The behaviour you exhibit

There seems to be a terrible climate to be found, not on the planet, but in the cyberspace world of social media and other internet fora. Frankly, it’s a cesspit and it could use some scrubbing. It’s dirty. It’s underhanded. It adheres to no standards and each “event” that occurs often secretes the same boring discussions. It usually plays out as thus:

  1. Person of medium notoriety says something stupid or deliberately inflammatory.
  2. Social media rides in upon their high horse and lambasts said person over their harmful words.
  3. Opponents of social media hysteria bleat openly about “free speech”.
  4. Shit gets flung until nobody can see anything in focus.
  5. Both sides of the argument declare victory at having improved the world and then eagerly await another event #1 to occur again.
  6. The planet descends further into nihilistic oblivion.

As someone who agrees nor disagrees with either side of this divide, I promptly piss off everyone. The internet, binary as it is from the political spectrum to the ones and zeros that make up its DNA, cannot fathom the idea that people can be anything but 100% in favour of one thing over another.

So, naturally when I discovered that an Australian television presenter was being hauled over the coals for saying something inflammatory, imagine my surprise to discover that those who would advocate free speech were, in fact, not all that in favour of it.

In fact, many were calling for her job.

Many of these people, I feel, would have been the same ones who defended former-Breitbart editor, Milo Yiannopoulos for the things he had said. These would be the same people who would march on Berkeley University to defend Free Speech. These are the same people, I feel, who would fervently defend someone being fired for their innocuous Facebook posts.

But alas, here we are. Two sides trying to claim scalps of those they oppose instead of any kind of philosophical consistency.

Did Yassmin Abdel-Magied say something inflammatory? Yes. Undoubtedly. Does she deserve to lose her job? No. Do I think she is above criticism for her words? No. No one is. But this desire to attack peoples’ actual livelihoods based upon mere moments on social media need to stop.

“But their side does it too!” is a defense I read in the asshole pen called “Comments sections”, and it can be quickly dismissed with the same absolutism as the ones and zeros on the internet.

You either support free speech, or you do not. You do not make exemptions for those with whom you might agree. If you would have someone lose their job for their words, you are openly endorsing the same happening to yourself. Likewise if you endorse actual violence as an appropriate way to wrangle your opponent, you are accepting that violence in return. 

Violence begets more violence. 

Get some consistency, and maybe you’ll find moderates like myself seeing your way of things. If you champion free speech, acknowledge that the freedom you seek to protect is allowed to your opponents.

And don’t go after peoples’ livelihoods. Because you are only legitimising that tactic being used back on you. 

Modern Day Philosophers

Comedians are Modern Day Philosophers, goes the thinking of some. “Hogwash” goes mine.

In the brief moments of pure, arrogant hubris, I consider trying out comedy as a vocation. Then I hop onto twitter and read opinion articles, and then nope the fuck out. Comedy is far too fucking serious.

It’s not that it’s not funny. Some of it is. It’s just that it’s something that is hugely scrutinised. If it’s not the “parallel thinking” of Amy Schumer that’s under the microscope, it’s the policing of jokes for what harm they may bring. Jon Stewart once lauded himself for being a greater news source for the youth than traditional media, after which the next few years saw talk shows like his turn into the traditional media.

Comedy can make very striking observations, however they typically are only superficial assessments of any given topic. Any comedy piece I’ve seen that tries to delve too far into any given topic usually ends up pandering to the audience, and descends into what I call “Woo Comedy”.

The kind of comedy that usually gets one or two lonesome voices in the crowd to yelp “Woo” before everyone else awkwardly applauds afterward – possibly because there are stage staff who are telling the audience when to applaud.

I do not find Woo Comedy funny. I do not find Woo Comedy informative. I do not find Woo Comedy useful even as philosophy. In fact, to call comedians philosophers is to insult those who might actually study philosophy.

Woo Comedy is preaching.

When a Comedian is telling me what topics should be taboo, I disagree. When a comedian spends more time insulting their political opposites, I turn off. When a comedian tries to wrap something up as intellectualism, I cringe so hard my face folds in half.

This isn’t to say what comedians should and shouldn’t do. Oh no, quite the opposite. They are free to do and say as they want. I just won’t be watching. And I’m not so arrogant to assume that my thinking is any different to many others out there. In fact, I dare say that my view is not unique in anyway, and that comedians serving as shills for politics are only going to slowly erode in relevance before they become merely preachers to the already converted, while they continue to have their lunch cut by others who actually try to convince moderates in the middle.

Maybe then they’ll realise what comedians were all along; Not philosophers, but jesters.

Populism is not the problem nor solution

I’ve linked to one of Jonathan Pie’s videos before, and I think this one also manages to align somewhat with my thoughts.

The only caveat I would add to anything relating to Populism is something that rings true for most democracies; the majority can sometimes be wrong.

Note, I said “Sometimes”.

I am not, broadly, calling everyone who has voted for the most popular candidate “wrong”.

I’ve sometimes thought that what politics needed wasn’t someone (or a party) that did everything that the majority wanted. That’s pretty much Governing by polls, and I think that’s a blight on the political landscape. When you’re Governing to get re-elected, you’ve immediately sold out your rational thought. You’re willing to do what is popular, which may not be the right thing.

Besides. I think polls are dead anyway.

What I’ve sometimes thought was needed was a party who would come in without the notion that they were going to survive the next election. They would come in, and do a large number of unpopular, but correct, things. A party that owns the issues it creates and says, “This is how we think it’ll get fixed, and we don’t give a shit what you think.”

Some might argue that this is the politician’s current modus operandi, but they do it with a smile and roundabout words. I would probably agree. Which is why I think it would be refreshing to see a single political term with some hard-headed dipshit at the helm. For one, at least they might stand by their convictions, and two, the people might appreciate the blunt honesty, rather than being spoken to like they’re a child.

I know I would.

I would rather be told that a housing market crash is a “necessary bad time” we had to had, than be told that it was “an opportunity to rebuild.”

At least tell me it’s a shit-sandwich, and the politician is paid enough to at least own the fact that they were the chef who wrote it on the menu.

Remember Fake News?

This is an old issue, but when I look at the term “Fake News” I am remembered when it was gleefully rolled out by the media when they were trying to come to terms with the Trump election victory in November 2016. So quick they were to discredit non-mainstream media, they deployed “Fake News” whenever they could in order to make sure their readers never strayed from their official, polished line.

There’s an adage in martial arts in that you never bring a weapon to a battle if you don’t have an effective defence should it be taken away and used against you.

And this is what I saw after CNN stupidly reported on a story involving Trump’s alleged behaviour in a Moscow hotel room. Having reported a false story, CNN had the term “Fake News” volleyed back at them.

Suddenly the media was caught with their pants down. Their weapon had been turned against them, and it was all on display for the public to see. There was no sweeping it under the rug. They had misreported and were quickly lumped into the basket with those they had initially sought to discredit.

Scrabbling for a defence, media decided to “retire” the term, and Seth Meyers admitted that “Fake News” as a thing was busted.

The media has since distanced itself from the term, although I do see it regularly deployed in conservative circles now, usually to mock the very media who had created the term.

I personally will never forget how “Fake News” seemed to be the cherished cry from traditional media – no matter how much is it now a baby of far-right dens. The media dropped the ball there, failing to make sure their house was in order before the decided to smear everyone else.

I hope they see the lesson.

Google a competitor, or a compliant fall guy?

It is fairly common knowledge that a most dangerous animal is one that has been cornered. When it views its situation as dire, and sees no option that won’t cause harm, it is likely to lash out with ferocity and with no concern for its own safety.

At least, that’s how many would view the actions of the Wall Street Journal, and Gawker’s undead fragments as signs of a devastated media frightened at their dwindling relevance. I am referring to the idiocy that surrounded Youtube’s most prominent figure, Pewdiepie, and his wildly offensive joke.

Because this occurred in February of 2017 (ie two months prior to the writing of this entry), the refresher is that Youtube user and world-renown screecher “Pewdiepie” made an offensive anti-semitic joke, so the Wall Street Journal went straight to the company with whom Pewdiepie was going to work on a project, Disney, and applied pressure to the uber-sensitive mega corporation.

The ever-averse-to-controversy Disney ended the project with Pewdiepie, and traditional media danced to the merry beat of their own self-righteousness.

For some this was an act of simple justice. For others, this was seen as an attempt by the traditional media to smear the alternative channels through which many people have been obtaining their information. Traditional media’s audience numbers, from accounts I’ve read, is dwindling and they are staring at their own irrelevance. Advertisers are wary that using traditional media may not be the best way to reach consumers. Newspapers and television know this. So, the attack on Pewdiepie now seems far more nefarious.

The thinking goes that, because of Youtube’s harbouring of ne’er-do-wells such as Pewdiepie, that Google now fears advertiser withdrawal. As a result, channels on Youtube featuring alternative views are facing monetisation issues, in that the money is being withdrawn. Creators are not receiving payment for the views they bring in, and Google is denying ad revenue.

Some think that Google is running scared and have gone defensive. These people think that traditional media is to blame.

I am not so sure, though.

Okay, maybe the trad-media is partly to blame. However, I feel that Google is now a company so powerful and influential, I don’t think it cares about ad revenue. This is a company so packed to the gills with money, and with a reach so far and wide, that something as petty as money is beyond them.

I don’t think they’re punishing creators because they fear loss of revenue. I think they’re willing to take the hit to justify having alternative views pushed into silence. Withdrawing advertisers is a convenient excuse to deny livelihoods to alternative voices. By taking revenue away from alternative views, these people need to find other ways to fund themselves – and these other revenue sources take energy away from their passion of creating content.

And it’s not like these voices can move to a different platform, either. No other platform has the eyes and ears and reach of Youtube. To uproot the channel and move to Dailymotion, or Liveleak would hack the audience to a fraction of its size.

No, I don’t think Google is caving to advertisers. I think with the amount of reach, influence and outright power they hold, the almighty dollar is but a mere minnow. The bigger fish to fry is their ability to control information and influence powers and entire demographics. Google is past money and wants actual influence. It will cut off its nose to spite the part of its face it doesn’t want seen. The loss of monetary revenue from Youtube is a pittance compared to the cost of ensuring that you can have a population follow your dogma.

Google doesn’t care if Youtube is delegitimised as a platform. If anything, I feel they would champion it. If they can sweep dissenting voices away, and direct more eyeballs to their causes, then that only helps them.

Read Wikileak’s take on Google’s Eric Schmidt and see past the benign corporation clothes to the find the spook underneath.

Google might have been pressured to demonetise some, but I don’t think they were too reluctant.

Beyond tribalism and into cultism

The term “cult” is a loaded one. The moment that the word is uttered, it conjures pictures in ones mind of either Jonestown-type commune, or in its most milquetoast incarnation, a Scientology temple. Participation in cults are seldom considered good, healthy pastimes, so it comes to no surprise to me that – in our never ending ability to police others’ behaviours – I have seen the term thrown about.

Typically it’s employed to tarnish the extreme views and behaviours of “The Other Side”. Instead of debating points in an honest way, it is far easier to simply brand an opponent as a narrow-minded devotee.

I find this somewhat infuriating, as someone with experience and knowledge in cults. Quite often I have seen those who accuse others of being in a cult are actually those who are guilty of being in one themselves.

But rather than identify what I see today as being a “cult”, I feel it would be far more constructive to point out the telltale signs of a cult. In my experience, you cannot simply tell someone that they’re participating in a cult. People who are in a cult are fervent believers in the group. The group is what they have attached a great amount of their identity, and to suggest that the group is insidious in nature, or exploiting them, is tantamount to an insult. The best method, I feel, is to highlight the abusive behaviours that a cult performs, and their inherent hypocrisies.

I admit that finding a strict definition of a cult can be difficult, and that there are legitimate community groups that could also be considered as having cultish behaviour. However, I do feel that when seeking to identify a cult, it will ultimately come down to “Who is the beneficiary?” Cults serve only themselves, whereas community groups do tend to have a tangible benefit outside the group.

However, when talking about politics, there can be an illusion that a group benefits the community at large, when in actual fact the triumphs of the group are thin and have only served senior figures of the cult.

So, let’s start with some of the signs:

  • The group paints the world largely as an evil place, and the group is the only protection against the bad in the world.
  • The group requires utmost devotion, often requiring members to volunteer their time and expertise for no recompense.
  • The group always requires members to purchase items (ie books or “special classes”) in order to attain a higher understanding or ranking. There is also no finish to these classes, and there is always more things to purchase.
  • The group will threaten that leaving the group can result in harm to the individual, or death.
  • Former members of the group are ridiculed, considered “not worthy”, or are accused of even criminal acts. They are discredited and group members are instructed to avoid them.
  • The group sometimes asks people to sacrifice their existing personal relationships, or at least prioritise the group before all others.
  • The group widely perceives itself as more enlightened than regular people in society.
  • Any new information presented to the group needs to be filtered through the group’s own lens and standards – typically to be discredited.
  • The group tells you that there is no other answer to the world’s problems. Theirs is the only answer.
  • The group has slogans, catch cries and labels for which it can quickly categorise any outsiders.
  • The group ridicules any other group that doesn’t align 100% with their philosophy.

There are other aspects to cults, such as the demands for members to confess personal sins to senior members, or in some cases rituals and initiations, however with the nature of the Internet, this kind of criteria is difficult to fulfil. I might flesh out some of these items in later posts, and maybe even highlight my observations in modern “debate”.

But remember, it’s not that a cult needs to meet all these criteria in order to be a “cult”. It must be determined the level of harm a cult is bringing, I feel.

Cults are easy to slip into, though. We shouldn’t criticise people for falling into one, but rather understand that they need to make the realisation on their own. More can be read in Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, for sale on Amazon. (Disclaimer: I am not receiving any affiliated kickbacks for this link).

Quote from the book:

The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. It penetrates into minds already open, and rather than instill opinion it articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients.