Religion & Politics Blog

The Worlds Shortest Political Quiz describes me as a left-liberal. I consider myself a non-fundamentalist protestant. I have little time for dogmatism or sectarianism in either politics or religion, but this blog will contain opinions. Read at your peril.

We Live In Interesting Times

Only a fool dare predict the outcome of the next general election. Suggestions that either the Liberal Democrats will be wiped out or UKIP will gain more than a handful of seats are probably wishful thinking on some parties’ behalf.

It’s looking like the major battleground will be Scotland, where the latest poll suggests Scottish Labour faces being wiped out by SNP. If that poll really does reflect the way the election will go, then the SNP are on course to become the third largest party in the next Parliament.

What that means for the next government is anyone’s guess. A potentially fractious Labour/SNP/Liberal Democrat coalition is probably the least bad option as long as UKIP don’t gain enough seats to be potential power-brokers.

But the worst nightmare, perhaps even worse than a feared Conservative/UKIP coalition would be a grand coalition between Labour and the Conservatives. Such a government could bring out the very worst in both parties; the swivel-eyed social reactionary side of the Tories and the nasty authoritarian side of Labour that hasn’t completely purged the ghost of Joseph Stalin from its veins. Such a chimaeric monster risks being closer to actual real fascism than any coalition involving the right-wing UKIP.

“May you live in interesting times” was always a curse.

Posted in Religion & Politics | Tagged | 2 Comments

Why #GamerGate must end, and why it needs a truce

Two months on and GamerGate is still going on, with every attempt to shut it down merely fanning the flames. But we are starting to see some rejection of the manicheanism and lack of nuance that’s a big part of the problem.

For example, this rant on Popehat that takes no prisoners. But while most of it is aimed at supporters of GamerGate, pointing out how ridiculous the majority of their claims are, he also takes some well-aimed shots at their opponents. In particular the proponents of knee-jerk outrage-driven call-out culture who are shocked to find their own tactics used against them.

If you cultivate a culture in which people react disproportionately to stupid or offensive jokes, sooner or later someone else is going to be freaking out — sincerely or cynically — over someone “on your side” telling a stupid joke.

If you cultivate a culture in which the internet lands on someone like a ton of bricks for being an asshole, sooner or later some segment of the internet is going to decide that you are the asshole, and pile on you.

It is pointed out that the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend:

Look, if you see #GamerGate as a vehicle to advance cultural conservative messages that you believe in, more power to you. That’s free speech. But if you are genuinely someone who only cares about journalistic integrity, and you promote Breitbart and Yiannopoulos, aren’t you being a useful idiot?

And both sides are guilty of that:

Yiannopoulos is by no means the only example. There’s also the feculent two-faced pack of scribblers at Gawker Media. Gawker Media, through Kotaku and Gawker and Jezebel, is consistently outraged at the misogyny of #GamerGate, and has retreated into pearl-clutching couch-fainting at the attacks it has recently endured on its own work. But Gawker Media loves feminism like a glutton loves his lunch.

Slate’s David Auerbach notes that there are all sorts of people for or against GamerGate, including feminists supporting it as a proxy war in a long-running feud between different generations of feminism. But it’s all reached the point where the human cost is just too high. It has to stop.

Whatever a troll does under the cover of Gamergate—such as doxxing actress Felicia Day or offering free game codes to accounts that send death threats—is guaranteed to get a lot of attention (far more than typical Internet harassment) and to be blamed not on the individual but on Gamergate collectively. For a troll, this is a perfect setup: maximum effect, minimal exposure. I could dox any woman in gaming, and Gamergate would get blamed. So as long as Gamergate drags on, trolls who care less about games than about causing chaos will wreak havoc

But he also makes the point that GamerGate, despite all the attendant toxicity, is going to continue for as long as the gaming media continues to use the highly visible misogyny and harassement to deflect attention away from things the media doesn’t want to talk about. His conclusion is that in order for GamerGate to come to an end, there has to be some sort of truce with those supporters who aren’t reactionary trolls. Parts of the media do need to clean up their acts, and he’s another to point an accusing finger at Gawker Media, who have not exactly been covering themselves in glory.

I’ve mentioned parallels with the culture wars across music a generation ago before. Back in those days entire genres of music had to fight for their right to exist. In a dishonest hit piece so notorious it’s remembered decades later, Rush and their fanbase were slandered as Nazis. We were told that guitar solos were misogynistic because the guitar was a phallic symbol. Well, perhaps not in those exact words, but that was surely the subtext behind Paul Morley’s ridiculous “Anti-Rockist” movement.

But all that was years ago, and it was really the growing pains of a far more diverse music scene that was rapidly fragmenting into multiple overlapping subcultures. Nowadays genres of music whose audiences are overwhelmingly white and male such as metal or progressive rock are allowed to exist without constantly having to defend themselves against charges of racism and sexism for that reason alone. And because the relative merits of different styles of music is largely divorced from identity politics we can have discussions about homophobia in the metal scene without getting derailed by “You should all be listening to dance-pop instead”.

Music’s bitter culture wars took place in a very different media environment, where a limited number of gatekeepers have far more power, and agenda-driven music journalists really did have the ability to make or break careers. It was far more of a zero-sum game in the days before the internet and the diversification of distribution channels.

Only the other hand, perhaps we’re lucky there was no Twitter during the Punk Wars.

Posted in Games, Religion & Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

HS25 and Beyond

Following on the announcement of HS3, the government are set to announce HS25. It will not serve any major cities but will just go round and round in circles. There are rumours that Hornby and Bachmann have both submitted bids. The system will be controlled by a big knob, but George Osborne has promised he will let other people have a go occasionally.

On a more serious note, I’m still seeing people who loudly declare that high-speed rail is a waste of money and we should be building high-speed internet instead. If you really believe that the nation should not be investing in transport infrastructure to meet future demand because you’d rather sit at home and play video games or watch high-definition porn, then congratulations; the nation’s trainspotters can look down on you as socially isolated shut-ins.

Posted in Religion & Politics, Travel & Transport | Tagged | Leave a comment

Was Michael Moorcock’s Law and Chaos based on any real-world religious or philosophical system, or did he create it from the whole cloth? It’s remarkable how manycultural conflicts that cut across traditional political and religious lines make more sense when framed as Law vs. Chaos, or between conflicting strains of Law.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Why are we not rioting on the streets?

phones4uWriting in that bastion of free-market conservatism, The Daily Telegraph, Alex Proud looks at the recent collapse of Phones 4U, and asks why aren’t the British middle-classes staging a revolution? He paints a grim picture of the endgame of late-stage capitalism.

Phones4U was bought by the private equity house, BC Partners, in 2011 for £200m. BC then borrowed £205m and, having saddled the company with vast amounts of debt, paid themselves a dividend of £223m. Crippled by debt, the company has now collapsed into administration.

The people who crippled it have walked away with nearly £20m million, while 5,600 people face losing their jobs. The taxman may also be stiffed on £90m in unpaid VAT and PAYE. It’s like a version of 1987’s Wall Street on steroids, the difference being that Gordon Gecko wins at the end and everyone shrugs and says, “Well, it’s not ideal, but really we need guys like him.”

I’m not financially sophisticated enough to understand the labyrinthine ins and outs of private equity deals. But I don’t think I need to be. Here, my relative ignorance is actually a plus. You took a viable company, ran up ridiculous levels of debt, paid yourselves millions and then walked away, leaving unemployment and unpaid tax bills in your wake. What’s to understand? We should be calling for your heads on a plate.

People like this are being allowed to loot the economy with impunity, and they’ve being allowed to get away with it because they’re being protected by the political establishment, which has allowed itself to be bought. It explains why nobody was prosecuted for fraud in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis, and there has been no tightening of the lax regulations that allowed this crisis to happen.

It’s exactly the same as the declining cities in parts of Italy and the United States where The Mafia has its hooks in goverment and bleeds the local economies dry. The only difference is The Mafia kill those who oppose them, and the private equity houses haven’t (yet) crossed that line.

The mantra is we must coddle the rich because they’re “wealth creators”. But this mantra comes from the paid shills of these thieves and from their useful idiots who have read too much Ayn Rand. But, as the Phones4U collapse shows, this is a lie. They don’t create wealth, they merely steal it.  As as for them being “job creators”, don’t make me laugh.

Posted in Religion & Politics | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Trust Fund Trolls

It probably ought not to be a surprise that some of the most annoying people on the interweb, from all-round bigot Vox Day to book-burning culture warrior Alex Lifschitz turn out to be trust fund brats. These are people who have either never needed to hold down a proper job in order to lead a comfortable lifestyle, or owe whatever positions they do hold to money and family connections rather than needing to demonstrate any actual ability. They don’t inhabit the same moral or financial universe as the rest of us, and never need to deal with the negative consequences of acting like assholes.

This is what “privilege” means.

The terrible thing is that this isn’t restricted to internet blowhards. Our government is made up of people like this. As the gap between the rich and everyone else grows ever larger in English-speaking world, we can only expect this to get worse.

Posted in Religion & Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Help for Heroes duped by Murdoch?

The Sun This is an appalling story in The Guardian that seems to be dragging the name of a once-respected charity through the mud.

The Sun are claiming that Miliband refused to do a photo-op because supporting Help for Heroes might anger “Lefties”. Labour dismiss this as a lie.

And all too predictably the bottom half of Twitter is full of knuckle-dragging bigots who claim Miliband is pandering to Muslims.

I have supported this charity in the past; in recent years Mostly Autumn have done a lot of fundraising for their cause. Help for Heroes has always advertised itself as non-partisan and non-political; had they ever displayed an obvious right-wing or militaristic bias there is no way I would ever have supported them.

Has Help for Heroes jumped the shark by willingly getting involved in dirty party political mudslinging?  Or have they been misled by the Murdoch press and underestimated just how nasty the gutter tabloids can be?

Whichever is the case, it’s difficult for the charity’s reputation not to be tarnished by this.

Posted in Religion & Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Where Do We Go From Here?

The Scottish referendum has upset the applecart of British politics, and the fact we came dangerously close to the breakup of the UK has sent shockwaves through a complacent Westminster establishment. And it’s about time too.

As Fish eloquently explained in a long and heartfelt blog post, this is not really about Scottish nationalism at all. It’s a crisis of democratic legitimacy affecting the whole of the UK. We had a series of administrations, both Conservative and Labour who have become increasingly remote from the people who elected them, and care more about the financial markets than the voters. While “The Markets” are described as if they’re some impartial force of nature, they actually represent a small number of extremely rich people who do not like democracy. The failure to prosecute a single high-ranking banker for fraud in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis and instead impose a punishing austerity regime squeezing the living standards of the most vulnerable shows where Westminster’s priorities lie.

The mood in the country is that things cannot go on like this. Where we go from here is an interesting question. There is a lot of talk of constitutional reform, of increased powers not only to Scotland but to the English regions and big cities, and presumably to Wales. And if electoral reform isn’t also high on the agenda, it really ought to be.

But tinkering with administrative structures or electoral systems isn’t the only issue, since the crisis of legitimacy goes far deeper. There is a media that exists within a Westminster bubble, and gives the impression it’s on the side of the politicians rather than the people. And then there is the Labour Party which had adopted the same neo-liberal agenda and become indistinguishable from the Tories in any meaningful sense. This means we’re denied any real choice even if we’re fortunate to live in one of the small number of marginal constituencies where our votes actually matter.

With nobody to offer an alternative vision of a better, more hopeful world that isn’t ruled by unelected bankers, the only other vision on offer is UKIP’s fear-driven swivel-eyed xenophobia.

And we need something better than that.

Posted in Religion & Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

“We have witnessed a total breakdown in political legitimacy” -  A very powerful piece blaming the near-breakup of the UK not on the Tories, but on the corrupt political media and the cowardice of the Labour Party.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Satanic Panics and Cover-Ups?

Satanic Jimmy SavileYears ago, back in the late 80s, the English-speaking world was in the grip of the so-called “Satanic Panic”. Driven by American or American-influenced fundamentalist Christians, we were told that things like heavy metal and Dungeons and Dragons were tools of Satan, and there were baby-sacrificing Satanic cults whose members included powerful figures in the upper reaches of society. It all seemed ridiculously far-fetched and offered a window in what appeared to be a paranoid and warped world-view.

In Britain we saw a moral panic about Satanic ritual abuse of children which parts of the social work profession fell for. This eventually culminated in the Orkney scandal in 1991, where despite the complete lack of evidence large numbers of children were forcibly removed from parents later proved to be completey innocent. Jonathan Calder blogged about in “The devil on South Ronaldsay“. It makes disturbing reading.

Decades later we have the revelations about the activities of Jimmy Saville, Cyril Smith and others, and the realisation that there really was a paedophile ring in the corridors of power in politics and the media, and powerful figures had been covering it up.

All of which make you wonder. How much were those two things were connected?

Were the stories of Satanic ritual abuse inaccurate rumours of what was really going on, like the party game of Chinese whispers? Or was it something more sinister, a manufactured lie from those who were covering up real abuse, to divert attention?

I suspect we will never know the truth.

Posted in Religion & Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment