Religion and Politics Blog

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

Pushing the Self-Destruct Button

Labour are two parties, and it was only a matter of time before they split. According to James Kirkup in The Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Corbyn’s deselection threat means Labour’s civil war is now a fight to the death .

Jeremy Corbyn has today confirmed that the struggle underway in the Labour Party is now the political equivalent of total war.

He did it with these words, at the launch of his campaign to keep his job, when he was asked whether Labour MPs should face mandatory re-selection to stand again as Labour candidates at the next election:

“There would be a full selection process in every constituency but the sitting MP… would have an opportunity to put their name forward.

“So there will be a full and open selection process for every constituency Labour Party through the whole of the UK.”

The hard-left takeover of the previously moribund grassroots of the party means it’s not just the “Blairites” who are under threat. It’s everyone who won’t follow an agenda set by the Trotskyite hard left.

Yes, we all remember the breakaway SDP was all but wiped out in the 1983 General Election. But once you start deselecting MPs, don’t expect them to ride off into to the sunset without a fight. They will no longer have anything to lose from forming a breakaway party.

It’s not impossible that the breakaway party may end up with more than half of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which means that they, not Labour will become the official opposition.

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Goodbye Nero

So Twitter have finally had enough and banned the notorious troll Milo Yiannopoulos, @Nero for his part in egging on the racist harassers of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. Much of Twitter erupted in cheers. His 300,000-strong alt-right fanbase cried foul.

Let’s get one thing straight. Yiannopoulos deserved to be perma-banned from Twitter. He’s repeatedly and flagrantly violated Twitter’s Terms of Service, not just sailing close to the line but driving a coach and horses through the spirit of the rules.

Kicking him off Twitter is probably a net gain for free speech. That’s because the fear of being the centre of a witch hunt has a silencing effect. The mob is as an effective censor as the bureaucrat with the red pencil, and as with all censors, the goal is for force people to self-censor, to make whatever things the censors don’t like become unsayable. And it’s all based on power.

Yes, it’s too little, too late. And it does look as though Twitter only acted because the latest ugly eruption involved a celebrity. Twitter does need to be consistent and transparent in the way it enforces its own rules, and needs to devote enough resources to do the job properly, things which are not currently happening. Making a public example of Yiannopoulos just looks like a quick-and-dirty fix, and a very political one at that. Especially when by no means are all of the awful, abusive people on Twitter on the right.

Twitter has had a problem with trolls and mobbings for years, and it goes back long before movements like GamerGate or the rise of the alt-right. Go back a few years and it was parts of the so-called progressive left who were leading the witch hunts and harassing people who said or did anything they didn’t like. The worst parts of social-justice call-out culture were a frightening thing, and one false move could put anyone in their crosshairs. That had the effect of legitimising the tactics that Yiannopoulos and his ilk would later use in the service of right-wing causes. One you claim there are no bad tactics, only bad targets, you hand a terrible weapon to your enemies.

Twitter does need a rethink about what it’s for and what it does best. At its best it’s a great conversation space that’s most effective for interaction with your peers rather than the unequal relationship between celebrities and ordinary people. And because it’s far more mainstream it breaks down when subsets of people try to import the values of subcultures that developed places like 4chan or Tumblr which become toxic outside of those spaces.

(Given the subject, comments are closed on this post)

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Labour is going to split now, whatever happens. Any leadership election will be about which faction gets to call itself the Labour Party. Classic rock fans will recognise the situation; Angela Eagle’s Labour Party vs. The Labour Party featuring Jeremy Corbyn. Like Barclay James Harvest only without the tunes.

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Are the Tectonic Plates of British Politics Shifting?

Jonathan Calder thinks nobody knows anything about British politics any more.

In April I wrote:

“That party membership is such a minority taste now suggests that the 19th-century model of political parties we still embrace is hopelessly outdated.

Yet no politician has the vision or overweening ambition to wrench it apart and allowing something more attuned to our needs today to take its place”.

Party membership is growing again, so I was wrong about that. But maybe the tectonic plates really are moving.

Already, Remain and Leave across the UK, and Yes and No in Scotland, seem more vital and more coherent identities than the old party labels.

There is a high probability of a significant realignment happening within the next few months, and not just on the left. “Left” and “Right” no longer describe the real political faultlines in England, the big divides are more cultural than economic.

Labour is fundamentally split between its middle-class activist base and its working class roots to the point where there is no reason to exoect white working-class small-c conservatives to vote for a party more concerned with middle-class identity politics. And that’s before you throw the cultish behaviour of the old-school hard-left into the mix. Do you really expect people in Rotherham to support a party who seem to care more about Palestine and Venezuela than the north of England?

The Conservatives are just as split, between neo-liberal internationalists and little-England social conservatives, with cultish Randite libertarians mirroring Labour’s Trotskyite left. It may be that Theresa May will win the leadership election and hold the party together in the short term. If Andrea Leadson wins, all bets are off, and the chances of the party splitting are high.

The Liberal Democrats are seeing a surge of membership as one party who do still have a coherent idea of what they actually stand for. But in the longer term will liberal values be served by a small dedicated party, or as a faction with one of the new parties that may emerge from the breakup of Labour and the Tories?

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Chemistry is Sexist?

It’s another one of those Real Peer Review things. Sadly the original Real Peer Review was forced to close down after threats to expose the academic behind the account. The new one is a group account run by different people, with the blessing of the original anonymous academic.

In this one, a paper that tries to argue that Chemisty is sexist. As before, I’m not linking to the original to spare the author.

Feminist science criticism has mostly focused on the theories of the life sciences, while the few studies about gender and the physical sciences locate gender in the practice, and not in the theories, of these fields. Arguably, the reason for this asymmetry is that the conceptual and methodological tools developed by (feminist) science studies are not suited to analyze the hard sciences for gender-related values in their content. My central claim is that a conceptual, rather than an empirical, analysis is needed; one should be looking for general metaphysical principles which serve as the conceptual foundation for the scientific theory, and which, in other contexts, constitute the philosophical foundations of a worldview that legitimates social inequalities. This position is not being advocated anywhere in the philosophy of science, but its elements are to be found in Helen Longino’s theory of science, and in the social epistemology and ontology of Georg Lukács.

It goes on

4. Marxist and feminist standpoint theory

In order to establish the claim that certain values found in the theories of the physical sciences are gendered, an alternative epistemological framework is needed. Traditionally, the alternative to empiricism as a theory of knowledge is Marxist epistemology, also known as standpoint theory. The writings of Marx provide grounds for the claim that the two main classes in capitalism (the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) have distinctive viewpoints on reality. The systematic philosophical elaboration of this view is to be found in the work of Georg Lukács. Feminist standpoint theory was developed by means of analogy between the position of women under patriarchy and the position of the proletariat under capitalism. This section examines Marxist and feminist standpoint theory for their potential to conceptualize social ideologies in the physical sciences.

If you’re being generous, you could consider this a case of an academic who’s gone so deep into theory they’ve lost the ability to recognise where their theory doesn”t apply, making the same mistake frequently made by economists and evolutionary biologists. A case of the Richard Dawkins?

But you could argue that things like this are actively harmful. When there’s a movement to get more women involved in STEM fields and challenge harmful stereotypes like “Girls can’t do maths”, do attempts to undermine the theoretical basis of science itself in the name of feminism really help?

Or am I not allowed to criticise such things because I’m a “straight white male”.

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We are a divided nation

Britain of the past two weeks has started to take on the worst aspects of American politics, divided into opposing tribes each with world views the other finds incomprehensible, who regard each other with mutual loathing.

In England and Wales, there’s a gulf between the prosperous cosmopolitan cities and university towns, and the small towns and declining former industrial regions. One side effect of being a progressive rock fan is you do get to visit places like Bilston, Crewe or Wath-upon-Dearne. It’s a different world from the bustling cities and leafy suburbs, and it’s a world many from the prosperous regions probably never see.

What this divisive referendum has exposed is the way our structure of government and electoral system disenfranchises large parts of the country. People who don’t live in marginal constituencies had got used to their vote not counting for anything much in general elections, and used the one time their vote actually did count to send a message to the elites that had been ignoring or taking them for granted.

Whether we do end up leaving the European Union in the end, and it’s by no means as settled as some politicians would like us to think, we will have to heal those divisions.

It ought to be obvious that the fruits of whatever prosperity we might see in the future must be shared more fairly, and we need to think about the best ways of doing this without either stifling enterprise or creating political client states.

But constitutional reform needs to be high on the agenda. There needs to be a more representative electoral system for starters; never again should mainstream politics be able to ignore entire regions for decades. But there also needs to be more regional autonomy within England. It’s not clear quite what a more decentralised England might look like, but if people voted to “take back control”, they should be given more power over the political decisions that effect their lives.

Quite how this can come to pass rather than see the nation fall deeper into darkness and division is another question.

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This World is Totally Fuguzi

When I checked in to a hotel in Worcester for a gig on Friday night I told the Polish receptionist it was the middle date of a three-day trip and I’d spent the previous night in Bristol.

“I hope you voted”, she replied.

There was a subdued mood at the gig; what happened affected band and audience. There were doubts at the back of the mind over how well this little grassroots scene would survive the coming storm. There were conversations about future gigs and festivals that ended with “Assuming of course it still takes place”.

Almost everyone I know has been completely devastated by the referendum result. Many are in fear of their livelihood, some are in fear of their personal safety and even their lives. Not only is the entire economy heading down the toilet, but the result has emboldened the very worst people in the country; especially the stupid, violent racists who now believe that 52% agree with them and think they have a licence to hurl crude abuse at anyone who looks foreign. If you voted Leave, you have helped enable these knuckle-draggers regardless of your reasons for voting that way.

But I can’t bring myself to hate everyone who voted Leave. Yes, some of those who voted Leave were unpleasant small-town xenophobes. Yes, others were the worst kinds of sociopathic libertarians. And many more were ignorant fools who were too willing to believe obvious lies. But there must have been many more who voted in protest against a political establishment that had ignored or taken them for granted for decades.

This doesn’t mean we should not be angry at those who should have known better, and there are many of them.

But I am far angrier at out political elites for getting us in this mess. David Cameron, whose catastrophic political misjudgement is the direct cause. And George Osborne whose ideologically-driven austerity program has screwed-over the poorest communities.

Then there’s the entire Leave Campaign, every single one of them lying two-faced slime. Boris Johnson is revealed as an utterly cynical charlatan. Farage has revealed his true nature as an out-and-out racist. UKIP are the natural successors of the BNP; the decline of that openly racist party not so much a rejection of their values as UKIP hoovering up their base. And don’t even get me started on the Daily Mail and the Daily Express for printing out-and-out race hate on their front pages.

And last, but not least, Jeremy Corbyn. There is increasing evidence that Corbyn, or at least his inner circle, actively sabotaged Labour’s contribution towards the Remain campaign. In a way that duplicity is even worse than Boris’ lying. It may be that Corbyn himself is innocent and the blame lies with people surrounding him such as the odious Seamas Milne, but the truth is the leadership did not support the party on the ground. That is why the party is now in meltdown.

We are now two nations who inhabit different cultural universes, and we must ask ourselves how the hell we got here. What happened to the confident outward-looking Britain of the 2012 Olympics? What made 52% of the voters believe the only way their voices would matter was to utterly screw over the other 48% in revenge?

It may well be that in the end we won’t actually leave the EU after all. The referendum was technically advisory and not legally binding, a deliberate loophole that neither campaign wanted to draw attention to. David Cameron did not send notification under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on Friday, and that may prove to be very significant. For all the talk of respecting the will of the people, a democracy is not the same as tyranny of the majority, and democratic systems have checks and balances for a reason. The majority was less that 4% and both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. The only thing stopping Parliament from overruling the referendum is how they’re going to sell it to the voters at the next election. But anything could happen and a lot could change in the next couple of months.

Healing the deep divisions in England and in Wales is going to take a lot longer.

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Political Grief Policing

Ian Dunt says that Brexiters must stop trying to police the reaction to Jo Cox’s death.

For the Remain camp the death forced a pause in campaigning just when they needed to get their message out. But for Brexiters it was far worse. In a contest which is fundamentally about risk and the public appetite for a jump into the unknown, the news of a mother being killed in the street seemed to affirm a sense of chaos and impending darkness. It provided an emotional backdrop which gravitated towards concerns about stability and security.

But that’s only half of it. Brexiters aren’t just scared the death will have an impact on the referendum. They’re scared it will force a change in how we talk about immigration. An expectation might develop that the debate be discussed moderately, with as little emotion as possible, and on the basis of facts.

That would be a disaster for the anti-immigration lobby, which is very good at telling stories designed to trigger an emotional response, particularly in those who are struggling to get by. ‘This family of seven just arrived in Britain and now they’re in the council home you didn’t get’ – that type of thing. Sometimes the stories are true. Mostly they are false. But they are all based on highly emotive and divisive attempts to turn the public mood. They reached a pinnacle – for now, if we’re lucky – in the Nigel Farage ‘Breaking Point’ poster.

For those two reasons – Brexit and the continuation of an aggressive anti-immigration debate – Jo Cox’s death needed to be stripped of its political context. It could not be treated as a political killing of a political person, with political causes and political repercussions. It had to be turned into a simple story of personal tragedy. Nothing more

What he says. Jo Cox was a politician who was murdered by someone who was opposed to everything she stood for politically. I’ve had to mute Leave suporters on social media who engaged in precisely the sort of policing Ian Dunt is calling out here. But there was never a peep from the same people over the Leave campaigns gross and inflammatory racism.

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Where do we go from here?

Jo Cox (Wikipedia)There were some rational arguments in favour of Leave, but their appeal has always been based more on emotion than on reason. Which was why Remain found it so hard to counter Vote Leave’s lies with cold, hard facts. Vote Leave has tapped into a rich seam of pent-up resentment from people mainstream politics had been ignoring for decades.

But everything has changed in the past 48 hours. After the terrible murder of Jo Cox technical arguments about economics or democracy or sovereignty just don’t matter any more. It’s become a question of what sort of country we want to be, and a vote for Leave represents an endorsement of the blatant and ugly racism of Leave’s loudest and nastiest supporters.

And that is something which simply cannot be allowed to happen.

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But he does good work!

The story of Jacob Applebaum resignation from TOR following multiple accusations of sexual assault is a disturbing one. It’s an all-too-familiar story; his behaviour appears to have been common knowledge for years, but he was powerful enough that nobody was willing to call him out publicly. Then once a critical mass of victims were willing to share their stories, it opened the floodgates. How he was able to get away with so much for so long is one of those questions it’s hard not to ask.

There are important differences, but there are also strong parallels with Requires Hate in the SFF community. Both are examples of manipulative sociopaths surrounded by sycophants, and both are examples of the values of a non-mainstream subculture serving to enable an abuser.

Violet Blue pulls no punches, blaming a hero-worshipping culture for enabling abuse, and is prepared to name and shame some of the people who continued to write fawning media pieces even as his character and behaviour was becoming widely known.

Maybe they knew, or maybe they didn’t care enough to vet him, but CCC and Assange and Snowden gave him power and that needs to be part of this conversation, because we need look no further for proof that hero worship and the cult of belief is pure poison. He convinced people to trust him with secrets, like docs, and threatened the unthinkable if cornered. Jake also benefited greatly — and I can’t stress this enough — from journalists who did not check their facts, reporters who bought into his bullshit persecuted-hacker narrative, and blogs like Boing Boing who breathlessly starfucked his appropriated hacks and docs and reprehensible behavior into credibility.

This didn’t happen because we’re broken as a hacker culture, or because we’re hackers and thus too undeveloped to comprehend empathy. People like Jake can be found in other places; priests and churches, Hollywood, the porn industry, and more. Wherever power imbalances, hero worship, and secret-keepers intersect. People like Jake are found in hacker culture, too, and it’s past time for hacker culture to deal with it.

And, of course, the music industry is hardly immune. Violet’s line about the effect of seeing people praise the work of a known abuser has on their victims cuts rather close to home. Do we single out the likes of Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris and ignore or play down the behaviour of others purely because the latter’s music is considered more worthy?

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