Category Archives: Propaganda

The narrow nature of political words, and how that distorts discourse.


I know I’ve used this image before, but it’s perfect for this entry also.

I have to re-examine the way I, and all of us, use words like “freedom,” because it is becoming increasingly clear to me that these words are incomplete and inadequate compared to what they are supposed to mean. And this, I think, creates giant holes in political discourse and encourages atomistic thinking, evaluating actions in a vacuum, subjectivist morality (I know this is a huge one, and I will come back to it), and supports the status quo.

In order to get into this inadequacy, I must first review the three kinds of power, although my readers may already be aware of them. Expressed simply, power is the ability to make people do what you want. According to the classification by economist John Kenneth Galbraith, power can be usefully divided in three categories, which he calls condign power (force), compensatory power (money) and conditioned power (indoctrination). He furthermore ascertains that while condign power is still crucially important in some respects, it has lost a great deal of general importance in our modern democratic societies compared to compensatory and conditioned power.

The trouble is that we are still using words like “freedom” in their original meaning, as freedom from coercion. Living in a society without mass media and where most people farm for their living (entailing relatively limited compensation and conditioning), but where people with swords can carry you away for criticizing the King, such a notion of freedom would be very appealing indeed. Unfortunately, it no longer reflects reality. Our political language has become far too narrowed to express the three-dimensional use of power in our society and, by extension, the three-dimensional use of counter-power (so we often reduce activist issues to violence versus non-violence).

So we can identify three components of freedom:

1. Freedom- from condign power.
2. Freedom- from compensatory power.
3. Freedom- from conditioned power.

If we denote the presence of each of these components in superscript, the most common forms discussed are freedom1 and, very rarely, freedom1,2 (not sure what we should call the kind of “freedom” advocated by fascists and other authoritarians who believe in beating up and killing innocent people: freedom0, non-freedom, anti-freedom, or just plain slavery?). What I am saying is that we need to expand our concept of freedom to freedom1,2,3; and the same thing applies to choice, agency, human rights.

So when a liberal feminist says, for example, “prostitutes choose to sell their bodies,” this use of the word “choose” is really choose1. When I say that a majority of women do not choose to become prostitutes but rather engage in it because of economic pressure and psychological dysfunction brought about by sexual abuse, I am using choose1,2,3. The difference is that the former does not acknowledge compensatory or conditioned power, while the latter does.

A complete understanding of the concept of “freedom” must contain more than acting without having a gun put to your temple or being threatened with force if you disobey. It must also mean freedom1,2,3 from all other socially constructed necessities, such as the necessity of work, the necessity of conform to one’s social roles, or childhood abuse and the compulsions it generates. The freedom1 generously granted to us by the capitalist basically reduces itself to the freedom to starve.

Our conception of human rights logically follows from our notion of freedom, because a right cannot by definition interfere with the freedom of other people. A “right to property” is perfectly compatible with freedom1, but absolutely incompatible with freedom1,2. A “right to free speech” fits perfectly within the perspective of freedom1, but not within the perspective of freedom1,2,3. A right to health care or a right to potable water grossly contradicts freedom1 but is logically consistent with freedom1,2.

Political equality, being the flip side of freedom, can be qualified in the same way, equality1 being associated with freedom1, and so on.

Freedom1,2,3 can basically be defined as the absence of any external determinism on the human mind. This of course does not deny the presence of internal determinism on the human mind: I am not at all here talking about “free will” or any other such spook. The best way to express such a phenomenon, I think, would be in terms of possibilities offered to the individual. This definition provided by someone in the Occupy Wall Street group provides us, I think, with a good starting point:

Freedom is bound up with the idea of possibilities. The idea of limitless possibilities is the ideal of limitless freedom. The idea that anything is potentially possible, that’s what freedom means. And historically there have been very few people that have been allowed to have the kinds of possibilities that would allow them to be free. Society has progressed more and more people have been allowed to be free. But we still live in a state of unfreedom. Society does not live for its own sake, autonomously. It is still bound to something external to itself that structures it. The goal of history and transforming society must be to make these possibilities available to everyone.

Again there is a strong link posited between freedom1,2,3 and self-determinism: society, in the fullest sense of the word, must be autonomous if we are to be free1,2,3 at the individual level. But these possibilities must crucially be open to people who are different: people who already want to fulfill their social roles and not rock the boat don’t need freedom2,3, since they’d basically do what they’re doing anyway. It’s the freaks and the weirdoes, the geniuses and the subgeniuses, the visionaries and the innovators, who need to see their possibilities opened up. This is true of all rights and all choices as well: the State rarely mistreats those who are on its side.

I write a great deal of entries in opposition to voluntaryism or its corollaries. This is because I think voluntaryism is a major ethical error that people commit on a regular basis, that it leads to absolute hostility to radical principles, and that it needs to be opposed. But what causes voluntaryist-inspired thinking?

I think the fact that our political language is so narrow may be the root cause. Someone who only believes in freedom1 can then believe in equality1 (that as long as no one is being coerced, we are all on an equal footing), which leads to choice1 (that a choice is valid as long as we’re all equal1), which leads to voluntaryism (that coercion is bad but everything else is good as long as it’s chosen1). So by examining the narrowness of political language, we’re going to the root of the voluntaryist issue.

This leads me to subjectivist ethics, of which voluntaryism is only one variant. Subjectivism in ethics holds that saying an action is “good” means saying that some person or group holds a positive attitude towards it. “Abortion is bad” reduces itself to “I believe abortion is bad” or “I don’t approve of people having abortions” or “My culture does not support abortion” or “God forbids abortion” or some variant of such propositions.

One of the fatal problems with subjectivism is that, if whatever a person believes is automatically good, subjectivists are implicitly imputing infallibility to the human mind; otherwise there’d be nothing stopping a human mind from erring and stating that, for example, the Holocaust was good (I assume everyone reading this, subjectivist or not, believes the Holocaust was evil). But this can only make any sort of sense if you ignore all the social factors that mold the human mind. How can anything be infallible and at the same time be influenced by ever-changing external pressures?

So there is definitely a connection here, in that ethical subjectivism logically depends on supporting freedom1 against other kinds. Note that I am not saying that all subjectivists do support freedom1, but rather that subjectivism doesn’t make sense except if one also supports freedom1 (so don’t argue that subjectivism makes sense by telling me you don’t believe in infallibility). Anyone who understands that the human mind can also be attacked by non-coercive power cannot also believe logically that the human mind can be infallible.

Now let me go through each radical ideology in turn and look at how the narrowness of language changes how we look at them.

Starting with atheism, consider the term “freedom of religion.” What does it mean in practice? That children, who are most of the time indoctrinated (either by their parents, by a church, or some proxy) in a religion and are forced to identify with this religion from the time they can speak and think, who live in a society which puts pressure on them to adopt certain religions, can somehow make an informed decision about religion even though they are not even old enough to actually make an informed decision, even if they were actually given enough information, which we never are. So freedom of religion is definitely a sort of freedom1. It completely ignores the tremendous social pressures and conditioning applied to people’s religious beliefs.

But religion uses compensatory power as well. Just think of all the atheist priests we learn about in the Clergy Project who remain in their job simply because they can’t afford to lose that job and have no other skills to exploit. Think of all the teenagers everywhere who are deeply afraid of “coming out” and living as an atheist because they would lose financial support from the parents who supposedly love them. Think of people in highly religious countries who are harassed by religious people but don’t speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

I will not elaborate on the topic of Anarchism, but I think the relation here should be directly obvious. Anarchists recognize all forms of power as being inimical to social autonomy and individual freedom. Hierarchies and power go hand-in-hand, as the institutions in our societies which are most able to accumulate and use power are all hierarchical. Ultimately the Anarchist goal is to eliminate or neutralize all forms of power, not just coercion.

Antinatalism fights against procreation, which is pushed by massive indoctrination and financial incentives. We are all indoctrinated to believe that we must get married and have children, that being a parent is the best thing that can happen to you, that people who don’t have children are selfish. And marriage, which carries with it the expectation of children, is itself massively pushed, so much that now being able to get married is considered a basic human right. States give money through various programs to people who have children, and it is very much in the interest of States to maintain population growth (except in extreme exceptions like China), if only to maintain their tax base and the endless growth machine of capitalism.

Then there is radical feminism, which identifies the patriarchy as a system of hierarchical gender domination. The patriarchy is partially maintained by violence, but is also maintained by the inculcation and constant enforcement of gender roles, sexist institutions like capitalism, the military, religion and marriage (to only name those), the objectification of women, sexist pseudo-science and quasi-science, and so on. One cannot also forget the underpayment and non-payment of women’s work all over the world. I’ve also mentioned prostitution as another example earlier. Here is another example quoted by antiplodon at Anti-Porn Feminists:

Bart (1983; Bart and O’Brien 1985) has identified a heterosexual sex-rape continuum. At one end is consensual sex (both parties equally desire sex). At the other is rape. In between are altruistic sex (one party submits out of guilt, duty, or pity) and compliant sex (one party submits because the consequences of not submitting are worse than those of submitting). Using Bart’s conceptualization, Kelly found that most women “felt pressured to have sex in many, if not all, of their sexual relationships with men” (p.56). Yet she found that women perceived sex as coercive only when physical force or the threat of physical force was used.

This quote perfectly demonstrates the narrowness of the word “rape,” insofar as only violence or the threat of violence is perceived as coercive. Therefore most rapes are not even perceived as being rape, even by the victim.

I think the tripartite schema is clearly used here; the sex-rape continuum incorporates all three forms of power: condign (the violence of rape, the threat of violence in compliant sex), compensatory (fear of losing those resources which are controlled by the man, including shelter and money) and conditioned (the inculcation of guilt, duty or pity for not complying to a man’s sexual demands). Note that the gradient from sex to rape follows exactly the gradient from condign to conditioned power as well (rape/condign, compliant sex/condign and compensatory, altruistic sex/conditioned).

Uses of compensatory and conditioning power are generally organizational in nature. A corporation or a State pays your wages, not a person. And although specific people may indoctrinate you personally (parents, teachers, friends), indoctrination still relies on an entire society and its hierarchical institutions to back it up. Coercion, on the other hand, tends to be more individualistic in nature: ultimately, a person has to threaten, beat up or shoot another person. The organization of violence helps its effectiveness, but it is not necessary.

Now, radicalism as an approach to ethics puts the emphasis on systemic analysis, not on individual relations. What first concerns anti-theists is not whether this or that person was helped by religion, but the principles by which religion operates and their effects on society as a whole. What first concerns Anarchists is not whether some people had good or bad experiences with government bureaucracy, but rather the principles by which capital-democracies operate and how they affect people’s lives. I think you get the idea.

This means that radicals are naturally interested in freedom1,2,3, not in freedom1, because the latter view is unduly individualistic. Yes, obviously it is desirable for no one to be coerced, but to stop there is an oversimplistic analysis which assumes that actions and choices must be analyzed in a contextless vacuum. The correct perspective is to start from the premise that actions do not in fact take place in a contextless vacuum, but that they are inscribed within a social context which exerts compensatory and conditioned pressures on every individual, and therefore on all actions.

Those who actively affirm that freedom1 is the only valid use of the word “freedom” are quick in screaming censorship or fascism when radicals present a systemic analysis of an institution they favor. But this is a circular argument. If freedom1 was the only valid freedom, then fighting against compensatory and conditioned power could be censorship and fascism; but it isn’t.

I start from an egalitarian position, and from that position, I say that, to mangle a quote from Gary Lloyd, “[w]hen a boot (i.e. power) is on your throat, whether it is a coercive boot, a compensatory boot, or a conditioned boot is of no consequence.” All three “boots” lead to vast inequalities between human beings. All three “boots” flow from hierarchy and lead to internalized self-hatred, exploitation, suffering, death and genocide.

The major problem in separating these forms of power is that they are all necessary for each other. Genocide requires dehumanization of the enemy and massive resources to be perpetrated. “Property rights” require indoctrinated obedience and the force of the gun if they are to persist. Indoctrinating people to agree with a social goal, no matter what goal, requires some form of punishment for those who disagree and the means to produce and propagate an effective message.

I think it’s safe to say that at least most organizations, institutions and hierarchies, no matter what their goal is, rely to a certain extent on all three forms of power to accomplish their goals. Granted, there is an issue of degree, as most organizations, institutions and hierarchies also use cooperative methods to a certain extent. But outside of cooperative methods, they use a certain mix of the three forms of power to achieve any given goal.

I realize that a proponent of freedom1 would claim that, for example, using force to protect “property rights” is an entirely warranted and justified use of power, which therefore presents no problem at all. Of course they are wrong in that “property rights” are a legal fiction and are not actually valid. More importantly, to declare one use of force to be valid and another invalid means to have a conception of rights, and our conception of rights is derived from our conception of freedom, so the argument is actually circular.

I have also discussed the fact that many of our “non-coercive” institutions actually embody past violence. So even acts which are not in themselves violent were made possible by coercion. So there really isn’t any rational way of separating the two, and to claim otherwise is delusional at best. You’re either a radical or you’re wrong.

The similarities between liberals and conservatives.


From American Extremists.

Since liberals and conservatives monopolize the political debate, they concentrate on their differences in order to maintain group cohesion, distinctiveness and relevance. However, it has been often noted that there’s not that much difference between them, or at least that the differences are minor compared to the similarities.

In what ways are liberals and conservatives similar?

- The most obvious similarity is that they both believe in hierarchies as an organizing principle of society.

This is not to say that they believe in hierarchies in the same way. They support different hierarchies and withdraw support from different hierarchies: for example, conservatives support religious power but doubt union power, while liberals do the opposite. They also support and withdraw support from different parts of government (e.g. the military-industrial complex versus the welfare state).

In general, liberals and conservatives believe in hierarchies: they merely disagree on who should be in charge (people who think like they do, of course). They agree that there are superiors and inferiors, and that the inferiors should obey the superiors’ power; they merely agree that there is such a thing as “excessive” power (like “unhealthy competition”) and an excessive amount of differentiation between inferiors and superiors (e.g. liberals want “the poor” to be supported financially, but they support the continued existence of poverty).

Another, less obvious, consequence of this fact is that they support all hierarchies, including government, the patriarchy and capitalism, even though they may profess to disagree with them. Conservatives shout loudly that government is not a good organizing principle of society, but their own worldview depends on government to implement neo-liberalist policies at home and abroad. Liberals claim to be against “unbridled capitalism” and corporations but support the capitalist system. They also claim to support women but support gender roles and systems that exploit women. Since the power elite is almost exclusively composed of men, liberals or conservatives can only be feminists despite their liberalism or conservatism.

- They both believe in boundless economic growth and neo-liberalism. Not only do they believe in it, but they see no possible alternative. The bizarre belief that economic growth is always good monopolizes discourse about economic news because both liberals and conservatives have complete unwavering faith in it.

And this means that they cannot criticize neo-liberalism, even though neo-liberalism is responsible for decimating entire economies, compromising the lives of hundreds of millions of people, and the mass kidnapping/murder of critics in many countries (for more on this, see The Shock Doctrine). Liberals oppose neo-liberalist policies at home (while having no clear alternatives), but they don’t mind inflicting them on innocent people elsewhere.

- They both believe in equality of opportunities.

- They both believe that radicalism is a crime, is evil in nature, and is inevitably violent. We see this in their support of the neo-liberalist murderous suppression of criticism; in their rationale for war, where the pro-democracy agenda justifies the deaths of innocent people and opponents alike; and in the way liberal and conservative governments violently deal with, and talk about, opponents of democracy and capitalism in their own country.

- They both believe that children are not full human beings.

- They both define freedom as the absence of coercion. As I argue in “Free will as an ideological weapon…”, the dichotomy between coercion and conditioning is illusory and leads to the acceptance of tyranny as long as it’s not openly violent. This probably explains how Americans can describe their country as “the free world,” while living in a society which has the greatest inequality and penal population in the first world, as well as one of the most conformist and anti-individualist. To call this delusional would be generous.

- They both believe in the “middle class.” Sustaining the “middle class” serves the (implicit or explicit) role of suppressing discontent or rebellion against the government by creating an entire segment of society that buys into the economic and social games and has a lot to lose.

Positive and negative self-interest are clearly powerful factors in fostering consent. Nonetheless, at any given time, it is likely that there will be a number of people who are seriously disaffected with the current structure- most obviously the bottom 20 percent who have almost nothing to lose by change. Given that the middle 60 percent are receiving less than their equal share, it is likely that their consent will be unstable as well, at least insofar as it arises from rational or calculated self-interest alone.
The Culture of Conformism, p58

The last part is key, especially since this is a whole book that seeks to explain why people conform. We do not act our of calculated self-interest alone, and there are a host of reasons that explain why we do not rebel. One of them is the absence of class consciousness, as George Carlin succinctly expresses:

That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society. They try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich, can run off with all the fucking money!… Anything different–that’s what they’re gonna talk about–race, religion, ethnic and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything they can do to keep us fighting with each other, so that they can keep going to the bank! You know how I define the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes, does all of the work. The poor are there just to scare the shit out of the middle class. Keep ‘em showing up at those jobs.

A great deal more could be said about this, but I think you get the idea.

- They both believe that human life is basically worthless. Their policy discussions, whether it is on welfare, war, “reproductive rights” or the economy, treats individuals as means to an end, instead of beings with rights and dignity.

Any issue will do as an example, so let’s take immigration. Conservatives believe that “immigrants” “steal jobs” from documented citizens and that “immigrants” weaken the national culture, while liberals believe that most “immigrants” are hard workers who deserve to join “the economy.” In all cases, we are treated with rhetoric which, in addition to being racist, treats “immigrants” as means to an end. The values, desires or needs of “immigrants” are irrelevant.

We can also use the war on drugs as another example (using drugs as disturbing the social order v making drugs legal and taxing them to get more money). In fact, you can do this for every issue that concerns liberals and conservatives.

***

These are, I think, the fundamental similarities between liberals and conservatives (in general, not only in the United States). Post in the comments if you think I missed something.

“Human exceptionalism” and free will…


Being human is just the bees’ knees and the cat’s pajamas!

In an issue of the “Human Exceptionalist,” a newsletter put out by the naturalism deniers at the Discovery Institute, an infamous Creationist outlet, there was a passage concerning free will that I thought illustrates well some of the arguments used to defend it, as well as the relation between the fairy tale of free will and the fairy tale of Creationism.

RationalWiki explains “human exceptionalism” in this way:

The most recent usage of the term can be found in Discovery Institute propaganda. Like intelligent design, it’s basically creationism (specifically, baraminology) in a funny hat…

The rationale is that western civilization “depends on accepting the moral importance of being human,” and a conspiracy of “powerful and bounteously financed ideological forces in seemingly unrelated but actually symbiotically connected fields such as bioethics, radical environmentalism, neo-Darwinism, scientific materialism, animal rights, and futuristic transhumanism, assert with mounting vigor that being human is morally irrelevant.” Western civilisation is good, therefore creationism should be true…

So let me get into the article, which starts with “Dear Exceptional Human:” (if you remember that this newsletter is exclusively for Creationists, you will get the irony of that). It continues:

Free will is one of the crucial moral attributes that distinguishes human beings from animals.

Already we’re in troubled waters. Apparently human beings are not animals but… something else. Well, that’s the natural consequence of believing in free will. But let’s soldier on:

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take the increasing attacks on free will seriously, such as the proselytizing atheist, Sam Harris’s, newest book Free Will. If we have no free will, moral agency is actually a fiction. Without free will, we are reduced to so many automaton slaves of our genes, chemicals, whatever, overlords. In such a worldview, no one could be held morally accountable for their own actions since their biology would have made them do it.

Moreover, if humans have no free will, we are not really moral agents. Once we accepted that premise, the bases for judging behavior and establishing moral standards would eventually collapse.

This is a wonderful Argument from Armageddon. Every time I hear such an argument, I can just imagine the person declaiming this from a pulpit somewhere, with a thundering booming voice, slamming their fist on the pulpit at the right times.

The funny thing about all such arguments is that they are basically correct. The rejection of free will does entail a major crisis in Western civilization. And it’s coming, whether they like it or not. They know it, and it makes them want to rant and rave. They want to raise their hind legs and proclaim “human exceptionalism” to all and sundry.

That being said, I don’t believe that naturalism entails that we are not really moral agents or that there are no moral standards; all it means is that we can’t have “absolute” moral standards, of the kind Christians profess allegiance to (but don’t actually have).

Destroying the unique dignity of man, would, for many, make God go away. Ironically, that would elevate us back into sense of superiority (as opposed to exceptionalism), since in a Godless milieu, our unique “god-like” capabilities would make us even more remarkable, with no theists around urging humility in the face of a Creator. Perhaps, that is the point.

I don’t really understand what this passage means. We have no “god-like” capabilities (insofar as the concept of God means anything). Free will would definitely be a “god-like” capability, if we had it, but we don’t. There is nothing that clearly distinguishes us from other animals, not even the eagerness in which humans adopt absurdly false beliefs like Creationism.

And now we come to the treat:

Of course, if humans are just another animal in the forest, why not treat some of us—those with the least power and who are the most vulnerable—as mere natural resources. Alas, some of the wealthy among us look to the bodies of the destitute as so many corn crops to be harvested, or rented. Biological colonialism strikes just such a beat, for example, purchasing the kidneys of the destitute and renting the wombs of poor women—sometimes with deadly result.

I wanted to analyze this because the belief that determinism leads to tyranny through objectification is a point I haven’t gone into yet. I have, however, stated that determinism leads to the end of demonization, and objectification is often a result of demonization. But that’s not quite enough.

What I can say, however, is that the reasoning above is flawed because it fails to consider that “the wealthy,” of course, see themselves as having free will, and it is their victims that they consider to be “mere natural resources.” They do not see themselves as “mere natural resources.” So to use this as an argument for determinism is a straw man. In the determinist perspective, everyone is equally blameless and equally “just animals.”

It is incongruous for Christian Creationists to pretend that they don’t support hierarchical systems, as they believe in the hierarchies of Creator/created, saved/unsaved, God/men/women, and so on. It is also extremely ironic that in a country where Christianity backs capitalist exploitation and has wholeheartedly adopted it as its mode of operation, Discovery Institute is trying to badmouth capitalist exploitation. Neo-liberalism (and by extension, modern capitalism and our Western lifestyles) is predicated on treating half of the world as a natural resource to be exploited. Is the Discover Institute ready to fight against that, too? No… no they are not.

Putting capitalism aside, I come back again to my factory analogy. If you say that some people might break into the factories and start using the machines for their own gain, I’d say you’ve lost the plot of the analogy: we are all machines, not just some of us. And the idea of a machine trying to exploit another is just silly. It is just aberrant programming that needs to be corrected.

The thing with free will is that it’s not something that some people can have and not others: either we all have it, or no one has it. You can’t come out and say that a tyrant has free will but his victims don’t. From a naturalist perspective, the tyrant is just as blameless as his victims, and should be considered as a defective machine like any other violent criminal or psychotic. What we should be doing, first of all, is finding out what power they are using to bring about their tyrannical ends, and abolish the sources of that power or, if this is found impossible, equalize the power as much as possible.

The belief that naturalism entails seeing others as a means to an end relies on the same fallacy. To whose end would anyone be a means for, if no one is in control? In order to see people as means to an end, we must first posit someone who is more than part of a causal chain and who can turn others into tools for eir ends. But there is really nothing that exists to be an end for, just causality.

Another theory, this time from the Left, is that without agency we cannot fight back against tyranny and propose alternative structures. But this is as abstruse as the claim that without free will we can never change our mind. At the very least, it remains unproven that the free will perspective can deal more effectively with tyranny than a naturalist perspective. It seems to me that a frank analysis and uprooting of the causes of evil is a more effective way to deal with evil than punishment without any sort of change.

Tyranny doesn’t come from seeing people as machines, but rather from not seeing yourself as a machine, as something greater (contra-causal), while believing that everyone else is innately evil and depraved. This can only come from belief in free will. In the free will perspective, the dispossessed are responsible for their own powerlessness, and indeed deserve to be powerless. No matter how much they insist on the reverse, the free will perspective does not and cannot allow for human dignity, because any human being’s worth will always depend on eir self-created “choices.”

The relation between Creationism and free will is not discussed at all in this piece, but it is implied that this Creationist newsletter supports free will because God is its source, and that this all has to do with the Christian worldview. Creationists do well to panic about the imminent defeat of free will, since Creationism relies on divine free will, supernatural creation from thought alone.

Evolution, on the other hand, is incompatible with the existence of free will, because natural selection and mutations operate on physical factors, through DNA. There can be no evolution or adaptation of supernatural processes in evolution, because the reproductive processes that act on the information in DNA synthesize proteins, not supernatural entities.

This, of course, would be a surprise to those who argue for some secular form of free will. I don’t expect to convince them that they believe in a spook, even though they are. To them, the “intuition” that they have free will trumps both evidence and basic logic.

As for the topic of human exceptionalism, studies have shown that it is actually natural for people to believe that humans somehow function differently than other things around them, even when they are told to assume determinism. So perhaps human exceptionalism, in a more sophisticated form than that presented by vulgar Christians, is one of those mental models that will be hard to root out of popular culture even after determinism wins the day.

Right-wingers confuse rights and entitlements.

I’ve been talking a great deal about both rights and entitlements because they are key concepts in framing socio-political issues. They are, to a certain extent, opposites: rights are things we believe people are rightfully owed, and entitlements are things people believe they are owed on the sole basis of their social role. The former is seen as reasonable and legitimate, the latter as unjustified greed.

This can lead people to make switcharoos by framing rights as entitlements or vice-versa. Right-wingers rant that poor people feel “entitled” to get free food or money. This is linked with hatred for the poor. This is also applied to other segments of society.

Why do lazy people and abominations feel entitled to the money of those who work?

Why do people assume it is fair to take money from somebody who bothers to get out of bed and work, to feed the lazy cockroaches who don’t bother to take responsibility for their lives and such?

It is not. To force somebody to pay for the idle and unworthy is no more than an abomination.

In the view of many commentators and pundits, all citizens have an entitlement to be relieved of their poverty, which they believe, would best be accomplished by throwing other people’s money at the poor. This article makes the case that not only do the impoverished not have any such right, but the attempt to furnish them with wealth earned by others constitutes theft and does not help them in any case.
Sexual harassment and child rape advocate Walter Block

Feminists as a whole have a sincere belief that they are entitled to having society – and in particular men and taxpayers – adapt to and support their absurd beliefs. They feel women are entitled to murder their unborn babies if they can’t be bothered look after them, with the taxpayers picking up the bill. The feel entitled to maternity leave on full-pay, compensation if their feelings are ‘hurt’ in the workplace, jobs they’re not qualified for through positive discrimination. They feel the world not only owes them a living but that it owes them a comfortable and responsibility-free life as well, and they feel entitled to carry on whining even when they’ve largely achieved this.

There is a strong link with the concept that this “entitlement” is wrong because it’s about taking “other people’s money.” But this argument is predicated upon an atomistic view of labor, that those who are rich “earned their money through their own labor,” which right-wingers also hold. This of course is nonsense. If we earned our resources through our own labor, we would not have cars, computers or electricity, as no one person has all the knowledge to produce any of these things. Everyone’s labor is intricately linked to everyone else’s labor. So however much money you have, it’s not “your money,” and if you claim more than your share of the social product, you are the thief.

From the right-wing perspective, an entitlement is something we “assume,” something we “feel,” it is a “belief.” This language demonstrates that they believe they are the rational response to the “emotional” minority (as minorities are always portrayed as irrational and angry). So we find that their distinction is based on the same old stereotypes that they use to stigmatize poor people, black people, women, and so on; they are rational, fact-based and honest, and poor people are irrational, belief-based and dishonest thieves who are just looking for an opportunity to steal people’s hard-earned money (if you’re a poor woman, then you’re doubly irrational and dishonest).

In the right-wing view, rights can only be negative rights (i.e. rights to not be subjected to something), and there is no such thing as positive rights. So welfare must necessarily be an entitlement, not a right, since it involves receiving something from others. But as I’ve argued before, it does us no good to say a person has a right to something if ey does not have access to the resources necessary for that something (e.g. talking about a right to health in a society where most cannot afford health care). There is no difference between stating an exclusively negative right and no right at all; a right that cannot be expressed or enforced in any way is a mere theoretical curiosity, not a reality.

It’s interesting that these right-wingers, who berate poor people for feeling entitled to welfare, don’t identify their dependence on firefighters when a building goes up in flames as “a culture of entitlement,” or the presence of lifeguards on a beach as “swimmers feeling entitled.” The difference, of course, is that people who need the help of firefighters or lifeguards are not as easily stereotyped as poor people, so they are bad targets for right-wing prejudice.

What is the root of the right-wingers’ complete confusion between rights and entitlements? It is quite obviously a case of projection. Right-wingers constantly accuse the dispossessed of feeling entitled because they themselves are, or support, entitled assholes:

Britain, like much of the developed world, is imploding under a culture of entitlement, a species of socio-economic pestilence that collapses the superstructure of modern life into its soft and rotten core. The trouble is that the people with this dangerous and misplaced sense of entitlement aren’t jobseekers, homeless youngsters and single mothers. They’re the people sitting on the boards of investment banks, none of whom will be worried by the Prime Minister’s recent proposal of further cuts to the welfare budget – including stopping housing benefit for under-25s.

Entitlement, you see, is relative. Poor people tend to feel entitled to three meals a day and a place to live that doesn’t make their kids sick. Rich people occasionally feel entitled to enormous tax breaks, speedboats and, in some cases, actual titles. Only the first type of entitlement is being outlawed, even though a reasoned, widespread sense of entitlement to a decent basic standard of living has been one of the few things dragging human progress forward over the past several centuries.

So we’re talking here about a level of blaming-the-victim as insane as right-wingers claiming that “immigrants” are responsible for sinking the economy or taking away jobs, or that women are responsible for their own rape. We are the victims of rich people’s sense of entitlement, and their supporters deflect attention by talking about the “entitlement” of people who just want three square meals a day. The rhetoric of entitlement is a strategy used to nullify human needs and human rights so the rich can benefit. But furthermore:

Evidence suggests it is rich, well-educated, higher-status people who feel entitled, not the poor.

A Berkeley University study last year found that people in the upper echelons of society were more likely to lie, cheat, take things meant for others, cut off other road users and endorse unethical behaviour in others. Why? Because they feel entitled. They are clever and have the money to cut corners and hire lawyers if needed. These elite are less empathetic to others, less altruistic, more individualistic and more greedy.

Another study by Professor Howard Gardner at Harvard University, on the meaning of ”good work”, asked professionals how they juggled their ambition to succeed against their desire to work responsibly and ethically. They claimed that values such as fairness, scientific objectivity, truthful reporting and work-life balance were important to them. But, in practice, many compromise these principles to advance in their professions. They will, they say, change their behaviour once established and successful.

Note that, unlike right-wingers who believe that all poor people are lazy dishonest cheats, I am not arguing that rich people are all lazy dishonest cheats: people are people, no matter how much money they have. But radicals are well aware that, while they are decried as angry and irrational and do their very best to remain objective and fair in order to escape that stereotype, they face off against opponents who have no incentive or desire to be objective or fair. Anything from beating up protesters up to genocide is fair game to “suppress dissent.” Any excuse can justify attacking people’s basic human rights, as long as it sounds good.

So we must state clearly that having enough food and having a place to live in are basic human rights, and that no amount of elitist whining can turn it into an entitlement. We must state clearly that the equality of all persons is necessary and that arguing against this is bigotry. We must state clearly that people who already are equipped with everything they need not only to live but to flourish should not be laying claims over those who do not or suppressing their rights. We must state clearly that we are sick and tired, as workers, as consumers and as taxpayers, of subsidizing rich people’s lifestyles.

Ayn Rand was wrong: the leeches, the moochers, the second-handers, are not the socialists, but the capitalists. Incidentally, Ayn Rand herself made a fortune off preaching the trader principle and a neo-liberalist government, and then drew government assistance for the rest of her life, so she truly is a great symbol for the current parasite class.

Debunking more MRA “statistics”…

UPDATE: Due to this entry having been posted on Reddit/Mensrights, I am shutting down the comments section. Also, hi MRAs! Go fuck yourselves!
***

I want to analyze this list of claims from MRAs, in order to debunk it and expose the further lies of the MRA bigots.

I have already examined some MRA “statistics” that were actually rubbish; see this entry for the points that appeared there. For the sake of space, I will not repeat the same objections here.

I added “secondary gains” as a response. Secondary gains, as defined by Patrick Colm Hogan in The Culture of Conformism (p50-51), are forms of gratification given to people who belongs to a subordinate group in order for them to accept their condition. Likewise, many things which MRAs claim are disadvantages to being a man are actually used by the Patriarchy as signals of male nature, and therefore of superiority (e.g. military service, not being charged with child care, and esthetic considerations such as short hair and long pants).

***

1. Women are treated better in all aspects of the legal system. For instance, women receive lighter sentences and a higher chance of acquittal, simply for being women.

Secondary gain. Studies prove that women are given lighter sentences because judges ignore rules of gender equality and personally take it unto themselves to “protect” women. Women are “protected” because they are seen as inferior to men.

2. Men are significantly more likely to be the victims of violent crime (of which rape is included) than women.

Irrelevant. See my previous entry, point 5.

3. Despite domestic violence being equally committed by women, for the most part only male perpetrators are arrested.

False. Again, see previous entry, points 10 and 11.

4. The feminist definition of domestic violence has skewed arrest and prosecution philosophies, resulting in having mostly male batterers criminally pursued, and female batterers left alone.

Too vague. How would you even prove such a statement? The US Code does not define domestic violence in a “feminist” way, whatever that’s supposed to mean:

“The term ‘domestic violence’ includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.”

5. It is legal to circumcise male babies against their will. In some places, laws have been passed which forbid any attempts to make male circumcision illegal. Meanwhile, female circumcision is completely illegal, even though some types of female circumcision are equivalent in harm to male circumcision, and other types (a symbolic prick to draw blood) are non-harmful.

Technically true. It is fucked up. However, female circumcision has only been illegal since 1997, and the medical establishment is trying to slowly bring it back.

6. Men comprise 95% of workplace deaths.

Slightly exaggerated, and misleading. See previous entry, point 4.

7. Men commit suicide at over triple the rate that women do.

Correct, but misleading. Suicide attempts are three times more common in women than in men. Men succeed more often because they use more violent means.

8. The vast majority of prisoners are men.

Irrelevant. This is the same general point as point 2. Men are prisoners because they use violence on other men.

9. Men are doing worse in all aspects of the educational system, from kindergarten to university.

Irrelevant. How is this an example of male oppression?

10. Men who are falsely accused of rape can have their names published and their lives ruined even if they are not convicted or charged – their accuser is protected and is likely to face no punishment, or a light one.

Irrelevant. The unjust rules against sexual offenders apply to men and women alike. This is not oppression against men.

11. Reproductive rights. Men have none. Simply read this story.

Ridiculous. Men have all their reproductive rights, but they do not have the right to dictate to women what their rights should be or should not be. This is a source of endless frustration for these MRA faggots.

12. Parental rights. Men have virtually none. See below.

A woman can name any man she likes as the father, he gets a letter in the mail, if he does not prove he isn’t the father within 30 days—(suppose the letter gets lost by the USPS?)—he is now the father and must pay. He cannot contest it.

A boy who is the victim of statutory rape must pay child support to his rapist.

A man who is raped while unconscious must likewise pay child support.

A man who fathers a child and wishes to take custody may have his child adopted out against his will and essentially kidnapped

Some are irrelevant, others I have no idea. I have no idea if all this nonsense is true or not. I could not find independent sources for most of these claims, and no evidence for it is presented. But child support is supposed to be for the child’s welfare, not the woman’s.

13. The majority of homeless are men.

True, in the United States. This is highly culture-dependent. In Australia, for example, women are the majority.

14. Despite men’s need being arguably greater than women, government spending to help women is 10 to 100 times greater than that to help men. That figure is unrelated to medical spending.

Absurd. Does anyone seriously believe this shit? This is almost as bad as the “reproductive rights” point. Most government spending helps men more than it helps women.

15. In 2009/2010 it was $1,516,460 toward men and $57,562,373 toward women. In 2010/2011 it was $3,740,800 toward men and $48,331,443 toward women. In 2008/2009 the province dedicated $561,360 toward men’s resources and $98,983,236 toward women’s resources. (figures are for British Columbia, Canada, but representative of Western society).

Same point as above.

16. Female-owned businesses get free government money for literally no reason other than being a woman (i.e. all other factors are equal, same size of business, same income, etc. etc. but the owner’s gender is different = money or no money.

I couldn’t find any evidence to confirm or debunk this point. No evidence was presented.

17. On some airlines, men were banned from sitting next to kids on airplanes, simply because they were men. Why? Because men are pedophiles, obviously. This ban remains on some airlines, such as Air New Zealand.

Irrelevant. This is male entitlement at work and actually has nothing to do with gender.

18. Under a recent federal directive, men are convicted of rape in university campuses if the investigating board finds that the chances they committed the rape are at 50.00001% or greater.

Irrelevant. Since this is the same rule we use in other justice systems, how does this reflect any offense against men?

19. The DOE policy in practice: Caleb Warner was accused of rape and expelled from the University of North Dakota, then his accuser was charged with filing a false report. He remains expelled as of June 2011.

Same point as above.

20. Selective service. Enough said.

Secondary gain. Women were “protected” from warfare because they are “the weaker sex.”

***

So here is the final count:

True: 2
Correct but misleading: 1
Secondary gains: 2
Misleading: 2
Irrelevant: 7
False: 1
Complete bullshit: 3
For a total of 18 ratings.

That makes a total of 17% of technically correct points, 61% of misleading points, and 22% of plainly false points. The previous entry had a truth record of 33%, and in both cases this is a terrible record. The list gives the appearance of a plethora of arguments for the oppression of men when there are actually very few such arguments here, let alone valid ones.

Again it is demonstrated that MRAs are all about lying their ass off to pursue their ideological agenda of woman-hating.

Bring in the Fake Dissenters.


A photo op for a fake demonstration, as reported on American Everyman.

I already discussed gatekeepers and how they operate (see the second half of this entry). In an ideological movement, a gatekeeper is a person who is in charge of some organization or group, or perhaps some well-known figure, who can delimitate the acceptable margins of discourse within the movement. Usually this is a spokesperson or a public figure, someone who has a wide reach and who can mold public opinion within the movement in question.

The kind of person I want to talk about in this entry is also a role within a movement, but a different kind of role. On his epic blog Once Upon a Time, Arthur Silber calls it “the Obedient Dissenter,” and, using the example of such a dissenter (journalist Matt Taibbi, “dissenting” against the upcoming war in Iran) identifies two main traits of Obedient Dissent:

1. “[A]ccept[ing] all the assumptions and premises of those [they say they are] criticizing.”
2. “[L]ack[ing] even the faintest understanding of the false set of beliefs to which [they cling] so desperately.”

To which I would add:
3. Because they fail to criticize the premises of those they claim to criticize, their dissent is wholly superficial and contradictory.

I call them Fake Dissenters because they make the claim of being dissenters when in fact they are merely reinforcing the premises enforced by their supposed enemies. In the case of Matt Taibbi, he claims to be a dissenter towards the American government, but he reinforces the prejudices that the American government uses to demonize its chosen enemies and he reinforces the myths used to prop up American imperialism. While Taibbi may be against the upcoming war in Iran, he fails to question American terrorism, American prejudices against Iran, or claims of American exceptionalism. That’s not dissent, that’s just a normal disagreement that lies well within the margins of discourse set by the American government and American journalism (although when the war in Iran drumbeat gets going for real, it will become unacceptable).

You can observe this fake dissent in all areas.

* No one is for abortion, but we should allow women to choose whether they want an abortion or not.
I already discussed that one in the entry on gatekeepers.

* People who have children are doing a wonderful service to us all. But the Duggars are just ridiculous, am I right?
The Duggars, and the Quiverfull movement in general, are easy targets because they represent excess and the objectification of women. But if we start from the premise that having children is a wonderful service to society, it’s not clear how having nineteen is more or less excessive.

* Radical feminism is totally crackpot, but we should give women the same opportunities we give men.
I’ve already written about how equality of opportunity is an elitist conceit which seeks to amplify existing oppressive institutions. Radfem provides the systemic investigation which is lacking from “equality of opportunity” rhetoric, so radfem must be demonized.

* We must respect religious freedom, no matter the religion, but group X is corrupting the true religion.
I refer you to my entry on religious freedom as to why this is a terrible idea. Saying that a certain group X corrupts “true religion” assumes that “true religion” actually exists and that it’s somehow different from the religion people actually practice. Furthermore, there’s no reason to believe that this “fake religion” is any less valid as a form of “religious freedom” than the “true religion.”

* After every new example of police abuse is unveiled: the police is here to protect us, this is just the work of some bad apples.
It is not the job of cops to protect us (for more on this, see The Enterprise of Law, by Bruce Benson), and we know they lie to obtain convictions. The rhetoric of “bad apples” is used to perpetuate institutions which systemically, through noxious incentive systems, makes people act in an evil way, like the police.

* We respect the military and the sacrifices they make for us, we just think this war is unjust…
The job of soldiers is not to protect us but, like cops, to enforce the interests of the power elite. Also, the way in which people argue that a war is unjust is almost always by supporting some part of the apparatus that makes war possible (such as some part of the government which is supposed to provide checks and balances).

Fake dissenters are utterly unable to make the simplest observations about social institutions (e.g. the basic nature of the work of cops and soldiers, the basic nature of religion, the existence of the patriarchy, the lack of justification for breeding, the fact that some people are pro-abortion and that compromised children provide an obvious basis for such a position). This is because doing so would force them to question the core premises of their beliefs about those institutions. The principle at work for these people, whatever movement they are a part of, is: ignorance is bliss.

There are gatekeepers in all movements, and there are fake dissenters in all movements. So yes, there are gatekeeper atheists and fake dissenter atheists (although these have been rather less visible than the very real dissenters such as the Four Horsemen), there are gatekeeper Anarchists and fake dissenter Anarchists (like “anarcho-capitalists,” or pseudo-Anarchist State-supporters), and so on.

This fits within the mainstream media’s control of the margins of discourse, because any movement will inevitably vie for the attention of the mainstream media. Therefore gatekeepers will endeavor to cut dissent’s legs to fit in the Procrustean bed of the media’s margins of discourse, and fake dissenters will slavishly follow these operations. As long as it’s acceptable to criticize a war, they will criticize it; as soon as it becomes unacceptable, they will stop. As long as it’s acceptable to criticize a government program, they will criticize it; as soon as it’s under attack, they will start supporting it.

Fake dissenters often use tactics similar to those of gatekeepers. You will sometimes hear both use sentences like “can’t we all agree that X?” or “no one really believes X” as a way of narrowing discourse and keeping core premises out of the discussion, while blowing the existing debate out of proportion. The difference is that when a gatekeeper does it, ey is also sending a message to eir followers to limit discourse in this manner, and that’s where the fake dissenters get their marching orders.

I know this sounds conspiratorial, but there’s no conspiracy involved. It’s just part of what people naturally do when they’re in a movement.

I may be accused of not distinguishing between fake dissenters and moderates. The difference is that a moderate may take various positions which are not considered a completely coherent set, but that doesn’t mean they act as fake dissenters on any single issue. A moderate can be a fake dissenter on any issue, but ey doesn’t have to be. Unlike moderates, fake dissenters buy into the premises of their movement wholesale and want to be good followers to further the aims of the movement.

The “scientific” attack against egalitarianism…

Attacks against egalitarianism have existed for as long as hierarchies have existed. There have always been privileged ideologues paid by the rulers to articulate reasons why the rulers are always right and deserve to use their power in any way found necessary. That’s the way hierarchies work.

In the past, they argued that rulers were appointed by divine fiat. Nowadays, we are too sophisticated to fall for such simplistic justifications. In modern times, there have been two main areas which these ideologues have used to argue against egalitarianism:

1. “Scientific” atomism: The pseudo-scientific analysis of human behavior through purely individual factors, which includes most economics, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology (as well as philosophical ideologies derived from them). It is used to “prove” that some people are naturally superior to others and that this justifies inequality (up to genocide, depending on the “researcher”).

I have discussed these attacks in various entries, such as “Hierarchies are natural!”, “Greed is part of human nature!”, Against Psychological Egoism and The trouble with time preference (I may have written other entries that relate to this topic, but they are not coming to my mind at present). Economic support for STV can also be included in this category, as it reduces value to the desires of the individual, instead of connecting it to the larger world of labor.

2. “Scientific” racism: The pseudo-scientific analysis of race (itself a pseudo-scientific concept) through the lens of some desirable variable, such as brain size, intelligence, industriousness, or others. This “research” is then used in order to “prove” that some races are superior and some are inferior, and that this justifies racial inequality. The most recent example of this hate rhetoric disguised as science is the book The Bell Curve.

Both of these attacks are interrelated. One starts by attacking individuals, and the other starts by attacking races, but it’s easy to go from one to the other, because whatever standard we use to evaluate one can be applied to the other.

In this entry, the second kind interests me more, since I don’t believe I have ever written about it. As I said, the most prominent example of “scientific” racism in recent times is the book The Bell Curve, which mostly relies on “research” funded by neo-nazi organization The Pioneer Fund, which was first founded to support eugenics policies and now supports its modern equivalent, heredity research. In this we see the natural descent of “scientific” racism from the phrenological racism of the early 1800s, to the eugenics of the early 1900s, to the IQ/race connection of the late 1900s.

It’s hard not to make a comparison between this and the natural descent of creationism towards intelligent design and irreducible complexity. The more failures they face, the more pseudo-scientists have to narrow the field of their nonsense. “Scientific” racism, like creationism, has to increasingly hide under the skirts of science in order to keep its credibility; but both doctrines are more about the performance of scientific rigor and open-mindedness than about actually using scientific methods and being open-minded. Doing actual science would be counterproductive to creationist and racist aims, but giving the appearance of being scientific in order to deceive is very productive to them. Furthermore, both first found their roots in the Bible.

Creationism and “scientific” racism are also inherently elitist, although in entirely opposite ways: creationism in its rejection of evolution as demeaning, populist “liberal dogma,” and “scientific” racism in its pretend adoption of evolution as a rebuttal of “blank slate,” politically holistic “liberal dogma.”

They lump together behaviours seen as criminal in our society, and look for genetic explanations. They tap the spinal fluids of violent prisoners to test for levels of a chemical which they believe reduces violent behaviour. But their choice of violence is completely socially determined. They do not look at the spinal fluids of the policemen who beat up blacks in custody or those of the soldiers who fought in the Gulf War. Violence in these instances is seen as justified. The idea that you can lump together a whole series of behaviours and label them as crime or violence is clearly flawed.

The very concepts of IQ and race are highly questionable, and highly questioned. I don’t think I need to explain this to my readers. Again, the Socialist Review makes a good point in this respect:

Scientists have claimed that there is a gene for being gay. But the idea is ludicrous. The idea that there is a separate group of people who can be labelled homosexual has only existed for the last couple of hundred years. Same gender sexual relationships have existed in all societies, but the idea that gay people exist as a separate group is a relatively new one. It would be nonsense to suggest that the gene has only appeared in the last 200 years.

The idea of race has a political history, reflecting the needs of the capitalist system, particularly in justifying the slave trade. In previous societies the idea that the colour of someone’s skin was significant was completely unheard of. Why then should we believe it now?

Because the whole study is spurious, and the “research” is made up, it should be no surprise that the results of this “research” has always matched prejudice. In the past, Jews were considered to be intellectually inferior, but since World War 2, “research” has proven the opposite, that Jews are the most intellectual race. The current “research” gives us the following order: Jews, then asians, then whites, then, far below, blacks. How convenient that, again, this fits racial prejudices perfectly. What a marvelous coincidence (can you tell I am being sarcastic?).

Such “research” is not much different from the humongous amount of “research” done every year on the GDP (“the economy”). The GDP is used to reinforce both optimistic beliefs about social progress and nationalistic superiority compared to other countries having a lower GDP. It is ostensibly scientific but has very little to do with science or facts.

The only reply by “scientific” racists is that the data is ironclad, that they are being censored, and that we just have to deal with the facts and stop being “close-minded.” This is another similarity with creationism, as I have recently pointed out how attacks against methodological naturalism rely on accusations of the opposition being “close-minded” to the possibility of the supernatural. But the belief that egalitarianism is impossible is just as close-minded as the belief that naturalism cannot explain everything.

Because of its atomism, the doctrine of “scientific” racism deliberately omits anything having to do with social interactions and institutions, and therefore is silent about the violence of currently existing institutions. Here is an example:

To illustrate “consilience,” [biologist E. O.] Wilson interprets the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He writes that it was partly an example of “ethnic rivalry run amuck,” reflecting our genetically based tribal instincts. It also had a “deeper cause, rooted in environment and demography.”

Consider what Wilson omits from his analysis. Hutus and Tutsis intermarried centuries ago, and there is no biological distinction between them. European colonialists arbitrarily created an ethnic distinction and used the Tutsi minority to impose indirect rule on the Hutu majority. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank imposed agricultural and financial reforms that shifted land use from subsistence food production to export crops such as coffee…

Nationalist leaders in Rwanda recruited, incited, and armed the “teenage soldiers.” Pres. Clinton prevented the US Government and the UN from intervening to halt the genocide. Wilson blames genocide on human nature and overpopulation to let imperialists and local nationalists off the hook. Under the banner of “consilience” Wilson excludes from his analysis knowledge provided by history, anthropology, economics, political science, sociology, demography, and environmental science.

We see now the hypocrisy of the party line that equality cannot possibly work because of inborn inferiority. The refusal to help others which comes from believing in inborn inferiority is what creates these dramatic collapses which then “prove” inborn inferiority further. Like all prejudice, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The final word, I think, should go to C. Loring Brace who, responding to the “scientific” racist concept that toddlers can be genetically evaluated to see if they deserve a good education or not:

There is no such thing as an undeserving five-year-old.

Narratives drive our perception of politics.

It is my view that the major conflicts of our time are over the real and only secondarily over versions of it and methods for apprehending it. The struggle over reality is conducted through contending versions and debates over verification but it is reality, not versions or verification, that is in contention. For instance, the discussion of pornography and prostitution can be seen as a debate in two stories. In story 1, a woman wakes up in the morning and decides, Today is my lucky day. I can choose whether to become a brain surgeon whether to go find a pimp and spread my legs for a camera. In story 2, a girl is sexually abused at home, runs to the street thinking nothing can be worse, is picked up by a pimp, is molested, raped, beaten, starved, drugged, threatened, and sold for sex. Story 1 is a story of choice, equality, liberation; story 2 is a story of force, inequality, slavery. As story, there is no way to distinguish between the two. The fact that most women in the industry were sexually abused as children, entered it as children, are desperately poor, report massive violence against them, and say they want to leave but cannot supports story 2, but all this is extrinsic to the narrative form as such. Story 1 is fantasy, entertainment, lie- it is propaganda- but its support for power widely makes the real story of story 2 into just another story. Storytelling as method requires only the story form for validation.
Women’s Lives, Men’s Laws, by Catharine A. MacKinnon (quoted by femonade)

Consider any political, social or religious issue and you will find the power of narratives underlining every position, especially those that are favorable to power. Narratives are so powerful precisely because they appeal to the imagination, which is more concrete to the individual than any argument or statistical fact. It is one thing to tell people that more than half of prostitutes were abused as children (Prostitution, Violence, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Farley and Barkan), but that fact takes no hold in the imagination unless it is incorporated into a narrative that is repeated and built upon.

The narrative of the rich, empowered escorts who joined of their own free will, on the other hand, is presented to us as if it was representative. Like all narratives, it becomes part of what people think about prostitution and is incorporated in more and more narratives, coagulating into a cohesive view. This view informs how people think about prostitutes, and therefore the political positions they take on the sex trade. The use of the term “sex work” instead of “prostitution” is in itself a highjacking of narrative: it portrays prostitution as being like any other kind of work, and prostitutes as having come into this “work” like any other “worker.”

This process occurs in all areas. If you need any proof of the supremely concrete nature of the imaginary, just look at Christianity. Christianity’s beliefs are completely not grounded in anything real, in anything material, although they try to rationalize it as such. Everything about Christianity resides solely in the imaginary, it is made of castles in the sky (metaphorically of course). And yet Christianity is very real for a billion people and gets them to do very real things to one another. It also pushes otherwise clever people to endlessly rationalize the unrationalizable (such as the genocidal stories of the Old Testament).

That’s the extreme power of narratives, when you lever them with a fixed idea. Most stories in the Bible are about God’s power and dominion over all life. Christian Creationism is just a narrative about God creating all life stretched into a belief system of its own. To refuse to believe Christian Creationism is to refuse to believe in God’s dominion over all life.

Narratives are more insidious than any other form of indoctrination, because they remain persuasive to the individual even after ey comes to know the facts. It’s that concreteness aspect again. For instance, after a person becomes an atheist, the narratives about Heaven/Hell, the morality tales, the stories about Jesus, and so on, stick with people for a long time, sometimes forever.

A narrative is not necessarily a story, with a beginning, middle and end, with a lesson to be learned or a theme, and so on. The examples about sex workers is a good illustration of that. Sometimes it can be a simple cause and effect: [according to theoretical capitalism,] people rise or fall on the basis of their contributions, therefore people are poor because they are lazy. You fill this in with the stereotype of the lazy welfare bum who (shock and horror!) has access to a television, a cell phone, and so on, and you’ve got your story 1 about poverty.

Story 2 is the one explained to us in innumerable documentaries and history books, the fact that workers are screwed by the ownership class, that minorities are screwed by institutionalized racism, that women are screwed (literally) by the patriarchy, and that all of this adds up to the sum total of poverty that exists in our society. It is the narrative of the hard-working average person who gets fired because of “downsizing” and “restructuring” that make the top echelon richer and everyone else poorer, or because workers tried to unionize, or for any number of reasons. This is your story 2 about poverty.

In all cases, does the story 1 ever apply? Sure it does. No doubt there are sex workers who joined of their own impetus, and no doubt there are poor people who are poor because they are lazy. But is it representative? No, it is not. Despite that fact, does it motivate people to attack the rights of sex workers and poor people? Yes, it definitely does.

Another insidious fact about narratives is that they change how we see ourselves, too; and even worse than that, they change what we do. It’s been proven by numerous studies that while people in minority groups may perform as well as “normal” people at a given simple task, when their status is explicitly stated to everyone or when the task is presented as a measure of their ability, the narrative of “you people are incompetent [and you will fail]” will be restimulated in them and they will perform way under par. The narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is even true when the group and narrative are entirely made-up, such as “people with blue eyes perform better at this test than people with brown eyes.”

If the prevalent narrative is that “black people are stupid [and they will fail],” then black people will underperform on intelligence tests. If the prevalent narrative is that “alcoholism is a disease and you are powerless to prevent it, you will crash and burn and will come crawling back to [AA]” then you will be powerless to prevent it, you will crash and burn and come crawling back to AA. It is, in essence, a form of voodoo: the belief that something bad will happen to you is as strong as the law of gravity or magnetism, as long as you keep believing it.

Any issue is informed by battling narratives, and most of what we call political activism is in fact an attempt to directly or indirectly change the prevalent narrative. Think of abortion and the ways people think about women who have one, or “immigration” and the stories people tell each other about why people “immigrate” and what they do, drug use and why people take drugs as well as the kind of people who take drugs, “pirating” and why people “pirate” music and movies… the list is endless. I believe the kind of narrative you ascribe to will be the primary factor in what position you adopt.

To me the most interesting thing about these narratives is the way they are built. For the most part, this whole process is entirely opaque to the consumer: we see the narrative as a fait accompli and don’t think about what’s behind it.

I’ve already pointed out that free speech is a sham. It is a sham because we ground our positions on narratives which are dictated or guided mostly by corporate interests. Debating “free speech” is a convenient way of deflecting attention away from the people responsible for the narratives (either fictional or ostensibly “real”) which drive our beliefs.

Some of these people are part of the power elite, but most are just ordinary Joes, people working as scriptwriters, directors, in newspaper or television offices, making a living. For the most part, all these people do is regurgitate the prevalent narratives, believing that because they are prevalent they must be well-liked. This has the effect of keeping the margins of discourse very narrow, because acceptable political opinions have to follow the prevalent narratives.

These people do not re-examine their premises because they are just “doing their job” and don’t want to be fired or be considered irrelevant. We let them have this power over us because we do not recognize the existence of this power. Any sane society where people recognized the incredible power of narratives to mould our perceptions would never permit random individuals to wield it without accountability.

But we don’t live in a sane society, and we let this happen unconsciously. But by doing so, we remove any possibility of seriously claiming that our political positions are freely chosen. It also means that, in order to even be within the margins of discourse, we need to present alternate, fact-based narratives. We need to nourish people’s imaginary. We know the truth will always win in the end because it’s demonstrable to everyone, but first we need to introduce the truth. And that’s the real challenge.

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