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Posts Tagged ‘liberal’

So there’s this campaign which seeks to fight against the discrimination and prejudice often faced by those with learning disabilities.

And… I’m not really a fan.

Yeah, I think I’m just going to give up on trying to find a way to summarise my main point without sounding like a dick. In context, though, and after a lengthy explanation, I hope it’ll be clear why I don’t feel that I can really get behind this campaign.

It’s not just a free speech thing, for a start. Just because I have some libertarian (or maybe just very liberal) leanings when it comes to free expression, doesn’t mean I think people should go around calling each other retards without a second thought. Almost universally I wish they wouldn’t.

Ofcom recently reversed its ruling on a Channel 4 broadcast from some time ago. They’ve now decided that an episode of Big Brother’s Big Mouth did in fact breach the Broadcasting Code.

I didn’t see the show, and haven’t been able to find a relevant clip, but this seems like the right decision. The way I’ve heard it described, Vinnie Jones used the word “retard”, and performed what sounds like a grotesque and obnoxious imitation of what that word means to him, while the usually lovely Davina was carelessly blasé about it. I’m not keen on censorship merely on grounds of offence, by any means, but there’s a limit to how far people can go in demeaning a minority before you earn some form of public admonishment.

But the punishment – assuming that punishment of some sort will get handed down at some point – isn’t simply because a particular word was used. The whole sequence of events that was broadcast was unacceptably offensive. It’s this careless intolerance that’s the problem, not simply the word “retard” itself.

I think that’s a better idea on which to base a campaign for tolerance – and while I’m sure the people behind r-word.org are doing plenty of good work, I think it’s a mistake to make the word the driving force of the campaign. The result of this is that the impression they give – the thing the people they’re trying to reach are likely to feel – is itself a message of forceful oppression. If someone happens upon the organisation for the first time, the message they take on board might be: “You’re not allowed to say this thing any more, because we’ve decided it’s bad.”

Which is just going to put anyone who cares about free speech on the defensive right away.

The important, fundamental idea – that the way you speak and act affects people, and that if you’re careless with your words and actions you might make things harder for some people who are already having a rough time of it – is in there somewhere. But it’s buried under the surface, which only addresses one of many symptoms, and is less persuasive than the encouraging idea that you can help make the world fairer and better for people who struggle for equality.

I sympathise with the intent behind the r-word campaign a lot, and other attempts at outreach and speaking out are the reason I’m more aware of the impact of my words than I used to be. But this approach lacks nuance. The root problem is people’s attitudes, not this one word, and the attitudes are what we should be trying to change.

Obviously, part of a healthy and compassionate attitude will include being aware of the words you use and how they affect those around you. But if you don’t get people to think about why they suddenly can’t say this word any more, plenty of them are going to find other ways to be intolerant bastards. And people have a track record of finding this an extremely easy challenge to which to rise.

So, I suppose that’s what I think. What do you reckon? Am I being too harsh?

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First I bitched about the Conservatives and their hung parliament scare-mongering bullshit.

Then, surprisingly, I ended up defending Gordon Brown, for the most part.

Now, as I entirely fail to make this sound like the thrilling climax of an epic Hollywood blockbuster trilogy, it’s the Lib Dems’ turn.

It’s only fair, after all.

Yes, the Liberal Democrats’ latest volley into the final stretch of vote-grabbing is a video titled “I Believe In Fairness”. If you’ve seen any of the leaders’ debates on TV recently, you’ll have heard Nick Clegg regularly bringing up the fact that making things “fair” for people is one of his and his party’s top priorities.

I’m still mulling over why I keep cringeing so much at this. It’s not like I’m against the very concept of fairness, after all – though maybe part of my aversion is that it’s something which is impossible to be against, and therefore doesn’t really mean much when you claim to be in favour of it. It can only be meaningful if you provide some specifics, and lay out what “building a fairer Britain” actually means to you, in practical terms.

And Clegg has done this, to an extent – I watched some of the debate last night, and he was bringing up specific points to do with tax credits and national insurance and so forth. But my compulsive libertarian sensibilities get twitchy about using “fairness” to describe taking away 40% of what some people earn to provide free services and money to the less able, the less qualified, the less hard-working, the less talented, and the otherwise less well-off.

Now, I generally know when to tell my libertarian sensibilities to shut the fuck up and grow some compassion. I’m not against higher tax rates for the rich, or social programs that provide for the poor, and obviously a good deal of it is about providing something that hopefully approximates “fairness” to the many people in the country who aren’t rewarded as much as others for the hard work they do due to circumstances beyond their control.

But it’s rarely as simple to stamp “UNFAIR” over any particular situation as the tabloids would have it. A lot of people are struggling, for many different reasons, and finding a way to address this which makes the most economic and social sense is a lot more complex than just fixating on some imaginary gold standard of “fairness”.

Anyway, I’m supposed to be talking about this video. Which bugs me for a whole different reason.

I don’t object to twee cutesy loveliness in itself. There’s absolutely a place for things to be a bit naff in their heartfelt cliché-ness. That’s fine.

But if something’s meant to persuade me to vote for somebody, and that one political party is better than the others in what they think and what they plan to do, I’d prefer a bit of actual substance. And a lot of this video is vague to the point of meaninglessness.

The enigmatic narrator believes, for instance, in “safer communities”. Safer than what? Safer than they are now? All of them? Aren’t some of them probably safe enough? There’s a picture of a policeman in some sort of weird yellow body-stocking on the screen at this point – what exactly will you be doing with the police that will make communities safer? (You want to watch that kid in the hoodie, for a start. No way that’s a friendly smile. What’s he doing with his hands in his pockets like that? He’s got a knife!)

Next is “improving our transport system”. Again, it’s nice to know that that’s somewhere on your list of priorities, but are any party leaders seriously saying “Nah, we’re fine for buses, trains, roads, and all that transport stuff”? Everyone wants the transport system to be better, but what are you actually going to do? And how much is it going to cost?

I’m not sure what a “Zero-Carbon Britain” is, but I’m not sure I can join you in believing in something so made-up. Yay for reducing emissions, but how are you going to do this in a way that leads to “fairer energy prices” (by which I presume you mean “lower energy prices”)? Aside from a drawing of some giant fans blowing away some smoke, you’re not giving much away here.

“I believe in abolishing tuition fees” is nicely specific, finally, but then it’s quickly back to platitudes like “helping business and our economy grow”. With an image of people in suits sitting round a table and someone pointing at a line graph on the wall, the international symbol for “business”.

Even their stance against Trident, our nuclear program, seems oddly half-hearted and compromised. I thought the basic idea was to get rid of them, but here they believe in “saying no to the like-for-like replacement of Trident missiles”. Does that mean you’ll be getting some different ones in instead, or moving them around a bit to help with the feng shui?

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe detailed plans for all these things do exist, but this kind of message is intended to convey a different tone. This is no doubt one of many angles the Lib Dems are taking in their campaign, and perhaps they mean for this video to focus on warm feelings at the expense of cold data, in the same way that Nike commercials just show you how cool professional athletes look wearing the shoes, and don’t go into detail about how well they fit or how owning a pair would actually benefit you. That information’s out there, and they have a good product, but this is just to grab your attention with the shiny so that they can sell it to you.

(There’s a better metaphor than that rattling around in my brain somewhere, but I can’t get at it.)

Anyway. Just an account of my immediate thoughts. I’m still looking for some more good reasons to justify my inclination to vote Lib Dem on Thursday, but this video isn’t really helping.

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Christopher Maloney is a quack.

That’s something we can all be clear on, right off the bat. Telling parents who are thinking of vaccinating their children that “elderberry… blocks the H1N1 virus”? Yeah, fuck you. But that’s not what I want to talk about. (For one thing, Steve Novella’s got it covered. Again. Doesn’t he ever get tired of being awesome?)

Someone called Michael Hawkins wrote an article, on a WordPress blog, criticising Maloney and pointing out some of the crap he’s peddling. WordPress received a complaint about this, and ended up shutting Hawkins’ blog down. Yes, this is WordPress I’m blogging on now. I’m betting I’ll be saved from a similar fate by being too obscure to be noticed.

PZ Myers blogged about this again, pointing out that Christopher Maloney is still a quack, and highlighting how unsurprising it is for a woo-monger to apparently resort to bullying and censorship instead of actually defending any of his ideas. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.

What I want to talk about is something that happened next.

Apparently Maloney started complaining about receiving harassing emails from the Pharyngulites – PZ’s readers who wanted to express their ire at the Maloney’s quackery. Now, there’s been some discussion in some comments threads as to whether this harassment is likely to have really happened, at least to the extent that the quack is complaining about it, but the point I wanted to make is about PZ’s response: he posted again, only a couple of hours after the last one, urging people not to harass the quacks. He essentially told off a chunk of his own base, in no uncertain terms.

I’m not saying that he deserves any humanitarian awards for his basic decency here. It should be a no-brainer that making unpleasant phone calls to some guy whose number you found on the internet is a dick move. It’s kinda important that he should remind people not to go overboard, and to keep the debate within certain bounds of civility.

But however obvious this kind of thing should be, there are some areas of discussion where it happens much more reliably than others. Some political and philosophical demographics seem more capable than others of saying things like “I agree with this group’s core principles, but think they handled themselves poorly and inappropriately in this instance”, or “I know we’re on the same side here but I don’t agree with the way you’re going about this”, or even something as simple as “I was wrong”.

I was prompted to think about this by this post, which links to a video by a WorldNetDaily columnist, praising Uganda for upholding good Christian principles by trying to make homosexuality an offence punishable by death.

It’s a weird video, not least because it feels like I’m not understanding something that’s going on, like I must be missing some clever irony, because it seems like the kind of thing you’d make if you wanted to parody a whole bunch of idiotic right-wing fundamentalist claims. But apparently it’s real. And it’s seriously fucked up.

It does not, though, represent the views of all Republicans, or of every person who voted for John McCain in the last US presidential election. A lot of right-wing conservative voters out there would surely be appalled at seeing some dick’s twisted reading of the Bible being used to justify culling gay people. Even Rick Warren came out against the proposed Ugandan law, eventually.

But where are they? This sort of stuff never seems to be condemned or addressed by the rest of the conservative movement; it always seems to be up to liberals to expose this kind of thing. Whereas the left seem to have a little more awareness of themselves. Not universally, by any means – every camp has its fundies – but they seem far more capable of finding the humility to give a little ground once in a while, to admit that a certain move by one of their comrades may not have been entirely legitimate.

Example. It comes out that, some months ago, in a private meeting, Rahm Emanuel described some idea or other as “retarded“. Sarah Palin calls for his resignation, because of how offensive this is to the disabled community. Then, while discussing this story on the radio, Rush Limbaugh calls some liberals “retards”. Palin, being a fair-minded and even-handed rationalist, chastises Limbaugh in similar terms.

No, wait. I got that last bit wrong. She hasn’t said anything of the sort about Limbaugh. Or about Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly used the word “retarded” and laughed about it on his public TV show, and who interviewed Palin on Fox News just recently. Keith Olbermann might not be the best example of the humble and self-aware left-wing commentator I’ve been claiming definitely exists out there somewhere, but on this point he pretty much nails it.

That turned into a bigger rant on that one point than I’d planned. But it’s a great example of what I mean. Glenn Beck is a colossal douche, and if any right-wingers wanted to publicly acknowledge that, it’d be totally okay with the rest of us. Why doesn’t it seem to happen? Is it just my skewed perspective? Am I just not watching the right shows and YouTube clips to see where this goes on? Will I see the other side I’ve been missing if I turn over and find Jon Stewart’s conservative equivalent on some hitherto unexplored channel somewhere?

If that show exists, I’ve not seen it. And I haven’t see many conservative bloggers or commentators reminding their audiences to play nice like PZ did here, or highlighting and correcting when people on “their side” get things wrong.

So, conveniently, it seems to be the case that all these qualities of humility and objectivity and awesomeness line up very neatly with my own positions on stuff. I wonder if that should make me wary of how objective my own conclusions are… Nah.

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So, this Robin Hood Tax thing.

A few people on Twitter have posted links to this and commented about the video, in which Bill Nighy is certainly rather excellent. And most of the chatter around it has been reassuringly measured, but there are still a few voices getting a little over-excited and reminding me of some of the less imaginative people I work with.

By which I mean, responding to just about anything to do with finance by a knee-jerk “Tax the bankers” reaction. It’s far too easy to just decide that those bastards took our money so let’s take their money. The Bad Science mantra applies here.

I’m not going to turn this into an economics lecture, largely because I’d have to do loads of revision before I actually knew anything. I’m a small-l liberal, and don’t flat-out object to some sort of tiered tax system where the extremely wealthy pay proportionally more (you can tell I haven’t revised or I’d know at least some of the relevant terminology). But I’m also a half-assed libertarian (as I think my Facebook ‘political’ status will testify), and something of a capitalist, and the idea of tax hikes for the rich being taken lightly, or talked about like it doesn’t really matter because they’re rich and they deserve it, really rubs me up the wrong way.

So for one thing, I think the name they’ve chosen for this proposition is rather unfortunate. He’s supposed to be the sort of hero that the common man can always get behind, because most people consider themselves amongst the poor for whose benefit he’d be robbing the rich. And maybe at the time he was doing good and providing a legitimate form of social welfare that wouldn’t be provided by the state. But I’m not convinced that Robin Hood’s own style of redistribution of wealth has any place in our society today.

There needs to be a much better argument in place for installing a tax like this than “Those rich fat cats will never miss it”, or “They screwed up our economy, why shouldn’t they pay for it?” And I’m sure its proponents have better arguments, which I plan to start making a genuine effort to explore, under-equipped though I may be to understand any of it.

Obviously I’m not against all taxes. I like that we have state-funded emergency services, and the NHS, among other things. I think that while some people do very well in life, and others have crappy luck and struggle to get by, there should be some kind of institutional system in place such that the former are obliged, to some extent, to help out the latter. Yes, it’s a pretty primitive grasp of economics I’m displaying here, but it feels worth going back to the fundamentals to consider why “Tax the rich” is an over-simplification that we shouldn’t quite be satisfied with.

Though having said all that… the bastards did take our money.

A couple of things occurred to me watching the explanatory video, about the practicalities of imposing a tax like this. I’ve no idea if these are among the many important and relevant questions that other better-informed people are probably asking, but this is what I’ve got.

The scheme could raise many, many billions of pounds a year. That’s quite a lot of money, even to a really big bank. And although talking about “raising” all that money might make it sound like it’s being created by some cleverly discovered productive force which generates revenue out of nowhere in particular, it’s just money that’s being taken away from the banks. It’s done by taking a tiny, tiny proportion from each of many transactions, which make only the tiniest dent at the time, sure… but if all those individual charges add up to, say, £10 billion at the end of a year, then surely the effect is the same as if you just ordered them to pay a massive one-off fine of £10 billion. (Obviously not *quite* the same, for reasons which no doubt elude me.)

Either way, however small an effect it sounds like a 0.05% tax should have, it sounds more significant when you consider that it’d have the same effect as taking away tens of billions of pounds from some people, because that’s exactly what it’s doing.

Though off the back of that, my second ponderance is how the banks are likely to respond. Not in the sense of whether they’ll loudly object to the proposed changes, but whether their business practises will change to try and avoid such heavy penalties.

The tax is described as “a charge on all bank transactions that don’t include members of the public – bonds, derivatives, currencies, speculative stuff”. I can’t pretend to know anything much about how this kind of trading works, but it seems like it wouldn’t be unexpected for a tax on all such trading to significantly shift financial pressures and incentivise banks to start doing things differently. I can’t possibly imagine how, I’m not even sure I’d understand it if you explained it to me, and maybe it’s not even an important issue to raise. But it’s something that’s going to be costing these guys billions. Historically, giving away billions of dollars is not how many people choose to operate whenever they have a say in the matter. Mightn’t this effect the overall financial system in some ways, good or bad?

I’ll be staying mostly out of the debate on this myself, I imagine. I’ll be interested to see what comes of it, and what clever people have to say. In particular, I’ll want to hear the objections of people who aren’t on board with it, and what concerns they have to raise. There could be a significant economic impact of such a move that it’s way beyond my abilities to foresee, but if it’s just a matter of my libertarian sensibilities being offended, then I’m inclined to think that my libertarian sensibilities might just have to deal with it.


Also, a last-minute bonus question: Can this work? I’ve been waiting to see something of its like for some time, but have no clue how it might be made practical. I’m definitely waiting for Cory Doctorow to tell me what to think this time.

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I do like getting wound up over a good alleged religious discrimination story once in a while. It’s been ages since that Christian registrar who didn’t want to conduct civil partnerships, so the recent story about Sikh children bringing daggers into school sounded very promising.

Unfortunately, not only am I going to have to steal the subject line from the New Humanist’s report on this (because it’s really the only obvious reference to make, that I can see), I’m also going to fail entirely to have an original opinion.

It is unlawful in this country, I understand, to be carrying a knife (of the potentially-offensive-weapon sort) in public, and this certainly includes what children are allowed to bring into schools. If you think the law should be changed, then try and get the law changed, but as it stands now this is just not something you’re allowed to do.

If anyone can get around this law by claiming that an unlawful act is religiously important to them, then the law might as well not be there. Either it becomes trivially easy for anyone to claim religious privilege on any action they like, or the legal system has to take on the role of judging the validity or sincerity of people’s religious beliefs. The latter even I find worrying and ridiculous, and I don’t have any religious beliefs.

Our society decides on a set of rules that everyone in it must live by, and the prohibition of offensive weapons in public is one of them. No skirting around it. No privilege to anyone who has a “belief” that’s important to them. You can have all the beliefs you like, but you can’t do the things that have been classified as unlawful. Them’s the rules.

But…

We don’t need to be dicks about it.

Something I mentioned when writing about that Christian registrar up there, back in my relatively early blogging days, was that I hoped that her employers would have made at least some effort to accommodate her, and see if they couldn’t find some way she could carry on doing her job usefully, without rigidly insisting that she go through with the part she was uncomfortable with. Maybe it wouldn’t be possible, because the limitations she placed on what she was willing to do just made her hopelessly ineffective at the job, but I hope they explored that option.

And I think Sikhs should be given a similar chance.

The fuss is over a certain type of ceremonial dagger, called a Kirpan, which some Sikhs consider it important to carry on their person. In particular, one boy was banned from wearing his Kirpan at school.

Now, the Kirpan is a dagger, and it’s against the law for people to bring daggers into school. The law applies to hoodies and headmasters, teens and teachers, swots and Sikhs. That’s the first important thing to remember.

And yet, it’s a ceremonial thing that means something to some people, and it merits us asking if there’s any way we can help them achieve their goals. Call it my libertarian streak, but whenever there’s a chance to inch nearer the “let people do whatever the hell they want” side of things, I think it’s worth exploring.

And, indeed, this was explored at the time. The school suggested that wearing “a smaller knife, welded into a metal sheath” would be perfectly acceptable, which seems like a helpful compromise – it should be able to fulfil the religious requirement, and it means the school are willing to acknowledge the difference between an actual offensive weapon and something that’s obviously more of a decorative trinket. But the kid’s parents refused to accept this.

So, it’s the religious end of things that’s making me go “eurgh” and wave my hands in dismissal at the whole business this time. Your religious beliefs are personal to you, and not something anyone else is obliged to give a toss about. If your personal set of priorities require you to carry a knife everywhere you go, then you may find your potential destinations becoming more limited – and if your priorities are that important to you, then that’s a sacrifice that you’re choosing to make and will have to learn to live with.

If my Holy Church of Cricket-Bat-To-Everyone’s-Groin ever changes its doctrine to enforce its one and only tenet more rigorously, I’m going to have a decision to make. Fortunately, you won’t be obliged to accommodate my religious beliefs.

Ooh, and I nearly forgot! On a totally different topic, this is fucking hilarious. Until you remember that millions of people wanted her to be Vice President of the United States. And then it’s so very sad.

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Yeah, that’s right! I’m one of those godless heathen non-believers, and I say that your holy book is full of inaccuracies! It’s not historically reliable at all, let alone divine and inerrant! Contrary to what all those hard-line conservative fundamentalist wackaloons think, it actually contains numerous-

Wait.

What?

Some of the conservative nut-jobs are with me on this? Those same freakazoids who believe the universe was created 6,000 years ago based on a literal reading of the Bible? They believe that all current versions of the Bible are inaccurate and unreliable?

Yep. The Conservative Bible Project really exists. It’s about trying to edit any “liberal bias” out of the Bible, and produce a more perfectly conservative version. One with a message more in line with what Jesus obviously meant to say, which just happens to very neatly align with Andrew Schlafly‘s own politics.

Wait.

What?

…the fuck?

I mean, I know anything even on a nearby plane to competent rational thought is going to be a non-starter with someone like Schlafly, but this is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen. It’s bad enough when hordes of homophobic bigots use some passage in Deuteronomy to justify what is obviously a personal prejudice against gays, while carefully ignoring the surrounding bits about stoning disobedient children to death. But the one thing fundamentalist Christians have to support their position is the idea that God has provided them with a flawless historical record and set of instructions and guidelines for how to live.

And now he’s saying that, because some parts of the Bible imply that God doesn’t agree with his perspective in every single regard, the Bible must be wrong. Because he knows what God thinks better than his holy text does.

Jesus Christ.

Wait, maybe Jesus Christ wasn’t even his real name after all. Schlafly, if you’re reading this, can you leave a comment to let me know if I’ve been blaspheming wrong all this time? Thanks.

Seriously, look at some of the ways on that list in which the Bible is deemed to be deficient. “Wordiness” is apparently a liberal thing, and because the word “Lord” is so much more concise than “Yahweh”, he’s getting out the red marker pen. Any parable which doesn’t expound the benefits of the free market is obviously a distortion, too. I mean, there’s no way Jesus would’ve favoured any kind of hand-outs. You might think that Jesus wasn’t keen on profiteering and rich people, and was pretty big on things like forgiveness, but that’s probably because you’re still reading the Bible, and so your understanding of Jesus is tainted by all that liberal bias. Throw that rag out, and listen to Andrew Schlafly.

Oh, and some parts he’s apparently entitled to just edit out completely. Like that whole “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” bit. That just makes Jesus sound like a pussy. Admittedly, it does go against God’s own advice in Leviticus, but if you’re going to try and excise all the stuff that contradicts the other stuff, then you’re not going to have much left.

Anyway. Bored now.

Hat-tip to PZ.


Reminder: I’m hosting the next edition of the Humanist Symposium blog carnival. If you have anything which you’d like to be featured, you can use the usual submission form, or email a link to cubiksrube, (at) hotmail {dot} co [dot] uk, by October 17th. Full guidelines for how the symposium works are here, so check those over first to find out about the kind of thing we’re looking for.

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