Miley The Slut

“Progressive” moralists were also in full voice this year to bully Miley Cyrus, who had the brass nerve to grow up from a sweet little girl into a young woman unafraid of flaunting her sexuality. She even dared to twerk and to employ black backing dancers! Which obviously makes her racist, right?

This was one of many moments in the year when conservative and liberal commentators became almost indistinguishable from each other in their joint hatred of sluttish behaviour, with the Guardian again excelling in couching conservative attitudes in liberal terms. Expect more attempts in 2014, from left and right, to push female sexuality back into the box from which it was liberated in the 1960s. Burqas for popstars, anyone?

And The Winner Is…

Commentators have asked in recent years whether Britain is sleepwalking into censorship. These days the debate is about whether we are sleepwalking, or running headlong.

big-brotherIn the summer, David Cameron announced an agreement with ISPs to introduce “porn filters”. Those who had watched the rising moral panic over “sexualisation” were in little doubt that the filters were a big step towards full-blown censorship of the British Internet. Sure enough, when the filters were rolled out in December, they blocked – either deliberately or accidentally – vast amounts of content, and almost none of it was pornographic. BT’s list of “adult” categories ranged from dating to drug information to sex education.

The filters are based on the premise that teenagers and children are the same thing, and thus block most “edgy” information that teenagers may want or need to access as they discover the world. The Internet had been a safe place for teens to explore their sexualities and psyches, but no longer. Whether parents have the moral right to block their children’s access to this information is unclear; but the cowardly ISPs, who (with one honourable exception) gave in to Cameron’s demands, have given them the ability anyway.

The initiative has caused concern globally, with exasperated American free speech advocates declaring the birth of the Great Firewall of Britain. As of now, many British people no longer have access from home to millions of websites. World censorship leaders, the Chinese have expressed their admiration for the UK’s plans.

Claire Perry, the MP who campaigned for the filters, had vigorously argued that no overblocking would occur; so it was with deep joy that campaigners discovered Perry’s own site had been blocked – presumably due to her obsession with pornography.

Ironically, the filters are very easy to work around; which means that teens will have no problem still accessing the pornography, sex education, drug information, “obscene and tasteless” and other content they wish to see, while their parents live in ignorant bliss.

So 2013’s joint Moron Award winners, for their attempts to censor the UK Internet, their encouragement of censorship worldwide, and their attempt to turn Britain back into a safe, 1970s-style (Jimmy Savile anyone?) pre-Internet nation are David Cameron, Claire Perry, and the leading UK ISPs – BT, Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk – who agreed to go along with their plans.

Mandela and Morons

Growing up in the political hotbed of 1980s Cold War London, I found myself among interesting people. The African National Congress, after being banned in the 1950s, had set up a leadership-in-exile, based in London and Amsterdam. One of my teenage friends was the son of senior ANC exiles, a couple who had fled South Africa when the clampdown on the ANC began – including the jailing of the activist lawyer Nelson Mandela.

My friend, and other children of the ANC leadership, tried to be normal teenagers, but that must have been hard. I was warned to keep phone conversations with him minimal and to the point: their phone was almost certainly bugged by British intelligence which, despite our nation’s professed love of “freedom”, was working to monitor and help the South African government suppress the ANC. These children of the ANC had been raised in London, but groomed for political leadership when they one day returned to a country they had never visited. They also had to endure their parents leaving on long, secret trips to southern African countries, from which they might never return.

When Mandela walked free, my friend’s parents returned to South Africa, his father becoming a government minister in the first ANC government. My friend moved to Johannesburg shortly afterwards, was offered a diplomatic career, but decided to follow other paths.

Mandela, like many leaders of oppressed people, showed immense bravery and self-sacrifice. He famously spent 27 years in prison for his “seditious” activities, and refused to leave until a transition to democracy was assured. But Mandela differed from other revolutionary heroes: he tamed his people’s justifiable thirst for revenge, and instead crafted a new, multiracial South Africa; he taught a love of democracy and racial tolerance; he stood down from power rather than try to cling on to the bitter end, like so many other African revolutionary heroes had done. He refused to repeat the mistakes of earlier African independence movements which had angrily expelled the white and Asian elites, only to lose their most educated people and wealthiest investors.

Racists and white supremacists hate Mandela more than any other black leader because he didn’t just outperform other black leaders: he has a valid claim to be named as the greatest national leader of the 20th century. Neither of the great Western “heroes” of the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher can remotely compare.

Yes, the ANC’s acts of resistance included acts of terrorism. But ANC atrocities are tiny compared to the real terrorism of that era. South African forces repeatedly gunned down civilians, including school children. The South African, US and UK governments supported far greater acts of terrorism in Mozambique and Angola, as they tried to stamp out the ANC’s fighters. How ironic that Mandela, a creator of democracy, was labelled a terrorist by the terrorists – Thatcher and Reagan – who crushed democracy and free speech in the name of freedom.

Mandela rose above all the world leaders of his generation. It is testament to his greatness that the people and newspapers that labelled him a menace in the 1980s are today lining up to praise him.

“But Mandela wasn’t a saint”, people are saying. So what? Both right and left revel in the simplistic idea that the world divides easily into good and bad people. His early activism, his time in prison, his ascent to the Presidency, his founding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his creation of a stable nation where most others would have created war and misery; all these things mark him out as far greater than his peers. He wasn’t a superman. He was a human being. But he was a remarkable human being.

“But look at South Africa now”. It’s easy to cherry-pick bad things in the country today. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, was easily convinced that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus, and effectively killed hundreds of thousands of people by suspending treatment programmes. Corruption is rife. The ANC leadership now stuffs its pockets, gorging itself on countless millions of dollars. President Zuma lives in enormous luxury, and boasts an impressive collection of wives. South Africa is a violent country – but then that’s nothing new. Only generational change, coupled with free speech, housing, education and healthcare, can address the violence. South Africa is a deeply racist place too, as attacks on immigrants (mostly other Africans) demonstrate.

Mandela understood his country and his continent. He must have realised much of this was inevitable. Just as in the rest of Africa, the liberation struggle was just the first of a series of struggles. Colonialism and Apartheid put a racial mask on inequality, but now in South Africa, as in the rest of Africa, inequality, corruption and brutality can no longer be conveniently blamed on a foreign devil: it is home grown. Mandela and his ANC comrades, sowed the seed of democracy, human rights and free speech, allowing future generations to renew the struggle – this time a class struggle, not a racial or tribal one.

Nelson Mandela died in a very different world to the one he was born in. His death prompted an inevitable barrage of abuse from morons, but this just served to highlight how much organised racism has declined worldwide. The racist American right settled for complaining that America’s black President was attending Mandela’s funeral but hadn’t attended Thatcher’s (ignoring the facts that Thatcher was not a head of state, and that her greatly-contested achievements were tiny compared to Mandela’s).

I finally visited my old friend in Johannesburg last year. A local celebrity, he mixes in a wide multiracial circle. His black friends are internationally educated and well travelled, unlike their parents’ generation. They are part of a confident and rising Africa that is just starting to be noticed internationally. This Africa is the creation of generations of leaders who shook their people awake and harnessed their resentment; but one man stood head and shoulders above the others.

RIP Madiba.

From Our Aussie Correspondent

More from our intrepid Aussie reporter Georgia Lewis as she chronicles Australia’s recent attempts to win the World’s Dumbest Nation award.

I’ve just come back from three weeks in my home country of Australia – and it was a time of friends, family, beer, beaches, more rain than you might expect, a road trip, a lot of seafood and, in between the merriment, there were plenty of morons to watch. Here is a handpicked selection from Federal politics.

The obvious moron to watch is Tony Abbott, the newly elected Prime Minister and leader of the conservative Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is in power in coalition with the National Party, a right-leaning party that focuses on rural interests. At least this coalition makes ideological sense, unlike the shambolic Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition but a car crash has ensued since the election.

In the space of three months, he has presided over Australia-Indonesia relations reaching a new low over spying allegations, a Burmese asylum seeker from the seriously persecutedRohingya minority getting sent back to a detention centre four days after giving birth to a sick baby by c-section (Abbott is meant to be the pro-family, pro-motherhood, prolife Prime Minister…), a policy to buy boats of people smugglers resulting in no boats being bought from people smugglers, a revolt by state governments of all political stripes over a broken promise on school education funding, an Australian government no-show at COP19, the United Nation’s annual climate change summit, and the giving of gun boats to the human rights-abusing Sri Lankan government at CHOGM.

But obviously Abbott isn’t doing all this by himself. He is being ably assisted in these endeavours by the likes of foreign minister, Julie Bishop (the only woman in his cabinet), his Gove-like education minister Christopher Pyne, and Bronwyn Bishop, the new Speaker of the House of Representatives (the Aussie equivalent of the House of Commons) who has busied herself setting new standards in bias. It’s brilliant!

Now, about these spying allegations… The Australian government has probably been snooping on Indonesia well before Abbott was the PM. But the problem is that now Australia has been busted, the diplomacy by Abbott and Julie Bishop has been pitiful. In this instance, a humble apology by Abbott probably wouldn’t have led to Australia cutting back on its surveillance (please let us not be naive here…), but here’s the thing about diplomacy – it stops countries bombing the crap out of each other and it is important for maintaining trade relations, which any you’d think a capitalism-loving government would be keen to do.

Instead, we have an embarrassing regional spat. As a result, Indonesia is not really keen to help Abbott with his “STOP THE BOATS!” policy on asylum seekers arriving by sea. FYI it’s a policy that is basically a load of shouty, vote-grabbing rhetoric. And none of this nonsense does a damn thing to stop people smugglers, or to improve the lives of people who do take desperate measures to get away from awful situations (such as the Burmese woman who had a c-section and is now back in detention…), or to solve the problem of people who arrive in Australia illegally by plane, or the thousands of British and American people who are in Australia illegally and far outnumber asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

The Australian no-show at this year’s COP19 climate change conference in Warsaw was also pretty special. Admittedly, it was probably a tad excessive of Kevin Rudd, the former PM, to send 114 people to last year’s COP18 in Qatar in taxpayer expense. But to send nobody was pretty moronic on Abbott’s part.

Having been to COP17 and COP18 in the line of duty, I can indeed confirm that there is much hot air generated in terms of endless discussions on climate change and emissions targets. But if you want your country to have a say in agreements that have far-reaching implications for business, the economy and industry, it’s wise to send someone along. Hell, if Abbott stands by his climate change-denying views, what better place for him to try and convince the world to come around to his way of thinking than at an international forum?

But Abbott’s idea is being part of the international community is to attend CHOGM without questioning the human rights record of the host country, Sri Lanka, and giving them a couple of boats at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of $2 million to help them prevent people from leaving a frequently terrible regime.

But moronic behaviour is not reserved for the government. Kevin Rudd, as the losing PM in the last election, has decided to quit politics. He won his seat in the election so he could always try representing his constituents with dedication and dignity for this current parliamentary term. But he has thrown his toys out of the pram and now the people in his seat will have to go back to the polls for a by-election at further taxpayer expense.

Sigh… I’ve barely scratched the surface of Australian political morons. I am reserving judgement on whether billionaire Clive Palmer will be a moron MP until he actually says a bit more in the House. Then there is Gina Rinehart, the mining billionairess, who may as well be in Parliament for the influence she is currently wielding. And billionaire James Packer who has plans to build a high rollers’ casino in exchange for a $60 million “arts gift” for Sydney and the promise that it will not degenerate into yet another low-rent gambling venue full of poker machines…

Meanwhile, in overgoverned Australia, there are always morons to watch at state and local government level, there is all the fun of successive governments having no idea how to sort out public transport in Sydney, corrupt councils and nanny state road signs. Then again, I have come back to Britain and it’s moronic business as usual in the House of Commons here too.

OMG! Miley Cyrus is Racist!!

I should start by stating that Miley Cyrus is not racist. This is just the latest moron meme in a series of increasingly moronic attacks on Cyrus from the Guardianista ex-liberal tendency. Cyrus isn’t the real target, but she has become a convenient scapegoat. The real target is black music and dance.

I blogged a couple of months ago on the Guardian’s opening shot in this story, in which Hadley “I Have Black Friends” Freeman launched an attack on Cyrus for her “racist” twerking episode at the VMAs. The claim was that Cyrus was racist. Because – wait for it – she’s white and had black backing dancers.

Since then, the Guardian, in true bullying tabloid fashion, has wheeled out one has-been after another to condemn Miley, or to patronise her. Yesterday, they outdid themselves, producing 73 year-old Christian singer Cliff Richard to express the hope that Cyrus “grows out of it”. If you’re starting to wonder where the line is between the “quality, liberal” Guardian and the “gutter, right-wing” Daily Mail, you’re not alone.

Perhaps realising that a parade of white faces screaming RACIST! at Cyrus was looking a little strange, the Guardian recently found a black person to do the same thing. Ikamara Larasi helpfully pointed out that she is a black woman, and she doesn’t twerk, but complains (in straw-man style) that she thinks people expect her to twerk, because she’s the same colour as Rihanna.

Don’t worry Ikamara, I don’t expect you to twerk. You see, Rihanna is a stunningly talented international music artist. And you’re not. Nor do I expect you to play tennis like Serena Williams, or be the First Lady like Michelle Obama. I don’t expect you to read the news like Moira Stuart, nor do I expect you to write incredible, moving novels like Toni Morrison. You see, while that kind of stereotyping does still exist, it’s fading fast, and it mostly exists among people like your Oxbridge-educated, Home Counties-raised, Guardian journalist chums. Most of us are perfectly aware that not all black women are amazing singers and dancers like Rihanna, and we’re happy to accept that situation. In fact, the only people I can see stereotyping anybody are you and your ignorant “lynch Miley” mates, who think that the average person is too stupid to tell the difference between you and Alexandra Burke.

Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with race. It is a continuation of the “ban all sex, help, we’re all being sexualised!” campaign which some individuals at the Guardian have been nurturing for years, and now appears to have reached fever pitch. Those who have been paying attention will know that much of the noise comes from a small group of individuals: Kat Banyard of UK Feminista, Julia Long of Object (who, together, are competing to be today’s Mary Whitehouse) and a small group of Guardian journalists who have somehow managed to turn a quality newspaper into the Object house journal. Ikamara Larasi, who stuck the latest knife in Miley’s back, comes from a “black feminist” group called Imkaan, which appears to be (like Lose The Lads’ Mags) another group linked to Object, and thus can claim Object privileges, including Guardian column inches.

Sadly, Larasi’s intervention seems to have confused people who might have been more skeptical had a white woman penned such obvious nonsense. On Twitter, I was told (by a white woman) that I, as a white man, should pay attention when a black woman writes about race. Because, of course, ALL black people believe the same thing and Larasi is black, so is therefore a spokesperson for black people (or “people of colour” as she tweeted… I kid you not). I wonder what would happen when such a person encounters two black women with opposing views. Would her head explode? A (black) friend of mine commented, “Miley isn’t the first. Might as well burn Madonna at the stake for having black and gay dancers then…”

Another tweeter posted a link to a page showcasing The 9 Most Racist Miley Cyrus Moments, which I still can’t tell is a parody or not. Gems from this page include she wants her new album to have a “black sound” (OMG Amy Winehouse, Joe Cocker and Elvis were RACISTS!) and she pretended to perform analingus on a black backing dancer (only pretended? Damn… I’d pay good money to see that).

Miley is playing the morality brigade perfectly (this week, she allegedly smoked weed on stage in Amsterdam, and was met with fake shock from the coke-snorting journalistic fraternity), and I applaud her. When society becomes as pathetically (small-c) conservative as it has become again today, the best response is to shock the fuck out of it. That’s why the Sex Pistols topped the charts in 1977 with God Save The Queen (despite it being banned), and the Prodigy’s wonderful Smack My Bitch Up (watch it!) video won awards 20 years later (despite it also being banned).

Rather than scream at racism-that-isn’t-racism and sexism-that-isn’t-sexism we should take aim at bullying-that-is-truly-bullying. The moronic British media loves to destroy people, especially young women. Doubtless Guardian and Mail journos alike are salivating in anticipation at the moment Miley appears drunk in public, has a messy break-up, or is rumoured to have a drug problem. I’ve cancelled my Guardian app subscription, and will be investing the savings in Miley’s latest album. Why don’t you do the same?