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Posts Tagged ‘equality’

I tweeted something of a stream of consciousness the other day, about the recent vote on same-sex marriage in Ireland, and in particular against the response to those who vainly railed against it.

I managed to Storify it over here, and I’m re-creating it below as well, because apparently I’m some sort of multi-platform SEO-conscious content-guru now. Ha. Oh god I hope I’m joking.


Finally watched the video the #VoteNo campaign seemed to think was their trump card, and I’m glad I did.

It’s still quite wrong, and #VoteYes was undoubtedly a triumph for compassion and equality and basic good sense.

But there’s more of a case to argue against than blunt, nuanceless, medieval homophobia fuelled by nothing but hateful bigotry.

Anything that reminds me that my ideological opponents didn’t all just wake up and decide to be evil anti-humanists is worth looking at.

It’s a much more feeble victory to be right about #VoteYes if we can’t sincerely and compassionately consider the arguments against.

Which doesn’t mean agreeing with anything they say or accepting that they have a point. They don’t! They’re still wrong!

But I spent too long doing that instinctive flinch thing against the whole #VoteNo tribe and made their wrongness their defining trait.

You do your own philosophy a disservice if you only let it be challenged by the weakest caricatures of the other side.

There can be nuance and intelligence to what your enemy is saying – and maybe even truth, if you try hard enough to understand them.

It’s a rare but vital skill to be able to do that, without flinching defensively against the feeling that your world(view) is under assault.

I still kinda suck at it. As ever, this is a note to self more than a lecture to others.

This has been “I should figure out how Storify works for this kind of thing. And hey, didn’t I used to have a blog?” with me, @writerJames.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled radio silence while I read Neal Stephenson books on my kindle in the bath.

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As you may have noticed, last Monday I went and got myself a wife. And things are all pretty nice. The wedding and ensuing consecutive mini-honeymoons are all worth gossiping about, and now that I’m back home with a computer and all the free time that comes with not having a wedding to plan, I’m getting myself back into writer mode. So, gossip ahoy-hoy.

Taking events in reverse chronological order, then, this post’s starting off with the London Nine Worlds convention, from which we returned yesterday. Two and a half days of geeks and sci-fi and fantasy and pop culture and room service. We’ve just bought tickets for 2014 and my wife is already making plans for how to dress me up next time, so I guess it must’ve gone kinda okay. A selection of things I took away from the weekend:

1. I’m a nerd.

(Or a geek, or whatever.)

My wife and I spent the last several days sitting in conference rooms and lecture halls, listening to learned and erudite discourse on such topics as: chaos theory and infinite monkeys; the legal challenges and implications resulting from the increased proliferation of robotics in everyday life; Hermione Granger’s credibility or lack thereof as a feminist icon; what conclusions can be drawn about plausible alien ecologies from our own planet’s evolutionary biology; and the restrictively binary mainstream perceptions of gender, sex, and sexuality, along with aspects of culture which tend to reinforce or subvert the dominant paradigms.

And we spent a non-trivial amount of money for the privilege and it was totally worth it.

I also bought a couple hundred Magic cards, a few urban fantasy novels, and a pixel-art necklace for my beloved – and this only after several very restrained tours of the vendor hall, gawping at all the shiny and reining in our impulses to fill our home with all the things.

These are not ways the majority of folk would be thrilled to spend their time, I think. I mean, I hang out almost exclusively with other nerds of one sort or another, in the parts of the world where I get to choose my own socialising schedule, so it might start to seem like swooning over Cory Doctorow is the kind of thing that everyone will immediately get. But really, it all puts me in something of a niche. I’m already thinking about how much of this detail I’ll end up skimming over when I go back to work next week and am quizzed on what I’ve been up to by my work colleagues. They’re not nerds.

2. I’m not that much of a nerd.

(Or maybe just not the same kind of nerd as some other nerds, maybe it’s not a matter of scale, or whatever.)

There’s a particular kind of geek/nerd behaviour I’ve witnessed a lot. The stereotypical nerd is a social misfit in everyday life, who doesn’t have much to say to all the normal people they’re surrounded by, and is largely inept at saying it. They’re an introvert, a loner, with little capacity for interaction with other humans and a tendency to shy away from situations where they might have to do so.

But what you actually see among a lot of nerds is a tendency to congregate eagerly with their own kind, and ample capacity to become extremely extroverted, expressive, and engaged with others, under the right circumstances. It’s really not that these people don’t like socialising, or are all painfully shy; they just don’t give a shit about football or whatever the hell the rest of you guys are talking about. Get them going on something actually interesting, though, and you’ll often have trouble shutting them up. (And you’ll encounter a similar proportion of obnoxious, aggressive dicks as can be found among the species as a whole.)

I really don’t do that one myself. I don’t simply have to join a crowd of the right people, my people, to suddenly find myself opening up and becoming a whole different, chatty, person, just because I finally have something in common with them. It’s not just the fact that muggles want to talk about football that I find off-putting and alienating. Even in subjects where I feel both interested and knowledgeable, I’m not always easy to draw into a conversation, depending on the circumstances (crowds and/or strangers being among the key factors).

Which I guess kinda sucks. I don’t have that sense of “coming home”, or suddenly being among friends, the way some people do at such geekfests. I can’t really imagine that a different sort of crowd ever would give me that feeling, either, because it’s not a matter of being among the “right people” that’s lacking here.

Having said that, there’s one related thing which strongly comes through from all the feedback that Nine Worlds has been receiving:

3. If you wanted a “safe space” for just about any minority interest or quirk, this was it.

For whatever reason (and I’m sure there are fascinating sociology papers discussing this somewhere), there seems to be a significant overlap between, say, reading comics/watching Doctor Who/playing board games/exploring steampunk/enjoying Tolkien/critically analysing Harry Potter, and possessing a not-completely-straightforward gender or sexual identity.

That’s a clunky way of phrasing my point. But there were a lot of people at this con dressing in ways not traditionally associated with their apparent gender in the mainstream world. And, if someone’s a stranger to you, but you happen to know that they’re way into My Little Pony, your estimate of how likely they are to shout transphobic abuse at you should go way down.

There was a whole track devoted to “Queer Fandom”, whose purpose was described as “celebrating and exploring LGBT themes, characters and creators throughout SFF media”. And even though my experience of the con had little overlap with any of their stuff, the general atmosphere of acceptance, welcoming, and camaraderie pervaded the convention as a whole. The idea of making it a friendly and safe space for people who wanted to dress, or wear their hair, or in any other way present themselves, in a fashion that might be controversial elsewhere, was built into the running of the con and its ethos.

Even refreshing the #nineworlds hashtag results now, I’m seeing more mentions of the phrase “safe space”. And it means a lot more coming from most of these Twitterfolk than it does from me. Because, y’know, I’m a straight white male. My odds of being “safe” in just about any environment amenable to human life are about as good as you could ask for.

For me, dressing myself comfortably – in a way that I feel truly reflects the person I consider myself to be – involves throwing on the nearest reasonably clean check shirt and cords that are lying around. It takes seconds, and the end result renders me entirely unremarkable. For some people, that’s not the case. They might want to use make-up, and hair dye, and creative outfits, and costumes, and personal accoutrements and ornamentation of all kinds, often in ways that don’t align with any conventional social demographic.

In its simplest form, this means that, if you were at Nine Worlds, you will likely have seen at least one bloke in a dress milling around. And that’s at the least inventive end of the scale.

And my general impression, based on the reports of actual blokes in dresses, among other people who lie outside of various social norms, is that they mostly felt safe and comfortable being themselves at this convention, in a way that starkly contrasts with their experiences in the world in general. Which is groovy.

Actually listening to other people’s personal accounts of such things is important. I mean, I know that to me everyone seemed nice and friendly, but then, someone massively racist or homophobic may have no reason not to be nice and friendly around me. But a brief wander outside my bubble serves as a reminder that, for some folk, it’s a genuine lifeline to have some space where you can just be yourself, without always wondering how long it’ll be before the next mocking catcall or physical abuse, and whether it wouldn’t be simpler to just keep lying to the world about who you are, for the sake of a peaceful life.

So, yeah. I support all of This Sort Of Thing, with very few reservations and a great deal of optimism for the future.

Also we had three nights in a hotel where you can just pick up the phone and ask them to bring you all the food on a trolley and they totally will and you don’t even have to get properly dressed or go outside or anything. How long have I failed to appreciate that that’s a thing?

More to follow, after a much shorter wait this time. I’m feeling back on the wagon now.

Edit: The aforementioned wife has also composed her own report of the weekend, which has a lot more description of the stuff that actually happened there. Also, pictures!

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The discussion about big corporations paying surprisingly little tax keeps coming back around, and rarely changes in its substance. Every time, a significant part of the discourse is devoted to reminding us that, so long as what they’re doing is legal, companies like Starbucks are simply engaging in good business practice by minimising their tax liabilities.

Regular Joes in the street like you and me, we don’t go paying more tax than we legally have to, after all, and if we had the chance to save a few quid we obviously would. Why would we expect companies earning billions, and with expert accountants on their payroll to find and make use of clever loopholes, to be any different?

In other news which might not seem to be connected at first glance, Education Secretary Michael Gove has called for the docking of teachers’ pay if they engage in industrial action by “working to rule”, and has called the unions organising such action “highly irresponsible”.

Working to rule, if you’re not familiar with the phrase, essentially means doing your job up to the limits of what’s legally required of you, and not going an inch further. If you’re contracted to work until 5pm, you go home at 5pm on the dot. If you’re entitled to an hour’s lunch-break, you drop everything and take not an instant less than three thousand six hundred seconds of leisure in the middle of the day.

The reason that “only doing the work you’re paid for” can, in some cases, constitute significant industrial action – let alone the fact that there’s even a term for it – speaks to how normalised it is for many workers to do more than their job description as part of a regular work-day. If everybody doing no more than the job they’re paid for would do as much damage as Gove would have you believe, you’d think someone might want to look into finding a way of remunerating public sector employees in a way that’s less calamitously broken. Possibly this should even be within the Education Secretary’s remit to look into.

The comparison and contrast, I hope, is clear. Doing the bare minimum legally required of you: When billionaires and global corporations do it to avoid contributing any more to the public purse, they’re savvy investors wisely managing their finances to maximise growth and increase shareholder return. When teachers, nurses, doctors, and other workers contributing their labour for the public good and regularly doing more than they’re paid for do it, they’re irresponsible and should be fined.

It’s a term you only seem to hear from serious politicians when the little guy is fighting back for a change, but “class warfare” doesn’t get much more naked and shameless than that.

It shouldn’t be surprising, of course, because government ministers and people distanced from the level of actual service provision have an innate upper hand. Someone from the National Association of Head Teachers is quoted in that BBC article:

We understand the position of our colleagues in the teaching unions, but our duty to pupils overrides all political or industrial considerations.

And he has a point – obviously the well-being and care of pupils (or those needing medical attention, etc.) should always be kept in mind. But the extent to which we consider these publicly funded jobs vital and necessary means the people doing those jobs can effectively be held to ransom.

If you’re in a union of, say, steelworkers (they still have those, right? We must still use steel, even though it’s the future now?), and you’re not happy with your pay or working conditions, you can go on strike. The company management might not be happy, but that’s kinda the point – and who else is going to care? The public at large isn’t going to give a crap if some steel doesn’t get worked by one particular company. Collective bargaining for the win.

But if you’re directly responsible for providing a public service, then any kind of industrial action risks disrupting that service. A service which could be much needed, even life-saving, and which could be made unavailable to some people in need of it.

The simplest, most headline- and soundbite-friendly way (which, let’s face it, is the way a lot of media outlets are most likely to bother with) to frame any industrial action by public sector workers boils down to: “They’re letting people suffer because they want more money”. Children are going untaught, wounds are going untreated, vital operations are (it’s presumed by extrapolation) going unperformed, because teachers and nurses and doctors are refusing to do the work we pay for with our taxes.

It’s the easiest perspective to take, because the workers are the ones immediately responsible for providing the service – but an instinct to see things this way renders every public sector utterly powerless to preserve their own financial security and their rights as employees, in ways that aren’t similarly threatened for private employees.

If the government made the money-saving decision to abruptly cut the salary of every firefighter in the country by half, those firefighters might not feel inclined to put out many fires until that bullshit was sorted out. The implications could be horrifying – fire is very unhealthy if you eat too much of it, I’ve read – but you’d have to be insane not to support their call for the government to reverse their policy decision, and absolve the firefighters themselves of the bulk of the responsibility for any consequences. What’s the alternative? How far below a living wage would you have to give them, before firefighters stop just being selfish for not doing their job simply because they’re the ones sitting in the truck with the massive hose?

Whether or not public sector workers are driven more by a sense of duty and desire to do good than others, they’re also trying to earn a living, and deserve a chance to do so. If their attempts to fight for that chance are having a negative impact, look a little further up the chain of command before deciding where to place the blame. Look at the cuts to education spending, and the way the NHS is being squeezed and privatised, and think about how much of the blame for disrupted services really lies with individuals trying to support their families and pay their mortgages under increasingly tight and antagonistic conditions.

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A recent poll reveals that “the austerity census has collapsed“: a majority of the British public apparently support a 75% top rate of income tax for those earning over £1 million.

Anyone who’s paid attention to the trend of my ravingly revolutionary political tendencies lately might be surprised to learn that I find this more frustrating than heartening.

Despite having very little to do with the dreaded spectre of socialism in particular, this idea of the super-rich being hit with correspondingly super-high tax rates is anathema to most capitalists, and the right-wing objections are predictable and well understood. It discourages the “job creators” from going about their job-creating business. It punishes success. It drives successfully industrious people out of the country. It decreases tax revenue by damaging motivation and pushing down productivity. It hurts the economy.

As to whether this is empirically true, I’ve seen arguments backed up by data and graphs that go both ways, and I’m not going to ferret out the complex truth of it here. What interests me is the way the common leftist response misses an important point.

The focus on low- and middle-income households, who are being far more troublingly squeezed even by the lower tax rates than those millionaires and billionaires, is appropriate and important. But even if the financial “hardships” of the 1% don’t exactly tug on many heart-strings, neither am I in this for retribution. If we’re going to increase the tax rate above a certain income level, it shouldn’t be because we want to punish anyone; it should be because it makes economic sense.

If these high tax rates really do demotivate the super-rich to stay in the country and/or keep doing any useful work (which many of them seem to claim is the case), this probably isn’t just down to simple petulance which needs to be beaten out of them. The salaries earned by the richest executives at the biggest companies really are obscenely huge, and it’s bizarre to think that these are jobs which nobody competent would ever be willing to do for any sum so paltry as, say, a mere £1 million a year. But it’s not just about earning a perfectly reasonable living wage. Having what seems like money that’s rightfully yours be taxed away like that, hurts.

It’s a very different experience (I imagine) to be paid £1 million for doing a job, than to be paid £4 million and then have to give £3 million away to the government. We’re a loss-averse species, for one thing, and it’s a very human trait to let the immensity of our windfall be swamped by the fact that it’s only a quarter of what we really should have had. Never mind that we’re being offered orders of magnitude more financial security than most people on the planet will ever have a chance at. We’re predictably irrational.

So it’s really not at all sociopathic for the super-rich to be a bit miffed by this idea. They earned their millions and billions of dollars legitimately, through their hard work and valuable contribution to the economy, after all. The government wasn’t involved in that, so why should all this money be forcibly taken away from them now to help people who haven’t bothered to be so entrepreneurial?

This, of course – the idea that profits are what the market does, and taxes are how government unrelatedly interferes – is where everyone is completely insane.

The idea that taxation is the point at which the government abruptly steps in and sticks its nose into what had been purely private business between free marketeers up to that point is absurd. The government is essential in supporting a framework of laws which make a massive agglomeration of wealth and capital and power possible in the first place. And you can bet it’s going to be a capitalist-friendly framework, given who’s got the assets to lobby and offer donations to politicians in order to sway their opinions. A framework including all sorts of clever off-shore schemes and work-arounds not easily available to the masses. To pick one of the more obviously egregious examples, when Vodafone owed up to £7 billion in taxes, HMRC simply decided to let them off.

More commonly, though, the problem isn’t that small pockets of businessmen aren’t handing over sufficiently huge sums of their money to the state, but that they’ve seized hold of so much in the first place. Any income that socialists might want to redistribute has already been distributed in some way they presumably deem unjust – but then why was it distributed that way in the first place?

That’s where we should be looking to change things. The system which allows some individuals to go so far above and beyond the reasonable limits of success, that they get to claim dictatorship over land and capital and just keep getting richer off the labour of others. The system which goes so far beyond simply rewarding hard work and innovation, that making 100 million dollars into 110 million is inevitable.

If the majority of the British public got their way, our government would continue enforcing a system of rules by which some individuals and small groups accrue immense wealth… and then take most of it away from them.

Who would get rich from this particular policy? The government.

Do you like the government and want to see them get richer and more powerful, majority of the British public?

I thought not.

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Here’s a quick thought, while I’m still not putting too much pressure on myself to be interesting regularly on here. I may have had a brainwave about this whole gay marriage debate.

Okay, so on one side, you’ve got religious folk and other traditionalists. They’re hung up on the institution of marriage being some hallowed thing, which has remained unchanged through the ages and shouldn’t be fiddled with now. Many of them are fairly supportive of gay rights, and even equality, at least nominally – but only in the form of civil partnerships, which should allow same-sex couples many of the same rights under the law as any opposite-sex married couple, without changing the definition of marriage.

On the other hand, many same-sex couples think they should be entitled to more than just a separate-but-equal arrangement, which still somehow categorises them as second-class citizens, and excludes them from being an equal part of everyone else’s society.

I think there’s a middle ground we’ve all been missing.

Let’s say we make a new thing, kinda like civil partnerships, but unrelated to traditional marriage.

And let’s say we call it “marrij”.

Don’t worry, we’re not changing the definition of marriage. That’s still going to work the same as it was. But we can introduce a new way of recognising the relationships of people who can’t get married, such as same-sex couples, and giving them some of the… well, let’s say all of the legal rights that married people get.

Any two people, regardless of sexual or gender identity, can get “marrijed” (pronounced MAH-REED). It’s much like getting a civil partnership, and they’ll receive all the associated legal and publicly recognised benefits, in a system distinct from the sacred traditions that need to be preserved, but which is closer to equality than anything available now.

The state can marry, or marrij, any such couple who want to participate in either arrangement. Churches can recognise one or the other, or both, and won’t be forced to get more involved in marriages or marrijes any more than they’re comfortable with.

Did I just fix gay rights?

If this has a successful trial run, polygamous marrij is the next step.

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– Sean Hannity doesn’t think there’s been a single time when conservative groups have made “an attempt to silence voices” by, say, pressuring advertisers the way Democrats have done with Rush Limbaugh recently. Unsurprisingly, he’s demonstrably full of shit.

Dave Gorman turned investigative journalist when Flickr deleted his content in response to a bogus copyright claim. The amount of incompetence and systemic failure he digs up is fascinating.

– The evidence that Stanislaw Burzynski is a dangerous quack, and not just a well-meaning maverick bravely fighting the establishment, continues to mount up.

– Yes yes yes everything that David Wong says about everything yes. Yes.

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– It was Self-Injury Awareness Day last week, and it’s never too late to be a little more aware.

– Yet more evidence that those poor investment bankers and billionaires are getting a bum deal while there’s so much welfare fraud ruining the country: a new $77 million system has saved a whopping $7,591 in illegitimate Medicare payments.

– When you look at the taxes corporations actually pay, the US has almost the lowest rate in the world. And here’s ten more charts.

– People tend to have very different views on government social programs when they’re the ones benefiting from them.

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