Thursday, March 24, 2016

You too can use proven school yard bullying techniques to win political arguments on the internet

The Calvin Gambit

A sophisticated form of Hobson's Choice -- heads I win, tails you lose.

To use the Calvin Gambit, deliberately act in an illogical way in order to frustrate and annoy the target. If the target shows signs of frustration or annoyance this indicates that he is weak and deserved to be targeted. (See the Scotsman Tactic.)

The Calvin Gambit somewhat resembles Hopkins Fork:

"I accuse you of being a witch".

"Don’t be silly. You saw me in Church last Sunday; a witch would never do that."

"You seem to know a great deal about witches…seems suspicious to me."

The classic school-yard version goes:

"You are a Muslim,"

"No, I’m not. I am Church of England. I actually go to Sunday School, which is more than can be said for you. There's nothing wrong with being Muslim, but I'm a Christian."

"Anyone who says they aren’t a Muslim is a Muslim!"

"Very well then, if it will satisfy you: I am a Muslim."

"Andrew is a Muslim! Andrew is a Muslim! He said so." 

"Only because, according to your own arguments, anyone who says they are a Muslim is not Muslim and anyone who denies it, is. But you can tell quite easily I’m not, for example, because I don't go to Mosque on Friday. Not, as I say, that there is anything wrong with being Muslim, but I happen to be Christian."

"Anyone who denies being Muslim is Muslim! You said you weren't, so you are!"

"Have it you own way: I am a Muslim."

Experts can keep this going for months at a time.

The Calvin Gambit is usually a set up for the Turgoose Maneuver.

The Coventry Technique

Never speak to you opponent. He is a zombie and a moorlock and therefore beneath your contempt. If you address him directly you will get trapped into trying to show why (or even trying to find out if) his ideas are wrong.  But the things he believes (man made climate change is a thing, women should be allowed to vote, private citizens should not be allowed to own guns) are so off the wall that they do not even count as ideas.

Instead, talk about him, in a tone of voice that implies that you have already won the argument. Adopt the tone of voice of two school girls having a very confidential conversation in such a way that a third is certain to overhear it:

Oooo god did you see what Prudence wore to the disco last night I'm amazed she has the courage to show her face...

For example:

I met a person yesterday who actually thought Jeremy Corbyn was a politician, and what is more, I could tell from his photo that he smelled.

Do you know, there are people out there who think that philosophy is a proper subject, and what is more, some of them wear unfashionable jackets.

The Financial Times employs a journalist who knows so little about science that he thinks Jesus turned water into wine.

If the mark indicates that they have overheard or otherwise responds, accuse them of being cry-babies and move on to the Turgoose Maneuver.

The Scotsman Tactic

The Scotsman Tactic involves obfuscation between holding an opinion and membership of a group. It is absolutely central to all modern internet debate.

The classic political version runs:  

Jeremy believes that we should nationalize the railways.

People who believe in rail nationalization may be labelled "communist" 

Communists are evil.

Therefore Jeremy is evil.

Therefore we should not pay any attention to anything Jeremy says about rail nationalization. 

The classic Twitter version goes:

Andrew believes that women should be allowed to vote and own property.

People who believe in women's rights may be labelled "SJW".

The SJW always lie about everything. 

Therefore Andrew is a liar.

Therefore, we should not listen to Andrew when he says that women should be allowed to vote and own property. 

Note that the New Atheists have adopted a version of the Scotsman Tactic to prevent nuanced discussion of religion: 

Giles argues that Jesus preached a progressive message.

Arguments based on close readings of the Bible may be labeled "theological"

All theological arguments are meaningless.

Therefore Giles' argument is meaningless.

Therefore, we should not pay any attention to Giles’ argument that Jesus preached a progressive message.

They are currently trying to define all points of view apart from strict scientific reductionism as "the humanities" and declaring "the humanities" as a block as meaningless. This should eventually prevent the nuanced discussion of anything at all.

The Ricardian Device

When Shakespeare’s Richard III attempts to make a dynastic to marriage to the princess Elizabeth, she recoils in horror, saying that he is the man who murdered her two sons (the princes in the tower). 

"Harp not on that!" says Richard "It is past". Which is to say, being interpreted: I murdered your children yesterday. The fact that you are still going on proves you are a crybaby. Suck it up.

You should invoke the Ricardian Device whenever anyone quotes or references anything you have previously written. It doesn't matter if the target says "...but last year, you wrote" or "...but this morning, you said": they are still harping on the past, and therefore nursing a grudge (which shows that they are crybabies.)

The practical result will be that you can say anything you like, and be as inconsistent as you choose, without ever being called to account for it.

"The reason I say that you are racist is that you said that there would soon be a race war between black people and Americans." 

"That was yesterday. How weak would someone have to be to still be going on about something I said over twenty four hours ago?"

IMPORTANCE: If your opponent tries to invoke the Ricardian Device, accuse him of a sinister Orwellian tendency to change history. 

The Turgoose Maneuver

There is a scene in the movie This is England in which young Shaun deliberately misbehaves in a corner shop. When the Punjabi shopkeeper remonstrates with him, his older skinhead friends emerge and accuse the shopkeeper of picking on the little boy.

School teachers now recognize this as reverse bullying. A little guy follows a big guy around, perhaps for weeks, chanting (and I pick a purely hypothetical example here) "your dad’s a fucking cripple". The big guy eventually rounds on little guy.

At this point the little guy either 

a: goes crying to teacher, saying "he’s picking on me", or 

b: call in six of his bigger mates to beat up the big guy while telling everyone that he started it.

To use this technique on the internet simply say loudly that the mark is fat and smelly, preferably indirectly (see The Coventry Technique). When the mark responds "There is nothing wrong with being fat, and I am not, in fact, smelly", retweet the message to all your friends, and talk loudly to each other about how he is harassing you, abusing you, cyber stalking you, desperate for attention, creepy, sinister, mad, etc.

Advanced practitioners may ever like to try reporting him to the moderators.

The Midas Stratagem

We are told that in some ancient kingdoms, it was forbidden to say The king is a scoundrel. But it was also forbidden to say that it was forbidden to say The king is a scoundrel. The person who said If I find the man who said 'the king is a scoundrel' I will chop off his head  had himself said The king is a scoundrel, and would therefore have his head cut off. This is also how blasphemy works in fundamentalist Islamic context.

In the school-yard situation, the Midas Stratagem is often a game, although it is the kind of game that can drift into bullying without much effort:

"Bet you don’t know which Don McLean song was covered by Elvis"

"And I Love You So"

"Ha-ha Andrew said that he loved me, Andrew is a homo, Andrew is a homo."

In internet discussions, you should always feel free to take everything your opponent says completely literally; and to take sentences and even individual words as far out of context as possible.

"I think that anyone who uses the word n***** should be banned from Facebook"

"Andrew is the kind of person who uses the word n*****."

Note that the new atheists quote passages from the Bible or the Quran without context, and when context is provided, invoke the Scotsman Tactic.

"Jesus wasn't a good moral teacher. He said that people should hate their parents."

"Well, you need to look at what else he says in that particular discourse, at how the saying is quoted in parallel passages, and what the word 'hate' means elsewhere in the Bible..."

"Oh, now you are using theology. Theology is always meaningless. If you ignore theology, then Jesus told everyone to hate their parents."


1: How many of the above techniques can you spot in the following (real) exchange?

EPSILON: wow this guy looks like a faggot
ZETA: all Jeremy Corbyn supporters are faggot ass communists
ANDREW RILSTONE: Thank you for your imput. It has changed my mind totally. Tomorrow I shall resign from the Labour party and join UKIP

EPSILON: nobody cares you disfigured faggot

2: How many of the above techniques has David Cameron used in the House of Commons in the last week?

If you would like to contribute to the cost of placing an armed guard outside Andrew's house, please consider supporting his patreon (i.e pledging $1 each time he publishes an essay.)

The rhetoric of internet debate is discussed at greater length in One Hundred and Forty Characters in Search of an Author. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Noodly Appendages

"Tigger is all right really," said Piglet lazily. 

"Of course he is," said Christopher Robin. 

"Everybody is really," said Pooh. "That's what I think," said Pooh. "But I don't suppose I'm right," he said. 

"Of course you are," said Christopher Robin. 
                     The House at Pooh Corner

I was not unduly bothered by any of this. I somewhat brought it on myself by responding to the little fascists' original attack and I broke away from it when it became boring. But it did give me some insight into the sheer unpleasantness of the neo-right when they have you in their sights. Twenty people saying you are smelly is a little disconcerting. Two hundred people making violent remarks about your genitalia must be…. Well, harassment. An abusive attack. Very likely to leave you traumatized.

I am a satirist. It is my vocation, and I’ll let you into a little secret, it is also my very great pleasure, to stick my tongue out at the pretentious, the pompous, the ignorant, the stupid, and people called Giles. I don’t claim that tongue-sticking is the best form of debate; but it’s the easiest to get people to listen to. Some people seem to be amused by sarcastic Tweets. No-one appears to be very interested in long essays showing that Giles Fraser's claims about the meaning of the Eucharist are textually and historically unsupportable (which they totally are).

Twitter, like Usenet before it, is more like a street fight than a fencing tournament. That is part of the fun. Two drunk guys arguing politics in a pub may possibly provide some entertainment: two glove puppets reciting the party line by rote on Question Time certainly will not. An informed discussion between two people with well considered opinions (each prepared to change their minds if the other one makes a good point) would be even better. But that’s not currently on offer.

While I may use peppery language I believe I have only ever "punched up". The people I slag off have newspaper columns, pulpits, TV shows, university chairs. They have an audience of millions; I have an audience of dozens. Beyond one form letter from the War Criminal a decade ago, none of my targets — Dave Sim, Richard Dawkins, Giles Fraser, Melanie Phillips, Stan Lee — show the slightest sign of knowing or caring that I exist. That’s more or less the way I like it.

I fully accept that if I am going to spend my spare time sticking my tongue out at idiots, then from time to time, idiots are going to want to stick their tongue out at me.

I don’t think that what I experienced was orchestrated. I don’t imagine that one of the larger fascists spotted that I had made a liberal remark and released the hounds. I think that one nasty person made a nasty remark about me, and twenty or thirty nasty people in his echo-chamber repeated it. I don’t think that the little fascists belong to anything resembling a movement or have anything as coherent as an ideology, but the kind of language and forms of attack being used do have a familial similarity. Being nasty on the internet is a sub-culture, in the same way that being a hippy or a punk was. There never was a Supreme Punk who could disfellowship you if your hair was insufficiently spiky; and there's certainly no Punk Congress you can be thrown out of for dress-code violations. But, on the whole, you can tell who is a punk and who isn't by what they wear and how they cut their hair.

Some of the larger fascists have coined three rules to describe the behavior of the SJW

1: The SJW always lie

2: The SJW always double down

3: The SJW always project

It should immediately be clear that these three rules precisely describe the behavior of the little fascists on Twitter towards me:
  • They lied — saying that I approved of silly snarl-words that I had specifically deprecated; and saying that I had "literally made up" the charge of antisemitism, even though some pretty obviously antisemitic abuse had been thrown at me.
  • They doubled down —  escalating intelligible complaints like I wish you would let me insult you in peace and stop trying to engage with me into You are stalking me, I am experiencing post traumatic stress and  even You are the creepiest stalker I have ever encountered.
  • And of course, they projected like hell —  people with twitter feeds full of words like faggot and queer, some of whom were actively displaying Nazi symbols accused me of being a Jew and Homo hater.
This cannot, I submit, be accidental. The final exchange made it pretty clear what they are doing:

that 4 letter c word triggers me greatly

do you mind putting a trigger warning on that  

soo much PTSD 

Now please stop stalking me, 

I think that qualifies as harassment if you ask me.

He's abusively attacking us. 

As we have already said, they cannot possibly believe any of this. They cannot possibly believe that the word cross requires a trigger warning — even if they really did know someone who had been injured with a crossbow, which patently they didn't. They might conceivably think that it was bad manners or poor netiquette for me to remonstrate with them about their insults: they certainly don't really believe that doing so amounted to stalking or harassment. 

Isn't it clear that they are quite deliberately and consciously acting out a parody of the left — or of what they suppose the left to be? They are, in fact, literally fools, criticizing the king by aping and exaggerating his mannerisms.

They pretend that they feel harassed and abused by me because people with mainstream political views often accuse the little fascists of harassing them.

They pretend to feel harassed and abused by silly and trivial things (like being tagged in a message) because they think that all complaints of harassment and abuse are silly and trivial.

They know perfectly well that they will not be taken seriously when they say I feel abused and harassed because someone asked me what I meant by a particular insult: they intend us to infer that women should not be taken seriously when they say that they feel harassed by men sending them sexually explicit threats. (Obviously, the women should just suck it up.)

When people say that you shouldn't talk about sexual assault without indicating that that is what you are about to do (in case a rape survivor reads it ), they pretend that they think it follows that you shouldn't use the word cross without a similar warning (in case, er, a person who has been injured with a cross-bow reads it.) Which is to say: trigger warnings for the word cross and trigger warnings for explicit discussions of rape are both equally ridiculous.

And when Delta claims that the word cross caused him to experience post traumatic stress, what he means is that there is no such thing PTSD: that everyone who talks about is being as silly as he is. If everything is abuse, then nothing is abuse.

But once you've spotted this, it becomes clear that this is what the neo-right movement as a whole has always been doing; almost the only thing it has ever done. The Puppies, Gamergate, Alpha and his little friends — all are offering up an exaggerated and distorted parody of the political left. They believe that by following us around mimicking us they will dis-empower us. Mimicry has always been the favored weapon of the playground bully.

Many other examples will occur to readers, but here are few which I thought of: 
  • They believe that we liberals see fascists everywhere; so they pretend to believe in a cult called the SJW, and pretend to see that everywhere.
  • They think that liberals says "everyone who disagrees with me is fascist" so they say "everyone who disagrees with me is one of the SJW" — and build up complex theories to explain why this is true.
  • They believe that the left are incapable of rational discussion and use faulty logic; so they deliberately adopt illogical positions and refuse to engage in rational discussion of any kind.
  • They believe that the left is characterized by a profound lack of integrative complexity — that we are pathologically unable to imagine anyone else's point of view. So they pretend to be pathologically unable imagine our point of view — to the extent of saying that mainstream political opinions don't even count as opinions.
  • They believe that the SJW spoiled the Hugo Awards by systematically filling them with dreary books that had no merit but happened to support left wing politics; so they deliberately spoil the Hugo Awards by systematically filling them with dreary books that have no merit but happen to support right wing politics.   
The little fascists are, in fact, very like the Flying Spaghetti Monster movement. It will be remembered that around 2005, a group of atheists created an obviously ridiculous deity and pretended to demand that children were taught about it in school, as a valid alternative to Darwinian evolution.

They didn't, obviously, actually believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and they certainly didn't really want it taught in schools. Their point was that it would be no less ridiculous to teach children about the Monster (in science lessons) that it would be to teach them about God. Christianity deserved no more respect than the Flying Spaghetti Monster; giving Christianity or the Spaghetti Monster special status would both be equally silly. Tash is no more than Aslan.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a one-note joke, and a funny one, directed at a target (the teaching of pseudo-science in schools) which deserves to be ridiculed. But a certain number of people persist in talking as if they really do believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster and claim that pastafarianism is an actual religion. In some cases, they may  be executing a version of the Calvin Gambit — obstinately claiming  that a joke is not a joke in order to vex people without a sense of humour. On the other hand, they may be attempting to make their whole lifestyle a parody of mainstream religion. Or they may simply have forgotten the original point of the joke.

I submit that the little fascists are the pastafarians of the political right. They don't actually believe in the SJW, any more than Richard Dawkins actually believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The SJW is a construct, intended to mock liberals who think everyone else is a fascist.

But there are a minority whose entire lifestyle — whose entire online presence, at any rate — has become a parody of the very liberals they so despise.

And some of them have forgotten the original point of the joke.

If you would like to contribute to the cost of placing an armed guard outside Andrew's house, please consider supporting his patreon (i.e pledging $1 each time he publishes an essay.)

The rhetoric of internet debate is discussed at greater length in One Hundred and Forty Characters in Search of an Author. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Everyone I Don't Like is SJW: a Stroppy Teenager's Guide to Political Discussion

The True Story of How Several People Were Rather Rude to Me On Twitter

Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.
                       The Screwtape Letters

Earlier this year, I came to the attention of one of the very minor fascist groups on the Internet. I don’t know why they selected me. They didn’t seem to have read any of my essays, and they certainly weren't interested in talking about (or even taking the mickey out of) any of my opinions. It was art for art's sake.

I initially thought that I was encountering the unacceptable face of the new atheism. I had at that time an advertisement for my book, Where Dawkins Went Wrong , pinned to the top of my Twitter page, with the comment I was saying that Richard Dawkins was a whey-face coxcomb before it was cool. So I sort of assumed that I had insulted their guru so they were insulting me back.

I now think that the Dawkins angle was incidental to what happened. I had recently made some remarks about Dawkins' shameful trolling of feminist academic Anna Hickey-Moody. I said that his tactics resembled those of Gamergate and the Sad Puppies, and that both groups resembled nothing so much as schoolyard bullies. (Comments I fully stand by.) I think that my use of the words Puppy and Gamergate attracted the attention of some right-wing Twitterati. Although there is evidence that the extreme misogynist right are statistically likely to be new atheists, I don't any longer think that this particular group were in Dawkins' orbit. I think they were using him as a stick to bait me with. Had they become aware of my existence during a different Twitter-cycle they might have said that Stan Lee or Giles Coren were twice the man I was.

If I describe the little old ladies who decorate the church as the flower mafia then you know what I'm saying: they are a closed circle who are very territorial about their hobby. If I refer to the freemasonry of parents with disabled children, you know exactly what I mean: they mutually support each other and some of what they say is incomprehensible to outsiders. I am obviously not saying that everyone on the flower rota comes from Sicily, or that members of the disability support group wear aprons and role up their trouser legs at meetings. If I describe a political group as fascists then it is pretty clear that I mean they are militaristic, authoritarian racists. Only a colossal bore would say "Huh, huh, they can't be fascists because they're not Italians and this is not the 1940s." I don't think that fascist is a particularly good term for the Twitter trolls who targeted me: I don't think they are a group and I doubt that they have anything as sophisticated as an ideology. I was going to call then small-f fascists but have decided to go with little fascists which is less of a mouthful.

The vector of the infection was Alpha, a journalist or intern who writes bog-standard political-correctness-gone-mad essays for on line publications. (I am not going to use actual names or Twitter handles here. These are, after all, the kinds of people who think it is funny to make death threats. Not serious or credible death threats, but death threats nonetheless.) Alpha's initial tweet, immediately liked and re-tweeted by about twenty little fascists went: 

SJW's are the saddest, most bitter creatures 1 RichardDawkins is worth a billion AndrewRilstone/PhilSandifer's 

This was attached to some screen shots of Tweets by me and Phil commenting on the Hickey-Moody affair. I am deeply chuffed that my name was linked with as learned and witty a critic as Phil Sandifer. I assume you've all read his Doctor Who essays? His ongoing series about Alan Moore and Grant Morrison includes the second best commentary on Watchmen ever written. I do wonder what an a marxist/post-modernist/occultist like him makes of being associated with a C.S Lewis worshiping reformist [1] like moi.

Alpha's first tweet tells you a great tell about the little fascists' thought patterns. They don’t think in terms of wrong opinions to be refuted; they think in terms of enemies to be squashed. Not Andrew Rilstone is totally wrong about the feminist academic, and here's why... but Andrew Rilstone, by virtue of his support of a feminist academic, can be given the label SJW and as such, barely even qualifies as a person. They don't say that someone is wrong: they say that he is sad or bitter or pathetic or ugly or deformed or smelly or weak or childish or mad or scruffy looking.

What followed was a barrage of playground level name-calling which revealed a fairly consistent set of preoccupations: 
  • Belief that anyone with mainstream political opinions is part of worldwide conspiracy called the SJW.
  • Overwhelming concern with physical appearance, and, curiously, with personal hygiene. ("Christ, maybe they're right about keeping the public baths open".) [2]
  • Fascination with military imagery, especially Warhammer 40,000.
  • Hatred and contempt for weakness of any kind ("He’s a bit delicate, this one. Talk about a manchild. Lunatic".) If a person responds in any way to an insult, this is taken as evidence that they are weak; the fact that they are weak shows that they deserved to be insulted. (An example of the Scotsman Tactic, (q.v.)) "Suck it up!" is their favourite response when challenged. 
  • Use of extreme right-wing imagery, such as swastikas and confederate flags. When they are called out on this they say that the SJW see fascism everywhere and that in any case the fascist imagery was only intended ironically. Readers may like to try imagining how the little fascists would react if one of us put an ironic image of Karl Marx on their website. (Claiming that the SJW think everyone is a fascist; and then claiming that since you accused someone of being a fascist, you must be one of the SJW is another good example of the Scotsman Tactic.)
  • Use of  homophobic and anti-semitic language while simultaneously denying that they are homophobic or anti-semitic.  
  • Hatred of what-they-call feminism and what-they-call-diversity. 
Journalists who have interviewed Katie Hopkins sometimes say that they have found her to be a likable, damaged woman who admits that she doesn't mean half of it. I have heard credible reports of pleasant pints of beer shared with Nigel Farage and Margaret Thatcher. I suppose at some level I believe that if we could have sat down over some beer and bratwurst after a long Bavarian evening listening to Parsifal, Mr Hitler would have admitted to me that he sometimes went a bit too far. I happily throw up my hands and say that I made the schoolboy error of attempting to engage Alpha and some of his little fascists in rational conversation. If I had taken my mother's advise and ignored them, they would probably have gone away. It turns out that rational conversation is not something they really do.

A few examples should give a flavour of how their minds, or at any rate their typing arms, work. 


Several months before all this, I had tweeted: 

I agree about fires in crowded theaters but anyone using the phrase "freeze peach" will still get slapped

Beta found this in my twitter history, and responded: 

Freeze Peach? Seriously, how pathetic are you people you can't say "Free Speech"?...Not afraid of free speech but call it Freeze Peach?

Beta could not possible have supposed that I actually advocated calling free speech freeze peach. It was absolutely clear from the message he had quoted that I was deprecating the expression; saying that it was silly, and, indeed, threatening to slap anyone I caught using it. (I followed it up with a second message saying that I didn't really approve of slapping people, and it would be better to give them a time out or put them on the naughty step.) However, Beta invoked the Midas Stratagem (q.v) and pretended that Andrew says "freeze peach" is a silly phrase and Andrew uses the phrase "freeze peach" are equivalent. Had the feud continued, "Andrew calls free speech freeze peach'" would have become something all the little fascists believed. Had I pointed out that this was not the case, they would have told me to suck it up, called me a crybaby, and invoked the Ricardian Device. (q.v)  [3]


Alpha had found a picture of me looking drunk at a Christmas party and reposted it to his Twitter friends. In itself this is well within the bounds of legitimate internet mockery, although it says something fairly unpleasant about the little fascists' modus operandi.

This yielded the following deathless bon mot from Gamma: 

He looks like the kinda guy who gargles kosher sausage

I took this to mean he looks like the sort of person who sucks Jewish dick. I still think this is what it means, particularly given that Gamma had a swastika on his Twitter profile.

I responded:

That awkward moment when you don’t know if a Dawkins minion is being homophobic or anti-Semitic

(I still thought, incorrectly, that I was being target by militant atheists. I don't now think that the little fascists were in fact anything to do with Richard Dawkins.)

Alpha chimed back: 

He's literally making things up too. Nobody was anti-Semitic.

Note the use of the Coventry Technique (q.v): he doesn't speak to me; he speaks about me. When I asked him directly what else "you suck Jewish dick" meant  he executed the Ricardian Device (q.v):

He said it over 12 hours ago and you're still banging on about it. Seems desperate for victimhood to me.

It doesn't matter that you were insulted, or what the insult meant, because it happened yesterday. 

NOTE: It has subsequently been pointed out to me that he gargles kosher sausage could be taken to mean he has bad breath. This would represent a particular bizarre from of political argument: We can tell from a photograph that your breath smells of garlic, therefore, your views on feminism are nonsense.


I attempted to pursue this further. I entirely agree that this was a completely insane thing to do:

Andrew Rilstone: ‏May I once again ask what you intended by this remark? Are you saying I am Jewish, or Gay, or something else?

Gamma: You got a problem with jews and gays, bub?? 

Andrew Rilstone: if someone would explain what it actually meant, I could go to sleep happy.

Gamma: Guess who's not sleeping tonight, jew homo hater? 

This doesn't extend far beyond "I am rubber, you are glue". If someone accuses one of the little fascists of using anti-semitic language, they simply double-down ("jew hater!") and reflect the accusation back at them.

I had another go, for some reason:

Andrew Rilstone: In what way do you think that sending abuse to strangers furthers your cause?

Delta: You imply we have a cause, you amuse me greatly. Please continue 

Andrew Rilstone: You just simply think it's funny to post random words to strangers?

Gamma: There is nothing funny about anti semetism

Andrew Rilstone Well, I have obviously misunderstood what's going on here. I thought you didn't agree with something I'd said. you are evidently playing some kind of game involving saying random words, like Mornington Crescent. Have fun.

Delta: So first you tag us in order to get some obtuse satisfaction from talking to us, and then when we do you step away? How rude are you? Were you raised among bears in the wilderness or what? 

Andrew Rilstone: I am sorry to have wasted your time.

Delta: Well that makes two of us... Now please stop stalking me, I am shaking and hyperventilating here already God what a fucking monsters. I' hope youre happy Andrew.

Gamma: I think that qualifies as harassment if you ask me. He's abusively attacking us. 

Delta: ‏I would even go so far as to call AndrewRilstone one of the most creepy cyberstalkers I ever had the displeasure to meet

We are now into the realms of heads-I-win, tales you lose anti-logic. (see The Calvin Gambit). If you continue the conversation, then you are "stalking" and "harassing" them; but if you end the conversation, then you are being rude and uncivilized.

One of the barbs does strike home. I was indeed getting an obtuse satisfaction in talking to them.

The final exchange is so stupid it's almost clever: 

Andrew Rilstone:‏ I thought you were cross because I had satirized Richard Dawkins. That was where this started,

Gamma:‏"Cross" are you implying that the Jews killed Jesus? It's been proven already that's anti semetism. [4]

Delta: ‏Woah there, my granduncle was injured by a crossbow once, so that 4 letter c word triggers me greatly 

Gamma: ‏Do you mind putting a trigger warning on that?! 

Delta: I would, if I could look at the thing. all wooden, crossed and bowey... soo much PTSD 

It scarcely seems worth typing that none of the people involved could possibly have believed a single word that they were typing. It is impossible that they actually thought that the word cross (as in annoyed) had something to do with the Crucifixion; or that referring to the Crucifixion (in any context) was anti-semitic; or that asking someone what they meant by an insult amounts to "harassment". I think that these people are human beings with interior lives, even if they don't believe the same of me. They could not conceivably have thought that anything they were saying was true, or even meaningful.

So why were they saying it?

Once a thing is seen it cannot be unseen. I have descended into the abyss of the minds, or at any rate Twitter feeds, of these extremely minor-league web-fascists, and I have returned with the boon by which we shall understand all web-fascists. 

What are they doing?

Two words: performance art.


[1] Reformist: I think that the rich should be a bit poorer and the poor should be a bit richer.
Socialist: I think that everyone should be as rich as everyone else.
Communist: I think we should abolish money and possessions and share everything.

[2] Who are "they"? Where is this debate about keeping public baths open happening? Unless you count shower cubicles in the public toilets on larger railway stations, is there in fact a single public bath house in the country which could be kept open? Is anything these people say anything more than word salad?

[3] I was under the impression that the term freeze peach was used by people who disproved of free speech, to disparage it, in the way that little fascists talk about numan rites and elf and safety. It transpires that it's more often used by people who take freedom of speech very seriously indeed, to disparage those who invoke it frivolously. So if a person was banned from Facebook for using racial slurs and tried to claim that this violated the First Amendment, someone might says "He thinks that freeze peach means he can go around calling strangers the n-word." 

[4] A priest and a nun were driving through Transylvania in an open top wagon. Suddenly, Dracula leaps out and threatens them. "Quick" says the nun, "Show him your cross". "Cross?" replies the Priest "I'm absolutely livid."

If you would like to contribute to the cost of placing an armed guard outside Andrew's house, please consider supporting his patreon (i.e pledging $1 each time he publishes an essay.)

Where Dawkins Went wrong is still available.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Rambling Think-Piece in Precisely Sixteen Thousand Nine Hundred and Eighty Six Characters

It depicts a lightsaber and the slogan “Kylo stabbed first”.

Although it contains only three words, someone unfamiliar with the past 40 years of Star Wars culture — let’s call her “Mum” — would not have the faintest idea why the slogan is funny.

To get the joke, you have to know:

1: The original 1977 movie “Star Wars” featured an amoral gunfighter who shot an enemy’s henchmen in cold blood.

2: In 1997, the scene was re-edited so that the gunfighter shot the henchmen in self-defense

3: Fans, who on the whole preferred the original version, expressed their displeasure by making badges and t-shirts with the slogan “Han shot first.”

4: In the new movie, a Very Bad Thing happens to the same character, at the hands of the villain Kylo Ren.

I find this kind of thing funny; but I must admit that I overuse it, to the extent that some people find my writing impenetrable.

I blame the post-modern condition. In the Olden Days everybody shared more or less the same cultural reference points: I could allude to Baby Roo, Moses, James T Kirk, Iago, John Nokes, Fagin, and Tommy Cooper and everyone would know exactly who I was talking about. What with public schools having turned everyone into zombies and everyone having decided that two TV channels just weren't enough, we all have less stuff in common. Oblique signifiers are a nice way of establishing community but they can also be a nasty of excluding people.

Suppose I describe Prof Richard Dawkins as a “whey-faced coxcomb”. Everyone gets that I mean “fool”; nearly everyone gets that I’m using an old-fashioned term for “fool”; and quite a lot of people spot that it’s a quasi-Shakespearian reference. (The bard was good at insults: “Thou base player of football!”) But only a minority — only one of our particular in-group — would spot that I am quoting five times Hugo award loser J.C Wright quoting Shakespeare.

Richard Dawkins is a whey faced coxcomb translates as “Richard Dawkins is a fool, and by the way J.C Wright is a pompous, in the British sense, ass.”

I sometimes wear a “WWTDD” badge because I want people who don’t get it to feel rotten and inferior.


Earlier this year I posted the follow squib/aphorism in response to something I had read on the popular social networking site known as Twitter:

Is there some particular reason why believing in Adam and Eve is incompatible with hosting a TV breakfast show which I may be missing?

This has (to slightly misquote Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide) “made a lot of people very angry, and been widely regarded as a bad move”.

The problem with Twitter is that each tweet is necessarily short. You have to sacrifice all nuances in the name of brevity and condensation.

This is also what makes it fun. There is a haiku-like joy in telling a joke or expressing a political viewpoint in precisely 140 characters

One often finds oneself sacrificing grammar, punctuation and elegance to make what you wanted to say fit exactly into the character limit…

OTOH, the very brevity sometimes creates a kind of poetry of its own, and some people actually think and speak in twitter ideolect hashtag gimmick

I feel sometimes I’m in a double-bind. People treat silly little twitter squibs as if they were my final word on great matters of state… (1)

…But when I direct them to my more substantive essays they throw up their hands and say “Oh I couldn’t possibly read anything that long” (2)

To be fair, the same thing is probably true of the twitter output of Prof Richard Dawkins though probably not the Rev’d Giles Fraser LOL (3)


The very select group of human beings who have traveled in space all tell us how awesome it is to look down on the Earth. I don’t suppose I shall ever travel in space — I am scared of heights — but am happy to take their word for it. I imagine that looking at the earth from space must be very awesome indeed. (We probably take this too much for granted. Before 1959, every illustration of The World or The Planet Earth was an artist’s impression of what it would look like. In retrospect they usually looked too much like geography teachers’ globes.) Indeed, when English astronaut Helen Sharman appeared on The Museum of Curiosity — a rather odd Radio 4 talk show in which people with nothing in common are invited to talk about whatever they feel like — “seeing the world from space” seemed to be one of the main reasons why Space Travel was a good thing.

Once you’ve seen the Earth from orbit, you realize how insignificant you are, and in particular that the borders and differences between countries and nations that we make so much of aren’t really real.

Woo-oh-oh-oh-oh, you may say I’m a dreamer.

Travel broadens the mind. Traveling into space presumably broadens the mind exponentially. Seeing the earth from space changes your outlook. But then, being wrongly accused of a serious crime probably changes your outlook, as does having heart bypass surgery and taking too much Lysergic acid. The question is whether the new outlook is better or worse than the old one. How could we tell? Yes, I fully accept that you “spoke in tongues” at a revival meeting. So what? Did the experience make you a more pious Christian or a nicer human being, or did you just feel excited during some gospel music? Not that there is anything wrong with feeling excited during some gospel music. There is absolutely nothing wrong with looking out of porthole and saying “Wow!” either. I am just not quite sure what it proves.

Bristol is very big. The world is even bigger. I am very small relative to Bristol. I am very small indeed relative to the world. I am very big relative to my friend Richard. But the idea that I am insignificant compared with the world only works if you think that big things are in general more significant than small things. In which case I am presumably twelve inches more significant than my friend Richard.

I am currently cutting out snacks and taking more exercise in the hope that it will make me less significant.

Up in space, you can’t see any borders or any countries. Well, no, of course you can’t. No-one ever supposed you could. People used to say that you could see the Great Wall of China from space, but apparently you can’t. I don’t think I ever believed that there was a cosmological distinction between England and Scotland that was obvious from the Moon and would have been even if no-one had invented highland clearances, whisky or irn-bru. I always understood that the difference was mostly cultural — language and history and politics. And climate. You can’t see climate from space; not very easily, but I am still taking a coat if I ever go back to Dundee.

We are only entitled to say “in space, you can see that countries aren’t really real” if we have first agreed that “real things are thing you can see from a long way away”. According to which criteria, history and language and politics, and whether the shops open on a Sunday and what time the pubs close are not real. But they make a real difference to the real lives or real people most of whom have no real chance of really going up in a space rocket, whatever Richard Branson says.

A grown up may say to a child “Stop quarrelling about that toy. It only cost sixpence and a few years from now you won’t even remember it, and a century from now you will both be dead” Yes. But to that child at that moment, the teddy bear or the ball or the small ray-gun that came with the second Cyborg and Muton accessory pack is simply the most important thing in the world. The people of Palestine don’t want to hear that from a sufficiently elevated perspective their struggle isn’t very important and from space you can’t even see the wall. What they want is justice. Which is another of the things you can’t see from space.


It transpires that there is a journalist named Dan Walker. He used to talk about football for the BBC, and now he is going to appear on a breakfast time talk show. (One of the things I find it hardest to get my head around, from a terrestrial or extraterrestrial perspective is that a man may make a living talking about football.) It transpires that Mr Walker is a Christian; and it further transpires that he is a Christian of a fairly conservative flavour. For example, he believes that Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden were really really real.

This is pretty much all I know about him. Whether he believes that the Red Sea was actually the Sea of Reeds; whether he thinks that John Mark is the same Mark who wrote the Gospel and how he deals with the prophecy of Daniel being written in Aramaic I couldn’t say. The first I heard of him was a post on the aforementioned Twitter by the aforementioned Prof Richard Dawkins.

Why in the world is BBC hiring a young earth creationist to host BBC Breakfast? Why not someone who accepts reality.” said the very great man.

Is there some particular reason why believing in Adam and Eve is incompatible with hosting a TV show which I’m missing?” said I.

Or does the New Atheist movement think that only people who believe like they do should have jobs and everyone else should be blacklisted?” continued I.

It’s not like they’d be the first” I concluded.

I don’t think my first bit contained any hidden meanings or obscure cultural references. By “believing in Adam and Eve” I meant “believing that Adam and Eve were historical individuals in the same way that George Washington arguably was”. By “incompatible with hosting a TV show” I meant “incompatible with hosting a TV show.” My question was “Why does believing that Adam and Eve were real people — even granted that you and me and Richard Dawkins agrees that they were not — prevent you from asking Brie Larson penetrating questions about her dress or asking Jeremy Corbyn equally penetrating questions about his tie?

I admit that the question was rhetorical and I already knew the answer


"But” asked my Aunt Sally “You would surely agree that at the very least a journalist who believed in Adam and Eve should not be allowed to work on a science programme?”

“You’ve asked me a question” I replied “So let me ask you a question. Would a journalist who didn’t believe in the Christian God be allowed to work on Songs of Praise”

Songs of Praise is a long running British soft-religious TV show. In the olden days they simply put a camera in a church and recorded half an hour of community hymn singing — Anglican, Wesleyan or Salvation Army as the mood took them. They now go to town and chat to local people and ask them to pick hymns that they like.

“I suppose” said Sally “It would depend on what kind of atheist. If he was the kind who shouted ‘oh no there isn’t’ every time the choir started to sing ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away…’ then probably not. If he was the kind who thought that even though he didn’t go in for all this God stuff himself, it was his job to line up a shot of the stained glass window and the vicar so it looked as pretty as possible, then of course he could.”

“Well, quite” I retorted. “And you couldn’t have someone who was supposed to be interviewing the local Catholic clergymen and was somehow under the impression that he was Free Presbyterian. Particularly not if he thought it didn’t make any difference because it was all equally a pile of rubbish.”

“The question” said Sally, "Wouldn't be 'Is the journalist an atheist.' It’s much more ‘Is the journalist a dick?’”

“But that” said I “Is, in a very real sense, always the question.”


I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who literally believes in Adam and Eve. It's a fringe belief, in this country at least. Is the literal belief in Adam and Eve, alone among the vast range of spiritual and fringe beliefs in the world — meditation and speaking in tongues and yogic flying and tea leaf reading and Gaia and the journey of the hero and homeopathy — the one which rules you out of presenting TV breakfast shows? And if so, why?  I can see that if the BBC are going to make a prestige 26 part series on dinosaurs and I want to be chief researcher and it turns out that not only do I not believe that any such creatures as dinosaurs ever existed, I actually think that the whole idea of dinosaurs is a myth put about by the Frankfurt Group to make it easier for the communists to take over… Well I probably wouldn’t get the job. I have, how would you say, preconceptions which would make it impossible for me to do it properly. But what's the connection between Breakfast TV and creationism? 

I try to imagine how my interview for the Breakfast time job would pan out in Richard Dawkins' universe: 

“Well: you are obviously a very good TV presenter with lots of excellent contacts. You would fit onto this show very well indeed. But as a matter of pure formality, I have to ask you some questions about your personal beliefs. Do you believe in Adam and Eve?”

“Well, I suppose it depends what you mean by ‘believe’. If you mean ‘were they historical people’ then no, I most certainly don’t believe that they were. But if you mean ‘do they represent important religious truths’ then yes I suppose I do. I think that the story is presented as something which happened a long time ago, but it is really a picture of what’s happening now, inside every human being, all the time. I think that each of us exiles ourself…”

What happens then? Does my interviewer say “Oh, your personal spiritual beliefs are none of my business or anybody else’s. I myself believe in the I-Ching, but naturally I wouldn’t tell you that. I just have to check that you don’t believe that the Garden of Eden was a real place or that God made the world in six days. Anything else is your own problem.”

Or does he say “Oh. So you DO believe in Adam and Eve, or else in something almost as stupid, or else you are using theology to pull the wool over our eyes. We obviously can’t have you, or anyone who believes in anything with the slightest hint of the supernatural working for us. Goodbye.”

Richard Dawkins has form in this area. Back in 2013 he was insinuating that Muslims couldn’t work on financial papers “because they believed in flying horses”. Earlier this year, he was rattling off little squibs asking how it was that people who believed that Jesus turned water into wine could possibly hold down jobs in the modern world. This makes me at least suspect that behind the proposition “Young earth creationists shouldn’t present breakfast TV shows” lurks the parenthesis “…and neither should anyone else who believes in miracles, angels prophecies or any other supernatural aspect of religion” which is only a hop, skip and jump from “you shouldn’t employ Christians or Muslims: you should only employ atheists, like me.”

It would have been better if I hadn’t used the politically loaded term “blacklist”.


I don’t think that you can deduce things about Scottish independence, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict or the Brexit referendum by looking at the Earth from space. I don’t think that the book of Genesis is very helpful as an explanation of why the male Kakapo parrot has a mating cry which positively repels the female. I don’t think Darwinism is much use as a religious myth. A friend of mind wrote on Facebook that the black-holes and gravity waves thing meant “Science has proved that God doesn’t exist.” I think he probably said it mainly to annoy me, but I still think it’s nonsense. I don’t think you can draw spiritual and ethical conclusions from material and scientific observations.

If people continue to say “I have seen the earth from space; and this proves borders and nations don’t exist and Tibet should damn well shut up about it” then a certain number of people are going to be very tempted to say “Well, if that’s what it proves, then I don’t believe you saw it. Probably your trip into space was another trick, like that time O.J went to Mars.” If people continue to say “all living things shared a common ancestor, and therefore culture and morality are not really real” then some people will continue to say “well, if that’s what it proves, then I don’t believe all living things shared a common ancestor.” If people try to bring science round to reductive, misanthropic conclusions, some people are bound to reject science. It’s the only rational thing to do.


So anyway: all those thoughts were kind of bound up in the little tweet I posted from the coffee shop; just like the whole history of Star Wars is bound up in Mike’s little t-shirt. Kylo Slashed First. Is it just believing in Adam and Eve that disqualifies you from breakfast TV, or religious faith in general. That’s the joy of Twitter, although, of course, that’s the trouble with it too.

And the punch line is this: the people who were annoyed by the 140 character tweet will probably never know, because they will probably find a 3,000 word article much too long and dull to bother with. 

On no possible view is it literally true that a kangeroo is my cousin.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ten more quotes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens which would have been hugely improved by the addition of the word "pants"

"Those are my pants! No, keep them, they suit you."

"I know all about waiting. For my pants. They'll be back one day."

"Take off those pants! You don't need them."
"What do you think you'll see if I do?"

"You will remove these pants and leave this cell with the door open."
"I will tighten these pants, scavenger scum."

"You will drop your pants."
"I will drop my pants."

"The pants you seek are not behind you. They are ahead." 

"What about that ship?"
"That one's pants."
"The pants will do."

"What about those pants?"
"They're garbage."
"The garbage will do." 

"If you see our pants, bring them home."

"When you live long enough, you start to see the same pants on different people." 


The most incredible article about the Star Wars trilogy you will ever read

How Hollywood got Star Wars wrong

What is Luke Skywalker's relationship to Rey? The true answer may surprise you. 

George and Joe and Jack and Bob (and Me) 

Available from


Andrew Rilstone writes more perceptively about Star Wars than just about anyone else alive
Echo Station 5-7

...the most intelligent and insightful articles ever on the Star Wars hexology....”
Mike Taylor of the best things I’ve read on the whole Star Wars phenomenon in the last 27 years...

For more than 30 years, fans have been waiting for the definitive guide to the monsters, vehicles and aliens in the Star Wars universe. Some of them may find that this collection of essays by passes the time while they carry on waiting.

Starting with the opening night of Phantom Menace, Andrew explains why the prequels aren't quite as bad as everyone say; wonder if sometimes a lightsaber is just a lightsaber; and tries to show why the Saga has become so important to so many people.

A very personal journey to the heart of the Star Wars saga, in the company of such luminaries as Joseph Campbell, Jack Kirby...and Bob Dylan?

Includes parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the seminal "Little Orphan Anakin", though not necessarily in that order

Available from


Monday, February 15, 2016

Thought for the Day

"I think (Tolkien) is a crypto-fascist" says Moorcock, laughing. 

"I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler (for the odd thing about demonic inspiration and impetus is that it in no way enhances the purely intellectual stature: it chiefly affects the mere will). Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.”
Letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to Christopher, June 1941

"Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride."
Letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to his German publisher, July, 1938

Note: In deference to Mr Moorcock, it was arguably naughty of the crypto-communist New Statesman to take a remark he made lightheartedly out of context and use it as the headline for an interview. 

Note: Did C.S Lewis really commute from Cambridge to London to attend fan meets in a pub between 1956 and 1963 (the years he was married to a very sick wife, and dividing time between his home in Oxford and his chair in Cambridge)? I ask merely for information.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thought for the Day

"Each new discovery, even every new theory, is held at first to have the most wide-reaching theological and philosophical consequences. It is seized by unbelievers as the basis for a new attack on Christianity; it is often, and more embarrassingly, seized by injudicious believers as the basis for a new defense. But usually, when the popular hubbub has subsided and the novelty has been chewed over by real theologians, real scientists and real philosophers, both sides find themselves pretty much where they were before."

C.S Lewis

Ten quotes from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens which would have been hugely improved by the addition of the word "pants"

"Without the Jedi, there can be no balance in my pants."

"Why are you helping me?"
"Because it's the right thing to do."
"You need pants?"
"I need pants."

"Luke Skywalker? I thought he was pants."

"Stop taking my pants!"

"Chewie, we're pants."

"The pants you seek are aboard the Millennuim Falcon, in the hands of my father."

"You changed your pants."
"Same jacket"
"New jacket!"

"You changed your hair."
"Same pants."
"New pants!"

"We'll see each other's pants. I believe that."

"It is I, C3P0. You probably do not recognize me because of the red pants."


The most incredible article about the Star Wars trilogy you will ever read

How Hollywood got Star Wars wrong

What is Luke Skywalker's relationship to Rey? The true answer may surprise you. 

George and Joe and Jack and Bob (and Me) 

Available from


Andrew Rilstone writes more perceptively about Star Wars than just about anyone else alive
Echo Station 5-7

...the most intelligent and insightful articles ever on the Star Wars hexology....”
Mike Taylor of the best things I’ve read on the whole Star Wars phenomenon in the last 27 years...

For more than 30 years, fans have been waiting for the definitive guide to the monsters, vehicles and aliens in the Star Wars universe. Some of them may find that this collection of essays by passes the time while they carry on waiting.

Starting with the opening night of Phantom Menace, Andrew explains why the prequels aren't quite as bad as everyone say; wonder if sometimes a lightsaber is just a lightsaber; and tries to show why the Saga has become so important to so many people.

A very personal journey to the heart of the Star Wars saga, in the company of such luminaries as Joseph Campbell, Jack Kirby...and Bob Dylan?

Includes parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the seminal "Little Orphan Anakin", though not necessarily in that order

Available from