Back to Basics

Well, that was a lot of blog posts. I will admit I have not read all those published by the writers I follow since I effectively went offline; that’s because you guys posted over a thousand articles in that time and much of it is no longer in any way “news”. But I did find a few things I felt rant-worthy in my trawls through the blogosphere.

Whole Cloth

This is what the more hysterical of NuLab’s puritan fundamentalists make their stats out of. Unity among others, including Dr. Brooks-Gordon and Penny Red have covered the issue in detail. The underlying dishonesty implied by repressed and puritanical officials organising an incredibly expensive nationwide effort to … well, mainly victimise poor immigrant women is pretty obvious in a time of recession. The real anger, though, is about misuse of statistics. What, you cry? Surely that’s not as important as people?

Statistics are made up of people. They are therefore as important as a whole lot of people all at once, otherwise known as an electorate. One of the very few good things you can say about Western pseudo-scientific capitalism is that it has, or perhaps I should say “had”, generated an oddity in the history of human social orders. We have a society which cares about whether someone can demonstrate they are telling the truth. We have a society and a political infrastructure which has, for the last hundred years or so, invested a great deal of effort in knowing what it is talking about before talking. In having accurate data before drawing conclusions. This, not her physical work as a nurse, is why Florence Nightingale is venerated. She forced the British armed forces to invent the modern field of medical hygiene by collating accurate figures. Why did they believe her? Because they could check by counting for themselves. If you’re going to present figures, and they’re later found to be wrong, your credibility is gone.

In this instance, the puritans who run our country have not only abandoned the basic principle that being honest matters (in many different fields, thank you Mr. Blair) but they have also abandoned the principle that being correct matters. Self-righteousness is now all we need.

No Bell?

I’m not actually going to talk about Obama’s Nobel Prize much. He got one. Hopefully he will one day deserve it; with any luck he will, given how he’s dealing with Iran and Russia. He’s also publicly making sense about sexuality and identity politics. This (as so often with Obama) made me think once more of the West Wing. President Bartlett is confronted by a homosexual studio owner hosting a Hollywood fundraiser. The query raised, reasonably, is why Bartlett (a liberal favouring the advancement of gay rights) hadn’t come out and said so in public. Bartlett’s answer?

“I’m a human starting gun.” He explains, equally rationally, that to say such reasonable things as “Gay people can be just as good at soldiering as straght people”, would unleash a howling crusade of bigotry which would bury all the slow but systematic progress the non-Bible Belt sections of America had been making on this issue. And he was right. This was pretty much exactly 10 years ago and in the America that pilloried Bill Clinton for 18 months over an affair with a consenting adult woman [1], such public support from a President would have set back the cause of gay rights by twenty years.

But Obama can say it. Okay, so he’s been completely screwed by circumstance, inheriting not only two stupid wars and a massive budget deficit but also a financial crisis and industrial economic collapse, pretty much all directly attributable to his predecessor. But he can still get more done on gay rights, in public, than Clinton could, because a whole lot of America grew up somewhat when they saw the mess Republicans can make in the name of self-righteous bigotry.

Backlashes

Bigots froth all the more when they’re losing. If anger and hate are your only answers to reason and evidence, then when you start to feel the younger generation slipping through your greasy, tax-exempt fingers you go back to what you know. Shout louder! Shout nastier words! Bang your hand on the table! And that’s what we’re seeing. But even FauxNews couldn’t elect the Republicans after 8 years of Bush. And Obama’s people get the difference; the Baby Boomers, the mainstay of Republican dominance, believe what they see on cable and read in the papers. But the generations which have come to political maturity since 1990 check what the media say, and expect multiple sources of data.

The insanely militarised, Cold-War conditioned generation that dominates Western politics accept authority. It is the governing principle of their entire society; if an editor prints something it must be true or They wouldn’t “let him” say those things. The impetus for the re-engagement of young people in politics comes in part from the creation of a voice that circumvents the Establishment. The issue is about citizen journalism, just like it was for the Founding Fathers. It’s about education: American youth is increasingly finding this for itself, online, after decades of inadequate public schooling, crippled in its turn by religious bigotry. The ball game now is about things like this.

Print media was an immense force for good, once. They fought the establishment, from Luther vs. the Vatican all the way up to the Founding Fathers, many of whom ran newspapers. They were the mechanism by which the public kept their rulers honest. They were the place for reasoned debate, genuine inquiry, and grass-roots campaigning. That’s what they were for. And that, above all else, is why they’re scared of Twitter. That’s why Obama (as Clinton never could have done) can now take on FauxNews head to head.

The big newspapers, becoming money-spinners as they did, have lost their right to comment. They are now part of the Establishment they were created to monitor. They’re part of the problem; and the world of new media is doing to them exactly what they did to town criers. In past years a bishop’s sermon could bring down nations and strike off the heads of kings. Printing moved that power into the hands of newspaper editors; and now it’s moving onto the internet.

Printing lowered the cost of a public voice sufficiently that men who were only somewhat rich could speak out and be heard. The internet has lowered that cost of entry so far that most of the Western world can speak out. If Ms. Moir wants to see what an ‘organised campaign’ looks like, she should examine Harry Anslinger: to get marijuana banned took an actual, orchestrated propaganda campaign launched by a committed racist and co-ordinated by a US government agent. Hundreds of articles in hundreds of papers for three years; fabricated (in a process rather like the stats behind Operation Pentameter II). By contrast, Ms. Moir was rightfully pilloried by a general public who were, severally and only then collectively, outraged at her bigotry. This wasn’t a campaign; this was, for once, quite literally the vox populi.

[1] I mean, seriously. The systematic denial of that woman’s personal agency and autonomy in order to create a scandal was pretty insulting to women everywhere, as well as profoundly distressing for the lady herself. You’d have thought Clinton had acted like Polanski.

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