Archives for posts with tag: politics

There’s a common conservative trope in America that responds to any demand for gun reform after a mass shooting with a disappointment in “the left” for making the tragedy “political.” In the most considerate light, this is the assertion that one ought to focus instead on processing grief rather than… what? What are politics? I mean… what am politics? I did a whole bit with my title; I should probably refer back to it for some degree of continuity. So what am politics?

Politics am the process by which a system functions and is successfully navigated. Think of office politics: if I want this report submitted, I know I have to get it in before noon because Pam in accounting has liquid lunches every day and is too sauced later in the afternoon to get any meaningful work done. If I want that promotion, I need to laugh at Scott’s jokes because he is the boss and has a fragile ego and holds a grudge. You have to recognize the power dynamics at play, understand everyone’s role and the eccentricities that inform their behaviour within that role, and perform your own role accordingly in order to meet your own needs within that system.

Politics!

Government isn’t politics; it’s an institution of politics for the functionality of the society that it governs. If I want any hope of a clean energy deal, I have to give Joe Manchin a rusty trombone in order to get it. This is no different than getting Pam to process your TPS reports quicker by buying her a nice vodka cran, if tasting slightly worse. It doesn’t even necessarily matter what the goals are; politics can just as easily gum up a system as it can loosen it. An obstructionist can use all sorts of political tools and rhetoric to achieve the self-interested goals of whatever lobby group is paying for their motivation: that’s also politics. It’s just that the system that it’s sustaining is plutocratic rather than serving the needs of the demos. Systems are legion and intersect in all sorts of ways.

My first example was an office because I specifically wanted to distance politics from government to make it clear that politics exists anywhere. Politics exists across the whole spectrum of governments, and if you think about the vast differences between a democracy and an autocracy, and the different maneuvers that would be required to function within each of them (e.g. how one goes about satisfying the needs of the many compared to satisfying the needs of the one), it’s obvious that politics can be everywhere, even when it’s defined by only its most overt form. Remember, it’s the process by which we function within a specific system. It doesn’t matter what the system is, whether a workplace, a nation, or a relationship, politics is there. When you successfully answer whether those pants make her ass look fat, you’ll likely be congratulated by being told that you provided a satisfactorily diplomatic response: a distinctly political term.

In short, dismissing gun reform by saying, “it’s easy to go to politics” is by definition, politics. If you are carefully considering your words in order to maintain the functionality that serves you within the system you’re navigating, you’re doing a politics. The far more interesting question is, I think, what is political?

What am political?

When something is political, it means that it is attached to a particular system’s functionality. Laughing at Scott’s jokes is a political act. It is conforming to a persona of flirtatiousness in order to succeed within a business dominated by men informed by a lecherous patriarchal worldview. This is why they say that the personal is political: our individual actions either conform to or rebel against the systems within which we function as our means of navigating them (see code-switching as another example). In Scott’s instance, we have to navigate the system of interpersonal relationships wherein we behave in a particular way to avoid ostracization, the system of a workplace wherein we need to perform in a certain way in order to pay for food and rent, and the system of patriarchy wherein I actually don’t have to worry about this part because I’ve been a dude this whole time.

It would actually be a much shorter list if we try to think of things that are not political. Come to think of it, even an act of God like Hurricane Katrina is still political because it showcased the failures and successes of a variety of systems. Similarly with Covid-19, it too stress-tested the functionality of our various systems. These supra-human events are just as political as, say, the Civil Rights movement because if we are paying attention, we can use politics to adjust our systems accordingly to prevent future failures. Or, alternatively, condemn the system as a whole if we see its successes as abhorrent when the veil is ripped away. Anything can be political if it highlights the (dis)functionality of a systemic response, so our short list is a list of zero. Who knew.

Remember when Kanye cared about black people?

All this boils down to a belief that guns, and all the deaths that inevitably accompany them, transcend literal acts of God in that they cannot be politicized. Right? Something that is embedded in the United States constitution, itself another institution of politics, would defy all reason if we approached it politically. It’s seemingly okay to politicize mental health, and I would genuinely love to see massive increases in expenditures to bolster social supports for those with mental illness, but somehow I don’t think that that governmental response is in the cards either. It would be fun to call the Republican bluff and table legislation that did exactly this to see how Republicans find a way to weasel their way out of it, but Democrats have their own systems they’re trying to protect.

A belief that guns are inevitable does not want the system to change; mass shootings are indeed emblematic of its success. Guns mean freedom! All those dead children are the broken eggs intrinsically linked to this omelet of ambiguous “freedom.” Unadulterated “freedom to” with no regard to “freedom from,” this is what the success of that system looks like. Those who use politics in order to hide the abhorrence of that success using the denunciation of “politics” to do so are the vilest of hypocrite.

Depending on who you ask, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is potentially one of the biggest threats to society that the West has ever faced. It’s being fed to our children and making them grow up to become beta cucks who are unable to properly defend their country against all the Alphas in China and Russia, or even worse, grow up to become women. With a nation of self-hating, over-educated snowflakes, the West is sure to crumble under the weight of its own wokeness. And this shit is starting in our schools! Our babies! If they start teaching our babies about CRT, what’s next? That gay people exist!?

If children are exposed to non-derogatory images of homosexuality at a young age, they might grow up thinking that it’s normal! Heavens to Betsy!

Of course, we all know about gay people because we’ve had such an thorough and well-balanced exploration of homosexuality in our publicly-funded sexual education previously to now. But what is CRT? How can a race be critical when it doesn’t even have a mouth? Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up in the United States so I didn’t have CRT shoved down my young throat when I went to elementary school. I had to wait until my Master’s degree to learn about it, so my education came much too late.

What I learned is that one can frame racism beyond personal prejudice. CRT asks us to imagine a world where interpersonal racism evaporated overnight, and wonder whether racial disparities would still exist. Given that it’s easy enough to see that they would, CRT opens up a conversation as to what contributes to racial disparities beyond subjective attitudes.

It turns out that holding hands was not enough to end the stratification created by centuries of injustice

CRT is a legal lens in that it focuses primarily on how laws that can appear neutral on their face represent a history of laws that originated in more overt forms of discrimination. The case I’m most familiar with, since that’s what I did my studies on, are drug laws that seemingly apply to everyone equally (they don’t use the n-word in the legal code, for instance), but in their history and implementation primarily target people of colour. Drug laws, in both the United States and Canada, were implemented entirely to control immigrant populations and prevent the mixing of races. Famously, in 1907, there was a massive race riot in Vancouver’s Chinatown because White people believed that Asian men were seducing White women using that sweet, sweet opium. Future Prime Ministry William Lyon Mackenzie King went and “investigated” the riot, and when he returned to Ottawa, criminalized opium because that was clearly the issue. Today, even though racial minorities are generally harassed by the legal system disproportionately to their White counterparts, the criminalization actually surges when the excuse being used for that harassment is drugs. Politicians will use the dog whistle “tough on crime” to stoke racialized fears without actually saying the n-word repeatedly, and that’s because crime and in particular drug crime have been so embedded into our cultural psyche as being linked to dangerous racial minorities that we can’t escape it. Therefore, the enforcement of drug laws is inherently racist even if there are a few good apples in the police force with open and progressive values.

And that, my friends, is what I learned CRT to be. It’s the deconstruction of seemingly neutral laws through a historical lens to ascertain why their outcome today disproportionately beleaguers people of colour. There’s more to it than that, such as a look at the impotence of current civil rights laws to address the so-called neutral laws adjacent to them in the legal code that are harming the people the civil rights laws are ostensibly there to protect, but that’s the most simplistic way of understanding CRT.

Ban the questioning of why things are the way they are! You were supposed to stop asking “why” when you turned three!

What does the historical deconstruction of laws have to do with elementary school kids? It would be bizarre to teach a postmodern philosophy of law to a child who doesn’t even have an understanding of how a bill becomes a law yet. In my ignorance, I only learned about CRT from the academic journals exploring the topic. Little did I know that social media and television pundits have different sources for their understanding of CRT; namely, from all the way up their own ass.

So what is CRT, really? Well, according to timeless sage and general polymath Tucker Carlson, CRT teaches us, “if you’re a straight White American, even if you’re a very small child, you’re guilty. It’s your fault. You’re a bad person.” This is the greatest threat to American society, and “everything’s at stake” because “[CRT is] civilization-ending poison.” The group Moms for Liberty, famous for putting out a $500 reward for catching teachers daring to educate their students on CRT, describe it as categorizing people into a binary of “oppressors” and “victim” based exclusively on the colour of that person’s skin. “That means the two million union soldiers who fought in the civil war to end slavery were also oppressors!” These people must be the experts to address it with such civilization-ending gravitas to put bounties on school teachers.

How do they know this is happening? Well they can point to facts like the National Education Association wanting to include in its curriculum the “truthful and age-appropriate accountings of unpleasant aspects of American history” and “the continued impact this history has on our current society.” Our Moms for Liberty heroines cite school assignments that ask their kids to reflect on what privileges they might have within their social standing.

If your university library didn’t have major budget cuts, that makes you an oppressor!

But hold on, my fancy university degree is tingling. How does acknowledging say, slavery, categorize White children today into an oppressor class? Should we not be teaching kids about slavery? Or do they disagree that history has an on-going influence on modern society, and perhaps have different beliefs as to why racial disparities still exist? Will acknowledging where we might have benefited from our station in life truly be the end of civilization as we know it? Seems pretty… hyperbolic, to say the least. It’s also not CRT. If you’ll recall, CRT is the postmodern deconstruction of laws to disentangle them from their colour-blind neutrality to show how racist origins influence the structure of society today. Very little to do with privilege, nor is there any categorization of people within that perspective. Its entire deal is to look away from people to look at the theory of law – remember how it said nobody had to be personally racist for these problems to continue? Frankly, it’s barely a history lesson and more of a lens through which to view a history lesson, and my guess is that school kids aren’t deconstructing drug laws in their grade 10 social studies classes even if they’re carrying forward historical events to see their influence today.

If CRT isn’t actually CRT, then what is CRT? Well, if we listen to how CRT is being described, it’s an attack on White children, bullying them into self-effacing beliefs. The threat isn’t to civilization, it’s a threat to White civilization. There does not appear to be any concern for Black children learning CRT. Presumably Black children are benefiting from this new narrative since they are now the social victors while their White peers exist only under their woke boots.

Bow before your new king!

You know how when a politician is asked a question they don’t want to answer, they don’t answer it, and respond instead to an imagined question that allows them to answer in the way they want? That’s what’s happening with CRT. No one is actually responding to CRT, they’re creating a strawman of CRT that allows them to tell susceptible White folks that they are under threat from the woke mob. What will never be discussed is the demographics of that mob: logically, in order for CRT to make sense as a threat, it has to be made up of people of colour and their allies, or, n______ and n_____-lovers. Truly a civilization-ending threat to put those people in charge!

The pandering to White Fright is not even subtle! It’s those coloureds and those coloured-lovers (that’s probably safer, right?) coming to brainwash our precious White darlings! It’s so obviously race-baiting that CRT literally has “race” in the name. Florida, known for being vociferously against censorship and cancel culture, is now banning math textbooks for things like CRT and social-emotional learning (because building a relationship toward a subject rather than embodying a stoic disinterest in rigorous scholarship at six years old is for pussies – and only pussies care about racial relations). It must only be the speech of certain types of people that is worth protecting.

Don’t worry, it’s only the books that talk about White Supremacy as a bad thing that are being burned because that’s divisive!

Racism never went away. The Southern Strategy may have changed racist language from repeatedly using the n-word to dog whistles with plausible deniability like “tough on crime”, but it was always there. The backlash to CRT shows a regression away from the dog whistle. Today’s Lee Atwater is probably out there now wondering whether political speech can start using the n-word again. If demagogues are already comfortable raising a racial panic over the threat to all of the White babies, and this becomes normalized, it’s not like racism is going to content itself with eliminating the discussion of race in schools.

Dog whistles exist for terrible people to raise the specter of what ought to be obsolete ideologies. As we see the dog whistles get put away to allow room for the more overt integration of those terrible ideologies into the mainstream, it really ought to be a wake-up call that something much worse is coming.

Social media discourse is a lightning rod for political alignment. The right sees it as an opportunity for radicalization while simultaneously decrying it as “woke” cancel culture where conservative voices are marginalized and red-lined. So far as I can tell, the left doesn’t actually have a coherent opinion on it; some celebrate cancel culture as establishing consequences for anti-social behaviour, much in the same way a dinner guest would be asked to leave if they loudly called another guest a racial slur. Others prefer to see a democratization of social media processes so that we could collectively agree on what the rules are rather than allow corporate moderators or the mob to determine dinner party etiquette. What I’m interested in today is the centrist position: where those corporate moderators are wildly celebrated for their autocratic role in sifting out acceptable discourse.

If only the companies that profit from polarization would do a better job of stamping out polarizing content!

Let’s let the company that profits off of polarization manage the stamping out of polarizing content!

There is, of course, reason to be concerned with the content of social media discourse. The coup in Myanmar is widely held to be somewhat to blame on social media. The rise of right-wing populist movements like Trumpism in America, Brexit in the UK, and Modi‘s government in India are linked to social media disinformation campaigns. Reasonable people agree: the echo chambers of increasing extremism must be stopped. The methods of doing so are obviously up for debate: solutions ranging from a socialist revolution against social media corporations to the libertarian hellscape where we all cackle with glee as the social media inferno engulfs our world. As always, the reasonable centrist sees the solution somewhere in the middle: get those corporations to ban and lockdown the uncouth!

Despite me wanting to write this for a long time, contemporary examples have manifested themselves for me. Facebook has blocked Russian state media on its platform in light of their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and reversed some of its previous decisions by unblocking praise for the neo-Nazi Azov military battalion – if you’re very specific in praising them for their resistance against said Russians. This is a brilliant move by Facebook because empowering far-right revolutionaries against a Russian invasion worked so well in Afghanistan! I’m not saying such censorship is right or wrong; my point is that there is legitimate criticism to be made of how the discourse is being managed, and this decision was made unilaterally by a corporation with a pretty shifty track record.

Ukraine officially incorporated this overtly Nazi militia into its military after the Russians annexed Crimea. I'm not saying invading Ukraine was an appropriate way to "de-Nazi" the country, but they clearly have some work to do with their own far right elements. Nuance!

Ukraine officially incorporated this overtly Nazi militia into its military after Russia annexed Crimea. I’m not saying invading Ukraine was an appropriate way to “de-Nazi” the country, but they clearly have some work to do with their own far right elements. Nuance!

There will always be political positions you disagree with, even find abhorrent. But allowing some emperor to dictate what is allowable discourse in a particular space is just as absurd as the coffeehouse bans enforced by the Ottomans and by Charles II hoping to rein in political dissent and “false news”. But that is the demand! WhatsApp needs to regulate the discourse on its App because right now it’s too secret! Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg need to personally review every single post to make sure that reading it won’t summon Sadako out of our phone screens in seven days. To dominate the bogeyman, we need a powerful ally, and there are none more powerful than the social media overlords.

This is bad. The right cries about social media censorship all the time, and… they’re not wrong! It’s tempting to say that it doesn’t count as censorship if the government isn’t doing it, and the irony is certainly amusing when otherwise pro-business ideologues are hurt and betrayed by business decisions against their personal interest, because, to be clear, these are businesses looking out for their bottom line. They’re not “woke“; they’re capitalists. They are making decisions based on what will make them the most money, and overt hate speech isn’t as lucrative as it used to be. But corporations are quickly becoming our new feudal lords, so their iron fist restricting the online commons is just as much a cause for alarm as any government cracking down on dissent. What makes money may shift over time if far right populism continue to grow in popularity!

The next Tickle Me Elmo to sweep the nation!

The next Tickle Me Elmo to sweep the nation!

Long time readers will know I’m not a free speech advocate. There is plenty of speech that is counter-intuitive to dialogue, but restricting spaces for speech is different than applying appropriate codes of conduct that lead to the most productive dialogical output. Cracking down on the the coffeehouses isn’t the solution. If we’re looking for solutions, it’s important to know what the actual problem is. The problem isn’t idiots who are too stupid to critically digest controversial opinions so they need to be protected from dangerous ideas, it’s zealotry. Social media has become a space for what amount to digital cults to flourish. I think cults are an important symbol for what’s happening because with cults, the people aren’t stupid, they just want to belong.

A combination of photos shows the crowds attending the inauguration ceremonies of U.S. President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama

If you think that the photo on the left has more people in it than the one on the right, you probably believe that more people voted for Trump than for Biden in the 2020 election. What’s one more alternative fact? It’s not that Trumpists can’t count, it’s that believing Trump’s lies has been imbued into their communal identity. Saying the photo on the right has more people is not a factual refutation, it becomes an ad hominem attack.

The difference between a community and a cult is an ability to question sources, whether the ideology is seen as a fundamental value and a part of who you are versus a passion or interest, and the amount of exposure a member has to the world outside of that group. It is perfectly within the realm of possibility to maintain a social media presence and adhere to the right side of that balance. Most people do it, and there is actually evidence that greater internet use is not completely driving modern political polarization. When social media cults do appear though, are they any different than cults in the analog world?

If we see the discourse problem of social media as potential breeding grounds for cults, then trying to overpower them through force is more likely to lead to Waco-style consequences rather than cross-partisan healing. If they’re cults, then they need de-programming solutions. Far-right social media enclaves are like toxic relationships, and a sense of belonging is obtained from hazing-style abuse. A lot of the reason the right is so angry despite not actually having any real political demands is because they’re constantly being told that the world hates them and thinks they’re stupid. That’s gas-lighting 101, but it sure works to keep recruits dependent. That’s why “basket of deplorables” caught on as a rallying cry for Trumpists because it vindicated the narrative of spiteful isolation that the radicalization process inured. Remember when Steve Bannon was telling a crowd to embrace being called a racist as a badge of honour? The worse the behaviour, the more isolated you are from the rest of society, the more embedded into the fold of the far right you become. Anything telling you otherwise is fake news.

Bear with me

Bear with me

As a quick aside, despite frequent “both sides” rhetoric from usually right-wing speakers, the issue of polarization is a right-wing issue. The left has been basically the same for like, over a hundred years, and even spine-chilling philosophies like defunding the police have been around since 1974. Traditional conservatives today are being defenestrated from their own parties because they’re not bootlicking fascism hard enough. Today’s right-wing is off the political spectrum. Please note my distinction between conservatives and the right-wing, as conservatives are basically today’s centrists that I’m castigating for wanting social media elites to regulate our social sphere. To be clear, cultist tendencies can and do arise on the left, but the specific issue of polarization is emphatically a right-wing issue and the increasing extremity of right-wing cults is the alarm bell I’m reacting to.

Anyway, back to it!

The solution to cults isn’t to barricade them out of their bunkers to scurry to another dark corner, it’s to open the world up to them. Give them a broader community to belong to. This is where my apologism for social media ends, because their algorithms sow divisiveness to ensure cults can never connect to ideologies outside of their own. Taiwan released a social media platform where the algorithm linked people through commonality rather than outrage, and it led to genuine solutions to otherwise intransigent problems. Immerse in hobbies or volunteer activities where there is exposure to other people different from oneself! Follow a variety of news outlets with different bents at their source, and don’t rely on social media to determine what you are presented with! When diverse groups of people connect, it pulls us out of our zealotry.

Newsies

If Christian Bale isn’t personally delivering you your news, you’re probably being radicalized.

Whether social media pulls us into a cult or not, it’s easy to agree that the current manifestation of how we engage on the internet is broken. It doesn’t have to be this way. Spaces to communicate dissent are necessary; society is far from perfect and there are powerful interests hoping to keep it that way. Spaces to disagree don’t have to be toxic or held hostage by disinformation.

Social media corporations profit by engagement, and it’s easy to get rich off passionate emotions. It’s not the platforms, it’s the platform owners. Capitalists have turned communities into cults because that’s the most efficient way to get a return on their capital. I don’t want capitalists fixated on profits to solve polarization because their solution will always be what profits them the most.

If we want a better social media, we need to determine and hold accountable the processes that produce our social media feeds. My guess is most people would agree to a methodology that fosters connection over divisiveness, that encourages people to disconnect from the digital rather than continuously pull “engagement”, so maybe people should be the ones who say how our public sphere is managed. I guess I’m one of those lefties who advocates for a socialist democratization of social media platforms. Who could have guessed!