Arbiters of “debate-worthy”

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply discount all kinds of dissent with a simple hand wave and a scoff? Wouldn’t it be grand if any upstart could be mocked and ridiculed until submission?

Whelp, welcome to today.

Following from the recent mess that was the Google Memo (and I am sure that given two weeks, no one will even recall what this was about), I have seen a number of responses that say something along the lines of:

Not all opinions are created equal.

What a lovely, haughty sentiment. We can’t have the commoners thinking that they have any critical thinking skills, can we? We shouldn’t even engage with their arguments because to do so would be to legitimise their concerns – which are unequal.

I cannot fathom a more arrogant approach to any topic, let alone one concerning politics. It’s an attitude that not only smacks of arrogance, but also treats the population at large as incapable of thought. The notion that people broadly cannot discern honest debate from trolls and ignorance does not give people (or at least the people who matter) enough credit.

When I see someone say something ignorant, I can easily discount them. However to have someone else tell me to discount someone is another barrel of shit. If someone says something that is clearly wrong and have no backing evidence for their views – or they speak in roundabouts and broad sweeps – then I will know the weight of their argument.

For instance, someone says, “Men are physically stronger than women, therefore they are better at x”. I discount this argument because it offers nothing. No rational link. No definite conclusion. The argument lacks nuance and does not account for outliers, broad spectrums of people, and also personal drive. The statements proves nothing and I reject it. I don’t need someone to tell me to reject it.

However, present a more nuanced argument with more considered statements that account for variables, and supplies links to research, then I would review their argument differently. I may disagree with the argument, but I will consider it. If someone has offered enough effort and time to submit something, then I should do a courtesy to review it.

Back to the infamous Google Memo, the author offers a lengthy explanation, makes no rash and blunt conclusions, attempts to attach some research and even offers alternative solutions to the current trajectory, and I see people in certain circles state (and I paraphrase), “The argument does not warrant acknowledgement. It is an unequal opinion. To engage with it would be to legitimise it. So we should mock and bury it.”

This is not how to win people to your side. If something is argued simply, then it can be dismissed simply. It would take no effort and no energy.

If you definitely have truth on your side, then you should fear no debate.

Hollywood: the Useful Idiots

I remember when George W Bush was the President of the United States. Oh lordy how the globe laughed. Wasn’t he such a buffoon? I am pretty sure David Letterman owes much of his career to good ol’ Dubya, and Will Ferrell may not have received as much attention if not for his impression of Bush the Second.

That sure was a fun eight years. While in the midst of an actual war in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, Hollywood, the music industry et al went all out in the mockery of George W Bush. There were some protests over the wars he started, sure, but the role of Hollywood and the celebrities within the cluster were to mock him.

Now we have Trump as the President. Sure, a Republican in the White House was always going to be mocked, but to my eyes, it feels like Hollywood cannot do anything without having to point out what a colossal evil-doer Trump is – and he hasn’t started any wars yet.

I’m seeing anti-Trump sentiment popping up in entertainment news, and on the Ellen DeGeneres show – places of light entertainment where politics probably have very little place outside the election cycle.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel that Trump is worthy of mock and scorn, but I have an unshakeable feeling that there is an exaggerated and concerted effort to denigrate Trump that isn’t what I’d consider “organic”. It’s almost like there’s a genuine attempt to ensure that the people don’t do again what they did in November 2016.

Trump was an outsider. He wasn’t meant to get anywhere near the Presidency. He was meant to just disappear after the primaries. Except he didn’t.

I have a hypothesis that both sides of the political divide in US politics are simply two sides of a rotten coin. Every four years they allow the commoners to have a say in who leads the country, but despite whoever they elect, the agenda is the same. Sure the parties might differ slightly, but I cannot shake the feeling that the elections are simply a bit of theatre to make the people believe they have power.

Watch the below video for an opinion that closely aligns with my own.

Hollywood seems to be on board in following the lead of the theatrical production, and are railing against Trump in the most visible way possible. Now, I don’t suggest that Hollywood is part of the sinister cabal that ultimately controls the President by threatening to “JFK” the person – much like I wrote about Katy Perry, I think Hollywood stars genuinely believe in their cause.

But they are simply Useful Idiots. They are simply influential (ie popular) people who will follow and promote the cause of those truly in power, unthinkingly parroting the party line, either willingly through their own sense of righteousness, or because they fear that their career will end if they don’t say the right words, or espouse the right ideology.

I am wary of using the term “they”. The word “they” is often employed by some conspiracy theorists when they refer to “the Establishment” or “the Illuminati” or “the Elites”. I think it’s good to keep in mind that if you use the term “They” then you should be able to name one person. To some, this might be George Soros, or The Rothschilds. Either way, I am going to simply use “They” because this is only a hypothesis I have.

Trump wasn’t meant to be in power, and I think the election cycle has already started to ensure that Trump doesn’t win again in 2020. “They” are using their Useful Idiots to convince the new generation of voters coming up to not vote for Trump, and/or convince those who did vote Trump that they made a mistake.

When every Hollywood star and likeable personality tells you that you made a bad choice, it’s hard to not think that you’re on the outer. It’s hard to not think you’re a part of the right side. It’s the tactic of isolating people and showing them the right way.

To this, I assure you that you should vote for whomever you want. Don’t be dictated to by anyone – even me – as to who wins your vote. Don’t let the Useful Idiots make you feel bad. They don’t care about you. They care about their cause.

You do you. Forget the Idiots.

When does a celebrity dive in?

The world of being a Creator must be a crazy one. Having never held any success with my attempts to create, I can only assume that the world beyond my zeroed hit counter is incredibly enlightening. Given how many people seem to assume that audience size is tantamount to truthfulness, I can only assume that the moment someone’s numbers explode, a beam of light descends from the clouds, and people are given the enlightenment that many buddhists suffer and meditate for a lifetime to achieve.

Because successful people seem to be given a lot of airtime for their, frankly, stupid views.

It’s easy to pick a target and fire at them with criticism, but frankly it’s pointless. For one, they won’t listen. For two, Youtube exists and has a large number of visible people flailing their arms about with righteous indignation. WordPress is not the best place for such rampant delusions of relevance.

But I were to cast my mind into the faint possibility that I could be somehow notorious for something. At what point do I stop revelling in my own self-congratulations, look out upon a crowd of people and think to myself, “I know better than these people and they should listen to me”?

Let’s bypass the irony of me typing these words on a blog where I seemingly profess to know all, and position myself into the shoes of an actor or singer. I know nothing much about the world, but I am decent at pretending to be other people, or pitching my voice at a resonance that is not ear-savaging. I can perform. I can please a room of people.

But why would I think my opinions on sensitive subjects such as politics and religion are warranted, insightful, or even correct? Moreover, why would I expect anyone to give more weight to my words over, say, Jill the Plumber from Arizona? I have just as much exposure to politics as Jill does, yet I feel I should include my voice to the exclusion of others. Why would I think that?

When Katy Perry demands for love (or “resistance“), or Leonardo DiCaprio preaches for climate change (not that I oppose their opinions on the subjects), why should we nod along with them and pledge money to their cause celebre? Why wouldn’t we listen to actual scientists, or psychologists instead? Is it because they aren’t as pretty as Katy or Leo?

Part of me can understand these celebrities, though. I mean, what would I do if I had nothing to worry about? What would drive me if I reached the top of my industry, had enough wealth to ensure my family’s well-being for generations, and enough food in the fridge for the most sacrilicious orgies that would make Caligula blush?

I’d worry about immortality, or legacy. What better way to ensure that – at least in these mortal bodies – than by enshrining our place in history as “That Person Who Stopped Bad Thing”.

Of course, most prominent historical figures stood up in the face of great danger, engaged their bravery gland, and stood tall. However, in the instance of Katy and Leo, they stand up in the face of popular consensus, have engaged their preaching gland and deliver the most milquetoast of opinions that challenge precisely no one.

The Griffin Head joke

I hate that I need to reiterate a point I’ve already made, but the week’s story that everyone seems to be talking about – for reasons I do not fathom – is the one where comedian Kathy Griffin holds aloft the severed head of the President of the United States.

TJ Kirk’s video effectively sums up my thoughts on the scenario.

I loathe getting into left-right labelling, because it immediately paints people into categories of “them and us”. People will squeal, “Oh the lefties do this” or “those right-wing nutjobs are at it again” trying to convince whoever is within earshot that there is a good “us” side and a nasty “them” side.

When the truth is we’re all the same kind of dumb animals.

Kathy Griffin’s photo in this instance is grotesque and not to my taste. Like TJ Kirk, I think it boring, pedestrian, and unchallenging. Ooooh, you hate Trump? Great. Join the millions of others on the pile. Fucking yawn.

However, I do not feel it a good idea that I be some kind of arbiter as to what kind of speech is palatable for the masses. God knows I hate a great number of comedians, artists, musicians, and would love to have them never perform a single piece ever again, but I am not that kind of person. Not because I am of high moral fibre, or because I am smart.

But because I possess an “off” button on my technology. I can choose to not listen or watch or taste.

Griffin has since lamented the apparent loss of her career, and many have bayed for her dismissal from any kind of public role. As I said in my previous post, I do not think that instances like these warrant attacks on peoples’ livelihoods. If not because that effectively stifles free speech, then because it reduces all discussion into milquetoast inoffensive words that dare not push any boundaries – even if (and especially if) boundaries need to be pushed. Sometimes we need to be confronted with views.

I don’t mean to say that Griffin’s photo was a necessity, either. As I said, it was boring. There are far more interesting and important debates to be had than “I hate Trump”. But if our reaction to an actual debate is to attack the livelihood of those who engage in it, then this is a path to destruction.

“But the other side does it” is a fucking lazy excuse, too. Do better than your supposed “other side”, and maybe then some moderates might come around to actually listening to you.

As I’ve said: the behaviour you exhibit is the behaviour you endorse – even with your opposition. Especially with your opposition.

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.

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.

Polls are dead

In an environment in where there is only one socially acceptable answer for anyone who values their social status, I am sure people will largely gravitate toward that one answer. Those who publicly go against the grain either have nothing to lose, or have enough backing behind them that they can support themselves.

This is one of the reasons why every single poll everywhere in the lead up to the US election was saying with unbridled certainty that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in.

And we all know how that shook out.

How did the polls get it so wrong? I am sure the answer is obvious, but I’ll reiterate; it’s because those surveyed weren’t being honest.

When the media is telling you that a candidate is one of the most horrible people on the planet, is the next version of Hitler, and is ultimately going to cause the implosion of the United States, whereas the other candidate is going to be a history-making President, who are you going to tell others you support?

So when a young pollster with a clipboard thrusts their survey in your face, and you have to choose between the widely denounced Nazi and the widely revered stateswoman, you’re not exactly going to pump your fist in the air with a proud sieg heil.

As it has been said by countless others, people can say all they want out loud, but when they’re in the polling booth with no judgemental eyes on them, they can choose whoever they like, without the discerning glare of a pollster silently asking, “Really?”

However, this has extended in polling in approval ratings, I feel. The media is still, despite the lesson being very clear in the lead up to the election, attacking Trump at any angle they can find. He is still being labelled as some of the most horrible isms you can care to unearth. So is it any surprise that Trump’s approval ratings are so low?

I am not suggesting that his approval ratings are the opposite. Oh no. I am just saying that there are just as much reason to believe the polls as there is to not believe them. There’s a reason why “Pulling a Takei” is now a thing. Polls could reveal tomorrow that Trump’s approval ratings are the highest of any President ever, and I’ll still call bullshit on it.

The surveys can reveal all they want, but I am forever dubious on their sources until the media pulls their head in. The smear campaign against Trump, whether warranted or not, has sullied and tainted any poll or survey on him.

Polls are useless. They aren’t a good method of surveying anymore. Polls are dead.