It’s Krypto Fascists Versus Lyrics Again

Sometimes a song stays at the top of the charts so long it seems to become a permanent fixture. For such a long time Elsa’s signature song “Let it Go” from Frozen was the song that the alt-right loved to hate, whether it was this blog’s go-to rabid Vox Day or this blog’s go-to pseudo-intellectual Jordan “nope lobster” Peterson.

But finally, there appears to be a contender! From the hagiographic biopic musical of a historical racist and exploiter P.T.Barnum aka “The Greatest Showman”, the song “This is Me” has upset Vox Day with feelings.

The song can be seen here:

I should note that I don’t think much of the song or the film. The song is representative of the main approach to the music and the plot – start dejected/maudlin and then shift gradually to triumphalism. The body-positivity message is repeatedly overwhelmed with a  Horatio Alger myth of hard work and believing in yourself etc etc. to overcome adversity. I didn’t feel stirred or moved by it but I’m a soulless monster who lives in a cave in a dark forest.

However, this same song seems to have hot Vox Day directly in whatever feels he has left (direct link, archive link)

“My first response to hearing the song and seeing the video was to feel the profound and programmed emotional stirring. My second response was to put that emotional effect in intellectual context, and think, kill it with fire. And my third response was to reflect upon how good these evil rhetoricians are, and realize how far we have to go in order to effectively counteract their influence on the mass culture.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling oddly defensive of the song. That defensiveness you are feeling is testimony to the power of the rhetoric. But review the lyrics and analyze the imagery. It is powerful cultural programming, but it loses its power and becomes transparent when viewed through coldly dialectic analytical eye. “Reaching for the sun” indeed…..”

Zoiks! His reaction appears to be genuine and I’m forced to reconsider whether a song that discombobulates the alt-right so effectively that it sends them into a struggle with their own emotions, can be all that bad.

Maybe because it has some elements which are positive but wrapped up in a message of centre-right of self-esteem it hits a nerve. This is not unlike “Let It Go” where the self-affirmation by Elsa is nearly-but-not-quite the same ideology/pseudo-psychology of Peterson, that they find it more viscerally unsettling because it is a woman who is affirming her individualist independence from society.

Anyway…Vox then heads off into more alarming rhetoric of his own:

“Just remember that we’re the ones with the guns. We’re the side with no reason for shame. We are servants of the King and the defenders of the West. They know they are guilty, they know they are damned, and they are openly flaunting their sin. They are warriors and they are at war with our God, our civilization, our faith, and our nation.”

The takes a detour into anti-semitism and homophobia and then declares:

“Their satanic hymns will not save them from the justice of the Almighty God in the end.”

As you know, I’m not religious but I enjoy theology. If I was religious I really would have to wonder what god it is that Vox Day worships. There was an earlier piece a few days ago where Vox said something unintentionally revealing and disturbing once you pause and think about his position on many issues: (direct link, archive link)

“Here is a reliable heuristic for evil: does it justify, rationalize, excuse, defend, encourage, advocate, or require sex with children in any way, openly or covertly, directly or indirectly? Then it is evil, topped by an evil sauce, with a side of evil.”

Does that strike anybody else as deeply unself-aware of things he has actually said?

Vox Day has repeatedly cast doubt on the claims of victims of sexual assault and abuse. For example this comment from is pickup-artistry site in 2013:

“Sexual abuse is a problem. But as is often the case, the overreaction to it has created problems of its own, as children have become aware that they can create massive problems for adults by falsely accusing them. Perhaps the awareness that they run the risk of bankruptcy if they don’t control their progeny will convince parents that their little angels may, in fact, be little devils in disguise.”

He has repeatedly opposed Codes of Conducts generically for example saying:

“This is just straight up thought, speech, and behavioral policing, and it explicitly goes in one direction, the direction that provides the SJWs with political control of the organization.”

…about a code that sought to prevent:

Physical contact and simulated physical contact (eg, textual descriptions like “hug” or “backrub”) without consent or after a request to stop. Threats of violence, both physical and psychological. Incitement of violence towards any individual, including encouraging a person to commit suicide or to engage in self-harm. Deliberate intimidation. Stalking or following. Harassing photography or recording, including logging online activity for harassment purposes.  Unwelcome sexual attention, including gratuitous or off-topic sexual images or behaviour. Pattern of inappropriate social contact, such as requesting/assuming inappropriate levels of intimacy with others.

Of course that code didn’t expressily mention child protection, but don’t forget Vox’s caveat: ‘openly or covertly, directly or indirectly’.

Even his much vaunted campaigns against pedophiles is something he primarily uses to attack critics, push homphobia or demonise immigrants. The conspiracy theories he promulgates (and which his vandalised version of Wikipedia promotes) serves to hide the danger and prevelance of sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

I don’t know. It’s probably just routine malice mixed with incompotence and confusion about his own semiotics. Maybe it is just his tendency to mix his own messages (like attempting to ironically surrounded himself with pseudo-satanic imagery while styling himself as an evangelical Christian) but given the whole of the picture, I keep returning to the question: if Vox thinks gods are real what kind of god is it that he worships and would deem itself happy with his efforts?

{refs:

https://web.archive.org/web/20180424193338/http://alphagameplan.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/girls-lie-about-sexual-abuse.html

https://voxday.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/weaponized-codes.html and yes, the bits I quoted were not the only thing in that code of conduct but they were parts that Vox also quoted and he clearly objected to them being in the code. }

[ETA: sorry that got a bit darker at the end. For added amusement, Vox trying to get his minions to understand his point in the comments is funny in places.

“It isn’t about YOU. It isn’t about YOUR reaction. Why is that so damned difficult for so many of you to understand? You do not win by holding your ground, you win by taking the enemy’s ground.

FFS, next I’m going to have to write fucking musicals. I don’t want to write fucking musicals.”

Gosh, why IS it so difficult for a bunch of alt-right/MRAs to understand that it isn’t about them and their reaction? 🙂

Also, the witchfinder general of SF has stepped into the discussion: http://www.brianniemeier.com/2018/04/what-were-really-up-against.html

“The Disney paypigs who continue subjecting their children to satanically inspired princess movies no doubt blissfully hum this song to themselves as they wait in the drive-thru at Starbucks. But among the disaffected engineer types who, while smarter, tend to make a vice of excess pragmatism, the equal and opposite problem emerged.”

? No, I’m not sure what he is trying to say either. ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s in the spam folder?

OK, first of all here is a rnadom picture so that when this autotweetedI don’t broadcast the spammer.

spam

And here’s what I found in the folder:

spam2

I assume the whole thing is just to create links to website address I blurred out but the way the text suddenly breaks down into what looks like a Lovecraft pastiche of an eldritch howl is kind of interesting.

Loved Books

img_0445

A more pristine book today, which ironically has travelled less far than some. This was bought in a bookshop in the Upper Blue Mountains near Sydney (Leura? Wentworth Falls? I can’t remember – it was a day trip and I went to both places that day.)

The Hunting of the Snark is the most distilled work of Lewis Carroll, short and repeatedly hitting the highly structured nonsense.

“Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

“Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.”

There’s a precipitous feeling of the whole thing almost making sense but it never does. Less obviously whimsical than the Alice books and not as obscure as Sylvie & Bruno, it is a monument to structure over meaning.

And speaking of meaning – the unpacking of references and connections to Carroll’s life work and historical events and a whole pile of other things, is here deftly done by Martin Gardener. Gardener’s populist take on mathematics, puzzles, philosophy and the boundary of science and pseudoscience made him a likely candidate to explain Carroll’s hidden depths to a wide audience. Gardener’s Annotated Alice is a treat but I kind of like this book better.

This particular book is also something of a monument to lost books. I had some old penguin (pelican?) editions of collections of Gardener’s Scientific American columns. Now long since lost. Also a copy of Gardener’s Annotated Alice which went missing not long after I was given it.

The Three Laws of Reviewbotics?

I’m circling a subject and theseposts are all thinking out loud. I’ve defined reviews and criticism very broadly because while there are different functions, intents and processes there are no hard boundaries between the roles I’ve been discussing.

Pondering

I can see that collation (such as editing a magazine or an anthology) and aggregation (such as reader ratings, aggregated reviews, Amazon rankings) are not what we normally think of when we say ‘reviews’ or ‘literary criticism’ but they play an important part in the discourse. Goodreads and Amazon, in particular, show the interplay with many of the issues with reviews as an aide to consumers, as a normative pressure on genres, and as a minefield where objective data about subjective evaluation can be mistaken for deep ‘objective’ truth about intrinsic qualities of books*.

I did briefly touch on algorithms in the post on objectivity. As a commenter suggested (sorry – I can’t find the comment) not all machine learning algorithms have that quality of repeatability. However, let’s assume I’m focusing on the ones that do and which are relatively reliable** Algorithms used by booksellers will become more sophisticated based on buyer’s past purchases and represent another function that aides consumers but also provides normative pressure on people’s reading. Likewise, they share that same element of trying to bottle objective data from subjective choice (with varying degrees of success) but success & apparent objectivity may hide deep biases.

Put all these things into a big cauldron and call it a discourse – a roving discussion between readers and writers and writer/readers and editors and everybody.

What expectations should we make of the elements that contribute to that discourse? Well, I’ve loaded that question already by putting an emphasis on the collective discussion.

  1. We should look at reviews (and related review-like things) in how they contribute to the broader discourse – including variations on that discourse within particular communities.
  2. We should also consider the more immediate ethical consideration of whether the review (or related review-like things) harms a person in some tangible way.

Those two things are not unrelated – a review that used ethnic slurs at a writer undermines the wider discourse and harms an individual.

There are limitations to the second category. While ‘do no harm’ sounds ethically straightforward, in reality, reviewers can’t know the individual circumstance of every writer. Even a positive review may turn off a potential reader and hence lose a writer a customer. General statements that are intended to be helpful may lead to a work being perceived as sitting in one subgenre or even the writer being typecast as writing only within that subgenre.

If reviews are read and people pay attention to them then the reviewer wields a kind of power by helping shape the discourse. That power might be tiny but it still exists and the use of the power entails the use of influence over other people. The only ethical purity at an individual level is not to write a review (or compile an anthology or edit a magazine or give a book a star rating on Amazon…) But that purity fails at a collective level because it is an abrogation of our capacity to do good.

The point being, that by thinking only of individual harm we can become impotent in our capacity to do good. As social beings, our exchange of ideas is a good in itself and further our enjoyment and edification through reading and exchanging stories is a good in itself and further the diversity, freshness, variety and multiplicity of perspectives in that exchange are good in themselves.***

A sketch of some “rules”

So here’s maybe a start for the hyper-critic oath (‘hyper’ because I’m overthinking this and ‘critic’ because ‘reviewer’ doesn’t work for the pun).

  • First, do no obvious harm. Don’t ever slander a writer. Avoid attacking them personally, even indirectly [that’s not always possible because writing is to varying degrees an extension of the self. In addition, some texts themselves are INTENDED to be harmful to others (I’ve reviewed many here over the years) BUT while we can all think of exceptions the norm should be to review texts, not people.] This does not mean treating all people the same – if you knew that somebody was currently in a vulnerable emotional state, then maybe reviewing their book isn’t a great idea. The flip side of that is you can’t reasonably tailor reviews around what a writer you don’t know might be feeling. And obviously don’t use slurs, stereotypes or language which we know to be harmful – such as overt racism, sexism etc. In an inequitable society, some people are more vulnerable to others and if we KNOW that we have to be mindful of that while bearing in mind the points below as well.
  • Second, add meaningfully and positively to the discourse. By ‘positively’ I mean improve the discourse and I don’t necessarily mean ‘only say positive things’. To some extent that’s a request to write interesting things! But it is also a request to reduce the impact of systemic bias. Every reviewer has a degree of bias in their reviewers which I’ll talk about more below – some of that we can reflect upon and remedy (e.g. subconscious or less overt racism in reviews or what works are chosen for review) but a lot of it we can’t see precisely because we have those biases. Where such biases are particularly problematic is when many people have the same biases and they act together to create a broader social bias. Reviews that highlight writers from marginalised groups disrupt those collective biases but a variety of perspectives in general also helps.****
  • Third, be honest but with the limitations of the points above. Being honestly racist is no virtue and being dishonestly nice about a work you hate is no virtue either (it may even be corrupt). A reviewer has an ethical relationship with the reader of the review as well as the writer of the text being reviewed. Because the reader is more faceless, anonymous and impersonal, it is easy to discount the ethical connection with them when compared to the writer, who is easier to identify as an individual. Honesty is a way of balancing those ethical tensions. Honesty here included being honest about your potential flaws and biases, as well as the limitations of whatever approach you are using (in the case of aggregating data that’s rather like a section on an academic paper identifying the limitations of a methodology.

Gosh, the joy of not knowing what you are going to write before you start writing is tempered by the weight of wondering whether I believe any of the above! Like I said at the start, this is thinking out loud – Future Camestros reserves the right to call Past Camestros a moralising nincompoop.

Bias and gatekeeping

Every approach has a bias. Every approach involves gatekeeping. Variety and diversity in the overall discourse limit the impact of both. Self-reflection and being aware of how an individual reviewer or process fits within a bigger picture can reduce the harm done by individual biases.

We shouldn’t despair that bias is unavoidable and we shouldn’t give up on reducing the harm of our biases just because the task is fractally complex.

Every editor and every review gatekeeps marginally by picking what to review. One way of eliminating that is by attempting to review most things in a particular area – that avoids some aspects of gatekeeping and introduces others.

Actively seeking out texts from groups who are underrepresented in the wider discourse undermines the gatekeeping of others BUT it makes the individual reviewer/editor a potentially more powerful gatekeeper over the targetted group. Personal integrity and morality should limit the abuses of the power gained (the first rule above) and have multiple voices limits the power by opening many gates (the second rule).

Bias can be personal or systemic. Here I’m not thinking so much of overt prejudice, as those things that impact what we do in ways, that if asked, we would say we did not intend. That first rule I added can itself add biases – for example, I’ve seen an organisation avoiding stereotypes of indigenous people in a specific way that led them to essentially erasing indigenous people completely from materials they were producing.

Self-reflection and criticism at an individual level, pluralism overall reduces bias. People taking different approaches to reviews can temper the biases those approaches may have. Positive reviews add to the mix but have potential biases in what does not get reviewed. Negative reviews may often misrepresent works because it is neccesarily hard to appreciate a work you didn’t enjoy but they still play a role in informing the reader – who has their own capacity for critical judgement. Multiplicity of approaches tempers the potential biases.

Aggregation of data can amplify biases but aggregation of data can also reveal biases that people were not aware of. Again, honesty and self-reflection and criticism or criticism all have a role to play.

An artfully crafted conclusion

…is not what I have here. I just ran out of things to say and I want to eat some toast. There’s strawberry jam in the cupboard and my mind has started wandering.

🙂


*[Put another way – there may well be deeper truths hidden in that data but the mere aggregation of the data doesn’t mean that such truths are there. They need to be found and established and they might not be what people expect.]

**[‘reliable’ here doesn’t mean ‘correct’ it just means past behaviour will predict future behaviour. A stopped clock is reliable, as is one which is 5 minutes off the actual time.]

***[Obviously with a big “in my opinion” here]

****[Looking at this point now, it sounds like a dig at people who write reviews that just say what everybody else says. I’m not really saying that – adding volume is still adding something (aggregation matters). However, there is still value in fresh takes and interesting insights. Also, we should be mindful that there’s no need for everybody to pile on with bad reviews of appalling books.]