tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
How long is it appropriate to wait after the death of a child before licking the boots of the man who killed them?

John McCain died; he was a 21st-century Republican politician, and he was a racist warmonger. What I want to say here has less to do with the details his life than it does with the meaning of some of the things that some white liberals and white moderates have been saying about his death. It is hard to avoid getting sidetracked into the details of his life, especially when you see self-described progressives holding up a man who called his wife a "cunt" in public as a model of human decency. I'll try, though.

In response to factual accountings, like the one linked to above, of what McCain did during his life, I've seen comments like: "we could, for a period of time, maybe a week, simply mourn their passing, or let those who loved them mourn their passing, without immediately seeking to judge, defend, and critique their lives and legacies." I've seen comments like "the guy hasn’t even been dead 24 hours!" And these are comments from the people who say they oppose McCain's racism, his misogyny, his warmongering. Still, they say, he deserves respect or critical distance, right now, at least.

When you write these words, you aren't writing them for McCain's family. They're not reading what you write. And if you criticize McCain, it does nothing to stop his family from mourning his passing. I could write all day about his moral bankruptcy, and even if his family did happen to read it, they wouldn't listen anyway. You cannot influence what a rich and powerful family does, for better or for worse, and you know that.

You know that you are judging and criticizing us, those of us who cannot join in the white pundits' choir of positivity. You are judging us when you tell us that we ought not to speak, or insinuate that we are less moral, less considerate, or less spiritual if we do speak.

You know that you are writing for your family and friends when you write on your Facebook profile or your blog; you know your own audience. If you wanted to express your condolences to McCain's family, you could send them a card. You know that your words have a different purpose.

When you talk about how McCain deserves 24 hours (or a week, or let's be real about what you mean, the rest of your and my life) without criticism - that is, without anybody telling the truth about what he did during his lifetime - you aren't saying that to protect John McCain, or his family or loved ones. None of these people are reading your Facebook posts. Even if they were, why does that family deserve 24 hours when others don't?

When you talk about respecting the dead, you know that your show of respect for McCain is no such thing, because none of the people you say your message is for is on the other end of the line.

The people who are reading your Facebook posts are your friends who are Asian, or Muslim, or Black, or disabled, or chronically ill, or queer, or have a uterus and want to decide what goes on in it. Your show of "respect" helps no one, but it does show your contempt for us. You're telling us, "Don't talk about the effect his actions had on your life. A dead white man's feelings are more important than your material reality. I'm not in solidarity with you." It doesn't matter what you intend -- this is what we hear. You may even be Asian, or Muslim, or Black, or disabled, or chronically ill, or queer yourself -- if you are, that does nothing to buffer the harm of your words. Everybody chooses whether to side with the more privileged parts of themselves or the less privileged parts of themselves, and in the moment when you write words of faux respect, you're choosing to side with the oppressor within you and against the oppressed.

Who is ever granted protection from an honest inventory of the work they chose to dedicate their life to, besides the rich, white and powerful? Are the loved ones of the rich, white and powerful - usually if not always rich, white and powerful themselves - so fragile that recounting such facts pierces them even if they will never hear it? Are they more deserving of silence about the wrongs done by their dead loved one than the mother of any Black child murdered by police or the mother of any Iraqi child killed by American bombs?

It's always an option to say nothing at all. It's also an option to say only that judging the man is for God to do and not for you, or the secular equivalent. You do not need to talk about Vietnam, Iraq, or the ACA if you don't want to. If you're truly not comfortable with talking of these things so soon after McCain's death, you don't need to say anything at all.

It would take you no effort to say nothing. So when you do say something, you're telling us something: that you won't have our backs when there's a cost to you, or when you might offend other white people with a suburban mindset, or when the faces of the oppressor are the same color as yours.

When you choose instead to police and patrol the grief and anger of the oppressed, to wag your finger at those of us who are rejoicing that at least this particular person can't hurt us anymore, to dissemble your true emotions in smarm, you're not showing respect for the dead. You are pledging allegiance to power. You are acknowledging that you believe fealty to power will protect you. Your actions are those of a person anxious about offending the powerful. We know that anxiety about offending the powerful is what leads our self-proclaimed allies to decline to put their bodies between them and us.

Some of us have been grieving for our entire lives, and will be grieving for the rest of our lives, what we lost, what our friends have lost, to white supremacy, capitalist violence, and endless war. When you say you don't want to disrupt the grieving process for his family, you're saying our grief isn't as serious as theirs. Those grieving loved ones can't hear what you're saying. But your friends who live every day in grief and anger at what conservatives have been doing to us for our entire lives, at least those of us my age and younger - We're your audience. We're who's listening. And when you tell us you don't think we matter, we believe you.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I'm no longer working at Google, and am not able to share any other details about that at this time.

Meanwhile, my former colleagues got Breitbart to write a hit piece about me. I'm flattered by the attention, and I wonder whether Google will take the leaking of confidential posts from internal forums to Breitbart as seriously as they take other leaks.

In 2017, it's still -- apparently -- news that a Jewish guy (me) is in favor of using violence to stop Nazis.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
“If you make and keep my life horrible then, when I can tell the truth, it will be a horrible truth; it will not sound good or look good or, God willing, feel good to you, either. There is nothing good about the evils of a life forced into useless and impotent drift and privation. There is very little that is attractive or soothing about being strangled to death, whether it is the literal death of the body or the actual death of the soul that lying, that the humiliation and the evil of self-denial, guarantees.

Extremity demands, and justifies, extreme response. Violence invites, and teaches, violence. Less than that, less than a scream or a fist, less than the absolute cessation of normal events in the lock of abnormal duress is a lie and, worse than that, it is blasphemous ridicule of the self.”

-- June Jordan, "Civil Wars"
tim: Solid black square (black)
"What can the world, or any nation in it, hope for if no turning is found on this dread road?

The worst to be feared and the best to be expected can be simply stated.

The worst is atomic war.

The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road. the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy often gets pushed, to the exclusion of all other therapy modalities, for a range of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, insomnia, phobias, addiction.

I can't speak to how well it works for all of those issues, but one of the things wrong with it -- not with it, rather, but with the privileged place it's been given in the current medical model of mental health issues -- is that it's close to useless for people with a trauma history, and trauma is the underlying cause of all five issues I mentioned for many people. (I could write a separate post on why it's been given that privileged place, but I'll leave that to your imagination for now.) I am not a medical or mental health professional, just someone with a lifetime of personal experience.

[personal profile] azurelunatic's post about being prescribed a CBT workshop for insomnia is a great example. When I read it, I thought about my own sleep issues and how useless every behavioral approach -- both CBT-type approaches, and "sleep hygiene"-style approaches -- have been for it.

I have obstructive sleep apnea, so no behavioral approach can address the fact that untreated, I wake up more tired than I was when I went to bed, because I wake up many times an hour unable to breathe. But the main issue is that my body learned when I was a child that sleep was dangerous, and neither cognitive nor behavioral approaches can make my body unlearn that -- it's something I learned before I was developmentally able to use cognition or to reflect on my behavior.

As a child, I had an abusive parent who would force me to go to bed hours before I was actually ready to go to sleep, because she thought it was good for children to be on a regular sleep schedule. (Or because she wanted to control somebody and doing things to children that are generally believed to be for their own good is a socially acceptable way to do it. I don't really know.) So I learned that sleep meant lying in bed for hours, awake and intensely bored but not allowed to get up and do anything. When I got a little older I would get up and night and go into a walk-in closet in our apartment and read for as long as I could get away with it. When my mother figured out I was doing this, she unscrewed the light bulb. I learned to associate sleep, as well as going to bed early, both with an abusive parent who I knew was incapable of knowing what was good for me, and with hours of boredom and anxiety.

Therapists (and others) who apply CBT simplistically would tell me that the lasting, physical residue of these years are "cognitive distortions" that I need to reason my way out of. They would be wrong, because there's nothing distorted about mechanisms I learned in order to keep myself safe. Being awake is safer than being asleep in an environment that is dangerous for you, and for a child, there's nothing more dangerous than an environment that contains an alternately intrusive and inattentive caregiver and nobody else.

It's safe for me to relax now, and has been for the past twenty years, but because trauma changes your body in chemical and physical ways, just telling myself that won't make me go to sleep. I use chemical solutions to a chemical problem: medication. Maybe someday, I'll have had enough trauma therapy that I won't need it as often. But in the meantime, I'll be able to get enough rest and avoid some of the constant physical stress that arises from inadequate sleep.

CBT is politically attractive because it individualizes responsibility . Better to blame people's suffering on their own cognitive distortions, and teach them that they need to do work to overcome them (under capitalism, any solution that gives already-overworked people more work to do gets conferred with near-religious levels of praise), than to recognize that abuse culture harms people in long-lasting ways. If we recognized that many parenting practices widely considered to be non-abusive, or even helpful, in this culture are actually traumatic, we'd have to rethink a lot. Better to avoid confronting that by privatizing trauma and recasting it as individual pathology, ignoring the patterns in front of us.

Mental health is (I suspect) not the default state of human existence in the first place -- our brains are complicated and have too many failure modes for that. But in a society that depends on denial -- of the lasting effects of slavery (denial of the effects on white people, mostly), of the violence done by income inequality, and of the corrosiveness of toxic masculinity -- self-awareness is rebellion, and thus it's not surprising that to find therapies that foster it rather than providing a few tools to be economically productive while hurting inside, we often have to look outside the mainstream.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
I used to be a pacifist. It's easy to be one when you aren't being attacked.

Large-scale violence always starts with ideas and rhetoric, because rhetoric eases organizing and large-scale violence requires the consent and participation of many people. How do you let people know you don't take their ideas seriously? How do you defend yourself against ideas that can only cause harm to you? Communicating that you will refuse to listen is one way, but it doesn't scale. No-platforming powerful fascists does scale. So does punching one on camera.

Here's a FAQ list of things people have asked me -- or, in some cases, things they would have asked me if they had thought to ask rather than assuming an answer -- about why I think fascism must be stopped by any means necessary.

  1. When you say "fascist", are you just talking about anybody you disagree with?

    No. I'm using the word in its accepted meaning. As with any other word in any language spoken by humans, there is no "objective" meaning. Like any other word, "fascism" is meaningless except in the presence of a particular shared understanding between speakers. I expect that people listening to me will have a bit of basic historical knowledge, and understand the meaning of "fascist" by example, the way we understand most concepts: the Nazis during World War II are the best-known example, but the past 100-odd years in Europe and North America have seen a number of others. In ordinary conversation, I don't stop to elaborate all that -- it would be hard to talk about fascism without having to explain a great deal of denotative and connotative meaning every time, since after all, words are useful because they mean things. But since this is an FAQ, I'll quote Emily Gorcenski; her definition of "fascism" coincides with mine.

    There is a tendency, built from 40 years of online debates, to call anything you disagree with "fascist."

    Likewise, anything authoritarian gets called fascist, too, as if people assume that only fascists can be dictators.

    Fascism is a political theory that jelled in the early 1900s and found particular traction in Central Europe.

    The word comes from an old latin term, where leaders carried rods, or fasces, tied together to symbolize strength.

    The core belief of fascism is strength through unity. That the state is stronger if all parties are unified.

    The politic also suggested that fragmented liberalist parties needed to be subjugated and could be ruled by a minority fascist party.

    Given the timing of the rise of fascism, technology was critical in the theory. To fascists, the purpose of tech was to strengthen the state

    Dissent by other parties was weakness, only the party could determine its own fate.

    I'm quoting this entire thread because to have a conversation, it's important to agree on shared vocabulary. Of course, you are free to define "fascism" to mean anything you disagree with, but that's not how I define it, and if you're committed to a different definition, then it's unlikely that reading this FAQ will help you much.

  2. Okay, sure, I accept that definition of "fascism". But Trump isn't a fascist, is he?

    Yes, he is -- not because I disagree with Trump (I'm not sure Trump has a coherent enough ideology for the word "disagree" to denote much, though Steve Bannon certainly does), but because he fits the definition of "fascist." Quoting Emily Gorcenski again:

    So let's look at how we're using the term today. Is the modern GOP a fascist party? Is Trump? His supporters?

    Trump won with the minority popular vote. So there's that. He's controlling narratives away from negative views of his party.

    His policies involve cutting off resources for marginalized communities. His supporters call anyone not a white man a "snowflake."

    His rise to power was strongly aided by technology. He wants to march tanks through DC in a show of military might.

    He has a singular focus on restoring manufacturing jobs to the US at the expense of other services.

    And he and his team regularly harp about "unity" and patriotism.

    So yes, Trump is a fascist and his team promotes fascism.

    Not because I disagree with them, but because actions align with fascist policy.

    If you talk like a fascist and you act like a fascist and you govern like a fascist, you're probably a fascist.

    TLDR: fascism requires mandatory unity for strengthening the state and isn't about dismissing speech or dissent.

  3. Well, okay, maybe he's a fascist, but the people elected him, so don't you have to accept him as our leader?

    No. Donald Trump exploited a loophole in the Constitution in order to take over the government. Voting in the US is based on the electoral college because the founders foresaw that the popular vote might result in the election of an incompetent leader. They thought that the job of president was too important to entrust directly to the majority. They wrote the electoral college into the Constitution to provide an additional layer of oversight, so that electors -- who were supposed to be trusted representatives of the people in their home state -- could use their discretion and use their vote in the best interests of their constituents, which meant usually but not necessarily voting the way the numerical majority did.

    In 2016, the electors failed to do their job by keeping Trump -- deemed incompetent by both Democrats and Republicans with any degree of governance experience -- out of the White House. The system does not do in practice what the Constitution intended it to do, and the fact remains that Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular vote by 2.86 million votes. We are experiencing minority rule.
    It is “desirable,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, “that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of” president. But is “equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.” These “men”—the electors––would be “most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.” And because of their discernment—because they possessed wisdom that the people as a whole might not—“the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

    As Michael Signer explains, the framers were particularly afraid of the people choosing a demagogue. The electors, Hamilton believed, would prevent someone with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” from becoming president. And they would combat “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” They would prevent America’s adversaries from meddling in its elections. The founders created the Electoral College, in other words, in part to prevent the election of someone like Donald Trump. -- Peter Beinart, "The Electoral College Was Meant to Stop Men Like Trump From Being President"
    In addition, a fascist cannot legitimately lead a representative democracy, because fascism is incompatible with democracy; a two-party (or more-party) state where both parties have meaningful influence is not a fascist state.

  4. Doesn't it undermine democracy to deny that the current government is "legitimate"?

    No, the fascist currently controlling the regime is who's undermining democracy, as well as the Nazis he has appointed as strategists. To accept a fascist government as a legitimate one means it's legitimate for a democracy to operate not based on the consent of the governed, but based on the will of the minority, backed up by a monopoly on violence. When you decide that the opposite of democracy can be democracy, you undermine democracy.

  5. So why are fascists so bad? Aren't they entitled to their own opinions? What effect do fascists really have on people's lives? Sure, I get that the ones in Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy were bad, but that was a long time ago. Are the ones now really so bad? They have nice haircuts and dress nicely, after all, they don't look like a bunch of thugs.

    Zoë Quinn is a video game developer who was targeted by the GamerGate coordinated harassment campaign starting in 2014. GamerGate began with an aggrieved, abusive ex-boyfriend determined to ruin Zoë's life, and quickly evolved into a campaign to purge women from the video game industry. Somewhere along the line, fascists recognized that GamerGaters were their fellow travelers and co-opted the movement into a much broader coalition of angry young white men who helped get Trump elected. I know it sounds weird. But there are people who wrote it all down. They also warned you at the time that GamerGaters were dangerous, but most people just dismissed them as basement trolls.

    Like many of us, Zoë was glad to see a certain neo-Nazi shithead get punched in the face, and wrote this to contextualize why:

    Reminder: before you msg me about my joy in that "alt right" shithead punched, remember that the movement has tried to kill me for years.

    I don't talk about it much anymore because I don't want it to be The Only Thing About Me, but they've literally tried to kill me. A lot.

    at the height of it, a lot of people just watched. People did the two sides shit then too. People said it was too messy and looked away.

    People thought the people trying to kill me were too ridiculous to take seriously. Or that they were just having an opinion.

    While the Discourse did its thing, they tried to kill me. Literally, actually kill me, beyond the damage they actually succeeded in.

    So if you were around for that, and were silent then yet defending nazis now, you need to take a really hard look in the mirror.

    Cause I'm just *one* of the people they personally singled out and targeted.

    i can tell you right now after years of work, advocacy, and protecting and hiding their other targets and asking for help, it's not enough

    So maybe I just don't need to hear another uninformed take on how we just need to try more discourse to solve the problem, like I haven't.


    They celebrate people they hate scorning them. You can't shame people who are proud of the horrible shit they do.

    So yeah, I'm gonna enjoy watching a video of the self proclaimed leader of a movement that tries to kill me getting socked in the head.

    the only good thing about these little shits stalking me years after the fact is that I can fill my timeline with videos of it that they see

    I hope it makes their ideology feel unwelcomed and unaccepted, because all the Discourse has failed and people in power failed to help too."

    Listen to Zoë. She has the authority that comes from the lived experience of being targeted by fascists just because they need a target to hurt in order to prove that they're strong. They didn't succeed in killing her, which is why her Twitter handle is "UnburntWitch". But this is what fascists do to people. The only difference between GamerGate/Trump-style fascism and Nazi Germany is that Trump is just getting started.

  6. Why is fascism different from other political ideologies? Would you say that any Republican political leader was illegitimate just because they were a Republican?

    No. Fascism is different from other political positions because, by definition, what defines a democracy is intolerance of fascism. Democracies are not democratic unless it's accepted as a basic principle that every adult human (the definition of "adult" doesn't matter as long as there's a consistent and widely accepted one, which is not to discount the injustice of laws that strip voting rights from disabled people and convicted felons) is a person who deserves to have a say, and that no single individual's voice matters either more or less than any oher. When we start questioning that, when we start saying that some lives matter more than others and one person's vote should mean more than a different person's vote does, then we are no longer a democracy.

    Of course, democracy has always been aspirational. The founding fathers owned slaves. However, reverting what progress we've made does not bring us closer to the democratic aspiration.

  7. Can't we defeat fascism using the marketplace of ideas?

    No, because fascism operates outside the rules of any marketplace of ideas, using violence, not rational discourse or persuasion. Free markets (of any kind) can't exist without regulation, because a game with no enforcement of rules is a game at which people will cheat. When it comes to protecting what we value, few people take a laissez-faire approach: the only places where people don't lock their doors tend to be ones where everybody trusts our neighbors. We cannot trust fascists and thus cannot leave the gates of our marketplace of ideas open to anybody who wants to come in and flip all the pushcarts.

  8. No, but really, if we just explain to the fascists why they're wrong, won't they change their minds?

    There's no historical precedent suggesting that has ever been effective. It's certainly true that individuals who hold horrible sets of beliefs, like Derek Black can, over time, with exposure to a variety of perspectives, change their mind. However, if we wait for every fascist to attend college and hope that they will expand their minds to see that reason is a better way to make decisions than coercion, a lot of people will be dead before they graduate. It's nice when horrible violent people decide to stop being horrible and violent, but nicer still when my friends and I can be alive because fascists haven't been allowed to murder us, regardless of whatever intellectual journey those fascists might be in the middle of.

    As [twitter.com profile] meakoopa eloquently explained, to allow open debate on whether genocide is good or not is to allow genocide to happen:

    "every liberal democracy realizes early on there are some positions which must prima facie be aggressively excluded from public discourse

    u can't even articulate WHY they are unreasonable bc to articulate WHY they are unreasonable is to itself open the possibility of reason.

    this is why u can't allow "just hypothetical" questions abt whether Jews or blacks, as Spencer posits, are innately inferior/destroyable.

    Nazi theorists like Carl Schmitt VERY QUICKLY diagnosed this weakness in

    U can collapse a democracy by insisting the democracy had a right to end itself: Hindenburg to Hitler, "the peaceful transition of power."

    Intolerance cannot be tolerated, bc this corrosive effect means the law can be co-opted by, and so protective of, fascism.

    Fascism wriggles into democracies by insisting on right to be heard, achieves critical mass, then dissolves the organs that installed it.

    WHICH MEANS the stronger it becomes, it cannot be sufficiently combatted with reason. Bc "reason" becomes the state's tool to enforce.


    some positions must be excluded from discourse. Some positions you do not listen to - u can only punch.

    A society that begins to entertain why some members of its polis might not belong invites catastrophic decay. Those voices must be excluded.


    All of American history is an exercise in one debate: "who is the 'we' who are the people?"


    hello! unexpectedly a lot of responses to this thread. almost all vector around "does this mean I can exclude [group/race I hate]?"

    This question vexes the Frankfurt school. But democracy is only form that can even DIAGNOSE the problem.

    "you haven't solved the problem." no; the problem is self-replicating and -perpetuating. The point is u must articulate problem AS problem.

    You cannot take as given that allowing free and open debate about genocide will stop fascism. Because it never, ever has.

    Emphasis added.

  9. Fine, there might be a few bad guys we can't convince, but surely the majority will see they're wrong.

    History suggests otherwise. As Rachel Stark points out (read the whole thread), no-platforming is the only effective defense against fascists because the wrongness of their position is not obvious -- over time, fascists have adapted and found ways to re-brand themselves that bypass people's defenses, much like pop-up ads that make it past your ad blocker. Ideally no-platforming would be done peacefully, and it usually is, but sometimes peaceful methods fail, and punching a Nazi if it prevents genocide is a moral imperative.

    So I am 100% pro punching Nazis & tired of hearing this debated, but I wonder if folks realize WHY anti-fascists punched that Nazi.

    We don't punch Nazis out of anger (though we are mad), or to change their minds (they don't want to change)...

    We don't even punch Nazis because it feels good (though it feels SO good).

    A central Antifa (anti-fascist) principle is that fascists CANNOT be allowed to have a platform.

  10. I thought you were against the violence committed by the military and police. What's the difference between that, and the violence that self-appointed anti-fascist activists sometimes commit?

    The military and police defend the state and protect wealth; anti-fascist activists defend justice. Under a trustworthy government, the military would do the job of protecting that government from corruption by anti-democratic forces, and the police would do the job of protecting individuals from each other. In reality, the military and police both protect the wealth of the few and nothing else. Thus, as citizens, our interests are not and cannot be aligned with the state, and the military and police act against us, not with us. They started the war; anti-fascism is us fighting back. (I am not an anarchist, but I am one in circumstances like right now, where the government does not have the legitimacy that arises from the consent of the governed. A government elected by a small minority of the people, which -- more importantly -- is driven by a political philosophy that explicitly disregards the consent of the governed -- is not legitimate.)

  11. Violence makes me feel bad. Can't we just have peaceful debate?

    Violence makes me feel bad, but genocide makes me feel worse. I can't honestly say that seeing one advocate of ethnic cleansing get punched feels worse to me than witnessing a genocide would feel.

    As [twitter.com profile] AmyDentata put it:

    "If you want peaceful debate then don't advocate dehumanization and genocide. Otherwise get punched

    The liberal nonviolence purity test exists because the state needs you to be ineffective against its own violence. This enables fascists"

    You have a choice between violence against fascists to protect democracy, and violence against democracy to protect fascists. As long as you're comfortable with it, I can't tell you which one to pick.

  12. But I don't like punching people. I'm small and I'm afraid I would just get stomped.

    You don't have to. Even if it's not safe for you to risk jail time or a beating, you can still refuse to listen to fascists and to people floating the "but you have to tolerate different opinions" sealioning that I talked about. Anyone can refuse to listen! Also, you can make friends with people who do punch fascists and bake them a nice loaf of vegan banana bread.

  13. Can't we use, idk, the rule of law, or democracy, somehow, to stop fascists?

    No. Fascists operate outside the rule of law and therefore, the rule of law cannot stop them from destroying democracy.

  14. Isn't democracy strong enough to survive anything?

    How would you prove that claim? Democracy is a fairly new idea and arguably has still never been fully implemented. The democratic aspiration is not so strong as to be able to survive a persistent, sustained, organized effort to kill it, because aside from the inevitability of death, there's very little that is. So the idea that democracy isn't under an existential threat from fascism seems like magical thinking to me. If fascism doesn't pose an existential threat to democracy, what does?

  15. But my free speech?

    If you're not a fascist, you have nothing to worry about with respect to your free speech. "Human beings are good with slippery slopes: we build stairs."

    Alisha Rai quoted two different tweets from the same fascist, Dan Adamini, who on one occasion wrote:

    "Violent protestors who shut down free speech? Time for another Kent State perhaps. One bullet stops a lot of thuggery."

    and two days later wrote:

    "About to go on the air, lots of hate coming from the tolerant left."

    "You're so tolerant" is the kind of contemptuous sarcasm whose intent is pretty clear: to manipulate, to shame through an attack on your self-image as tolerant, an attempt to make you disintegrate in the face of the supposed disconnect between your self-image and yourself. Feigned concern over free speech from those who want the monopoly on free speech does the same work. By saying "but free speech!" you tell people like Adamini that you're easy to manipulate.

  16. But like, don't Milo and all those people have some valid points? I mean, don't some people get awfully mad about people like Milo hurting their feelings? Isn't it fair to call those people special snowflakes who need to be in safe spaces all the time?

    If you don't like safe spaces, start by refusing to make any space you're in a safe space for fascists. The idea that fascists only "hurt feelings" is useful to them: we know we're in a culture that devalues emotions and, indeed, anything culturally coded as feminine. If you can get people to disconnect their rational minds from their emotional selves, you can cut of their innate sense of right and wrong and get them to carry out an evil agenda for you. So feelings matter. Yours might well be trying to scream at you that you do not need to sacrifice yourself for fascists' supposed free speech rights, and you ignore them at your peril.

    Even more so, fascists don't hurt feelings for its own sake. They hurt feelings in order to see what else they can get away with. Attempts to shock and offend with words alone are boundary-testing. They want to see if they can get away with using their power to make you feel horrible, small, disgusted, less than human, silenced, invisible, or any number of other things. If they observe that they have the power to make you feel something (which they do, because you're human and living humans have feelings as a result of things other people do, at least occasionally), they'll get a sense of how much power they have to do more than that to you.

  17. What if someone thinks I'm a fascist and tries to silence me?

    Then prove them wrong. The fact that sometimes people are wrong about things does not need to be a reason never to take action.

  18. But what if they punch me accidentally?

    Apologies in advance. Get an ice pack and reflect on what you just sacrificed for freedom.

  19. Okay, fine, I see now that fascism and democracy are incompatible. So what do we do about it?

    You should listen to the people who have been fighting fascism for decades and use that knowledge to inform your action: the most comprehensive guide is M. Testa's Militant Anti-Fascism: A Hundred Years of Resistance.

  20. Somebody told me that discriminating against them for their political views was exactly the same as racism.

    It's okay to treat someone harshly because they want to kill you. They can and should stop trying to kill you, but a Black person can't stop being Black.

  21. Okay, but didn't you say before that I also shouldn't discriminate against queer people who chose to be queer?

    Note the words "and should" in that sentence.

  22. Who are you to tell people they shouldn't be trying to commit genocide?

    Who am I, indeed? The question is: do you think you should tell people they shouldn't be trying to commit genocide?

  23. Somebody told me that it's wrong for me to fight fascists, because they just disagree with me and I have to accept anybody who disagrees with me.

    That's straight out of the Nazi playbook. Ask them why they're using the Nazi playbook if they're not a Nazi. I am being very literal here. There is a Nazi playbook, and seeding doubt this way is in it.

  24. What about Godwin's Law?

    Godwin's Law was repealed on November 8, 2016.

  25. Somebody asked me for an objective definition of fascism.

    Ask them for an objective definition of "objective."

  26. Somebody told me that I was intolerant of differences of opinion because I said genocide is bad.

    The last couple of things are all examples of sealioning, defined by Erica Friedman as "a specific, pervasive form of aggressive cluelessness, that masquerades as a sincere desire to understand." Fascists understand that if they front-load their preoccupations with gaining power through violence and with ethnic cleansing and racial purity, they will meet resistance. So they test people's boundaries and defenses by sealioning: asking people to justify democracy starting from zero axioms. But logically, you can't prove anything if you don't start from axioms. The value of democracy is self-evident and an argument with a person who does not accept it is a waste of time, because arguments are only useful between people who are willing to listen to each other. People who are prepared to destroy you don't need to listen to you. The purpose of these questions is to make you doubt; fascism itself admits no doubt.

    Punching a Nazi is one way to say "I do not believe this kind of discourse should be treated in any other way than with a swift kick you-now-where. It is not worth the breath that it would take for me to explain why this discourse is wrong." There are other ways. If it's your co-worker talking fascism at lunch, then words are an appropriate way to shut them down (if they escalate, one can consider other remedies). If it's Richard Spencer giving an interview to the news media that could make fascism look appealing to thousands or millions of people at once, then someone showing up to interrupt him doesn't make for a good story, but punching him does.

  27. Why are you talking about Nazis, anyway? I thought we beat the Nazis in 1945 and they're gone now.

    While Nazism in Germany (and beyond) was a specific historical phenomenon, neo-Nazi movements have flourished everywhere that doesn't explicitly try to stamp them out (e.g. Germany) since the end of World War II. Nazis are a specific kind of fascist, but the advantage of talking about "Nazis" is that the word is recognized, whereas many people think "fascist" is just a generic insult that means you don't like somebody's views. On the other hand, we all know Nazis are bad. At least, I thought we all knew that until the past couple months. It's also really not a stretch: just read Steve Bannon's CV and find out what he thinks about Jews.

  28. I get all that, but still, isn't there some non-violent way to stop Nazis or fascists? Isn't violence bad?

    Again, listen to the people who actually have relatively-recent experience defending their spaces against Nazis: here, [twitter.com profile] puckett101 shares their experience in the punk/hardcore music scene, which -- like 4chan-ish messageboards later on, has long been a recruiting ground for Nazis because it's a good place to find and corrupt alienated young white people. What both groups have in common is a strong commitment to shocking their parents, and when that involves dyeing your hair pink and having gay sex, that's good, but when Nazis figure out that you can talk kids into being Nazis by telling them it will shock their parents, that's bad.

    ...There was a good chunk of my life when I think everyone I knew had put hands on a Nazi.

    And here's why - it was never "just one" Nazi skin. One became six became 20.

    Nazi skins showed up, pushed people around, took over the venue and turned everything to shit with bullying, abuse and their Sieg Heiling.


    In the punk and hardcore scenes I was part of, discourse led to more Nazis showing up and more problems.

    The only reaction that prevented Nazis from becoming a problem was not letting them in. AT ALL. EVER.

    And if they somehow got in? Or wouldn't go away? We had no choice but to defend ourselves.


    So no, I don't feel bad that a white supremacist got punched in the face. I don't think dialogue is the solution.

    And I think those things because I and people I know dealt with actual Nazis for years.

    If you want to clutch your pearls, fine. If you want to understand the flip side, talk to some folks from the ARA or a SHARP.

    Because old punks are some of the only folks in America to have dealt with actual Nazis on a regular basis.


    tl;dr Nazis are like vampires - if you let them in, they'll just start sucking and the only way to get rid of them is a right/left cross.

  29. I think I can figure out a way to stop Nazis without punching. Should I try to come up with one?

    You can if you want to. While you're thinking about it, I'm going to be over here supporting the people who are actually stopping Nazis and fascists in the only way we know how. This is a classic "the perfect is the enemy of the good" situation. Personally, I won't let your unfinished project to come up with a perfect solution to the attraction many people have to fascism stop me from supporting those using the good solution, and punching Nazis is good.

  30. I feel uncomfortable. Doesn't that mean you're saying something bad?

    No. Sit with that discomfort and learn from it. Also, read these words from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.

    Whether or not you're white (and most of the people who ask these questions are white, because having to struggle to survive as a member of a subjugated minority group makes it hard to forget that subjugators cannot be controlled by being nice to them -- but not all are), ask yourself whether you recognize yourself in MLK's description of "the white moderate". Do you, too, value the absence of tension more than the presence of justice? Consider the possibility that what is making you uncomfortable is not injustice, unfairness, or immorality, but rather, the presence of tension -- which you can learn to be comfortable with if you realize that it is a necessary part of pushing ourselves collectively closer to justice.

  31. Okay, fine, we should stop Nazis. But I don't know any, so what am I supposed to do?

    If you work at a big enough company, you work with Nazis. If you're a white person living in a white-dominated area, then you probably don't live too far from Nazis. Nazis keep their views hidden when it's not safe to express them, so do your best to make it unsafe to be a Nazi and they won't be able to organize themselves well enough to build concentration camps.

    A lot of us nerds on the Internet spent time on 4chan (I didn't, but that doesn't make me a better person -- I did spend time on Reddit, after all) and [profile] spnbmb described in detail the ways in which 4chan and 8chan denizens make no secret of their fascist views when they believe no one's watching (while engaging in more socially-acceptable behaviors, like sealioning and decrying anti-fascist violence, in public). Contextualizing Richard Spencer (that guy with the punchable face) and who he is, [twitter.com profile] spnbmb wrote:

    If you think Spencer's views are somehow outside the norm for his political peer group, I have news for you: he is toning it down a LOT.

    I spent most of 2016 monitoring various /pol/ and /k/ boards on a daily basis. What Spencer says in public is just the tip of the iceberg.

    "Right wing death squads" is a popular phrase & aspiration. Are many of them basement-dwelling LARPers? Sure. But look at Dylann Roof.

    I witnessed firsthand the percolation of memes & talking points from imageboards to social media to "alternative" news to mainstream.


    Meme magic is indeed real, in a way. If you don't understand imageboard culture, you won't understand what's happening now.

    GETs and blessings of Kek are a new spin on Nazi esotericism. Memes are the new propaganda ministry. Digging/doxing is the new SS.

    All of these things are now amorphous & crowdsourced. You have a highly tech-literate group of angry disenfranchised men with a goal.

    The most important thing about this situation is that the movement is self-directed and *self-motivating*. They do it all for free.

    Nazis got uniforms & paychecks & met in buildings with a Reichsadler above the door. Today, they are all around you. How many have you met?

    Not everyone will be as obvious as Spencer, with his (hip) Nazi youth haircut and Pepe pin and openness about his views. He is a rarity.


    I actually agree with Spencer — many /pol/acks do indeed hate him. They hate him because he is labeling the movement and attaching his name.


    Trump's campaign absolutely monitored and took direction from /pol/, and vice versa. Do you think Trump's pepe tweet was an accident?

    That's why Trump was indeed memed into presidency. Trump's campaign is absolutely connected to /pol/. Why aren't you connected too?


    antifa: your enemies have been absolutely salivating for 'the day of the rope' & say trump will allow it. they're preparing for it. are you?


    the line between 'ironic' fascism and actual fascism has always been paper thin

    If you're a tech worker, you know people who don't think 4chan is so bad. Which means you probably know Nazis.

  32. Why are you quoting tweets? Don't you have more reliable sources to quote?

    I could quote Hannah Arendt, but then you would just tell me that -- in the words of Ann Reed -- "history is in the past, it's not like it is real."

  33. I know you're talking about current events, but still, why aren't you quoting the New York Times or the Washington Post?

    Good question. Why do you have to go on Twitter to see these critical perspectives; why are you not finding them in major, respected, liberal publications? Sit with that question.

  34. But a lot of people support Trump, so don't I have to treat that as a normal political point of view that I have to respect?

    Who told you that you have to respect all points of view? It wasn't me.

  35. No, really, a lot of people support him, so we can't just reject him out of hand.

    If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you take time to rationally deliberate over whether you should jump off a cliff too?

  36. I like to be polite. Isn't it rude to tell somebody their ideas aren't worth listening to?

    Maybe, but I don't want to ask anybody to die so someone else can practice good etiquette. When somebody is lying, you are not obligated to keep talking to them as if the lies are true. In fact, to talk to them at all is to cede ground: you admit that their lies could be true. Walking away may be rude, but I think letting your friends die is also pretty rude.

  37. I'm a Republican and I feel bad. Doesn't that mean you must have said something wrong?

    No, other people aren't obligated to refrain from saying anything that makes you feel bad.

  38. No, but really, I'm a Republican and I don't support Trump. Aren't you wrong for stereotyping me?

    In a word, no. If your Republican representatives in the House and Senate wanted to show they're not like Trump, rather than just telling us, they could always refuse to vote for Trump's cabinet nominees, which so far almost none of them have done. I don't really care whether your Republican representatives disagree with Trump and are too afraid to stand up to him, or genuinely agree. A genocide that people went along with because they were scared kills people just as dead as a genocide that people went along with whole-heartedly.

  39. Well, I'm a Republican and I don't agree with what my congresspeople and senators are doing, either.

    At least so far, it's still legal to leave a political party that doesn't represent your views.

  40. But I'm a Republican, I just don't agree with anything the Republican Party is currently doing.

    I thought Republicans didn't like identity politics.

  41. You can't hate me for who I am.

    I don't hate who you are -- I'm a die-hard optimist, so I think there's a good person hiding somewhere inside you, even if that good person is scared of the fascist who also lives inside you. But I hate what you're doing to me. If you choose to ally yourself with the Republican Party in 2017, fascism is what you're telling the world you stand for and we are not going to let you forget it. Words have meaning: if you say you're a Republican, then it's not a personal attack for me to tell you that you're a Republican, because you just told me that. You are free to value your party loyalty, but I am also free to draw conclusions based on who you do and don't stand in solidarity with. That's kind of how this whole "freedom of opinion" thing works. Also, we warned you this would happen.

    If you say "I'm a fascist" and I say "so you're a fascist" and then you say "You're hurting my feelings!", you're lying about either one or both of those things.

  42. What about unity and acceptance? Aren't those values important?

    Hey, Republicans, it's never too late to change your mind. But as long as you say you are standing with fascists, I will believe you. Do you really want me to not believe what you say? Words matter. If you say "I choose to align myself with a party that's been taken over by white supremacists, but don't call me a white supremacist", I'm not going to automatically defer just because you said that. It's time for you to make choices. Which side are you on? (Your options are "The Nazis" and "Everyone Who's Not a Nazi.")

    Also see what [personal profile] solarbird addressed to self-identified anti-fascist conservatives.

  43. Was that exhausting to write?

    Yes, but less so than having to explain it from first principles every time someone pipes up with "if you fight fascists, doesn't that make you as bad as fascists?" Now I can just paste a link.

  44. Why do I have to think about this? I found life easier when I could play music or mess around with computers and know that democracy was a given.

    You and me both, friendo.

"Maybe you missed this, but you’re not in a dialogue. Your views are beside the point. Argue all you want—your adversaries are glad to see you waste your breath....

This is not a dialogue. How could you be so naïve? A dialogue—from which some of the participants can be deported at any time? A dialogue—in which one side keeps shooting and incarcerating the other side? A dialogue—in which a few people own all the networks and radio stations and printing presses, while the rest have to make do with markers and cardboard signs? A dialogue, really?"
-- "This Is Not a Dialogue: Not Just Free Speech, But Freedom Itself", CrimethInc

"The only slippery slope we have to worry about is from tolerance of Nazis to governance by them. The tipping point is RIGHT IN FRONT OF US.
Do not engage.
********Debating a Nazi is conceding the point that some people might be inhuman.*********
Do not acknowledge they have a "side." There is some speech that does not deserve "free expression" or "equal protection," and genocidal speech is at the head of the line." -- Tarin Towers

"The essence of fascism, as historians like Robert Paxton never fail to remind us, is not in ideas but in emotions. Robbing fascism of its virility and hyper masculine pretence is to rob it of its primary capacity to grow and survive. We have to confront the crucial question: are we more interested in upholding the slogan “Don’t Be Evil” or in making sure that no evil occurs? Is instilling fear in the hearts of fascists or fascist-curious individuals, even at the cost of isolated violence preferable to allowing fascists to consolidate power and therefore commit greater atrocities?" -- anas el hawat, "In Defense of Assaulting Fascists"

Further reading

I'll continue to add to this section as I find new articles.

  • "Free Speech and the Paradox of Tolerance", Julia Serano: "I think that “freedom of speech” is a lovely aphorism. And aphorisms are useful. But I am not gullible enough to believe that “free speech” (as free speech absolutists envision it) actually exists, or that it is something that I have ever truly possessed. The truth of the matter is that there are two types of speech or expression: those that we (either as individuals, or as a society) are willing to tolerate, and those that we do not. (This is explained compellingly here.) You may cherish a particular word, idea, expression, or identity. But if enough people collectively refuse to tolerate it, well . . . you can shout “free speech!” at the top of your lungs all you want, but it isn’t going to protect you.

    Believing that freedom of speech is generally a good thing — an ideal worth striving for — but also knowing that speech can be (and often is) used to suppress other people’s freedom of expression, the question becomes: How do we best strike a balance between these two competing forces?"
  • "but we are seeing now that if we fight, if we put on pressure, if we make our voices heard, we no longer have to go by those old rules" -- [twitter.com profile] spacetwinks
  • "Nazis, No Platforming, and the Failure of Free Speech", Stephanie Zvan: "The assertion that instead of punching, we should be engaging Nazis on their arguments is pure free speech fetishism. It’s assigning power to argument that hasn’t been demonstrated. The idea that we’ll convince anyone that all human life is deserving of protection through the exchange and support of logic propositions is ridiculous. That’s a value proposition. Those aren’t instilled through debate. They’re instilled and maintained through socialization.... Still, though, most free-speech advocates do nothing to ensure good speech beats bad speech. They treat it like a true fetish. Or worse, they prioritize promoting the bad speech."
  • 'I love it when they mock our tolerance as though it should be endless and apply to everything when they "tolerate" fucking nothing.' -- [twitter.com profile] Charlotte_Stein
  • "Because Ignoring It Worked So Well", by Stephanie Zvan: "A problem we don’t or won’t know about is a problem we can’t fix. If only 1 of 10 people have heard what Yiannopolous has to say and half those people find it disgusting, then yes, calling lots of attention to him might double his audience. But if 4 of 10 people now know what he has to say, there are now six times as many people who may be ready to do something about him.

    That is actual progress. Pretending he doesn’t exist is not."
  • "Drop Apocalyptic Thinking and Get in the Streets: On White/Male Voices Stifling Resistance", by Real Talk WOC and Allies: "People of color never had the luxury of trusting institutions."
  • "Why Punching Nazis Is Not Only Ethical, But Imperative", by Katherine Cross: "The vulnerability of Nazis cannot be revealed through debate — many thinkers who lived through the Second World War, from Karl Popper, to Hannah Arendt, to Jean Paul Sartre, have been quite clear about why dispassionate discourse with men like Richard Spencer is not only pointless, but actively dangerous.

    The use of force, by contrast, does reveal the shared humanity that Nazis deny. Our vulnerability is one of the things that links us all, seven billion strong, in a humane fragility. These are essential aspects of our humanity that both Nazi mythology and channer troll culture deny. Punching a Nazi, by contrast, reveals it. It reveals they are no masters, but quite eminently capable of fear, of pain, of vulnerability. And that takes the shine off; it eliminates their mystique, and it puts the lie to the idea that their ideology is an armor against the pains of modernity.
    That alone justifies Richard Spencer being punched in the face on camera."
  • "True cruelty is allowing a bully to demean his own humanity through harming others. Stopping the bully is an act of love." -- [twitter.com profile] AmyDentata
  • "Everybody Hates the Berkeley College Republicans", anonymous: "In the aftermath of the Berkeley College Republicans’ defeat, we’ve seen an increase of interest in radical anti-fascist politics taking hold throughout the campus. Students saw a stark contrast between the out of touch administration at UC Berkeley, which sought to protect Milo as he planned to out undocumented students, and the black bloc that helped shut the event down and kick far-Right scum off the streets. We think it is important to discuss what else has happened in the week following that demo because it is relevant to discussions about the role and efficacy of militant anti-fascism in the context of a growing far-Right movement that is itching to get off the internet and into the real world."
tim: Solid black square (black)

Is dialogue working if Trump’s policies all seem to contradict Silicon Valley’s values? “I think it’s early — I can’t sit on this stage and predict (and predict) what will happen,” Sandberg said, seeming flustered. “I have to remain hopeful. I have to remain hopeful. I have to remain [hopeful], looking at this audience of women.”
Sandberg answered the question as though Trump hadn’t yet taken office and issued 18 executive orders. The public, and certainly the audience at the women’s conference, already knew that she opposed Trump’s anti-immigration and anti-abortion policies.
Tech workers, activists, and the tech press are clinging to every line from tech executives, however strategic or meaningless or misleading, because despite its impassioned “public statements” on the immigration order, Silicon Valley has chosen to negotiate with Trump behind the scenes. Two of the largest corporations in the world, Facebook and Google, and two of the most revered CEOs in the world, Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick, are still working with Trump."

-- Nitasha Tiku [Note: After this piece was published, Kalanick announced he was leaving Tr*mp's business advisory council.]

"The fact that Hitler’s appointment meant that a fanatical anti-Semite had come to power should have made Germany’s Jews, above all, nervous. But that was not the case at all. In a statement given on Jan. 30, the chair of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith said, "In general, today more than ever we must follow the directive: wait calmly." He said that although one watches the new government "of course with deep suspicion," President Hindenburg represents the "calming influence." He said there was no reason to doubt his "sense of justice" and "loyalty to the constitution." As a result, he said, one should be convinced that "nobody would dare" to "touch our constitutional rights." In an editorial in the Jüdische Rundschau, a Jewish newspaper,published on Jan. 31, the author argued that "there are powers that are still awake in the German people that will rear up against barbarian anti-Jewish policies." It would only be a few weeks before all these expectations would prove to be illusory.

-- Volker Ullrich
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
I was born in the United States. I am a US citizen. I'm a first-generation American and a child of refugees.

My mother was born in Indonesia; so were her parents and grandparents. Her father's grandparents were refugees; her great-grandfather fought in the Napoleonic Wars and had to get the fuck out of Europe after all of that went down. That part of the story is a bit sordid, not that the rest of it isn't. My mother was three when Japan invaded Indonesia in 1942. I'm not sure exactly what happened to her over the next ten years (she talked about it when I was growing up, but always in a fragmented and fractured kind of way), but I know most if not all of the Dutch population in Indonesia was sent to prison camps or placed under house arrest by the invading forces.

They survived that (somehow), and shortly after Indonesia became independent in 1949, my mother, who was a teenager by then, and her family moved to Amsterdam; a place neither her nor her siblings nor her parents had ever seen before, as far as I know. Along with more or less everybody else of European descent in Indonesia. That was about 300,000 refugees, most of whom were of mixed European and Asian ancestry -- including my mother, though she's white-passing, as am I. I don't know much about her mother's family, except that her mother's father was of European descent and her mother's mother was of Asian descent. They were Indos, a word I didn't learn until I was an adult; my mother taught me that we were "Indonesian Dutch."

Out of curiosity, I ordered a copy of her mother's (my grandmother's) death certificate; she died before I was born, in Australia. Australian death certificates have a space for the deceased's parents' names. Her mother's name is listed as "unknown", although her son (my uncle, who I've never met) reported her death and he presumably knew what it was. There's a whole complicated story here involving racism, xenophobia, colonialism, interracial marriage coexisting with racism (because guess what, anti-racism is not sexually transmitted), co-optation of nationalist movements, and revolution that I won't pretend to know more than the beginning of.

"Nine tenths of the so-called Europeans are the offspring of whites married to native women. These mixed people are called Indo-Europeans… They have formed the backbone of officialdom. In general they feel the same loyalty to the Netherlands as do the white Dutch. They have full rights as Dutch citizens and they are Christians and follow Dutch customs. This group has suffered more than any other during the Japanese occupation.” -- Official US Army publication, 1944 (quoted on Wikipedia)

Those 300,000 refugees of mixed Dutch and Indonesian descent? They weren't welcome in the Netherlands. Where else were they going to go? They couldn't go home.

Short story long, my mother ended up in the US, two of her brothers went to Australia (where I've never been, nor have I met either of them), and her other brother stayed in the Netherlands (I met him once). Except for a second cousin, the rest of her extended family, other than me, remains in Europe and Australia.

My mother was single when she conceived me with an anonymous donor. Thanks to the magic of 23andMe, and the magic of the genetic bottlenecks, I learned when I was an adult that my other biological parent (I hate that phrase, by the way, but I also don't have a second "non-biological" parent) was likely of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. The history of how Ashkenazi Jews ended up in the US is better known.

I'm still not sure how much personal meaning to read into genetic material that didn't bring a familial or cultural component to my life, but I know what meaning the Nazis would have read into that genetic material if I had lived during World War II in Europe: from their point of view, I would have been Jewish enough to be the enemy. So if I choose to think this way, I'm descended from refugees on both sides, in a deep and historically complicated way on both sides, one side that survived multiple genocides and another that survived multiple violent regime changes. Both sides spent time in prison camps, or internment camps, or concentration camps because of their ethnicity (literally on my mother's side; maybe literally on the other side too, or maybe there was just a blood relation to people who did) and because of invading governments with political agendas that required ethnicity-based punishment. This is not to equate the Japanese treatment of Indonesian-Dutch folks with the German treatment of Jews; same war, different events, different reasons, although Google has quite a long list of possibilities for autocompleting "Japanese invasion of".

We know that Japan imprisoned 300,000 Dutch citizens living in Indonesia, we know that no one stopped them, and we know that most of those Dutch citizens, including my family, were people descended from both Asians and Europeans. Indos were loyal to the Dutch, so to the invading Japanese army, they were European and therefore the enemy. But that loyalty was not reciprocated: Dutch folks in the Netherlands saw Indos as Asian, and therefore as second-class.

Maybe that kind of double bind is why so many of us who are descended from mixed-race people are so acutely aware of the contradictions of racism. We can never be fully loyal to our more privileged ancestors, because we know what they think of us.

Growing up, I never felt like an American. My mother spoke two languages that weren't English, and people constantly asked her where her accent was from. Now that I'm grown, I know that there is no one more American than me, except for indigenous people, Black people brought to the US by slave merchants, and Chicanos/Chicanas. The reason why us refugees and children of refugees are so vocal right now is simple: we're living proof of the best things America aspires to, and know the human cost of the worst things America has always done up till now and is currently intensifying. Listen to us.

"Remember what I told you,
if they hated me, they will hate you."

-- Sinéad O'Connor
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
A comrade on Twitter has written up the result of spending a year observing 4chan and 8chan fascists use their message boards to organize to get grassroots support for Tr*mp. It's a fascinating document and you should read it.

Most good liberals have spent years studiously ignoring 4chan. To read it would be feeding the trolls, even if only with your attention, even if you never post anything. And there's nothing more shameful than feeding the trolls, unless it's reading the comments, right?

The authoritarian right noticed that and exploited it. If you want to organize a coup, what better way to do it than using a messageboard that all of its political opponents ignore because they believe it's "just trolling"?

So that was thing #1. The second thing, which was maybe even more genius, was that the authoritarian right noticed that 4chan users are nihilists who care mainly about approval from their peers, as Kathy Sierra pointed out deftly. As [twitter.com profile] whisperkick characterized 4chan "mostly it was a pissing contest of who could be The Most Shocking™."

If you've found a group of disaffected young people who care about nothing other than who could be The Most Shocking, what a stroke of luck! Being a Nazi is shocking, so you can easily co-opt that group into being Nazis for the lulz. Of course, it's just for the lulz, and they're not really Nazis. Right?

We weren't sure about that for a while, anyway, but now we're sure. I don't know or care what amount of Nazi sentiment was already present on 4chan and similar forums before the coordinated far-right takeover. Anti-semitic memes got introduced into those forums somehow, and someone with more patience than me will have to write the intellectual history. I don't care whether someone did that on purpose or folks there hated Jews from the start. The point, which all fascists know, is that those memes take on a life of their own.

If you want to know how Tr*mp won the electoral college: 4chan did it for the lulz.

Gamergate, by the way, was a test run for this. I'm not the first person to point that out and I hope I won't be the last.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
Elsewhere, I wrote this bit of dialogue:

Skeptics: (also movement atheists) "Social science is stupid because it doesn't have the same evidentiary standards that physics does. Browbeating people about how they should learn more about physics and math will save us all."
Fascists: *quietly and skillfully use techniques from psychology, sociology, and political science to obliterate the trust most of the public used to have in scientists to collect and disseminate knowledge accurately*
Skeptics: "None of this would be a problem if people just understood science better."

It's hard to just leave it at that. The skeptic and atheist movements have failed to strengthen public trust in science because people who invest themselves in these movements (as opposed to skeptics and atheists, who are a diverse group) refuse to recognize that that trust is even necessary. They think they can browbeat or shame people into accepting the value of the scientific method. Calling people "stupid" may be satisfying, but it's ineffective: not because it hurts people's feelings, but because the people you're trying to reach literally don't care whether you think they're stupid. If you want to shame anybody, you need to understand what does and doesn't make them feel ashamed. People who lack basic confidence that scientific modes of thinking are useful for understanding the world don't care what scientists think about them.

At this point, people might ask a number of questions:

Why does it matter if people trust science? Science: it works, bitches, whether or not anybody believes in it.

It's true that science works whether or not anybody believes in it. However, as another xkcd comic points out, when there is no intersection between people who value science, and people who control the funding that scientists need in order to produce new research, the truth that "science just works" is of rather academic relevance. The military-industrial complex has always been very interested in funding computer science research because there's something in it for them: they like machines that make the process of killing people more efficient. That's convenient when you're working on robotics or artificial intelligence, but inconvenient when you're studying climate change, a truth whose recognition has little short-term economic value (and which poses a threat to many people's economic interests.)

Why do I need to persuade anybody? Isn't this tone policing? Aren't you always saying that telling people "you're alienating potential allies" is unproductive?

If you want people to give you power or money, you have two options: take it, or ask for it. Social movements for minority rights are (in my opinion) more effectively framed as "take it". You can't, indeed, convince someone that your life matters when they believe their socioeconomic position to depend on your life not mattering.

Scientists, however, are not a group marginalized based on identity. Scientists will be the first ones to tell you that it's in your interests to accept that vaccines, computers, cars, and other products of technology that would not be possible without basic scientific research are useful. Science has something to offer.

There is no counter-argument to "I don't believe you when you say you deserve to exist" -- you can't bargain without a bargaining chip. There is one for "I don't believe you when you say that you can use the scientific method to understand the world": show the results. Your kid not dying of polio is a pretty strong bargaining chip. How do you show people that it matters that scientific consensus says that the benefits of vaccines overwhelmingly outweigh the risks? That's where persuasion comes in.

But people should just know.

You feelings about what people should do, along with $6.99, will buy you a pour-over. If you like science so much, can't you observe what something actually is rather than how you think it should be?

To believe anything to be true that you did not learn through direct, empirical observation, you need to have confidence that someone else learned it through direct, empirical observation and that they are telling you the truth when they say that they did. It's only been a few centuries since science started gaining cognitive authority (that quality that causes people to recognize when people are operating based on the scientific method, and inclines people to believe those people are telling the truth) -- before that, only religion compelled people so. The cognitive authority that science has gained can also be lost. That's a social problem.

If we're truly becoming a world where every individual only believes what they've observed directly, we are on the road to ruin in the fast lane. No single individual can personally prove for themselves that humans are causing climate change. Even if you're a climate scientist, accepting that climate change is real requires trusting a body of work done by other people. Scientists trust each others' work because there are social processes in place (like peer review) that provide a basis for that trust. We are rapidly losing whatever confidence in scientific consensus previously existed outside the scientific community. The so-called "hard sciences" don't have the answers to how to make people believe science is real in the first place. To understand what went wrong and how to fix it, you need to look to philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology (start with the concept of dismediation and chase pointers from there.)

Well, if they don't understand science, fuck 'em, I'll be over here doing science.

Let's be real here, if you are active in the "skeptic movement" or "atheist movement", you're probably not a scientist so much as a science fanfic writer. Scientists generally don't have time for that kind of thing. So, if you are already in the business of social or political change, why not learn from people who have extensively studied social and political change, rather than reinventing the wheel with corners?

Sociology and psychology aren't real sciences. You can't do experiments or prove things the same way you can in physics.

It's true that the way evidence, hypotheses, theories, and experiments work in the social sciences isn't the same as the way those concepts work in physics or biology. It's also true that astronomy (usually considered a hard science), like social science, is based on observation and the ability to do controlled experiments is limited (ethics boards keep you from doing certain things to people, the laws of physics keep you from doing certain things to planets.) Modes of knowledge aren't automatically invalid because they're observational rather than experimental. Besides which, do you prefer not having any understanding of how people and cultures work over a flawed understanding of how they work? Sounds anti-intellectual, but ok.

Fascists have succeeded in taking over the US because a few people have studied hard and made use of the knowledge that the fields of sociology, psychology, political science, history, and philosophy have produced. They've used it to manipulate people into believing that bad things are good and good things are bad. Nonetheless, they've used that knowledge skillfully and effectively, whereas out of some misguided sense of purism, many people who strongly identify as skeptics, as rational, and/or as interested in hard science refuse to touch those fields at all for fear of contamination by science that is insufficiently hard. And they've succeeded at their goal of seizing power. Social science: it works, bitches.

This is, by the way, why fascists put a lot of effort into trying to corrupt or persuade intellectuals -- these days, especially intellectuals whose primary training is in science, technology, or engineering (such people easily fall for false equivalences like, "If you try to exclude fascists from the community, aren't you just as bigoted as people who try to exclude Black people?") -- to do the work of conferring legitimacy onto fascism. Whether you're speaking at a computer science conference or just trolling messageboards, the more intellectual types you can recruit to your side and the more communities you can infiltrate, the more cognitive authority you can steal and the more power you can grab.

Some intellectuals refuse to be persuaded, which is why fascist states like the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia murdered people who had more than a basic level of education. Intellectuals have only one use to fascists, because fascists only care about one thing: getting power by any means necessary. An intellectual who won't help fascists take power is an intellectual who is an obstacle to fascism and must be destroyed.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I think most of us agree that you don't have a debate with a two-year-old over whether it's OK to put butter on the cat. You take away the butter. A two-year-old is not at a developmental stage where that debate is feasible -- that comes later. In the meantime, you stop children from hurting themselves or others (whether it's butter on the cat or running into traffic) because that is your job if you're a parent or even just an adult who happens to be nearby.

You as an adult do not use physical violence against a two-year-old, ever, because a two-year-old is incapable of posing a physical threat to an adult -- we're capable of picking up two-year-olds and physically moving them somewhere else (or at least of asking another adult to do that for us), and you don't use physical violence against someone you can do that to. Just to be super clear about what I'm advocating and not advocating, it is never okay to hit a child.

You as an adult do not use physical violence against a 16-year-old, either, because of the unequal power dynamic that exists between adults and people legally classified as minors. Except... it gets tricky, since you probably can't physically pick up a 16-year-old and move them somewhere else, and a 16-year-old is old enough to pose a physical threat to an adult. I refuse to draw a line that says "here's the age where it becomes okay to respond with violence", but I think most of us would agree it's OK to use self-defense against a 16-year-old who is actively trying to harm you, in the same way that it's OK to do the same against a 23-year-old who is actively trying to harm you. I'm talking about self-defense here, not discipline.

If we're parents, at least if we're good enough parents, we teach our children how to emotionally self-regulate because we're aware they aren't born knowing how to do that and it's a skill they need to be taught. The reason you stop a two-year-old from running into traffic is that they need to survive to get to be old enough to learn how to cross a street. You stop a four-year-old from pulling their brother's hair because they're not yet old enough to learn that they're capable of hurting other people and why they shouldn't. If you expect more than a two-year-old is developmentally capable of, that's going to be bad news for you, the child, or both. (People who know more about child development than me can argue about the specific ages, but hopefully you see the point.) Since a very young child can't understand or set boundaries either for themselves or others, we do it for them until they can do it themselves.

Then the question is: in society, what do we do when we meet adults who never learned those two-year-old or four-year-old lessons, or who did learn them and choose not to apply them because they think they will get something (usually money or power) by ignoring boundaries?

This is what we do:

Very young children can't reason on the level of "if I do X, Y will happen", which is why we have to act directly to protect children we're responsible for, rather than letting them learn for themselves what happens when you run into traffic.

Young children can reason on the level of "if I do X, Y will happen", but can't yet internalize the principle of "I shouldn't do X because I don't want to be a person who does X", which is why practices like time-in work: if they know that acting a certain way results in a parent temporarily withholding attention, they will learn not to do it.

Older children can understand the difference between right and wrong, which is why we can explain to them why hurting other people is wrong and they shouldn't do it, rather than just showing them there will be consequences if they do something wrong.

Adults can understand all of this and choose to suspend their own ability to differentiate between right and wrong in order to operate on a more child-like level of "I do this because I can." Unlike very young children, they're capable of organizing genocides to show just how powerful they are and what they can do.

It is imperative not to use violence against children, for a multitude of reasons. We have no such imperative to protect adults who pose a threat to us. You must never hurt a child because you're angry. Likewise, you must never hurt an adult only because you're angry. It's very reasonable to be angry at someone who threatens your life, and in those cases, you react to the threat to your life and anger is just a side effect. We can solve problems posed by young children without hurting them. Sometimes, adults pose problems to us that rule out the option of not hurting them. We are not their parents, and do not have the power over them that a parent has over a child. We are not obligated to act as their parents, though when there is mutual consent, we can do some of the work parents do for them in a situation-specific way (we usually call the people who do that work "therapists").

In situations where we cannot enforce laws or other boundaries, we must set norms instead. It's usually preferable to set norms with words rather than fists. But words aren't magical, and the limitations of language do not require us to sacrifice ourselves and our friends on the altar of nonviolence. Every piece of available evidence shows that words are insufficient to protect each other from organized groups of adult humans attempting to recruit more humans for Nazism, ethnic cleansing, or genocide (pick your preferred term).

That was the theory; here's the practice:
comic by Master Randall Trang on proper punching technique

Thanks to [personal profile] staranise for this post, and [personal profile] siderea for comments on that post, which sparked this idea.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Rephrasing what somebody said and repeating it back to them is a pretty powerful tool that has several distinct uses (not an exhaustive list):

  1. If you're listening to a friend and want to show that you're really paying attention to what they're saying, you can say, "It sounds like you said X?" Then they'll either say yes, and know that you understand them, or say no and explain what they meant, and you'll understand them better.

    friend: "I keep trying to tell my boyfriend I don't like it when he leaves his socks on the kitchen counter, but he just looks at his phone"
    me: "It sounds like you're frustrated that he's not listening to you"
    friend: "OMG yes!!"

    friend: "I don't like eggplants."
    me: "You mean you think they get too greasy when they're cooked?"
    friend: "No, I mean I'm allergic to them and they kill me."

  2. If you're arguing with somebody who you know you're not going to persuade, and want to accelerate to the point where they say something so ridiculous and unacceptable that you can just point at it and leave, you can rephrase what they're saying to bring out the worst possible interpretation (or just a more complete interpretation) and say, "It sounds you're saying that X? Am I hearing that right?" Then if they agree with you, you can either ask why or leave it at that with the confidence that other people will see why the rephrasing is bad, even if the original euphemistic version wasn't.

    them: "I hate this culture of victimhood that minorities have."
    me: "It sounds like you're saying that it's wrong to be a victim, and victimizing people isn't wrong?"
    them: "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying!"
    me: "Cool story, bro."

    them: "I hate identity politics."
    me: "Are you saying you hate white male identity politics?"
    them: "No, I just meant when women do it."
    me: "Cool story, bro."

  3. If you're talking with someone who you think might be persuadable, and they say something that's ambiguous, you can pick the best possible interpretation of what they're saying, and say, "Yes, I agree with you that X", without the question. Then if they say, "Yes, totally! That's right!" you'll know that you got through (or that they thought so all along) and if they say, "No!! Why would you think I thought X?" you can repeat the process. Either way, it gets you more data.

    them: "My boss told me to make a diversity hire, and that makes me angry."
    me: "Of course, diversity should be a consideration in all hiring decisions."
    them: "Right!"

    them: "We shouldn't lower the bar."
    me: "I agree with you that we shouldn't lower the bar, and that's why we should hold white men to a higher standard in hiring to counter the effect of their unearned privilege and make sure they're only judged on their competence."
    them: "Wait, what???"

I'm writing all this out because I was raised by Usenet, and had it drilled into me then that you should never say anything unless it was original enough to merit the use of precious, precious bandwidth to distribute your message to nodes around the world. It took me a long time to unlearn that training and realize that sometimes, the most important and useful things you can say are rephrasing or mirroring the person you're talking to.
tim: Solid black square (black)
"Tonight I am speechless
My head is filled with pouring rain
As the darkness falls on Montreal
When violence is shrieking
The city streets will run with pain
Until the moon can shed no light at all

And I believe that we have fallen
In the middle of an old highway
And the past is rolling over us
As men begin to understand
What women say
They see history reaching out to smother all of us

So ring the bells of morning
For sorrow and for shame
And let the deep well inside each of us
Swell with outrage
And those of us who know
What went before can come again
Must ring the bells
We must ring the bells of morning.

I met a man once
He held himself tighter than a fist
He was hard and fast in his inflexibility
He was threatened by the future
A product of the past
He was terrified by his own femininity

We must ring the bells of morning
We have everything to gain
And may those of us who comprehend
Commit our lives to change
And though you swear
You can’t let yourself be vulnerable again
Ring the bells
The bells of morning

For if we can’t face ourselves
We will never understand
We can learn to make a cradle
With these stubborn hands
And we will hear the echo
From this shattered land
When we ring the bells of morning

I met a woman once
She told me we might never see the day
When the violence was overcome
She said silence is the fuel
Fear and ignorance the roaring flames
That burn the freedom out of everyone

She said ring the bells of morning
And let none of us pretend
For if you walk the path of silence
You might never reach the end
And those of us who know what went before can come again
Must ring the bells, the bells of morning

Oh ring the bells of morning
Ring them loud and ring them long
Let the mother tongue of strength
Be the peaceful language of this song
And let those ancient voices lead us all into the dawn
Ring the bells, the bells of morning
Ring the bells, the bells of morning
Ring the bells, we must ring the bells of morning"

-- Stephen Fearing, 1989

tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
This article is important:

"This is not going to be a free and fair exchange of ideas. This is going to be a fight. If you have not absorbed that fact yet, you are already losing."

And I want to talk about false equivalences between Trump and Obama, or between Trump and Clinton.

We could have a free and fair exchange of ideas with Obama. That's why he pardoned Chelsea Manning. He's someone I have serious political disagreements with. That's why he didn't pardon Leonard Peltier. Still, he is a person who uses facts and reason to draw conclusions, and operates based on the rule of law.

We could have a free and fair exchange of ideas with Clinton. That's why she changed her way of talking about racial justice from "All Lives Matter" to acknowledgment of systemic inequality after she met with Black Lives Matter activists. She's someone I have serious political disagreements with. That's why she continued to talk about law and order and in favor of building up the military-industrial complex. Still, she is a person who uses facts and reason to draw conclusions, and operates based on the rule of law.

Trump operates based on power, domination, and violence, not a free and fair exchange of ideas. We've seen how he models with that with respect to women's bodies, his business relationships, and reporters who criticize him. His words and actions are the words and actions of a fascist, a totalitarian, an authoritarian.

People say to assume good faith, so within the scope of this post, I'm going to assume that people saying things like, "Some people thought Obama was the antichrist, and that's just the same as some people thinking Trump is a fascist", or things like, "It would be partisan to not meet with Trump when we would meet with Clinton" sincerely believe that.

You're still allowed to conclude, based on the evidence available to you, that Trump is a fascist: that his words and actions meet the definition of fascism. One definition of fascism is "an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization." Words have meaning; it's okay to be part of a shared understanding of what words mean even though no word has "objective" meaning and language is subjective.

You're still allowed to conclude, based on the evidence available to you, that when one party is a fascist party, it is neither morally nor tactically wrong to be partisan. If resisting fascism makes me partisan, then I am partisan. I don't see what's wrong with that. Being partisan means I have beliefs. I don't see what's wrong with holding moral and ethical precepts.

Even if some people say that vaccines are dangerous, you're still allowed to vaccinate your children against polio if you believe those people are wrong.

Equating disagreement within an aspirationally democratic framework with disagreement about whether democracy is worth aspiring to is the epitome of a false equivalence. When the person expressing these thoughts believes them, it means they need to think harder and more critically. When the person expressing these thoughts does not believe them, that's called propaganda: information distributed not to express a person's point of view but to influence action.

We may be in a post-truth world, but that does not mean your own thinking needs to be post-truth. We need every bit of your intellect and discernment right now. You do not need to set your own intellect on fire to keep fascists warm.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
'We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.'

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", 1963
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I think Yonatan Zunger's essay "Tolerance is not a moral precept" is mostly right-on (and I'm amused to see my friends' bicycle club/radical agitprop collective The Degenderettes in the featured photo), though I wish we'd been listening to the Black women who have been saying similar things for years (decades, maybe?)

I don't agree with the essay's framing of war as justifiable, since war is generally not a matter of self-defense but of offense to enrich capitalists. ("War ain't about one land against the next / It's poor people dying so the rich cash checks." -- Boots Riley.) What I do appreciate about the essay is that it calls attention to the existence of fundamental conflict of interests between groups that can't just be resolved through peaceful negotiation. I think radical redistribution of power and wealth is a better solution than war, but of course, some people might think the opposite.

That said, I agree with the central point that tolerance is not an absolute moral law, but rather, conditional on others' behavior. Zunger phrases this as a social contract, but I would phrase it instead in terms of relationships. As your roommate, it's wrong for me to leave my dishes in the sink every night if you always clean up your messes. But it would also be wrong for me to berate you about leaving a cup in the sink one night if normally, you do most of the cleaning (and that's not part of our explicit relationship agreement).

Tolerance is not about what I'm allowed to do to you, but rather, an emergent property of the relationship between you and me. It must arise from a relationship with back-and-forth and reciprocity. It is not given for free.

Almost 3 years ago, I wrote "Against Tolerance", for which I also chose a deliberately provocative title. My take there isn't so different from Zunger's. I was describing a situation like the "war" scenario that Zunger describes: the question of whether homophobes can lead diverse companies is ultimately about a situation in which somebody has already declared war on you. Brendan Eich declared war on me when he started paying politicians to strip away my civil rights. Under those circumstances, I had, and have, no obligation of tolerance towards him. In Zunger's phrasing, my primary priority becomes self-defense.

As I said, I dislike leaning on war metaphors, since they legitimize state violence (which is very different from the violence that individual oppressed people or small organized groups of oppressed people may use in self-defense; by definition, states are not oppressed), the basic principle is the same. Tolerance is not the operating principle when you're under attack, nor should it be.

In fact, I'm inclined to scrap "tolerance" altogether as a counterproductive word (like the phrases "pro-life" and "political correctness", which mean the opposite of what they superficially seem to) than to rehabilitate it as Zunger tries to do, but he provides a helpful framing for those who don't wish to abandon the signifier completely.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
In engineering we ask what-if questions all the time, for example: "What if the datacenter loses power?" This is a descriptive "what-if" because it's trying to identify a scenario that might happen. Further, you're probably asking this in a group of people who share a common goal: keeping a service running. And finally, you're willing to take "it doesn't matter" for an answer: if you're running on a managed platform where somebody else takes care of failover to another datacenter, and someone tells you that, you'll say, "OK, cool, we don't need to care."

In politics, what-ifs are much more likely to be prescriptive. Consider:
"What if women lie about rape?"
"What if women are biologically predisposed to be uninterested in science?"
"What if there's no discrimination against Black people in tech job hiring, and the absence of Black people in the field is solely due to inadequate education?"
"What if resources are scarce and there's not enough for everyone to meet their basic needs?"

People ask these questions, and others like them, because they want to influence how power gets distributed -- in other words, to have a political effect. They don't ask them in order to be prepared for something, they ask them in order to make something happen.

Asking about the datacenter doesn't make power failures any more likely. But asking whether women lie about rape has a direct effect on whether women report rape. Merely asking the question changes reality. Likewise, asking whether women are biologically predisposed to be uninterested in science has a direct effect on whether women choose to follow their interest in science as well as on whether male scientists believe "women shouldn't be here" and feel empowered to harass female colleagues. Asking whether there are no qualified Black candidates for engineering jobs has a direct effect on whether your colleagues see Black candidates as qualified. Again, merely asking the question changes reality, even before hypothetical answers get discussed.

The questions we ask have a direct effect on how we allocate resources. (Also see: [CW: anti-Semitism] Are Jews people? Find out after the break on CNN.) "I'm just asking questions" is not a "get out of thinking of the consequences of my speech, free" card.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I want to remember to quote these tweets from Samuel Sinyangwe from now on every time someone opens their mouth about "lowering the bar." To wit:

"Of all the facts I've tweeted #onhere, trolls seem to direct the most vitriol at those re: how obscenely white and male US institutions are.

These facts, I'm convinced, are the most challenging to white supremacy.

Because to acknowledge that white men make up nearly 90% of the governing party brings you to one of two conclusions...

Either you believe racism exists or you think white men are so uniquely qualified for nearly every position and nobody else in America is."

There's a dialogue in tech companies that often goes like this:
A: "We need to recruit more diverse candidates."
B: "How can we do that without lowering the bar?"
A: "I'm glad you ask! You see, we're going to hold 'diverse' candidates to the same standards and... [1/937]"

I would like to see it go like this:
A: "We need to recruit more diverse candidates."
B: "How can we do that without lowering the bar?"
A: "Your question is ill-formed, because the purpose of recruiting more diverse candidates is to raise the bar: to improve the quality of our staff by hiring people on the basis of their qualifications rather than because they look the same as existing staff."

B's question is inherently racist. You cannot ask that question without a base assumption that the explanation for the paucity of Black people in tech is that Black people are less competent than white people.

We need to stop justifying why women could be competent, why Black people could be competent, why Latinx people could be competent and instead: (a) call out the assumption of incompetence as unshared (B asks this question because they assume A shares their prejudice, and in the first dialogue, A neglects to make clear that they don't share it); (b) demand evidence for a competence gap rather than rushing to provide evidence against it.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)

"Assume good faith" -- ancient liberal proverb

"Treat every poisoned word as a promise." -- Liel Leibovitz, "What to Do About Trump? The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930s Vienna" (2016-11-14)

"Should I encourage my employer to take a public stand against creating a Muslim registry? I don't know. Of course I wouldn't knowingly participate in the creation of a registry. But Trump wouldn't really do that, would he? Sure, he said he would, but it's such a ridiculous plan. Doesn't he know that? He must. He must have only said that to get votes; surely he couldn't really want or intend to do it."

This is what some of my fellow workers in the tech industry have been saying. Sure, everybody thinks the idea of creating a Muslim registry (or substitute any one of a number of other seemingly-ridiculous Trump campaign promises) is abhorrent, but we also think it's silly and impractical. Why bother taking a public stand in favor of something that's not going to happen?

"Assume good faith" is something that gets taught to white, middle-class Americans. Not all white, middle-class Americans internalize the message, and we're not the only ones who absorb it. But it's most present in those who have enough privilege to be able to suspend vigilance temporarily, while lacking the privilege needed to suspend vigilance for good. We are taught to assume the most charitable interpretation: when interacting with our family members, partners, co-workers, friends, or neighbors, we're taught to not jump to assuming the worst, to assume the other person means well and that if you perceive them acting in a way that's threatening or hostile towards you, to question your own assessment before you take defensive action. If your roommate never takes out the compost, maybe it's because you've never told them that you prefer the compost not to pile up in the kitchen -- to greet them when they get home from work one day with a cry of "Take out the goddamn pile of rot!!" would be unfair. If you get left off an email about a meeting to discuss the project you're leading at work, assume it was a typo rather than a plan to exclude you. And so on.

And in interpersonal relationships, that's often a good principle. That is, assuming good faith, as a personal practice, is a good principle; telling other people when they should assume good faith is a bad one (more about that in future work). The reason is that to the extent that you can choose who to live with, work with, and sleep with, it's a good idea to choose people you can trust. If you trust people, then it's not helpful to assume that they're out to get you. And if you don't trust the people in your life, you have to either work on your own ability to trust or get them out of your life, depending, before you level accusations. That's just common sense, right?

But "assume good faith" is very bad advice when dealing with fascist dictators. If your neighbor says something that sounds offensive or threatening to you, it's probably a good idea to at least make sure you heard them right before you call your lawyer. When a fascist dictator -- someone who's both inclined towards using violence to get what they want, and who has the power to act on that inclination -- says something that sounds offensive or threatening, it's a safe bet to assume that whatever the worst possible interpretation of their words is, that reflects the dictator's intent. That might be a bad way to operate in your close relationships, but is a good way to protect yourself and prepare for violence.

Treat every poisoned word as a promise. When a bigoted blusterer tells you he intends to force members of a religious minority to register with the authorities—much like those friends and family of Siegfried’s who stayed behind were forced to do before their horizon grew darker—believe him. Don’t try to be clever. Don’t lean on political intricacies or legislative minutia or historical precedents for comfort. Don’t write it off as propaganda, or explain it away as just an empty proclamation meant simply to pave the path to power. Take the haters at their word, and assume the worst is imminent.
-- Liel Leibovitz (ibid)

"That's just ridiculous." This is a comforting thing to tell yourself and others. Denial is one of the most powerful tools humans have for tolerating the intolerable. If you think the worst might happen, saying it won't happen will protect you against it, right? It's worked up until now, right?

"That's just ridiculous." Overreacting runs the risk of shame: of being told "you're too sensitive" or, worse, "you showed insufficient chill in the face of something that turned out to be no biggie." We face two possible futures. In one, we're all still alive and I've lived to be seen as someone who overreacted to the threat of a violent, xenophobic rapist with access to nuclear weapons. In the other, we're all dead, but my gravestone says "He had enough chill." I prefer the first one.

"That's just ridiculous." The more you call an idea ridiculous, the more ridiculous it will be, and the less likely it will be that anyone will act on it, right? Kids regulate each other's behavior with words like "you're being silly" -- the same strategy should work when we as citizens level it against a tyrant-in-waiting, right?

It's not ridiculous. It is scary. It's hard to face fear. No one who has power to do so is stopping a fascist from taking control over the United States. That's a scary situation to be in.

Many people associate this kind of fear with childhood, and remember when their parents or other adults would step in and let them know the monsters under the bed aren't going to eat them. Now that we're adults, it's comforting to assume that some benevolent authority figure is going to step in and tell the fascists they have to respect the rule of law. But there are no adults, except us. Denial, shame-avoidance, and dismissal are tools for surviving a situation in which you're powerless. But we still have power.

It's psychologically safer to laugh things off than to admit you're scared. But if you're so concerned with saving face, with protecting your self-image as a chill person who doesn't freak out over nothing, that you put up no resistance in the face of a violent, repressive regime, then how do you think you'll be remembered -- assuming there's anyone left to remember you?

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I wanted to pull out so many quotes from The Hidden Author of Putinism
How Vladislav Surkov invented the new Russia
, by Peter Pomerantsev for the Atlantic (from 2014) that I thought this deserved its own post:

The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism is that instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with 20th-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd.

[describing a novel apparently written by Surkov] 'Egor is described as a “vulgar Hamlet” who can see through the superficiality of his age but is unable to have genuine feelings for anyone or anything'

Like liberals working for Fox News, the new Russian authoritarians use compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance in order to live with their own complicity:

When I asked how they married their professional and personal lives, they looked at me as if I were a fool and answered: “Over the last 20 years we’ve lived through a communism we never believed in, democracy and defaults and mafia state and oligarchy, and we’ve realized they are illusions, that everything is PR.”'

"Everything is PR" is similar to the phrase "virtual signalling" as used by white supremacist: the propaganda that no one holds sincere beliefs and anyone who appears to do so is just performing or trying to make you think they have beliefs:

'“Everything is PR” has become the favorite phrase of the new Russia; my Moscow peers were filled with a sense that they were both cynical and enlightened. When I asked them about Soviet-era dissidents, like my parents, who fought against communism, they dismissed them as naive dreamers and my own Western attachment to such vague notions as “human rights” and “freedom” as a blunder."

Who does the next paragrah remind you of? If his first name rhymes with "Kylo" and his last name rhymes with "Viannopoulous", you might be right.

'Surkov himself is the ultimate expression of this psychology. As I watched him give his speech to the students and journalists in London, he seemed to change and transform like mercury, from cherubic smile to demonic stare, from a woolly liberal preaching “modernization” to a finger-wagging nationalist, spitting out willfully contradictory ideas: “managed democracy,” “conservative modernization.”'

If this sounds like 4chan or rationalism, then you're right too:

"Surkov’s genius has been to tear those associations apart, to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose."

I think the antidotes to the destruction of meaning and morality are science, math, engineering, emotional self-awareness, genuine art, earnestness, sincerity, vulnerability, relationships, and queer sex (and as a friend said, all good sex is queer to some extent). There is no divide between science and art, only a division between intellectual fields that suffer under toxic masculinity and ones that have a little more individual and group balance in terms of gender.

And that part about the description of Surkov's novel jumps out at me. Hipsterist detachment and irony as a direct path to inhumanity; 4chan's in charge now, not because they're fascists but because of their use of irony to evade the imperative to take moral stances. Shitposting is not a good system of government.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

December 2018

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