Religion and Politics Blog

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

Bernie vs Hilary. It gets ugly

The continuing awfulness of Donald Trump had been overshadowing the race for the Democratic nomination between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But that race is not only very close but has become very ugly, and it does seem to highlight the fundamental schism in the liberal-left.

It’s become so ugly that comparisons are being made with GamerGate. Does this suggest that the culture wars across gaming, fandom and tech are not quite the left-right conflict as they’ve frequently been framed?

It’s not as if either side is innocent here. We’ve seen some ugly casual sexism coming from a small but noisy faction of Sanders supporters, which doesn’t do their candidate a lot of favours. The so-called “Bernie Bros” do appear to have a lot in common with the infamous Cybernats or some of the more belligerent Corbyn supporters that sometimes make the British political internet an unpleasant place.

But the Clinton campaign is no better. It is noticeable is now many of those who have invested heavily in so-called “Social Justice Warrior” middle-class identity politics are solid Clinton supporters. Their attacks on Sanders and his support appear to come from the same playbook as the attacks on GamerGate and The Sad Puppies. On the surface at least, Sanders’ politics have little in common with the conservative-libertarian bent of the Gaters or the Puppies. Is what we’re seeing just their default response when faced with what they see an intruder on territory they believe to be rightfully theirs?

Though it should be noted that Bernie Sanders has distanced himself from the so-called “Bernie Bros” in a way those other groups did not do with some of their own bad actors.

But in the end, much like with Jeremy Corbyn’s labour party, both camps appear to have forgotten that their ultimate goal is to defeat whatever horrific troglodyte ends up on top at the end of the Republican race. Posturing and self-indulgent virtue signalling will not help achieve that goal.

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The Guardian, Coldplay and Cultural Appropriation

The Guardian posted an article accusing Coldplay of “Cultural Appropriation” over their new music video filmed in India. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the video itself, there was  an implied subtext that any western musicians who include elements of non-western cultures in their art are guilty of racism.

A band most of whom I know personally have recently released an album with lyrics strongly influenced by Indian spirituality. Does that mean that they too are guilty of racism? Does that mean I’m guilty by association through supporting them and giving their album a positive review?

Fortunately enough people whose opinions I trust have dismissed that piece as little more than sub-Buzzfeed button-pushing clickbait. It’s a largely fact-free thinkpiece that doesn’t cite sources or do any proper journalism. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to find on someone’s personal blog, but we ought to expect higher standards from a national newspaper with a long and illustrious history. It’s telling that under The Guardian’s new policy on articles that touch on race, the piece has no comment section, so they won’t get flooded with responses telling them how ridiculous it is. It’s also telling that the writer picked an obvious soft target, a hugely popular but deeply unfashionable band despised by much of The Guardian’s readership.

Cultural Appropriation is a bit of a minefield. It ought to be easy to understand why simplistic racist caricatures belong in the past, or why you should be careful when using sacred religious symbols outside the context of your own faith. Coldplay might even be guilty of those things. But Social Justice Warriors (I hate that term, but it seems to have stuck) take things much further; any attempt by white westerners to create art that references any aspect of non-western cultures is denounced as “problematic”, their term for “sinful”. The truth is there is an enormous grey area between those two extremes, but ideological absolutists don’t do grey areas. So much great music has arisen from cross-fertilisation between different cultures, something which would be squashed if those who would police art in this manner had their way.

There’s a whole cultural ecosystem of media pundits who earn a living playing on misplaced white liberal guilt. Nobody wants to be thought of as racist or sexist, so too much nonsense ends up going unchallenged. The whole subject of Cultural Appropriation is ideal territory for these people. It’s hardly surprising that it was meat and drink for the notorious predator Requires Hate who did so much harm within the world of science-fiction.

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Giles Fraser, David Bowie and Adolf Eichmann

I’m often in two minds about Giles Fraser’s columns in The Guardian. He’s always thought provoking, sometimes insightful, but sometimes completely wrong.

His unwavering humanitarianism and willingness to speak truth to power can be genuinely prophetic, especially when he speaks about subjects such as the current refugee crisis. Rather less attractive is his anti-science and anti-technology Luddism, which can be as deeply reactionary as his humanitarianism is progressive.

His recent joyless piece on Bowie was one of the worst things I’ve read on the subject; Giles Fraser came over as claiming Bowie was bad because he sang about space, and that was a sinful distraction from more important things. Keep your head down and focus on your chores, rather than look up to the sky or dare to dream. He compounded that by singing the praises of Paul Weller and Billy Bragg, who set gritty social realist lyrics to what to my ears was always drab and colourless music. I have never had much time for puritanism, in whatever form it manifests.

His piece published on Holocaust Memorial Day about the last letter from convicted war criminal Adolf Eichmann is on far more solid ground.

“There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders,” Eichmann’s letter pleaded. “I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”

In other words: not my fault, I was only obeying orders. His self-delusion was unassailable, even at the end. Eichmann’s request was denied and two days later he was hanged in Ramla prison.

In her famous account of the trial, the philosopher Hannah Arendt described Eichmann as a small-minded functionary, more concerned with the managerial hows of his job than the moral or existential whys. According to Arendt, Eichmann wasn’t a man for asking difficult questions, he just got on with the job of managing timetables and calculating travel costs – thus her famous phrase “the banality of evil

I can’t help but think yet again of Iain Duncan-Smith’s regime at The Department of Work and Pensions. No, his treatment of the disabled, callous and inhumane as it is, cannot be compared in scale to the industrialised mass murder of eleven million people. But when it comes to the banality of evil, and the indifference to suffering caused as a direct result of his actions because it all happens out of sight, the parallels are obvious.

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Is Triple J’s Hottest 100 all about White Male Privilege?

The Guardian is (yet again) trying to stir up trouble. This time it’s over the results of an end-of-year list by an Australian indie-rock radio station of being too male. It’s one of those articles where excessive use of sweeping generalisations means that the valid points the author is trying to make end up getting lost in the noise. The comments thread is a predictable car crash.

On one level it looks like a trivial twitter spat being blown up out of all proportion, and that spat itself looks like a prime example of two people talking past one another because neither is willing to recognise that the other is using a different meaning of the dreaded word “privilege”. Or that the social justice activism’s definition of the word was meant to describe structural inequality rather than be used to attack individuals.

But the wider point of whether or not a poll from an indie-rock radio station is a symbol of endemic sexism in the music scene doesn’t get coherently expressed. As some comments have pointed out, mainstream commercial pop is dominated either by female singers or male singers such as Justin Bieber with overwhelmingly female audiences. You could make a strong case that genre snobbery has a more than a whiff of sexism, especially the implication that indie-rock is somehow superior and more “authentic” than pop. But the piece doesn’t go there.

Taste in music is both subjective and deeply personal. The sorts of music people enjoy listening to, or indeed make, is often strongly gendered, and that gets more so the more you move away from the commercial mainstream. Which means it can get ugly very quickly when you inject identity politics into music fandom in a clumsy and heavy-handed manner. If you imply to someone that their preference for rock over pop somehow makes them sexist and racist, they’re likely to take it personally, and many will react angrily. Especially if you give the impression you don’t actually connect with music at a deep emotional level yourself.

If you want to point out how an awards shortlist, a festival bill or a listeners poll is too male, and there are plenty of those that are guilty as charged, you do need a bit more evidence than merely failing to meet some arbitrary gender quota. Unless of course the bias is so blatant that it’s impossible to explain away.

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Cecil Parkinson

There is a marked contrast in my social media feeds between the reactions to the deaths of Lemmy, David Bowie and Glenn Frey, and the death of Cecil Parkinson.  The former was filled with recongition of their artistic legacies, and personal memories about what their music had meant to people.

With Cecil Parkinson it’s all about the appalling way in which he treated his former mistress and illegitimate daughter.

Though the report in The Telegraph, which I won’t like to, makes want to throw up.

Miss Keays, an embittered woman, who bore Mr Parkinson’s daughter, Flora, repeatedly claimed that he had reneged on a promise to leave his own wife and marry her.

Ugh. When feminists talk about “The Patriarchy”, this is the sort of attitude they mean.

The super-injunction he managed that prevented any media mention of the existence of his daughter until she reached the age of eighteen was completely unprecedented.  According to some reports she could not even appear in school photographs or partocipate in school events. Strong evidence that he was an awful man.

Lemmy, David Bowie and Glenn Frey all contributed to making the world a better place.  Can the same be said of Cecil Parkinson?

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Bad Actors

One reason the “culture wars” across gaming, technology and fandom have become so toxic is there are far too many bad actors with sizeable internet followings who have no qualms against setting those followers on anyone who dares to incur their wrath.

And because some of their targets are themselves bad actors in the opposing camp it lets them paint themselves as heroic crusaders for righteousness. And of course the target bad actors get to play the victim, which feeds their narrative, and the cycle repeats.

It has to stop, because too many innocent people are getting hurt in the crossfire.

The cycle will repeat until people are willing recognise the bad actors on their own “side” and say “enough”. And that goes for both sides. I’m not going to name names, if you’re reading this you probably know who some of them are.

Most of us just want to get on with our jobs, make exciting things, play games and read books without getting caught up in a bitter turf war over control of the spaces we work and play in.

Real problems within communities that ought to be solved by people within those communities working together instead escalate to become new fronts in the culture wars, with all the associated bitterness and toxicity.

Is this because we keep letting those same bad actors frame the arguments?

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Jeremy Corbyn, a leader in search of a plot

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader I was prepared to give him a chance. Even if Labour fell short of becoming electable, they could at least move the Overton Window on economics by challenging not just George Osborne’s misguided austerity programme but the whole dubious premise of neo-liberal trickle-down dogma.

It’s something that The Liberal Democrats cannot do effectively because of the way they tied themselves to Osborne’s austerity politicies during the coalition.

Occasionally they do, and score some direct hits. But they spend too much time on subjects where they are dangerously wrong.

Former Labour pollster Deborah Mattinson warned that the party are heading for a heavy defeat under Corbyn, due to the fact that the public simply don’t trust him to govern. She was followed by columnist Owen Jones who, while much more supportive of Corbyn, warned that Labour must stop talking so much about foreign affairs and defence issues and concentrate instead on the sort of domestic issues which both party members and the public can rally around.

Within 24 hours the Labour leader was on the airwaves calling for unilateral disarmament and our negotiated surrender of the Falklands.

When even Owen Jones thinks you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

Corbyn gives the impression that the prime purpose of giving the Falklands to Argentina regardless of the wishes of the people who actually live there is to spite the ghost of Margaret Thatcher. While that might warm the hearts of the activist base, it’s not the sort of thing that will win over the hearts of the people who’s votes Labour need if they are to win an election.

Every time Corbyn opens his mouth on foreign or defence policy what comes out sounds like unreconstructed student activism from the 1970s. It’s not about making difficult judgement calls in a complex and dangerous world, it’s all about symbolic posturing.

Surely anyone over the age of thirty ought to know that the toytown politics of student unions isn’t fit for purpose in the real world?

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Cologne Cathedral and Rhine Bridge

What happened in the German City of Cologne on New Year’s Eve is extremely troubling, especially if you’re on the liberal left. There was clearly a major failing of policing; the assumption has to be that with a high state of alert over terrorism they paid insufficient attention to other potential sources of trouble. It does prompt speculation over the shadowy hand of Islamic State. It’s been pointed out the perpetrators were drunk and IS are strict about that sort of that sort of thing. But I don’t think we should rule out agent provocateurs making good use of useful idiots. It does after all advance their malign agenda, and it was all clearly orchestrated by someone.

But there are big cultural and political issues for the whole of Europe too. The important liberal values of opposition to racism, and opposition to violence against women come dangerously into conflict. It’s hard to determine what lessons ought to be learned.

You should start by reading Maajid Nawaz’s piece in The Daily Beast. Maajid is both a Muslim and a genuine Liberal, and knows what he’s talking about in a way none of the ignorant blowhards can come close to.

Maajid Nawaz almost certainly knows far more about both radical Islam and Middle-Eastern cultures than you do, and when he talks about important and sensitive subjects you should listen even if you don’t agree with his conclusions. His background means he can speak uncomfortable truths which we white people frequently cannot.

There are also good pieces by Deborah Orr in The Guardian, and on The Rambling Infidel, the latter of which highlights some prominent left-wingers getting it badly wrong. But start with Maajid.

Obviously the white nationalist right will be exploiting this with all their might. It’s Kristallnacht come early for the worst of them. But it also exposes the failure of the iteration of identity politics adopted by large parts of the modern left. If you have to play Oppression Top Trumps before you can decide whether to condemn an atrocity or to blame the victims, your ideology is not fit for purpose and should be discarded. The Tweet from Laurie Penny highlighted in The Rambling Infidel’s blog demonstrates the sort of divide-by-zero error some of the left are experiencing.

The whole topic of immigration is a political hot potato few people other than right-wingers want to talk about. Yes, there have been plenty of pieces extolling the economic benefits, but the conversation we haven’t been able to have concerns the integration and assimilation of people from very different cultures. It’s something that, for all their own problems with structural racism, America seems to do better than Europe. It’s not an easy conversation to have, which is probably why some are so quick to shut it down with accusations of racism. But if we don’t talk about it, the racists will.

Ultimately we all, whether native or migrant, need to uphold the Western values of pluralism, tolerance and individual rights. As a civilisation, we cannot afford not to.

Comments are disabled on this post because I don’t have the resources to moderation the sorts of comments it risks attracting.

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Cameron, The Saudis and Human Rights

Just in case anyone thinks I spend too much time criticising Labour and not enough time scrutinising what the Tories are up to, a reminded the Cameron & co don’t exacly occupy the moral high ground when it comes to relationships with unsavoury elements in the Middle East.

From The Independent.

David Cameron has been urged to “come clean” over the role the UK Government played in voting Saudi Arabia on to the UN Human Rights Council in an alleged secret deal.

The Saudi Government executed 47 people on Saturday causing outrage across the Middle East and sparking renewed concerns over its human rights record.

In response, the leaders of the Liberal Democrat and Green parties have demanded a public inquiry into whether Britain was involved in a secret vote-trading deal in 2013 to secure both countries a place on an influential UN panel.

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks last year purported to show that the UK initiated secret negotiations by asking Saudi Arabia for its support ahead of a ballot.

Sometimes Saudi Arabia comes over as ISIS with better PR and vast amounts of money. The Saudi royal family have more in common with a Mafia clan than the leaders of a modern nation. The Saudis, rather that America’s wars, are the biggest single cause of what’s wrong with the Middle East, destabilising nation after nation in brutal proxy wars with their regional rival Iran. And that’s before we even start on their decades long oil-funded proselytising their intolerantly sectarian version of Islam across the Middle East and Europe that will take a generation to undo.

They have one of the world’s worst records on human rights, yet they chair the UN Human Rights Council.

And they got that with Britain’s help.

Words fail me.

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The Reshuffle Omnishambles

The omnishambles of the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle has laid bare what many of us have been thinking for a long time; Jeremy Corbyn is completely useless, and is quite out of his depth as Leader of the Opposition. It makes me wonder what proportion of those who voted for him as leader are now themselves wondering what on earth they were thinking at the time.

He’s neither a natural leader nor a deep political thinker. His principled leftism is little more than simplistic dogmatism that’s unable to cope with any kind of out-of-context problem. He is probably an honourable man personally, but he’s nevertheless surrounded himself with awful people like Seamas Milne, doctrinaire Stalinists who behave as though they consider the moderates of their own party rather than the Tories are the real enemy.

As long as this goes on, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a deeply-divided party going down to catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Tories at the next election. For us Liberal Democrats, the only silver lining might be a Liberal revival filling the vacuum left by the disintegrating Labour party. But even then we face the prospect of a Tory administration with a thumping majority, as happened during the 1980s.

There is one thing even worse, though unlikely. It’s Corbyn somehow managing to bear a Tory party that imploded after Cameron’s idiotically ill-advised EU referendum. If you think Corbyn is disastrous as Leader of the Opposition, imagine how bad he’d be as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, while the media focuses of Labour, the Tories can do what they like without opposition or scrutiny.

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