Thursday, May 17, 2012

Privileged People aren't People! Obviously.



Recently, while meandering through the thick, wordy, impassioned haze that is the contemporary gender-focused blogonet, a persistent tick was bugging me. Occasionally my contributions would be met with the 'straight white guy' accusation; which is to say, it was being declared that I was those things… and for some reason this was important in assessing the quality or validity of my statements.

'Whiny fucker doesn't understand his privilege'.

Heh.
Well, I gave this issue it's fair amount of thought, and the other day I think I managed to crystallise into something resembling a principle. The sentiment isn't new, but in a lot of discussions and in a lot of articles it isn't adhered to.

- Considerations of privilege (vis a vis demographic groups that enjoy systemic benefits because of some aspect of the way they are) should never override the basic law of treating all individuals as individuals. 

Stereotyping is wrong. It is logically wrong to say 'all white/black people act like x', because such a variable doesn't determine behaviour (unlike, say, a drug, or physical pain; even in these scenarios, an absolute generalisation would be a fallacy, but a general assertion would have some validity). Similarly, it is wrong to say, 'all heterosexual/homosexual people act like y', and so on.

This is based on the the idea that every individual is an individual. That they have quirks. Special circumstances. Unique experiences. This is true regardless of any consideration of privilege. 

From a sociological point of view, privilege narratives are important; they help us understand the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways in which a system gears itself to accommodate certain types of people over others. But 'types' is a key word: if we let these things act as a prism through which we view any given individual, and if we make assumptions about them based on these things, that is stereotyping, and wrong, regardless of which side of privileged the person falls.

'But they are privileged, they don't get to complain!'

You don't know what any given individual has gone through. Let's say this one guy, when he was a kid, was abused by a child milder for years, but couldn't tell anyone. He is straight, white, male, and his parents had money. Now it doesn't matter at all, and I mean fucking at all, that this guy is white, or male, or straight, or moneyed. At all. Not even a blip on the god damn radar. These things still happened. That these events, when millions of people are taken into account and the data is aggregated, will be more likely to happen to people in other abstract categories, has no bearing whatsoever on this individual person's claim to having been abused. Whatsoever. And they happened just as much as they happened to someone under different circumstances.

Reply might be, 'Yes, but they won't have to deal with the oppression of being a woman/gay/minority as well'. 

True. But let's say they also had cancer at one point; they're over it now, but they had it, and it was hard. 

'But they still didn't have to deal with those other things'. 

Ok, but has woman x who was not abused and who never had to battle cancer in a position to claim that they have had a more trying existence than the above straight man? Well, perhaps, if that individual woman went through some tough shit themselves. But it's not a consideration of categories, or generalities. It's a consideration of the different individuals' circumstances. 

I mean… we have to act in a way that resemble the world we want. We have to embody the better world we seek, if we want it to come any closer. This means not being racist, sexist, classist, etc, at all. 

Moreover, if you talk to this person without knowing about their personal history, and you assume, because of their orientation or race or whatever, that they have de facto had an easy life, and you berate them about their privilege and their lack of understanding of the issues and so on, if you're wrong, you will cause them significant personal pain. Whether or not there is a lower likelihood of a person from this demographic having experienced significant difficulty or trauma is completely irrelevant. With any given individual, you don't know, and until you do know about them specifically, you don't know. You can't extrapolate facts about an individual person by the categories they fall into, except for the fact that they are in those categories.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, thinking in terms of stereotypes reinforces a culture of generally thinking in stereotypes, which as we all know comes around to bite less privileged groups in the ass harder than that category which resembles our apex example above. If you talk about a man in a stereotypical fashion, you hurt women more than men. If you stereotype a white person, you hurt other groups more than white folks. And so on. Simply put, you are hurting oppressed groups more by the mere act of stereotyping. The next time you make assumptions about a straight person's character, you're hurting the LGBT cause. Etc.

There is also, occasionally heard, the argument of, 'Well, good, now you know how it feels; now you know how it feels to not be treated like a person'. I am perfectly willing to accept that one consequence of a more equal society would be that those folks who currently are the victims of stereotypical thinking less frequently will have to share more in the burden of having such immoral and ignorant sentiments hurled at them. But the sentiments are still ignorant and immoral. The people who make assumptions about others based on the above criteria are still being crass, insensitive, illogical, rude, and bigoted, regardless of who they do it to. 

So yes, it's logically wrong, it's dangerous, it's immoral, and, ultimately, it's counterproductive. If at this stage you're thinking, 'Yes, but you're privileged, of course you're going to say that', well, I guess I failed to make my point. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

NHS, Healthcare, and 'The Market'

With NHS reform shadowed in people's minds somewhat, what with all the other wonderful Euro and education related candy treats the united, perfectly functional government is having fun cramming down the despairing throat of humanity,  I hadn't thought about it in a while. But I was having a casual 'solve the world's problems' coffee session, and I had the following insight:

Applying 'market' logic to healthcare is a fundamental error. The following logic led to that conclusion:

1. In theory, the market provides morally acceptable outcomes from self interested and profit seeking activity due the fact that consumers are rational and also self interested actors, who want to be healthy, happy, free, etc; they discipline the market by demanding things which will benefit them, buying things that do, and rejecting things that don't.

2. Health care is not subject to consumer demand in the same way as leisure/unnecessary items. No-one decides to get ill; not one decides to get injured. Consumers have little to no control over when they require health care and what kind of service they require. They simply need it when their biological constraints dictate. In this sense, they cannot discipline the market, as they cannot by choice withdraw their custom; they can, if they have the choice, change provider, but they cannot simply choose 'not to buy'.

3. One reply to this might be that if there are multiple providers, consumers will choose the best, and this will lead to competitive efficiency gains. However, since health care is a necessity, the need for services over which consumers have little to no control, this provides the radical ability of companies to exploit customers collectively. If one company raises its prices by 40%, and such jumps happens in the USA, the other companies, rather than fell impelled to keep their prices low, or lower them further, to attract custom, they know they can raise them also, because people need healthcare; if the companies imitate each others price rises, the consumer body cannot punish them. With TVs, if all companies jacked up their prices, people would just stop buying TVs, and they would go bust, unless they lowered them again. This is not an on option with health care.

4. This applies at all points in the process. Which is to say, if, as would happen under NHS reform, there is a 'free at the point of service' system, but where much of the management and service provision was bought by the government from private providers, the same logic applies. The government, no more than the individual consumer, decides when people get ill or injured; they have to buy when they have to buy. Hence, private companies will be able to exploit the situation, and greater private involvement will lead to an escalation in cost for the government, and by extension the taxpayer. Unless, of course, the private companies are subject to well applied stringent regulation, but this will also lead to an increase in costs due to the need for the newly powerful regulating body, and increased bureaucracy.



There you go. The solution is to keep as much of the whole basket under the 'single payer' ethic as possible: management, equipment, provision, property, etc etc. Obviously this is impossible to an extent, as international trade for drugs/equipment and so on requires engaging with the market, but the market's influence can be minimised nonetheless. If we want to get more ambitious, we could argue for the establishment of a global medical institution, under the UN, into which producers could opt into and become non-profit, that produces medical materials and sells them to all coutries' public systems at subsidized rates. But that's a longer fight.

EDIT: put another way, one could argue that, in the logic of free market value, healthcare, because it is a necessity and because people do not control when they need it, has potentially infinite value: if the price were to be set by an 'ideal' free market system, it would have no theoretical ceiling, as its value is connected with life and death itself. The calculus of value for life necessities cannot, and should not, be located in market economics, therefore.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Will Not Stop Blaming Society for the Riots – And Neither Should You

Ok, so there's a lot of talk going round on the riots in England. People seem to be saying we have to choose between condemning the rioters individually, or critiquing society and the way things have been going.

This is a false dichotomy.

No single person out there who has been committed to being a voice for dispossessed, or for trying to pry into the hidden problems of the country, or standing up for human rights, for oppressed minorities and communities, should feel any need to stop now, or temper their arguments because they face accusations of lacking morality or reason or concern for the innocent bystanders.

Because nobody is blameless here.

If anything, the immoral behaviour of those rioting is further proof  that it is, in fact, a sociological problem, and that there are things we can do, and should have been doing, to solve it. They obviously don't care about the buildings they are burning and looting. The question is why?

I'm pretty horrified by the 'Let's bring the army in' statements, and other such. Yes, let's turn an angry youth riot into a bloodbath. That'll show the kids whose boss. Make us feel big. Then what? Keep them mired in poverty and fearing an authoritarian, militant reaction? Yes. That will solve our social tensions. The youth of this country will feel even more tolerated, included, and catered-to. Let's show them the stick until they die, and whoever is left will come around to loving us.

Let's remind ourselves of a few things. First, children and youths are treated so badly in this country that the UN is actually concerned. It's never in the media that it actually has international attention, but it's seen as an impending crisis. We treat youths, particularly poor youths, as already guilty. They are criminals before they've ever seen a trial, before they've ever committed a crime. We blame them, through lack of social programs, for the wealth-shortcomings of their parents. They often have nowhere to play, and their sports programs are being eliminated. And so on and so forth. The public perception is that youths are to blame for 50% of crime. They are actually to blame for about 10%. They are far more often the victims of crime. This goes largely unreported, and most are ignorant of it.

And there's the crux. They have no reason to care. They have no reason. I wouldn't care about someone's property if they had been torturing me for years. Society has been punishing these kids for the mere circumstances of their birth their entire lives. And so they hate society. What do you expect?

Watch this video:




This guy makes a magnificent point: they have been telling us, over and over, that things are wrong. That they are treated badly. That inequalities are heinous. That racism and classism define their world. That they have no work, nothing to do, nothing to live for. And nobody gives a shit. If someone is suffering, and they ask you for help over and over again, and things only get worse, and no one helps, they will snap. Eventually, they will snap.

And everywhere people say, 'There is no excuse.' Yes, but they don't care. They don't care about your just pronouncements, they don't care about your moralizing, they don't care about the property and the damage. They don't give a damn.

And that's our fault.

Yes, it's their fault they are looting/rioting, but it's our fault that they don't care – which is why they are doing those things. It's not a false choice between the two. It's both. We need to give people a reason to care about peace, convince them that they will benefit from peace rather than suffer from it, before they will have any stake in it. Right now these kids are feeling more important and paid attention to than ever before, and that is a very bad thing. We need to regain the peace incentive, by making sure the disenfranchised will benefit from peace, rather than have their rights eroded during it.

Lastly, let's not forget that, as a society, we have been at war continuously for a decade. A decade! These kids have been raised to the backdrop of constant Machiavellian warfare, the expansion of islamaphobia, the denunciation of multiculturalism, and the blaming of all the country's problems on immigrants – regardless of whether it is immigrants themselves or children who are targeted. Why are we surprised that they have developed a racist, intolerant, war-like mentality? They see society ready to accept escalating collateral damage in its wars – why shouldn't they accept collateral damage in their own against society? We have taught them how to think, with our guns and our greed.

Nobody is guiltless here.

So lefties everywhere, stop flip flopping, for God's sake! Make your stand! There is no reason to back down from our position! Redouble our efforts to stand up for the young and the alienated!

Never stop fighting for the dispossessed, or for a better world. Someone has to push for it.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Jimmy Reid's Rectorial Address

At the behest of my good friend Adam (EUSAfishes) here is a copy of Jimmy Reid's Rectorial Acceptance Speech at Glasgow University, to mark the tenth anniversary of his death (this August 10th):

It was the speech that confirmed him as the greatest Scottish orator of his time and shaped the thinking of a generation of students. 

Jimmy Reid's Glasgow University rectorial address was reprinted verbatim in the New York Times.

The paper described it as "the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address". 

Here, reprinted is his moving acceptance speech. 

– Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It's the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies. 

Many may not have rationalised it. May not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it. It therefore conditions and colours their social attitudes. Alienation expresses itself in different ways by different people. It is to be found in what our courts often describe as the criminal anti-social behaviour of a section of the community. It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by drop outs, the so-called maladjusted, those-who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics. Of course it would be wrong to say it was the sole reason for these things. But it is a much greater factor in all of them than is generally recognised. 

Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially dehumanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping. The irony is, they are often considered normal and well adjusted. It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else. 

They remind me of the character in the novel, Catch 22, the father of Major Major. He was a farmer in the American Mid West. He hated suggestions for things like Medicare, social services, unemployment benefits or civil rights. He was, however, an enthusiast for the agricultural policies that paid farmers for not bringing their fields under cultivation. From the money he got for not growing alfalfa he bought more land in order not to grow alfalfa. He became rich. Pilgrims came from all over the state to sit at his feet and learn how to be a successful non-grower of alfalfa. His philosophy was simple. The poor didn't work hard enough and so they were poor. He believed that the good Lord gave him two strong hands to grab as much as he could for himself. He is a comic figure. But think, have you not met his like here in Britain? Here in Scotland? I have. 

It is easy and tempting to hate such people. However it is wrong. They are as much products of society and a consequence of that society, human alienation, as the poor drop out. They are losers. They have lost essential elements of our common humanity. Man is a social being. Real fulfilment for any person lies in service to his fellow men and women. 

The big challenge to our civilisation is not OZ, a magazine I haven't even seen let alone read. Nor is it permissiveness, although I agree our society is too permissive. Any society which, for example, permits over one million people to be unemployed is far too permissive for my liking. Nor is it moral laxity in the narrow sense that this word is generally employed ~ although in a sense here we come nearer to the problem. It does involve morality, ethics, and our concept of human values. The challenge we face is that of rooting out anything and everything that distorts and devalues human relations. Let me give two examples from contemporary experience to illustrate the point. 

Recently on television I saw an advert. The scene is a banquet. A gentleman is on his feet proposing a toast. His speech is full of phrases like "this full-bodied specimen". Sitting beside him is a young, buxom woman. The image she projects is not pompous but foolish. She is visibly preening herself, believing that she is the object of this bloke's eulogy. Then he concludes - "and now I give ... " then a brand name of what used to be described as Empire sherry. The woman is shattered, hurt and embarrassed. Then the laughter. Derisive and cruel laughter. The real point, of course, is this. In this charade, the viewers were obviously expected to identify not with the victim but with her tormentors. 

The other illustration is the widespread, implicit acceptance of the concept and term, the rat race. The picture it conjures up is one where we are scurrying around scrambling for position, trampling on others, back-stabbing, all in pursuit of personal success. Even genuinely intended friendly advice can sometimes take the form of someone saying to you, "Listen, you look after number one". Or as they say in London, "Bang the bell, Jack, I'm on the bus". 

To the students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?" 

Profit is the sole criterion used by the establishment to evaluate economic activity. From the rat race to lame ducks. The vocabulary in vogue is a giveaway. It's more reminiscent of a human menagerie than human society. The power structures that have inevitably emerged from this approach threaten and undermine our hard-won democratic rights. The whole process is towards the centralisation and concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. The facts are there for all who want to see. Giant monopoly companies and consortia dominate almost every branch of our economy. The men who wield effective control within these giants exercise a power over their fellow men which is frightening and is a negation of democracy.   


Government by the people for the people becomes meaningless unless it includes major economic decision making by the people for the people. This is not simply an economic matter. In essence it is an ethical and moral question for whoever takes the important economic decisions in society ipso facto determines the social priorities of that society. From the Olympian heights of an executive suite, in an atmosphere where your success is judged by the extent to which you can maximise profits, the overwhelming tendency must be to see people as units of production, as indices in your accountants' books. 

To appreciate fully the inhumanity of this situation, you have to see the hurt and despair in the eyes of a man suddenly told he is redundant without provision made for suitable alternative employment, with the prospect in the west of Scotland, if he is in his late forties or fifties, of spending the rest of his life in the Labour Exchange. Someone, somewhere has decided he is unwanted, unneeded, and is to be thrown on the industrial scrap heap. From the very depth of my being, I challenge the right of any man or any group of men, in business or in government, to tell a fellow human being that he or she is expendable. 

The concentration of power in the economic field is matched by the centralisation of decision making in the political institutions of society. The power of Parliament has undoubtedly been eroded over past decades with more and more authority being invested in the Executive. The power of local authorities has been and is being systematically undermined. The only justification I can see for local government is as a counterbalance to the centralised character of national government. 

Local government is to be restructured. What an opportunity, one would think, for decentralizing as much power as possible back to local communities. Instead the proposals are for centralising local government. It's once again a blueprint for bureaucracy, not democracy. If these proposals are implemented, in a few years when asked "Where do you come from ?", I can reply: "The Western Region". It even sounds like a hospital board. 

It stretches from Oban to Girvan and eastwards to include most of Glasgow conurbation. As in other matters, I must ask the politicians who favour these proposals - where and how in your calculations did you quantify the value of a community? Or a community life? Of a sense of belonging? Of the feeling of identification? These are rhetorical questions. I know the answer. Such human considerations do not feature in their thought processes. 

Everything that is proposed from the establishment seems almost calculated to minimise the role of the people, to miniaturise man. I can understand how attractive this prospect must be to those at the top. Those of us who refuse to be pawns in their power game can be picked up by their bureaucratic tweezers and dropped in a filing cabinet under "M" for malcontent or maladjusted. When you think of some of the high flats around us, it can hardly be an accident that they are as near as one could get to an architectural representation of a filing cabinet. 

If modern technology requires greater and larger productive units, let's make our wealth producing resources and potential subject to public control and to social accountability. Let's gear our society to social ~-need, not personal greed. Given such creative re-orientation of society, there is no doubt in my mind that in " few years we could eradicate in our country the scourge of poverty, the underprivileged, slums, and insecurity. 

Even this is not enough. To measure social progress purely by material advance is not enough. Our aim must be the enrichment of the whole quality of life. It requires a social and cultural, or if you wish, a spiritual transformation of our country. A necessary part of this must be the restructuring of the institutions of government and where necessary, the evolution of additional structures so as to involve the people in the decision making processes of our society. The so called experts will tell you that this would be cumbersome or marginally inefficient. I am prepared to sacrifice a margin of efficiency for the value of the people's participation anyway, in the longer term, I reject this argument. 

To unleash the latent potential of our people requires that we give them responsibility. The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people, I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings. This is a personal tragedy. It's a social crime. The flowering of each individual’s personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone's development. 

In this context education has a vital role to play. If automation and technology is accompanied as it must be with full employment, then the leisure time available to man will be enormously increased. If that is so, then our whole concept of education must change. The whole object must be to equip and educate people for life, ne solely for work or a profession. The creative use of leisure, in communion with, and in service to our fellow human beings can and must become an important element in self-fulfilment.

Universities must be in the forefront of development, must meet social needs and not lag behind them. It is my earnest desire that this great University of Glasgow should be in the vanguard initiating changes and setting the example for others to follow. Part of our educational process must be the involvement of all sections of the university on the governing bodies. The case for student representation is unanswerable. It is inevitable. 

My conclusion is to reaffirm what I hope and certainly intend to be the spirit permeating this address. It's an affirmation of faith in humanity. All that is good in man's heritage involves recognition of our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that man is good by nature. Burns expressed it in a poem that technically was not his best, yet captured the spirit. 

In "Why should we idly waste our prime," he writes: 

"The golden age, we'll then revive, each man shall be a brother, 

In harmony we all shall live and till the earth together, 

In virtue trained, enlightened youth shall move each fellow creature, 

And time shall surely prove the truth that man is good by nature".

It's my belief that all the factors to make a practical reality of such a world are maturing now. I would like to think that our generation took mankind some way along the road towards this goal. It's a goal worth fighting for.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Parallel World of War: Video Games, the Future, and Socialism

An observation a made a while back considering violent video games:

That's what you get for promoting hallucinogens. Thanks somegeekintn.
Some preamble. A Game is any form of play. Video games are, strictly speaking, not a new medium: they are modern versions of play; old games in a new setting. Like the evolution of recorded music. Or evolution of cinema from the theatre. As children would play war with sticks and stones, so now do they play war with fake guns. Better? Well, harder to knock the teeth out with, but with consequences down the road that I think we'll all agree are at the very least morally atrocious.

The next thing that constitutes part of the 'thing thing' that eventually formed from a 'thing thing' into a whole thing to 'strike' me (uh...) was that these modern games have been violent throughout their history. From Mario bouncing on turtles to Bayonetta torturing angels, it has been the overriding theme. The Wii has pioneered away from the theme to an extent, and there has always been a quiet undercurrent of the much played, little discussed Solitaires, Tetrises, and Robot Unicorn Attacks of this world (well RUA is violent... violently addictive! Hiyo!), but these inhabit less cultural space, and hence less of the public consciousness.

Cultural reasons? Sure. As cultures, Japan, the UK, and the USA are all obsessed with WWII. The UK and USA because that fact that they defeated fascism gives an apparent ligitemacy to their global empire and military-industrial labyrinths; Japan because they were summarily defeated, yet forced to tout their defeat as a moral victory. Also, the world these days is very rarely at peace: the UK alone has been at war for a decade now. People have almost stopped noticing. Insert Orwell quote. Boom.

Any way, there are others reason too. Mortality: we love dying and killing without actually dying and killing. Mortality is probably the biggest preoccupation of the human mind, and it makes sense that we'd want to explore it in play more than other things. Also, morals, though rational evolutions of life and society, are constraining, and it's fun to break from them in a safe context. Whatever combination of factors come together to form this obsession with violence, it exists. And here we (finally) come around, as by a 'back way', an 'alternative trail' if you will, to that thing that struck me.

Is it not odd that there is basically another world, parallel to this one, which now, thanks to the Internet and MMOGs, truly is breathing at all times? Though technically only taking place on computer screens, thanks to the signals, the wires, and the omnipresence of its virtual activity, it seems to be playing out all around us, invisible, between the folds, just beyond sight: a truly parallel world, everywhere and nowhere.

If only. By Lawrence Whittemore.
And it is a world of war.

Walking down the street to Tesco, I feel a shudder. My brain has considered, chanced upon the thought, that someone in a room near to me is killing men. Not real men... but increasingly accurate depictions of them. I think of the parties slashing each other up in WoW; I think of machine gun fire and explosions. And in front of my eyes is the tranquility of a peaceful, bright city, its citizens walking by, treating each other with perfect (most of the time) courtesy.

Is this not an odd combination of realities? Is this not an odd choice of parallel world that humanity has invested in? Dreaming of heaven for millenia, rather the expression of our species' play, our games, those conduits of our desires and fears and expectations, is hell. Second Life and all that are nothing in comparison; I mean, let's be honest, they're hellish too, but mainly because they're boring as hell. Burn. Ok, not true, there are good peaceful MMO games out there (Mateusz mentioned Farmville), but, again, they don't have the same presence in the mind or the market.

What does this say about our time? About the species? Is it possible for video games (the most prominent example being MGS4) to both engage with this phenomenon, and yet be critical of it, and perhaps point to a way out of it?

One implication may be that we all expect war. Desires and fears are, after all, tied together by expectation: to expect the good might happen is to desire that occurence; to expect the bad, to fear it. This is the source of their interplay, of their strong interrelation. And if games are ways in which we indulge our desires and our fears beyond what would otherwise be possible, it would be rational to say that their content indicates that we expect war. Always. That virtual world, raging around us, is like a form of prediction: the collective unconscious, like an unholy sage, looks into tomorrow, and sees, to quote WarHammer: 'In the year [x], there is only War' ('In 2101...' heh, nah I won't).

How seriously should we take this prediction? How credible are our gamers' and game makers' clavoyance? Well, one important lesson to learn from games is that the more impunity the powerful feel in war, the more war they will wage. What we have learned from games is that when there is no threat it is quite fun to wage war all the time. And so, as the ruling elites of our time coalesce into a global order, with no national borders turning them against one another, will they start to act as one? The truth is, they already are. What nation opposes us in Afghanistan? What nation, after Saddam fell after one month, opposed us in Iraq? Even in Libya, Gaddafi does not wage war on the UK; we alone wage war on him, and the people. Nothing opposes the new order; nothing counterbalances it. It is free to wage war with near impunity, and it is precisely this condition, this terrifying factor, that the world of video games predict will cease to be near, and soon become total.

Of course, being a socialist 'motha fucka' I would argue that the necessary counterbalance to this 'Playful' attitude towards war must come from those who operate the tools of production, who provide the services and expertise to others that drives the economy... who make weapons, fight in wars, and, yes, design video games. In other words, the workers of this world; not in the nineteenth century sense of the miner and the factory worker, but all workers, all those who rely on the owners' capital, on the credit of the banks, of the benevolent hiring of corporations. A global elite demands a global collective counterpoint, to ensure the reintroduction of peace as the status quo.

Suitably inspiring. By bitzi ☂ ion-bogdan dumitrescu (seriously).


Games do not seem to predict this, or at least, it is not a prevalent theme. And yet, in those games that are not violent, that simulate future domestic life, peaceful successes, adventure without battle, political sparring, domestic management and simulation (play Tropico, FYI; it's awesome), there is a desire for continued life, life that has room for love and learning and laughter. And we should remember, that for as fun as war games are, they all take a morally tragic view of their own subject matter: from Gears of War, to Halo, to MGS4, and even WarHammer, all condemn war. Hence, perhaps when the end game comes, those desires and those morals will win the day.

Can making more socialist and peace building video games help bring this about? Well I wouldn't be much of a lefty if I said no, would I. Anyway, there you have it, a short 'Marxist' reading of the video game market and what it means for all us lazy brain dead slobs. Eat it up!

And design more socialist games! For us all to play. *GRIN*. Later peeps.

And I didn't even get onto to the Predator Drones being controlled by remotes. Gosh Darn it!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Why Ken Clarke Shouldn't Have His Job, and the SWEM Problem

Given Ken Clarke's recently expressed 'views' and the furor they have cause, I figured I'd throw my weight in with the rape issue. This is a two section article: the first is about reactions to his statment, and I how I think they could politically improve; the second is a criticism of Ken Clarke's actions.

***

Firstly, reactions to the issue.

When I read Stop Talking About Rape and Start Listening, I admit my first reaction was defensive. This is because I am a 'Straight White English-Speaking Educated Man', i.e., the least oppressed group in the world, and The Big Bad Bogey Man. The only way in which I am not part of the ruling clique is that I have never had any money – but obviously the fact that I have been to university means that this is unlikely to be the case in the long term. My mother used to say at the dinner table, 'Well I may be white, American, straight and grew up in a Middle Class home, but at least I'm not a man!' pumping her fist in the air with vigor. Now obviously she was talking in jest, but it had an effect nonetheless.

As a socialist and a writer trying to forward the cause of equality, there has been an odd, latent guilt in me for being born into this body. Obviously, in most conceivable ways, it is an advantage, but the feeling is there regardless. Despite the fact that I have been careful to act morally throughout my life with regards to sexual boundaries and people who are sensitive about various topics, and have always been the political ally of any oppressed group of people, I have been paranoid that feminists and other groups view me as 'The Enemy'. I guess 'Stop Talking' aroused that paranoia in me.

This makes parts of the article hard to read. For example, this line: "A lot of my previous boyfriends have either made me, or made me feel guilty if I didn’t (which almost amounts to the same thing), have sex with them or give them blowjobs."

Now, have I ever made someone feel guilty in the sense of saying to them, "You're frigid, you should be having sex with me, you're being unfair, fuck you, you're a bad girlfriend" etc etc etc? No, of course not. But have I been damn horny and gotten annoyed that it wasn't mutual with my partner, not out of any feeling of injustice, but out of physical frustration? Yes. Just as the other has done when it has been flipped. Obviously I accepted the temporary rejection, but I got a little miffed. Now, obviously, this makes the other person (or myself, were it flipped), feel guilty.

I am fairly confident this is not what the writer meant. But in my defensive state, part of me felt I was being accused of rape.

Another line was this: "Every time a man catcalls me, comments on my breasts in a perverted way (clue: I often don’t mind when gay men say I have nice breasts, I mind a lot more when it’s straight men), it brings back the countless horrible memories"

Again, have I ever gone up to someone I didn't know and started drooling over their breasts? No. Have I commented that friends of mine have nice breasts? All the bloody time. I'm a fairly flirtatious fellow, I'll admit. Do I do it with the intent of pressurizing them, or communicating sexual intent? No. But I do think they look good, and I'll sometimes say. I'm fairly careful to only say to friends of mine I know won't mind, but still, I'll say it.

Once again, I am fairly confident that this is not the sort of thing that was being protested, but again, due to my inbuilt defensiveness on the issue, I felt like I was being accused of being the sort of person who triggers people into reliving trauma.

Lastly, there is the issue of men who may be potential allies being alienated because of their personal trauma being dismissed. Whether they have been in a war zone, been incarcerated, suffered sexual assault as a child, or been violently assaulted, they will not feel like their discussion of their problems are welcome in pro-equality circles, since they feel they are 'The Enemy'. I've been mugged at gun point, had a bloody rock thrown at my eye, been threatened with a knife, been pulled off my bike and attempted to have it stolen, been punched on the face on the street, had people threaten to kill me in High School, and have had an (extremely minor) sexual assault. As have a number of men. Now, I don't particularly care, and have no massive perceivable trauma relating to any of these events, but if I did, I'd feel like my body was dismissing me from the discussion – that how I was born meant what I felt didn't matter.

*Once again* (last time, promise) I know this is not how such anti-rape articles and political stances are intended, and I'm well aware that it's easier to deal with these things when you are in a more empowered group. I'm sure the author of the above article, and many others, would be more than empathetic to such concerns and would welcome discussion on how to solve them and how such people could find help. But, again, the feeling is there; the defensiveness is there.

Why is this important? Well, it has jack all to do with Ken Clarke – I'll get onto him in a minute. But I feel it is important to state as a preliminary consideration that many other empowered SWEM (Straight, White, Educated, Male) folks will feel the same way, but won't necessarily realize, as I have, that they have misinterpreted the comments. This will alienate them as potential political allies. If they have been careful to pay close attention to issues of consent and social etiquette, they will feel like this is not being recognized, that the responsibility with which they have treated their defacto power in society has gone unnoticed, and that they are being lumped in with the bad bunch. There are few things as alienating as feeling people are lumping you in with rapists and such, when you have never done such a thing.

Often a reply to this is that 'Straight men are statistically more likely to commit sexual assault, therefore it is correct to speak of them differently'. This smacks of the same logic used by racist employers in America: 'Black men are statistically more likely to have committed a crime, ergo this black man I am interviewing is more likely to commit a crime.' This is obviously untrue: an individual cannot be preemptively judged with statistics. Now these example are not equivalent, but they do share a certain reductionism, and are generalizing.

Basically, how to reduce the frequency of rape is a complex issue, involving pursuing equality of power, greater education, imbuing sexual confidence, and a fuller dissemination and a strengthening of existing legal rights. But us SWEM bastards have to be on board for those to be achieved; we do constitute about 40% of the population of the UK. Anger is a good thing; it impels us to action. But we must be careful not to alienate our allies: we all have to be able to identify as being accepted into the cause of equality. Some sectors of feminism are more militant with regards to this than others, of course, but it is a lesson to be learned across the board.

In short: just keep in mind when you are writing that a lot of your audience is straight and male, and that a lot of them are willing to support your cause.

***

Right, Ken Clarke time.

For some reason Conservatives never take into account the issue of power. This is presumably because they're all rich and have it, ergo don't have to worry about it. Anyway...

When the Justice Secretary, a public figure, and an executive authority on the Law of the Land implies that certain 'kinds of rape' aren't serious, he helps define the culture of legality surrounding the issue. This then has an effect on how empowered people who rely on the law will feel at any given time.

Power is often a passive thing. When we are in a position of threat, sexually or otherwise, our ability to resist is in part determined by how likely it is we will be defended by society at large, and – yes – how 'seriously' our issue will be taken by the law. Do we have the backing behind us to make that challenge? Will it be worth it, should it lead to further threat? Will we be protected if it does so down the road?

This is also true if we have been attacked in some form and want to pursue legal action: will we be taken seriously? It is worth the stress of a trial, etc? Can we be sure it won't lead to retribution? And so on. This is also an issue of power. If we feel the law is firmly on our side, and that our concerns will be treated 'seriously', it is much easier to take that plunge and make the issue a legal one, should we feel it necessary.

This is why Nazi officials and police in Germany were able to get away so easily with so many extra-legal atrocities, or why many Jews walked without resistance to their fate, things that we would normally never accept: the people knew they had no passive power; no force backing them up, against the massive amount of passive power backing up party cadres.

Basically, Ken Clarke ignored the issues of real power and perceived power, and chose the worst possible word with which to make his idiotic little stance.

Next, there is the fact that he brought up the 'Bush Man' scenario, or the 'properly raped' in the street stranger scenario. Completely irrelevant; as I saw someone write on facebook the other day, this is 'worse' only because it involves further charges of violence, and constitutes a tiny minority of rape cases anyway.

There are bad and worse cases, obviously, as there are with any kind of crime: if you non-consensually punch someone in the face twelves times, it's worse than punching them in the face once. Both constitute violent assault. So it is with rape, and everything else. Those who work in the field of social care know this: distinguishing between people who have been in long abusive relationships where their partners have repeatedly raped them over time and destroyed their sense of security, and people who have suffered isolated incidents is important, as knowing how to reach out to each group and how to deal with the problems people in different scenarios face in necessary to helping them heal. And I personally wouldn't be against judging sexual assault on a sliding scale: as I said above, something very minor happened to myself, but I wouldn't want that person to go to jail, or even have a criminal record, but it might be nice to see them realize why they were wrong.

However, I would say that a prerequisite of liberalizing sexual assault laws in this way would be more equality across the board, to avoid such liberalization being taken advantage of. Still, being a massive opponent of high incarceration rates, I would like to see them progress hand in hand.

But these are not the terms Ken Clarke couched his argument on; saying that only 'Street Stranger' rape is 'proper' or 'serious' rape excludes most people who have suffered assault from ever having any legal standing or power. And even had they been the terms he used, it still would not have been the best idea in the world, as, like I stated, this man is a representative of the nation's justice system: had he been taking power into account and been doing his job, he would have used explicitly positive terms in relation to a person's legal rights and the seriousness of their situation, he would have made them feel like it was absolutely serious, as the main role of justice is to redress power balances, to treat people equally under the law, and correct prejudices in the law and render it fair and representative.

He doesn't realize that his words made people's lives worse. And for some, probably a lot worse. This is why he should give a full apology, and more: it was not a mis-mash, not a mistake, not a gaffe. He did not do his job, and he damaged lives. He should apologize, and, further more, resign – or if he does not, be fired.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Charity is No Subsitute for Freedom, in Education or Elsewhere

This article in The Guardian  describes some of the 'follow through' policies likely to result from that 'door opening' push to increase tuition fees – including a plan for up-front, higher-fees-paying students to get priority for places, plans for corporations to sponsor students, and a plan for charities to sponsor them too.

Now, I may hear you saying, 'Well, there's nothing wrong with charities sponsoring people. Charities are good!'

Have a pie, boy. I can afford it... you can't!

Well, here's a brief argument:

Charity feels good to give. Makes one feel altruistic, kind, upstanding. Powerful, almost: you have the power to give, to rescue, and to aid.

But the truth is, it's not the same to receive charity. Every time someone is forced to ask for charity, it makes them feel less powerful. Yes, as a one-off or a rare occurrence it can be a humbling and positive experience: receiving blood after an accident, having a friend take you in after your house has flooded; all sorts.

But if forced to ask for charity consistently, or for something that for others is a matter of course – not an accident, not a one-off occurrence – it can become very painful.

With this in mind, reconsider the idea that charity is a good way for 'less fortunate' kids to get to university.

For me...



...!

The basic principle that people often forget is that we shouldn't have to ask for charity. People should be able to – through collective bargaining, strong organization, functioning democratic organs of society; i.e., through democratic power – demand free education at every level. They should say, 'No, we don't need to ask you to help us go to University, we demand that you make a place for us at University.'

Charity has been the calling card of Conservative propaganda since ages past. Always they propose to replace public hospitals with charity run hospitals; charities should help the homeless, not a public welfare organization; charities should give disadvantaged kids the resources to go to university. But in truth, it is merely an excuse to 'soften' the blow of commercialization and privatization; let those with money choose to give it away, ran than be forced to because the majority have the leverage – the power – to demand it of them.

A charitable world is a world where the inequality rule: where the few are mighty, and the many are weak.

Though it be a Utopian fantasy, I look forward – as an impossible goal to which I will ever drive, hoping to change reality just a little bit – to the End of Charity, where no one will need to beg for a good life.

But, that aside, in the mean time I urge everyone not to be taken in by this false concession, this patronizing benevolence. Through organization, collective bargaining, and building strong democratic forms of leverage, we need to fight until knowledge, along with every other public service, is free again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Arguments Against the Libyan War

1. Support for Gaddafi Internally Will Grow

The intervention of the West in Libya will give the conservative and nationalist sectors of Libyan society – those were unsure of whether to support Gaddafi or not before – concrete reason to flock to the regime's side. It transforms his 'Foreigners are always to blame' rhetoric from the ramblings of a madman into statements with external evidence. Signs of this growing popular support can already be seen. Hence, in this way, the war is helping Gaddafi: this is why is he eager to fight the long fight; war is, in fact, his best chance at staying in power.

2. The Revolution Would Not Have Been Defeated Without Intervention

You cannot 'defeat', to use William Hague's word, rebellious and revolutionary sentiment with violence. You can cow, intimidate, suffocate – but not eliminate. Regime violence does in fact, as we all know, increase internal revolutionary sentiment – or, you don't make people less angry by killing a bunch of them. Hence, Gaddafi's actions, while left alone would have put back the date of regime change in Libya, would only have made his people more eager for that change. However, as a leader who originally gained power due to massive anti-imperialist sentiment, again, this war will shift the target of many peoples' anger; the West are being violent now, too.

3. The War Will Damage the Libyan People's Ability to Mobilize.

There are, essentially, three things which allow a people to revolt against their government: Wealth, Health, and Education. A society where there is a high level of financial equality, where people are healthy, and where people are well educated, will never abide tyranny, and can effectively organize against it. These should be the aims of any effort on the part of the West to help those in beleaguered and impoverished nations – accomplished through economic policies: Increase Equality; Increase Healthiness; Increase Educatedness. However, war will erode the infrastructure on which these things rely: there is no such thing as a clean war; war is dirty; explosives are explosive. Health, the education of children, the conditions in which people live; all will deteriorate, the longer and more extensive the military action becomes. This was the main mistake made decade after decade in Iraq: constant military action, both initiated by the Saddam regime and by the West, made a people, – who had once enjoyed a world-renowned health care system and high investment in education – too impoverished, tired, and disorganized to oppose their regime. We cannot let the same thing happen in Libya.

4. We Are Waging (another) War During An Austerity Budget

There is no justification for fighting a non-defensive war during a time when the country is being told it must tighten its belt across the board. This war, together with the cuts in corporation tax, the lack of action on Banker bonuses, and the exponential growth in the wealth of the Super Rich, show the true motivations for Austerity, and shed light on the motivations for the War. The current government is more than happy to spend money; it simply wants to open up the public sector to private investment and private management – in short, to the world of profit. And they are more than happy to spend what will become billions of pounds on military explorations, if they might increase their chances at the next election due to nationalist sentiment being stoked. Basically, the deficit is not what matters to this government: what matters in simple and singular, and it is the transference of capital from public to private hands. The eagerness to fight this war is an insulting reminder that the UK just ain't that poor.

5. France and Britain's Conservatives Are Only Using the War to Bolster Popularity

Everyone is wondering why the US, Russia, and China are reluctant here (the US being the most confused about the whole thing, as they are both leading the operation, yet want to get it off their hands as quickly as possible). The reason is: their regimes are secure, or will not benefit from war electorally. It is unlikely that a war will help Obama in 2012, given his voter base and where his popular mandate came from. In fact, it is probably hurting him right now, as we sit here. However, Sarkozy, who faces immanent electoral defeat, and Cameron, whose economic policies are growing more and more unpopular, both need their 'Falklands' moment: this explains their fervent attitude and eagerness. If Gaddafi eventually falls, they will use that fall to call themselves Heroes.

6. Any Victory For the Revolution in Libya Will Now No Longer Belong to Libyans

Since the planes started flying and the missiles started dropping, the rebels have become secondary to the West in efforts to depose Gaddafi; the West is setting up a relationship of military dependence with the people. If several months or years from now the people do depose Gaddafi (hopefully occupation will ultimately be avoided) the West will inevitably have a major say in how this happens, and in what kind of government takes his place. Globally, it will be said that military intervention caused the conditions for victory – just as William Hague is saying now. And tattered infrastructure – the inevitable result of war – will be waiting for the people, when they try and begin again. In short, the West will benefit from this; the people of Libya will suffer.

7. An Economic, i.e. Non-Military, Program of Democratization Must be Developed

Lastly, it is paramount that, when moving into a Global age, for countries all around the world – for there are far too many to wage war on, obviously – who face dictatorship, civil war, and famine, a means of helping them out of this enthrallment is developed that is not based on military action. This would be accomplished by concentrating on economics. Unfortunately, the economic policies pursued by the dominant powers over the last thirty years have been massively on the side of inequality. A will for this to remain the status quo is the main reason why interventionist wars continue to occurThe desire for countries to be opened up to the markets in an unprotected, Neo-Liberal fashion, which will benefit the Corporatist Elite and increase inequality, is trying to reconcile itself with a revulsion for poverty, violence and oppression – the very products of inequality. This results again and again in war, which exacerbates the problems in every direction. An economic program of socialization, of public ownership, of strong corporate regulation, and powerful organized labor and organized consumer bodies would ensure the weakening of dictatorships and violence-riddled societies around the world, and free millions from the thrall of tyranny generally – including in developed countries, like here in the UK.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Inequality? But I hardly know her!

I loved this gratuitously graph laden post by Mother Jones so much that I decided to reproduce its wonderful graphs and charts in full. Behold how much bloody money those crooked bastards are making:


It's like those 'Check out how relatively small the Earth is' diagrams, except the Earth is YOUR ASS.


Are you part of the top 1%? Would you like your opinion to be heard? Please record your statements on your face with a blowtorch, and send in your burnt flesh to: Fuck You, Uranus, IH8U 4EVA


You almost gotta despise those 20% sycophantic conservative voting cronies more than the big bosses themselves, eh? "Igor, eat the faces of the petty Bourgeois imbeciles."
"Yeeeeeeesssss Maassssterrrr."


 "How do you think we should go about redistributing this wealth?"
"Force rich people to pay for more stuff?"
"So... increase taxes?"
"NO THAT'S BAD TAXES ARE GOVERNMENT WAAAAAH BUREAUCRACY WAAAH"
"Uh..."  


This one didn't phase me anywhere near as much as the next wealth list...

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) $451.1 million 
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) $435.4 million
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) $366.2 million 
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) $294.9 million Rep. 
Jared Polis (D-Colo.) $285.1 million 
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) $283.1 million 
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) $231.2 million 
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) $201.5 million 
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) $136.2 million 
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) $108.1 million

Bloody CORPRATIST STATE!!!
Ahem, sorry. Moving on...
Of the...  

 
 ...


 DUUUUUUUUH.


 Your Bailout money at work, chumps and chumpettes. No but really, they should all just die. But then, I guess that's what the nine el... heh, better not.

 And they STILL bloody complain! "If you let the bully bully, the bully bullies more."


 The fact that all income groups saw a similar growth rate until the 80s was actually a surprise even to me. Please, do follow the link at the top of the post and check out the sources. I am Kang; I hear all.

Later, peeps. Are you angry yet? Honestly.