I talk from time to time about voting systems, because they’re useful for game design and also because they’re uh, part of how we interact with our entire political system, and there’s a bunch of countries that do a terrible job of it, which shouldn’t really be how it goes, but voting is a cousin of math, and it was written about by French people, and if there’s one thing American political culture absolutely cannot abide, it’s a good idea from France. Here in Australia we use a voting system you might know as an instant runoff system, or a ranked voting system. This system is strictly better than the American system, and if you want to argue that, you are wrong, but.
Hey it’s April and that means I’m giving myself carte blanche to talk about shit that isn’t super important but that matters to me because I really need to be focusing on something right now, and this is an infamously problematic topic, so hey, let’s talk about the marginalisation of atheism.
There’s this term that we use a lot these days and the way it’s used makes it easier to conflate what it means, and that conflation can make it seem like the term itself is incorrect. This is true for a lot of terms but for now let’s just go in on privilege.
Okay, the way we describe this is ‘thanks to white privilege, thing thing thing,‘ or ‘well, he has white privilege,‘ and I’m only using those simplest versions of these things, because there’s a lot of complicated conversation about what things we do and don’t translate the idea of privilege to. The original idea of white privilege was developed to refer to specific structures about the perception of race and the enforcement of white supremacy, but now it’s used as a kind of useful applicable label for any time when sometimes a demographic group has benefits over another.
Now, this gets into some weird places when the language gets appropraited by TERFs and other dickhead groups – where they will sometimes claim trans women (and it is always trans women) have ‘male privilege’ because they were able to advance themselves ‘as men’ then deploy womanhood after attaining all the advantages that manhood could get them, like a kind of MCV from Command & Conquer.
This idea is preposterous, but it’s also indicative of a way that the speaker thinks of privilege. It suggests that male privilege is something you turn off and on again – as if maybe a trans woman talking in coded-masc ways on the phone is able to benefit from her ‘male privilege.’ There’s also ‘straight-passing’ privilege I see some people suggest hovers around ace and bi people, with the idea that ace and bi people can be perceived as straight, and therefore, benefit from straight privilege.
This is pish and silly, but I think the reason it needs addressing is not jus to win a rhetorical argument but to try and help the people making these arguments (or more reasonably, the people around those arguments who aren’t sure why those arguments shouldn’t be compelling) come to a better understanding of what privilege is.
See, it’s not inherent. Privilege isn’t something you have in you. It’s something you benefit from. It’s a system external to yourself. It’s why people with white seeming names are treated as white when they’re on the phone, and it’s something that society around us enforces through systems but also through our own behaviours.
There’s a form of straight privilege in my experience, where it’s not just a matter of being passively perceived as straight, not just compliant with straightness, but so compliant you’re against the alternative. In that situation, you can watch as the privileges extended to straightness are withdrawn in a heartbeat when you simply position yourself as say, tolerante of nonstraight people.
There. Basic idea. Privilege is an external system you benefit from as long as you are tangibly interfacing with the system in the ways it wants to encourage. Sometimes that’s a lot, and it asks a lot, and returns a lot. Sometimes it’s withdrawn, and you may seem to think it’s not there at all.
But like the tide, it keeps coming, back, and forth, back and forth. The only way you escape it is to remove yourself from it – or, I suppose, blow up the ocean. This metaphor got away from me.
Hey, you ever heard of this guy? Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben?
You might have seen some stuff with his name on it, around the right area of America. Dude was considered pretty important, because of his contribution to the Revolutionary War. Part of it was his commanding particular units in this sortie or whatever, but the big thing he brought to bear was some ideas for the whole military to use. These ideas included ‘training’ and ‘a field manual’ and ‘being sure people knew what orders meant.’ In a lot of ways, Steuben was responsible for bringing George Washington the basic modern technology of military hierarchy and a command structure, and essentially founded the very template of the American Military.
He was also gay as hell.
Steuben being gay is not a point of ambiguous historical interpretation, by the way. One of the things with looking into the history of the time is that often people who were gay or queer in some way or doing non-conventional gender things were all sort of put into a bucket of ‘well, maybe.’ Were these two historical dudes kissing? Was this woman who dressed and lived in men’s suits their whole life a trans man? What can we know for sure without knowing their inner lives?
Well, Steuben wrote about being gay and he made sure to not sugar-coat his sexual interest in men. His expulsion from the Prussian military was a little ambiguous, but it was clear it was definitely about a sexual relationship with another man. Either he was indiscrete about it, or the breakup went badly, or he cheated on someone, the possible reasons are ambiguous, but in his letters later in life, he was pretty clear that it was something of that nature.
Steuben was an interesting fellow; he also brought an elite guard with him from Prussia, who were all quite well-experienced soldiers from what was, at the time, the world’s elite military force. The other thing he brought to Valley Forge when he began the training was his sleigh, his italian greyhounds, and his ‘beautiful boyfriends.’ People were, in this valley, hungry enough to be eating their shoes, and Steuben rocks up on a sleigh, with dogs and boyfriends, flips off his fur coat and starts the I’ll Make A Man Out Of You bit from Mu Lan.
This is a small bit of history, and I am no fan of the US Military, but gosh it’s funny how a country that was paralysed only a few years ago about the conversation of ‘gays in the military’ forgot that it was founded in one of the gayest ways by one of the gayest generals, who was also one of their undeniable best.
Here’s to you, you massive prancing queer, and your boyfriends, too. Shame how it’s all shaken out.
This is something of a sore point, because celebrating any achievement of Captain Cook’s life is done by recognising that Captain Cook had a life, and that involves talking about Captain Cook and mentioning the much more miserable stuff he did like, you know, the invasion and initiating all the genocides and the colonialism and whatnot.
I said some stuff at the time, some of which turns out to have been incorrect, but mainly also this gave me an excuse to talk about boats which is subject near and dear to my dad’s heart, which is pretty weird, now I say that aloud, because I don’t actually care that much about it.
Nonetheless, this is a chance to correct myself a little and phwooar. Look at that… skimmtren. Ain’t that impressive.
(I have no idea what I’m doing)
First things first: The Endeavour replica this story is about is an absolute marvel of engineering. There are some modern components of it, mainly an engine that’s kept in the old Hold where you stored rotting bad food full of worms and also any people you wanted to ha ha, transport (probably never happened don’t worry about it) but those things are there to basically make this boat something other than a coin-flip death trap when taken out to the open seas. When you set that engine and its requirements aside, though, the boat, is made period-appropriate, down even to its eyelets in its sails, using woven cord, rather than metal eyelets.
The Endeavour was being developd in honour of the bicentennial in 1988, and finished in 1993, 26 years ago. It is an incredibly impressive, technically amazing achievement. I’ve been on it, for a school trip. It’s really, genuinely amazing, not a word of a joke, that it exists.
The journey itself is a bit of a swizz. Cook didn’t circumnavigate Australia (he did circumnavigate New Zealand, which both Australians and New Zealanders will firmly explain is not the same thing), that task was done by by Matthew Flinders in the Investigatoror possibly by Chinese Junk traders. They were traders in Junks, a type of boat. Not that they came here to sell the Indigenous peoples their miscellaneous crap.
The circumnavigation of Australia is, let us not kid ourselves, about getting it to Perth, then back to Sydney, and filling the time in between with a bunch of school trips and the nebulously-hoped-for tourist dollars? it will? bring??
That 6 million dollar sum is important because if you don’t remember this boat exists that headline makes it sound like it’s 6 million to get a replica of the Endeavour and go on a tour for a few months, which is almost reasonable. But it’s not.
That’s the ship’s travelling upkeep cost.
The Endeavour is a period appropriate boat. Just travelling around the country costs about 6 million dollars. It is expensive to move because it is a period boat and it’s meant to be kept in pristine condition because it’s a historical replica piece. Now, you might not pay attention to historical replica boats from a period of history you don’t care about in a country you don’t care about, but I fortunately am cursed with actually remembering my abusive school environment, so I do remember this boat.
Back when I first wrote about this, I mentioned that the boat had been ‘sold’ multiple times, or rather that they’d tried to sell it multiple times and it turns out, with deeper research, that wasn’t the case. It’s not that they’ve tried to sell the Endeavour. It’s that they’ve tried to sell an Endeavour.
In England, there’s a second Endeavour – and that doesn’t have the same largesse ours does. The Australian Endeavour has been financed by government grants and private donations from various businesses, and the thing is, by all observation, a money pit. Simply put, the Endeavour exists by people paying money to keep it existing, and people pay it because the alternative is letting the Endeavour go around unfinanced. I can’t tell you who donates to it (beyond the Bond corporation, who paid for it to get made then donated it to the country).
Still, the thing is…
Nobody cares about this boat.
It’s going to travel around, conspicuously land the most times in the most racist state, be the subject of a lot of school trips, some well-meaning positive historians are going to try their best to wed the event to actual discussions of Cook, and that’s pretty much it. It’s too expensive to keep and it’s too important to junk and it’s too worthless to sell.
And yet if they scuttle it, I would be genuinely sad and I don’t have a good reason why.
I mean it’s not the boat’s fucking fault Cook was a monster.
Christopher Hitchens was a journalist and writer and also wealthy middle-class son of working class parents, who was renowned in his early days for bombastic iconoclasm, and in his later years for a sort of later-life renovation in the name of the New Atheism movement. He was renowned for the latter stage of his life, up until his death, for his part as one of the ‘four horsemen,’ a group of prominent intellectuals who openly and aggressively challenged Christian Hegemony in the culture.
Now those horsemen include were four dudes: Dan Dennett, a philosopher who’s done some interesting ad valuable stuff, but also some really racist stuff seemingly without realising it, Richard Dawkins, probably the most scientifically important modern racist grandpa, Sam Harris, who’s spent the intervening years showing what a racist doofus he is – Wow, there’s a lot of racism going free. Don’t worry, Harris is also clueless about philosophy, humanities, art and ethics, a real renaissance doofus.
Anyway, the point is, you had four guys who had varying degrees of intellectual importance and accomplishment, and one of them was Hitchens, a man who has kind of become an idealised icon of That Kind Of Atheist On The Internet.
My relationship to Hitchens as a historical entity is a bit complicated. Because some of his work was very robust, very competent – his reporting on places like Belfast and Beiruit, for example – and he was good at economising with words, he definitely seemed good. There were issues where Hitchens and I definitely agreed – he was genuinely adamant about the Elgin Marbles, for example. Yet at the same time, he didn’t bring any illumination to any of the issues he examined as a journalist that other journalists couldn’t do. The dude wrote about experiences very well, but the filter of his experiencse was overwhelmingly himself, and you learned of him through that work.
And really, the thing that Hitchens did well, did best, was be mean to someone.
It’s part of why he’s such an affecting performer. He’d turn up at Creationist Debate events, and make the creationist in question look like a stupid dick, and he’d tell fascists to get lost, and he’d do it well, but when you cook down his positions, most of his most intelligent insights were quotes. Most of his best interpretations are of very obvious, basic ideas – England does not own Greece’s history and it was bad to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. These aren’t actually challenging paths, these aren’t things that require the work of excelling journalism to put into meaningful context.
What Hitchens did well, and what made him feel so bad to watch when he turned that skill towards people who a moral conscience or broader context could appreciate did not deserve it, was be mean to people.
And that’s why we loved him, in the New Atheist community. We liked him, because he was mean to the people we wanted to be mean to and he was better at it than we were.
It’s sad in hindsight. Because it means Hitchens is hard to appreciate for his excellent ability to wield words, when you realise that often behind that skill there was not an excellent and incisive mind, but an emotionally satisfying cruelty.
A good journalist would consider the value of public debates on articles of faith. Would notice the way that it wasn’t valuable to negotiate with unreasoning conspiracy. Would appreciate what he couldn’t argue people out of when they’d never argued themselves into it.
What with people, aka racists, talking about the importance of defending western values they’ll often tout the artistic importance of the west and how it’s resulted in transcendental things like Van Gogh and Leonardo Da Vinci and some other artist they primarily remember because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The thing about this thought that always rattles around is that the imperial world did indeed produce an enormous amount of art we can recognise as important, but that it was always as a byproduct of cultural states that had disproportionate wealth enough that thanks to sheer randomness and the precarious position of the people randomly bequeathed with ridiculous wealth, money got scattered down onto the people who make art. Look at the history of these artists, the people of this western canon, they’re all either paid for by some rich dickhead who was already getting more than his fair share of pies, and there were a lot of artists who failed to find an agreeable rich patron who supported them and the tended to live lives that were poor, short, and miserable, even if the ever did make something cool. It should really be seen as a stinging indictment of capitalism and western colonialism that it had to acquire something like half the wealth in the world at the time before it was able to produce twenty or thirty artists, when any kind of efficient system might be doing something like making sure everyone was well-fed enough that if they wanted to bung out some art they weren’t going to be hosed for trying it.
Still, what do I know, I’m not an expert in media creation oh wait hang on I might be by now, holy heck.
Anyway, the real lesson here is that when a racist wants to talk to you about the importance of colonialism to world art, the correct response is to tell them to go fuck themselves and to not bother arguing with them about the logical or rational reasons for rejecting their racism. They’re always lying.
You know how I’m that tiresome dork who cares about voting systems? Let me tell you about a time when voting in the United States was even worse.
Right now most countries – mostly! – recognise the value of casting secret ballots. That is, you need to make it so everyone who wants to vote can put their decision down, commit to it, and put it somewhere nobody else can see it, anonymised from who they are. You control the ballot carefully and make sure people can only vote once.
That’s not how it used to work, though. Used to be back in the day, the idea was that you should be able to convince people, change their minds at the polls. There’s the echoes of this system as it remains now, in state Caucuses, where people just holler at one another and the judge kinda guesstimates how many people are in each section of the room. This system is really silly and best represents a population where maybe twenty people can caucus, rather than the hundreds of thousands of people modern caucuses are meant to represent.
Anyway, the history of New York is a gosh-dang mess, and one of the things that used to happen, back during the heavily nativist times of the Know-Nothings, was a process called cooping. There are a lot of things going on here – like, the gangs of fixers known as the Plug-Uglies, and the flag with a shoemaker’s awl on it, and the racist American Native Party – but that’s not so important. The important thing is there were vulnerable people who could vote (Irish and Chinese immigrants), who weren’t going to get listened to by the cops, and unscrupulous people who would abuse them.
Cooping, the technique, starts when you kidnap someone and stuff them in a chicken coop!
Groups – known as Coop Gangs or Election Gangs – hung around polling places, looking for people who they could abuse, who they would grab, stuff in coops, then get them drunk and torture them, by beating or kicking the coop, or setting their hair on fire. The point is, you got them scared and you got them drunk. Then you sent them in to the electoral place to vote, as you demanded, and you could watch how they voted, and beat them up if they voted wrong.
And then, you could dress them up, put them in a wig, and send them to vote again.
And then you could put them in a different outfit, and send them to vote again.
Now, the thing that’s really sad about this is what solved Cooping wasn’t anyone going ‘hey, abusing poor people is bad,’ but rather, ‘hey, these are impacting elections based on which rich person can hire the biggest gang.’ And the solution was secret ballots.
What is the optimally “unfair” possible U.S. election? Assuming you can just set the vote ratios in each state to whatever unrealistic value you want. How much can you lose popular vote by and win the Presidency?
This isn’t a comprehensive view of this idea, but a rough summary. Still, it’s an interesting question and let’s explore it. Note that these results involve literally no breaking rules. These are just the ways the system functions based on changes in circumstances. Consider these urine samples from an extremely unwell system.
Hey, everyone! It’s Anzac Day! That means it’s a time to celebrate our culture and our Anzacs, which we do with games of 2-up in pubs, singing three songs, and deep repression of our thoughts about how the impact of our complicity and promotion of white supremacy leads to the radicalisation of our own citizens and the disenfranchisement of our marginalised people pushes them towards criminality that we then use as pretense to further disenfranchise them in ways that result to our perception of ‘the other’ and the deeper entanglement in international imperialism that sends our soldiers to places that have nothing to do with us in order to die, and of course, making Anzac Biscuits!
I got this recipe off the Australian War Memorial website, and only made some small alterations. It’s really good, you’ll like ’em!
1 cup each of rolled oats, sugar and coconut
1 tablespoon syrup
3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)
Melt the butter, as a symbol of the way we viewed our culture as a melting pot where a variety of different cultures could come together and form a very yellow homogenous whole, much like the Simpsons where we try to keep a minimal number of brown people who we routinely mock and divorce from proper job opportunities that respect them and their cultural backgrounds.
Add syrup to dissolved soda and water. Combine with melted butter. This will form the wet ingredients into one larger body that should smooth out and homogenise in the same way that we treat all our population as acceptable if we already have them and they don’t do anything to stand our or remind us that they are not, in fact, lily-white.
Mix dry ingredients and stir in liquid, with forceful, strong motions like running a death camp on another country’s territory that both that country and the UN have decreed an illegal human rights violation. The ingredients will present some resistance, just like how the people in those camps do things like hunger strikes, appeals to the press, explicit references to sexual abuse by guards and overseers, and at least one man setting himself on fire, but just as we can dismiss those actions as ‘wanting attention’ you can ignore the resistance of the ingredients. Just smooth them out and ignore the way you feel.
Place small balls on to buttered tray and bake in moderate oven. It doesn’t matter how they’re composed, if they’re a decent mix, or their size, or really anything at all, because making a bad Anzac biscuit is pretty hard if you get the mix right, because they’re made out of components designed to be durable and last long over the transport from Australia to Gallipolli, a war we were entangled in because an Empire wanted to spend our blood to earn themselves a minor convenience, and we lined up to ensure that we wouldn’t let it happen again, again, again, again again again.
Lift out carefully with a knife as they are soft till cold. Don’t bite them too early or they’ll break!
I hope you enjoy this Anzac Biscuit recipe. They’re really good!
One of the weird things about growing up in fundamentalist church with a deliberately stifled education is that some concepts kinda just get thrown around and you never really learn what they are. This meant I had to teach myself a bunch of this stuff, and I realise, there are some people similarly uncertain as to where the heck the idea of Shares come from.
The basic idea of what a share is is that it’s a portion of something. The place it got its start – more or less, there are always earlier versions of things, but the place it sort of got its modern kick-off – was during the (absolutely god-awful) trading history of large fleets of vessels, things like the Dutch East India company.
The way these things worked was, buying a boat – like, a whole boat – and managing an expedition over to do trading was, as an up-front cost, totally ridiculous. Like, we talk about wealth disparity, but it’s kind of hard to translate wha that was like when you’re talking about a period of history when you might not even exchange money for food, because it simply wasn’t affordable. So there’s a striation of wealth between poor and wealthy people that’s like, mindboggling, and I tend to think about ships from the perspective of the poor people. Each one of them represented more than a lifetimes’ worth of wealth, so the idea of rich people owning multiples is kind of impossible.
Anyway, even so, the task of sending a boat to get goods for sale was still a gamble – every time it went out, you didn’t know if it was coming back, and if it didn’t come back, you were out a ton of money, enough to ruin someone. The solution, then, was for people to band together – wealthy people, mind you – and instead of buying one ship, buying one tenth of ten ships. When each ship came in, you got a tenth of its proceeds. If one sank, you were out a tenth of a price of a ship. Then they got really fiddly with the numbers, and bookkeeping got involved and you started to see people making more and more careful subdivisions of the shares, and things you could do to interact with the shares and eventually things got decoupled from ever needing to turn a profit at all, because everything about markets eventually sucks butts.
Still, the thing with this whole system that makes my ears twist is, no matter how I think about it, the more I think it’s kind of inevitable that people will come up with this idea if they have some way of representing it. And then the weirder thing is: We have this idea for buying and owning shares in objects and businesses, but it seems fundamentally inimical to the current mindset of the world to have shares in the government you’re part of. Like, taxes are seen a an imposition, rather than a percentage ownership of the country you’re investing in.
The stories we tell, and how we tell them, shape our worldview. This isn’t ‘media programs you,’ not a satanic panic fear-of-the-demons-in-your-media, but something slower, more grinding, more insidious. There’s an acretion of the world around you as you pass over it, little bits of the everyday. Making everyone’s clothes show ads, we thought, would be about making sure you were always showing off the #brand. Turns out that it mostly just meant people saw ads on clothes as normal and not worth noticing any more.
It’s hard to turn that kind of ubiquity into money in a pragmatic one-on-one sense. It’s difficult to monetise a brand if the main job monetising it is to be everywhere all at once, you need a certain scale for that to have an impact. You need to be Pepsi, for example. What you can do with it, though, is reinforce an idea of what’s normal, and thousands of sources doing it all the time can do a lot to shape that idea of normal.
It’s Marketing Whiteness.
CW, gunna talk about slavery and fundamentalism and whiteness and dismiss the historicity of the Bible, which just gets some people up in a dander.
It’s a weird thing, considering. Maybe it’s a childhood story of Babe. Maybe it’s after being raised in a weirdo Christian cult, I thought the ‘unclean’ label they got was a bit rough. Maybe it’s Asterix comics that made it look like the poor boars were on the losing side of things.
But I like pigs.
CW ahead for descriptions of war and some unpleasant ways we refer to history.
Confederate monuments are not monuments to history.
Well, they are, but that’s not what they are.
Every single work of art chooses what not to depict. Like every single map chooses to leave out details in order to represent the information it cares about, every single artwork has to choose a point to stop telling you what surrounds it. And Confederate monuments aren’t about the history that is.
They’re about the history that some people wishes there was.
Look at them. Look at how they present the people and events. Heroic struggles against a foe, a very unspecified foe, for an equally unspecified reason. As the Lions of British public works fail to remind you that the Lion is not native to England, and in fact, the people of England did a lot of harm to the places that have Lions, the image and the icon were taken for their own expression, for what they could make people feel about what they wanted to be true.
Now, I want to show you an example of this kind of art, but presenting this art without context inherently allows the art to speak for itself. So I’ve made some subtle annotations to the artwork so you can focus instead on the art as an object of intention, that it was something someone constructed and why they did it. You know, rudimentary postmodernism, questioning the base assumptions of our art.
The soldier is presented with a raised foot, holding a weapon, looking nobly at the future; the figure is shown as powerful, whole, is constructed and crafted in a single colour but with shapes that suggest the blowing of wind, the vivacity of life cast in metal and stone. There is an inscription full of importance and vigor, in the language of our culture’s view of Value.
This is propoganda.
The Public Art of the Confederacy, which presents soldiers alone, in positions of glory, and valour, and success, are presented as skilled and noble. They are in uniform, they are standing at attention, they are glamorised. You don’t get statues showing them throwing black infants into a river; you don’t get the statues that show these people as part of long-term and constant genocide. The history that you’re seeing, then, is not the history of what happened, but rather a tiny, tiny window into something that did happen, and by ignoring everything else, a dsesperate aim to keep the rest of that information hidden and lost. Let these people look noble, and do not think of every single round they shot, every wound they took, every personal deprivation was in the name of continuing the generational torture of Black Americans.
There is a generation of Southern Americans, growing as the conservative movement carries this vile meme with it, who are convinced that The Confederacy Wasn’t That Bad Actually and this art is part of why. These statues, these statues to men and women who hate America, who stand proudly and nobly against the American ideal of No Slavery, they are art that wants to make their evil normal, and acceptable, and calmly casual.
Your art shapes your world.
And this art glorifies evil.
If you want to keep it around, if you’re against the idea of the destruction of art, which usually is used as a way of examining art as inherently intransient, which is its own problem, but if you want to keep this art around, then you owe it to your culture to put it in context. Surround these statues with monuments of the lynched and slain. Add plaques commemorating the invisibly dead who did not get to be valorised in death because their crime was being born into a black skin under someone else’s ownership.
Or tear them down, and put them in museums, the Ways We Try To Forgive Ourselves For Genocide Museum.
I’ve written about Problematic in the past, with the simple premise that there are no non-problematic faves, and the baked-in nature of the colonialist world we live in is fundamentally damaged. Recent events (a hot take shot from the hip) put the term in stark relief and so, since you’re all so very interested in telling me what I should think about it, clearly you’ll be interested to hear me expound. Right? Right? You’re not just looking to complain at a stranger?
This is spurred in part by recent reading about Dream Daddy. Because that’s a thing I started caring about despite having literally no interest, whatsoever, in wanting to play it, for any reason, at all, gosh dangit. With that in mind there’s going to be a minor spoiler to a thing I don’t care about but let’s take it under the fold anyway. It also involves the genders. Continue reading →
Talking about representation in videogames, and also about being a white man, and also about some mental health stuff. If you don’t want to hear a white guy talking about representation, or you don’t want to hear representation discussed in the context of ‘what about white guys’ side of things,’ here’s something else to go look at.
I understand that, for some folk, particularly those raised by controlling, authoritarian assholes or who are themselves, controlling authoritarian assholes, that it’s a strict set of rules. Like, not swearing, holding doors for women whether they want them or not, that kind of stuff.
Politeness is a word that derives from the word polis. Literally, it is the behaviour of a city. It is how you interact with people when you know you have to, and how you deal with the people when you know there’s a large population of them around you, more or less, acting and interacting. Politeness is, in the simplest way, a general toolset of interacting with other people who you don’t really know.
Now, what people seem to think Politeness means is maintaining the rules that worked in the 1950s. Note that these rules include a lot of stuff we don’t want to talk about, like how black people knew it was impolite to talk to white people –
like at all –
And there’s the truth of politeness. Politeness is a moving social construction. It is a matter of being aware of your community, and being aware of the people in it. It’s knowing things like touching your hand to your own chest when you interact with a Muslim person, rather than offering to shake theirs. It’s being willing to apologise, it’s double-checking if you’re getting someone’s name right because you don’t want to be an asshole. It’s about leaving someone alone when they’re listening on headphones and have their eyes on their phone because that’s polite.
Politeness is part of the circulatory system of people moving around one another, and like every circulatory system, it has an immune system.
The thing is, when there are people who are fundamentally against the idea of society as it exists, when there are people whose view of how they want to live involves the eradication of parts of your society, when they literally want to kill people for no reason beyond imagined ideals of purity, then those people are inimical to the society you live in. And that’s when you should feel absolutely, 100% comfortable telling those people to get lost, because they are trying to not be part of your society, they are not part of the community. In that case, the proper behaviour of a civilised person is to reject fascists. Yes, even with swears, with rudeness, with dismissive derision. Because they are the ones who want to strip your social rules and wear the skin long enough to stab your neighbours.
Humour is something that’s talked about plenty online but one thing I see rarely discussed when we’re mad about something is why things are funny. It’s understandable, because unless you’re me, you probably find this topic quite dull. Still, humour is a thing that, despite what you may want to think, does have some actual rules and conventions, and even a cause and effect. I, as someone who has done a single year of University am therefore in a perfect position to explain this enormous subject and I won’t mess it up at all, honest.
All humour derives from a subversion of expectation.
Your brain is a fairly sophisticated device that tries to keep track of the future, which it’s kind of bad at, but also pretty decent at, considering. When you see a ball thrown at you, your brain does all sorts of math to track where it’s going and can more or less work out where it’s going to end up and if it’s going to hit you in the face. You wake up each day with a general expectation of what’s going to happen in it, and your brain actually patterns behaviour based on that. Talking to people, you have the same thing; as they explain things to you, you will expect things. Want to see this in effect? Look at comedy shows from other countries, even subtitled. There will be social cues that you don’t understand, and therefore, when they are averted, you won’t understand why it’s funny – or even why it’s so funny. Even British comedy does this. Even surreal British comedy like Monty Python’s Flying Circus does this!
Of late I’m seeing people enraged by components of jokes, and the defense being it’s just a joke. I think that’s the wrong way to approach it. What you have to look for is to find what, in the joke, you’re meant to laugh at. What’s the expectation? Why is it meant to be funny?
I don’t want to use any examples for this. The ones I can think of are – or have now become touchstones of outrage and anger and legitimate hurt. Too often though, I’ll see a joke where the point of the joke is to highlight someone being an asshole – you’re meant to laugh at the bad person, with the bad view. But then people become caught up in arguing that the view they forward is thepoint of the joke. That there is one interpretation and the one they wield is the correct and harmful one.
(There’s also a whole extra nest of ‘this media is enjoyed by people it affects, but not all of them’ which I don’t want to get into).
I kind of already want to apologise for that post title. Moving on.
Writing advice time. Specifically, writing advice about signalling characters of diversity. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to me talking about Harry Potter as a universe, but one of the complaints I’ve had is of what I call ‘Dumbledore Diversity,’ the notion that an author can, post-fact indicate the orientation of a character that is never otherwise signalled in the media, and that isn’t, in my opinion the same thing as writing media that has actually included marginalised people.
A thought that’s been stewing away in my mind these past fortnight, one of many that I keep thinking I need to flesh out into something bigger, something with more sinew to it, is that for all the talk of the United States being a post-truth state, there’s a community that hypothetically at least cares about, and wants to do something about, a culture embracing false things.
Walking through the park last night, Fox ruminated to me that she was so annoyed watching one of the American presidential candidates puffing and huffing on the television about how polls couldn’t be true, because he was drawing big crowds of support. Exasperated, she waved a hand and said “Yeah, you fill an auditorium of a thousand people in a country of three hundred million.”
Yesterday, I watched timelines quietly fill with people swapping around memes about this is what the electoral map would look like and making fun of Nate Silver. Not necessarily the same thing, natch, but still.
I sat down and ruminated on this all day. See, one of my personal bugbears about journalism is my oft-repeated notion that Journalism is the task of putting data in meaningful context. The whole point of visualisations and data maps and tweet-sized comparisons is to try and provide people with context that escapes them intuitively. Like, for example, looking at a room full of supporters of one candidate and being horrifiedly certain that he’s going to win.
We are not good at making these judgments intuitively. What our brains do when they sort information is check for the things that are easiest to remember and turns out that it’s super easy for us to remember dealing with a super racist asshole. This is part of why cops are so inclined to think of people as criminals – it’s really easy for them to remember times when it turned out Someone Was A Criminal, so they tend to bias towards that. It’s why experts academics are likely to think problems are caused by The Area Of Their Expertise. You find what you’re used to looking for.
Visualisations and data points are not here to solve everything, they’re here to try and give your mind ways to anchor to information that’s otherwise hard to put into context.
You tell yourself that you are, of course, in that middle-management, get-by, Church-once-on-Sunday kind of way. You know the framework you have to deal with, the general ideas of what make a good person and you tell yourself you’re doing the best you can in that spectrum, that nobody’s perfect, that it’s all forgiveable and Jesus will carry away your sins in his blood, and you have to tell yourself this because you know as you stare into the glass of the case that you’re not actually a good man.
You stare into the outlines, the ghost of the man in the reflection, and you think to yourself that you’re still there, that there’s something to you. People were so happy with you after the Vice President debate, you put Kaine in his place, you – you did well, and you came back to the base and dealt with him again. Dealt with the bluster and the low-key fury, the snarling way he treated his wife when she showed him up and you told yourself that it was fine for him to treat you that way (though probably not a great thing that he treated her that way) and you tried to put it out of your mind like all the other things, like all of them, over and over again, while you adjusted your expensive tie and expensive suit and tried to forget for a time what you were actually doing, frame it just as gearing up for 2020.
Then the news.
The staffer telling you what the audio was. Did you ask, then, for details, stop yourself when you realised no, of course you didn’t want to hear that, and then looked at the staffer –
“How bad is it?”
The look of the young man, hand folded over his phone, like he was about to throw up, because to him this isn’t ambitions and long term power plays and it isn’t about him it’s about a job and he’s not getting paid enough and he’s going to have to go have a bunch of journalists remember him as that guy from that time when everything started to fall apart in a new and terrible way, and he murmurs, “It’s… it’s real bad, Governor.”
And you sighed and looked back into the glass.
At the hot dog bun.
With Trump’s name on it.
Did the metaphor bowl you over?
Did you stare at the preserved, artificial breadlike structure that was only there to make sure people could handle the grotesque mystery meat of pounded pig rectum and sawdust in an offcolour casing, the thing renownedly hollow and forgettable, something that you were here to look at, and smile about, and be impressed with and see once again another sodden symbol of the beast whose milk you were drinking nightly, with his name on it, and realise that you were the next Palin?
You can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.
Hypothetically, your vote means something. Yeah, I know, that’s a cracking start, like, real hopeful and inspiring, especially now you have to choose between an actual active fascist, racist bigot and, I dunno, Dracula or something, but hypothetically, hypothetically, your vote means something. The good news is it kinda doesn’t mean anything.