Religion and Politics Blog

Card-carrying Liberal Democrat. My views are my own, and do not necessarily reflect party policy.

The Cost of Being Creative

Zak Smith has a good post The Cost of Being Creative, The Cost of Lying on the state of the tabletop RPG hobby a few years ago, around the time I decided to shelve the game I was working on, at least in part because the environment had become too toxic for anyone without a very thick skin.

Seven years ago, when I first started to click and google my way into the online RPG community, here’s what I (like most people) saw:

1. Hundreds of people who were trying—often quaintly, sometimes dazzlingly, always earnestly and by-and-large without the huge professional benefit that a successful gamble on student loans had given me in the way of an expensive art education—to make some creative things.

2. Hundreds of people on messageboards and blog comments trying–by any means necessary and with no holds-barred or fact-checking–to make doing that as painful as possible

3. The more daring and interesting a thing was, the more aggressively thing #2 happened…and have no doubt: it worked. A great deal of middle-of-the-road stuff was being published while the best stuff languished on blogs or in obscure corners of still-obscurer forums.

When I started this blog, folks would write in, asking questions about which way to take their projects, always including “I want to_____ but I’m afraid people will say _____ “.

Read the whole thing. He gives plenty of examples, though he stops short of naming names. And if you’ve been told that Zak Smith is “one of the most toxic indivduals in the hobby”, go and read this post from Stacy Dellorfano which lays it out straight.

It’s a shame the grassroots tabletop gaming scene got this way, and I can remember when it happened. There are a lot of parallels with the dysfunctional nature of Science Fiction fandom, though there doesn’t seem to be a Requires Hate figure that everyone can single out as a scapegoat.

I really hope this madness never comes to music fandom, though clickbait thinkpieces titled “Alternative music genres are safe spaces for white people” give me every reason to fear the worst.

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Angela Nagle on the self-flagellating left

Good post from Angela Nagle on the self-flagellating left. As well as mentioning some very obvious usual suspects such as Laurie Penny and the reliably ridiculous Arthur Chu, she quotes this much-ridiculed Tweet from Michael Moore

“No women ever invented an atomic bomb, built a smoke stack, initiated a Holocaust, melted the polar ice caps or organized a school shooting.’ (This is false. The Manhattan Project had its unsung female heroes, there are plenty of female oil and gas executives, and female school shooter Brenda Ann Spencer inspired the 1979 Boomtown Rats hit “I Don’t Like Mondays.” Ironically, Moore erases women’s history by neglecting its greatest villains.)

Though in fairness Michael Moore has said many far more sensible things since that.

Nagle makes comparisons with 70s Marxist and Maoist cults with their “self-correction sessions”, but this sort of lefitst reminds me strongly of something else: 1980s Evangelical Christians. There was the same sort of competitive holiness involved; you gained status depending on how much of your record collection you publically destroyed because it was “Satanic”. You gained even more points if you purified your friend’s record collection without their permission.

It’s a completely different ideology. But it’s a very similar mindset.

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What on Earth just happened in Sunderland?

What on earth just happened in Sunderland? The Liberal Democrats came from a very poor fourth place to take what had previously been a safe Labour seat on a 40% swing. And this for a pro-remain party in a region that voted 60/40 in favour of Leave. What is going on?

No, you shouldn’t read too much into a single local council by-election, but you can see trends. And it’s looking very, very bad for Labour. Is their strategy of backing a so-called “Hard Brexit” to cut immigration in order to protect their flank against UKIP seeing their pro-remain vote defecting on masse to the Liberal Democrats? Are Labour in the English regions about to go the way of Labour in Scotland?

And today comes the news that Tristram Hunt is leaving Parliament for a more rewarding job elsewhere, forcing a by-election in Stoke-on-Trent Central, a constituency that politically looks a lot like Sunderland in many ways.

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Angela Nagle on what the Alt-Right is really all about

Angela Nagle has written an interesting post on the “alt-right” in The Irish Times in which she makes a distinction between true-believer white supremacists like Richard Spencer and provocative trolls like Milo Yiannopolous who formerly identified as “cultural libertarians”.

She suggests that it’s hard to makes sense of things without recognising that there are a lot of people who enjoy being transgressive just to “freak the normies” and don’t necessarily believe the nonsense theiy spout. Classic trolls, in other words.

And finally, she notes that the alt-right did not appear in a vacuum, but as a reaction against the excesses of some parts of the moralistic left.

A new generation of liberal left-identitarians display chilling levels of pack pleasure when conducting career-ending, life-destroying hate campaigns against people for minor infringements against the liberal moral code such as off-colour jokes.

But like the US socialist writer Shuja Haider recently argued: “It should go without saying that left-liberal identity politics and Alt-right white nationalism are not comparable. The problem is that they are compatible.” Tumblr needs 4chan just as neo-masculinist misogynists need a perpetual supply of listicles about man-splaining, and the Alt-right needs finger wagging “Dear white people” liberal commentary to denigrate ordinary white people at every opportunity. None of them would make sense without the other. While Spencer’s plans are unlikely to catch on any time soon, the emergence of the Alt-right should warn us of a now imminent nightmare vision of what the coming years might hold – a public arena emptied of any civility, universalist ideas or openly competing political visions beyond a zero-sum tribal antagonism of identity groups, in which the boundaries of acceptable thought will shrink further while the purged will amass in the fetid forums of the Alt-right.

One of my fears for 2017 is that the culture wars that have devastated the worlds of science-fiction fandom and tabletop roleplaying games will come to the world of music. We’ll have performatively woke identity warriors “interrogating” the “whiteness” of metal and progressive rock, racist idiots crawling out from under their rocks to champion prog-rock in response, and it will all spiral down into Gamergate-levels of toxicity. It will become next to impossible to write with any passion about the music itself without getting caught up in politics.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

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Richmond Park

Congratulations to Sarah Olney for winning the Richmond Park by-election and becoming the first woman Liberal Democrat MP of this Parliament. While it looks like a major upset it’s actually consistent with local government by-election results up and down the country, which have frequently seen 20% swings to the Liberal Democrats.

Commiserations for Labour candidate Christian Wolmar. I’m sure he’s a decent bloke and I respect him as a transport journalist and writer even if we disagree on HS2. But Labour fought a confused campaign with the party leadership on a completely different page than the candidate on the one central issue the election was about. Still, a lost deposit has got to hurt.

Kudos to The Green Party for choosing not to field a candidate in order not to split the vote.

And as for the losing former MP Zac Goldsmith, good riddance to bad rubbish. He forced the election for reasons of personal vanity and got hoisted on his own petard in spectacular fashion. And we haven’t forgotten the awful dog-whistle racism of his losing campaign for Mayor of London. In a year when the populist right has been in the ascendancy, he’s managed to lose twice.

It’s too early to tell how much this one by-election will affect the wider political landscape. It may well succeed in moving the Overton Window slightly further away from a hard Brexit. It at least ought to bring the Liberal Democrats back into the national political conversation. It’s time for the media, especially the BBC, to stop acting as if UKIP were the only third party that matters. While it looked like it would take a generation for the LibDems to recover from the electoral disaster of 2015, politics is far more volatile now, and those who wrote off the party might now have words to eat.

If it’s the start of a national revival for the Liberal Democrats, it’s potentially very, very bad for Labour. Ever since the EU referendum, they have been acting like rabbits in the headlights, unsure of which way to turn. This is a parry whose own electoral base is split; the traditional small-c conservatives working class in their post-industrial heartlands have little in common in either cultural or economic interests with their voters in the cosmopolitan cities. With a resurgent Liberal Democrats on one side and Paul Nuttall’s UKIP targeting the traditional Labour supporters on the other, they cannot triangulate without exposing the opposite flank. They’re probably too entrenched in their strongholds for Scotland-style wipeout, at least on a national basis, but it’s hard to see them as a potential party of government any time soon. Their problems go way, way deeper than their awful leadership.

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Goodbye Castro

In Heaven, Leonard Cohen, Keith Emerson and Lemmy make music.

In Hell, Fidel Castro and Antonin Scalia discuss politics.

So the man held as a great hero of the people by some on the left, and the Devil incarnate to some on the right is dead. He overthrew a brutal tyrant only to set himself up as the new tyrant rather than attempt to build an open and free society. He outlasted many US Presidents, but not allowing elections nor allowing an opposition to exist might have helped. Though it’s possible that America’s embargo and demonisation had the effect of prolonging his rule.

Fidel Castro was no liberal.

There’s a certain symmetry between the way Castro was idolised by parts of the left, and the way parts of the right used to fawn over Augusto Pinochet of Chile. In both cases, they didn’t care about their victims because those victims belonged to the tribal out-group. The nauseatingly hagiographical eulogies coming from Jeremy Corbyn and the odious Ken Livingstone are entirely predictable.

I wish the best for the people of Cuba in the coming years. The omens are not good; too much of the western world seems to be heading in the opposite direction at the moment, but I hope they can build the open and prosperous society that’s been denied to them over the past half-century.

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Thomas Mair convicted of murder of Jo Cox

With the conviction of Thomas Mair for the murder of Jo Cox it’s no longer possible to pretend his actions were not politically motivated. Just read the judge’s sentencing remarks.

Those on the right who were quick to place the blame exclusively on mental health problems made it clear they’d rather stigmatise the mentally ill than ask difficult questions about the rhetoric coming from Vote Leave in the days leading up to the murder. Any of those who now double down rather than admit they were wrong are beneath contempt.

I can member unfollowing and blocking someone from progressive rock fandom on Twitter who was shrieking about “Project Grief” and accusing people like me of politicising a random tragic event. I can’t even remember who that person was now, but my social media feed is all the better without him.

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This Election Marks The End Of America’s Racial Détente

Thought-provoking article by David Marcus in The Federalist, arguing that America has always been deeply divided on race, and at best there was a détente, never a consensus. And this election has shattered that.

There is a misconception that political correctness was responsible for the breakdown of the racial détente. This is incorrect. Political correctness, as loose a term as it is, was the means by which we continually renegotiated the terms of the deal. After all, the primary rules for whites had exactly to do with what was acceptable to say.

Privilege theory and the concept of systemic racism dealt the death blow to the détente. In embracing these theories, minorities and progressives broke their essential rule, which was to not run around calling everyone a racist. As these theories took hold, every white person became a racist who must confess that racism and actively make amends. Yet if the white woman who teaches gender studies at Barnard with the Ben Shahn drawings in her office is a racist, what chance do the rest of have?

Within the past few years, as privilege theory took hold, many whites began to think that no matter what they did they would be called racist, because, in fact, that was happening. Previously there were rules. They shifted at times, but if adhered to they largely protected one from the charge of racism.

It’s worth reading in its entirety even if you don’t agree with his conclusions. America is a racially-divided nation for reasons going back to that nation’s early history in a way that’s sometimes difficult for Europeans to comprehend. But many of the academic theories that arose in that American context have crossed the Atlantic.

One thing that makes it hard to have constructive conversations with those who aren’t steeped in academic theory is that there is no longer a consensus on what the word “racist” even means. Does it mean individual bigotry towards members of races other than your own? Or does it refer to structures of power that put minorities at a disadvantage? Or does it mean both?

The worlds of left-academia and activism have redefined the word to take exclusively the second of those meanings. That’s fine within closed spaces where everyone shares the same assumptions and definitions. But when people move outside those spaces into the wider world that doesn’t share those assumptions, it’s easy for people to end up talking past one another. It also means that appalling bigots like Arthur Chu and Bahar Mustafa can deny accusation of racism because “You can’t be racist against white people”. See also the frightening rise of anti-Semitism on the left, justified because Jews are defined as “privileged”.

The liberal-left needs to continue opposing racism and sexism that blights lives, divides communities, and keeps people from fulfilling their potential. But it also needs to recognise that the current iteration of identity politics has failed with disastrous consequences, and something smarter needs to take its place.

At the moment a lot of people are still in shock over the election result, they’re hurt, angry and justifiably afraid. It’s still too early to be too aggressive in calling out those who double down on identity politics. Give them the time and space to figure why things have gone wrong for themselves.

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Colum Paget has a long screen on Trump’s election and the failure of the middle-class left

In many ways Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the apex of this champagne-feminist madness. I don’t blame Hilary, who I think is unfairly hated, and who in some ways strikes me as a modern Lady Jean Grey: surrounded by people telling her she’s going to be Queen without really having done the work to make it possible. The insider skinny was that Bill Clinton was constantly bemoaning the need to reach out to rural and working class whites. However, he was overridden by ‘experts’ who, as so many people in leftist politics now think in terms of ‘white supremacy’ and ‘patriarchy’ basically said “Fuck those redneck neckbeard dudebros, this is about a woman getting to be president.” Thus the campaign appeared to be about Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem ticking off an item on their feminist bucket list.

He may or may not be letting Hillary off the hook here. The failures of the political establishment were many, and one of them was making her the candidate in the first place. The time was wrong for an establishment technocrat, and her combination of middle-class identity politics with subservience to Wall Street was never going resonate outside the bubble.

The liberal left needs a new vision to replace the one that has clearly failed, and needs to build a broad-based popular movement that can actually win elections. Which means that pundits or political bloggers who don’t get why Hillary lost and double down on failed ideas do not deserve anyone’s attention. Some of their screeds can be boiled down to little more than “Voters are over. Voters don’t have to be your electorate“.

Trump’s victory is a disaster not just for America but for the whole world. Like Brexit, it was a wholly avoidable disaster by a complacent and out-of-touch political establishment who were so deep in their filter bubbles they didn’t see it coming.

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As we remember the fallen on the anniversary of the end of World War One, the best memorial is to avoid sleepwalking into another entirely avoidable global war.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 1 Comment