Monday, 23 February 2015

"Good liberal" @GraceDent writes bad article that treats children as ifthey are evil

This article is full of the kind of obnoxious and unempathetic lack of nuance that creates exactly the kind of culture where young people become "radicalised": 

We never solve anything by denying the humanity of humans. Children and young people need love and support (as do adults) but they live in a society where they are under attack from the policies of political parties and the reportage of the media. That's all kids I'm talking about although of course some have enough privilege to allow them to be less damaged by our anti-youth culture. 

But what about kids who exist in the intersection of multiple oppressions? What about kids who are told every day that they don't belong? Who exist in a racist, islamophobic, classist and sexist culture that says they are lesser in loads of other ways. In a culture that claims to be a democracy but where no one feels like they have power and the options for who to vote for are massively limited (not that many young people are old enough to vote). A culture that is at war with countries full of people. People who look might like you or practice the same religion as you and who your country is systematically murdering. Whilst at the same time it's clear your country are selectively murdering since other countries where people look like you or practice your religion are not bothered at all because they are "allies" which means attacking them not in the interests of those in power. 

And then of course there are personal factors to do with your upbringing, your brain chemistry, and the like that can help cause people to make mistakes or even to do terrible things. 

Surely trying to understand people's reasons or motivations for hurting others is essential if you want to stop people hurting each other. Surely remembering that all people, no matter how terrible their actions, are people is just seeing reality. All are a part of the global and national cultures that we are also a part of. We do not exist in isolation from each other.

Considering the kind of things I am articulating terribly above is not the same as condoning murder or torture or any of the other crimes committed by ISIS or the British Government or the bloke who lives next door or anyone else. Nor does putting those three entities in the same sentence mean I am saying they do violence in the same ways or for the same reasons. 

But you don't stop hate with hate. You don't understand things better by being ignorant. We can oppose evil actions whilst remembering that the people who do them are not evil. We are all products of our nature and our nurture and our culture. 

We can fill our prisons full of every marginalised person we can find, we can fight violence with violence, we can send in troops and drones to every country in the world and we will not solve the problems we face. We will create more and more problems instead. And the people with the money and the power will still have the money and the power. And I tell you who doesn't have the money and the power: Teenage girls.

I'd like to acknowledge that I say all this from a position of privilege. I don't fully understand what it is like to be from a marginalised group because I am not in one. But such concerns clearly don't give Grace Dent pause for thought before she writes this kind if garbage in a national newspaper. 

I'd prefer to hear what teenage girls of colour and/or faith have to say than Grace Dent or me. They would have a lot more insight. But they don't get to write for national newspapers.

And why not talk to teenagers rather than about them!

If anyone decides that the appropriate comment on this post is to accuse me of supporting terrorism, or wants to discuss how evil any humans are, they will be wasting their time. I am really sick of that argument. It is not supporting terrorism to understand terrorists are human (all kinds of terrorist not just the official ones). 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Platform Games

I'm very sad to see some of the names on this list: My personal view is they didn't fully appreciate what they were signing. That's what I hope anyway. 

First off the incident that the letter is framed around is not even an example of "no platforming" as the gig in question was not going to be picketed (unless it was to be spontaneous) and the reasons for the cancelation were not down to a no platform policy at all. Which is not to say lots of media and individuals haven't framed it that way. I've read all sides and also saw the dispute that started it all happening live on twitter and these are the two sources I think get closest to the reality of it:

But regardless of the accuracy of the incident in question what about "no platforming" in general? That is definitely something that happens. It is something the letter tacitly endorses for people whose views they (and I) object to: ie fascists. But that they object to when applied to people they agree with. And some of those people hold views I often find  just as objectionable as fascists. I defend the right of people to express their objectionable views. If they face state censorship, violence or imprisonment I would hold my nose and support them. But that isn't the same as denying them a platform. 

Not that I would personally advocate no platforming any of the individuals in question. I think a more useful political strategy is to picket and protest their events rather than to give the speakers the martyrdom they find in being "denied" a platform. I always think of Nick Griffin proudly wearing his gag. 

Fear of free speech being exercised in the form of protest is one of the elements that led to the incident that started this. The right of people to protest is a very important free speech. We should support the rights of people we don't agree with to protest. 

The right to be given a platform however is not really to do with free speech. Someone being no platformed by a group or institution is not them being prevented from speaking. They are being prevented from speaking at a specific place because that group don't want them there. Whether you agree with that groups decision or not has nothing to do with it. No one has the automatic right to speak in universities. Who gets to speak in universities is of course an incredibly complex and often problematic matrix of politics, power and privilege. There are lots of criticisms to be made of how that works and strategies that we can take to deal with it. But framing it around free speech is just disingenuous. 

When the people we are claiming are "silenced" are journalists and authors with national and international reputations, books, columns and the like, it becomes an even flimsier argument. 

Another problem with the letter is it is specifically partisan but pretends not to be. It frames the arguments that surround this conflict as being anti-feminists verses feminists. It is not. It is two different feminisms attacking each other. (And even that description is reductive.) One of those feminisms has a wider voice and more access to platforms and they are the people who wrote this letter (which got published in a national newspaper.) 

I wouldn't say all the signatories of this letter are aware of this. I doubt the nuance of the debates was communicated to them. Free Speech is a very important thing. And so it can be used to scare people. Ironically into things that limit free speech such as anti-terrorism laws, anti-protest laws, actual censorship and the like. In this case it can be used to say both that people from marginalised groups shouldn't be listened to because they are bullies (I'd suggest you will find bullying on both sides of this conflict) and also that people who already have a platform should be allowed to speak from every platform. That isn't free speech it is power consolidating it's position. 

And finally the idea of what violence is is again a contested and complicated issue. You can argue transphobic or whorephobic academia or comedy leads to actual violence just as you can argue it for white supremacist or misogynist academia or comedy. Plus some people who get no platformed have done worse than just using language in a violent way, some support conversion therapy, police violence and the doxxing of individuals. 

As I have said I support free speech and am sad about all the attacks on it we have going on at the moment. But no platforming isn't one of those attacks.

There are many acts I wouldn't book to perform at my nights because I find them objectionable. That is technically no platforming them. Should I be expected to book anyone who wants a platform? 

I'm not being given a platform to speak at every university in the country. This is clearly an attack on free speech.