Monday, June 06, 2016

From Trowbridge last year, a few seconds caught on my phone of the best musician I imagine I'll ever see live. So pleased that I went to see them three times last year. (On the final occasion, Swarb had to more or less be lifted onto the stage, and couldn't tell his story about "Unst" because of massive dental problems...but it didn't seem to affect his fiddle playing at all.) I heard him do a solo set at the Folk House a couple of years ago, and he described collecting fiddle tunes off an old fiddler and recording them on a primitive reel-to-reel tape recorded. "The same kind we recorded Liege and Lief on..." It suddenly hits you: genuine legend.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sunday Bible Study



A not very nice man from a not very nice political party has reportedly "invaded" a meat production plant and harangued the staff because he does not think that halal meat ought to be available in this country.

"In ths country" seems to be the crux of his argument: if the newspaper reports are to be believed, he basically shouted "this is the United Kingdom, this is the United Kingdom" over and over again as if that settled matters.

One of my co-workers once told me that they wouldn't buy a sandwich from Subway. In fairness, this is a pretty sound moral principal. Only a barbarian would toast a tuna mayo sandwich, and why do you have to go through the ritual of choosing between six different kinds of bread roll when they all taste identical, although I must admit I like the cookies. When I went to America, Subway seemed exciting and exotic, but then so did Starbucks.

My colleague's objection to Subway is that they serve halal food. Certainly the branch near us does: given that there are quire a lot of Muslim people in the area, this seems to make sound commercial sense. (I do not know if Subway is kosher in majority Jewish areas: perhaps there aren't enough majority Jewish areas for that to be a question.) 

I am pretty sure that a Spicy Italian contains salami; and I am pretty sure that salami is made from pork; and I am pretty sure that pork is not halal. Maybe you can make convincing salami out of fish? Maybe the lamb and beef is halal but they take it for granted that observant Muslims wouldn't order pork to start with? They put cheese into all their sandwiches unless you beg them not to, so presumably Islam doesn't have the meat/dairy restriction that Judaism does?

Halal simply means "permitted", as opposed to haram which means "forbidden". And jihad means "struggle", and hijab means modesty and shariah means "law" and Allah means "God". (Arabic speaking Christians call God "Allah".) But I suppose most people take halal to mean "filthy foreign food" and shariah to mean "chopping peoples heads off" and jihad to mean "terrorism". Up to 10th September 2001 it was common enough to hear boring men in pubs and the leader column of the Daily Telegraph explaining that you can say what you like about Johnny Foreigner but criminals who have had their heads chopped off hardly ever go out and do it again, which is more than you can say for this country. There seems to be a widespread belief that you can catch Islam off a halal foot-long pepperoni with salad but no olives and conversely, that you can cure someone of Islam by throwing bacon butties at them.

This article covers the inconsistencies in the not-very-nice man's approach quite comprehensively. Why was he singling out halal slaughter houses for his animal welfare initiative, when kosher butchers use pretty much the same methods: indeed, the one sometimes supplies the other? If the objection is that Muslim baa-lambs are not stunned before having their throats cut, then actually they usually are. Hard, in any case, to suppose that the religious slaughter of chickens is a bigger welfare concern than your average bootiful factory farm.

But what interests me is the specifically religious question.

The not-very-nice-man is alleged to have asked "Don’t you realise you’re in Great Britain?.....Why are you offering these animal up to Allah, a fake god, Satan. Do any of you have any morals?....You are in Great Britain....This is a Christian country and the Bible says no Christian should eat meat offered to a false god."

Quite a lot of questions are raised here. 

I am not sure if any good Christian has ever believed that other monotheistic faiths are indistinguishable from Satanism. I think that he may be falling into Dawkins Seventh Fallacy, which states:

a: The gods of Christianity, Muslim and Judaism are separate and distinct non-existant entities, in the way that Captain Ahab; David Copperfield and the Tooth Fairy are separate and distinct non-existent entities

b: When a Christian says that he disbelieves in the Jewish and Muslim deities, he means the same thing by "disbelieve" that an atheist does when he says he disbelieves in all deities whatsoever

c: Christians are therefore the same as atheists with respect to two out of the three major monotheistic faiths, and might as well go the whole hog and disbelieve in all of them. 

In the real world, people who believe in God invariably say that other people who believe in God believe in the same God they believe in, although they very frequently say that they've got special inside knowledge that the others haven't got, or that the others have picked up some wrong ideas along the way. 

But even if you do think that Dio is a false God invented by the evil Italians, "this is Great Britain" seems to me to be a bit of a non sequitur. People In Great Britain have been perfectly free to worship Satan since 1735: certainly since 1951. Religious tolerances is one of the things which makes us Great and British. David Cameron says so. 

But the bit which really intrigued me was the bit about the Bible saying that no Christian should eat meat offered to a false God. 

Where does it say that, exactly?

The Christian Bible contains the complete text of the Jewish Bible and therefore contains a lot of passage about which kinds of food are kosher and which kinds are terefah. (I looked it up.) No pork, no shellfish, no lamb cooked in its mother's milk, wash your hands carefully, put the toilet a long way from the kitchen, and so on. But the Christian "New" Testament contains a number of passages in which Jesus permits his followers to apply those rules with leniency, or to set them aside altogether. Sometimes he seems to be saying that his own presence puts the rules on hold temporarily; sometimes he seems to be saying that the rules, as practiced at that time, went way beyond what God had intended or that they were being applied in an unspiritual, rules-lawyering way. But some of his clearest and least equivocal statements say that eating the wrong kind of food doesn't affect your spiritual status one way or the other: 

There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man....Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man it cannot defile him. Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

Naturally, the gentile converts to Christianity found it much easier to accept this idea than the Jewish ones; and it was a point of contention in the early Church. About the only thing we know about Paul's personal relationship with Peter is that they had a public falling out over whether Christians needed to keep kosher. 

The not very nice man seems to have had one of Paul's letters in mind: 

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: "For the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.But if any man say unto you, "This is offered in sacrifice unto idols", eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: "for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof" Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?

Whatever is sold in the market, just eat it, and don't ask questions, because everything in the world belongs to God. It is hard to see how you can read that as saying "the Bible forbids us from eating mean offered to false gods". It actually seems to be saying the very opposite. 

Obviously, Paul isn't talking about halal meat, but he is talking about meat which has been offered to the gods of the Greek pantheon. He is quite clear that it doesn't make any difference if an animal was killed in the temple of Jupiter or in front of a statue of Hercules because Jupiter and Hercules don't actually exist.

But there's a problem. Monotheists have always said "There is no other God but God, so whatever you do, don't worship any of the other Gods" and "Idols are totally meaningless, so whatever you do, don't worship them." Paul seems to be saying that idol-worship is, so to speak, a subjective sin: if you think of a statue of a pagan god as just being a lump of dead marble, then it is; but if at some level you think of it as a rival deity, then you'd be cheating on God by worshiping it. People who converted to Christianity from Greek polytheism might well still think of the statues as potentially being gods of some kind; so if they had a sandwich which they thought might have been used in the worship of one of the Greek deities then they might be committing idol worship in their head. 

C.S Lewis said that the generalization of this principal was "on non-essential matters the person without scruples should always give way to the person with scruples." It leads to all sorts of uncomfortable conclusions. If my weaker brother honestly believes that playing Dungeons & Dragons is a kind of devil worship then I (knowing very well that it is not) should never play Dungeons & Dragons again for fear of leading him into subjective sin. I suppose we all accept that we shouldn't have a drink in front of a former alcoholic; should we refrain from eating meat around vegans because meat is murder to them even though to sensible people it isn't?

The not-very-nice-man asserts that the Christian Bible teaches that Subway sell demonic sandwiches. It does not. Even on the assumption (that I am very far from accepting) that the God of Islam is, from the point of view of a good Christian, a false god on a level with Baal, then the Christian Bible is perfectly fine with me eating halal because false gods are precisely that: false. The Christian Bible says that when I go into a sandwich bar, I shouldn't ask questions about the religious affiliation of the sandwiches. It doesn't matter either way. However, if someone tells you that the food is halal and if that person honestly believes that eating a big hearty Italian is pretty much the same thing as drawing a pentacle on the ground and sacrificing a goat to it, then I shouldn't eat sandwiches in their presence. Or maybe at all. If they think it's wrong, then it's wrong for them.

Nothing remotely suggests that Paul thought that the Greeks shouldn't be allowed to carry on performing their own ceremonies in their own ways. The idea that there is a continuity between "I will not eat halal meat"; "No Christian should eat halal meant" and "Muslims living in the UK should not be permitted to eat halal meat" is clearly nonsense. It might be that the not-very-nice-man thinks that there should be no mosques, temples or synagogues in England and that all the Jews, Muslims and Hindus should be rehoused in the American mid-west. But in modern times, countries with Christian majorities have always permitted other religions to be practiced in their borders. There have been Mosques and Temples in the the UK since Victorian times and Synagogues since the the time of Oliver Cromwell. 

So. It's quite awkward. It's none of the unpleasant man's business whether I go to Subway or not; and it's certainly none of his business whether Muslims do. But what does his conscience tell him? If he feels that he is eating the devil every time he worships a sandwich then I should not encourage him.

So: tell me, Mr England First. 

Do you consider your own faith to be a bit on the weak side? 




Sunday, May 08, 2016

Sunday Politics


I wrote this a couple of months ago. (I really wrote it a couple of months ago. I found it on my Scrivener while looking for something else.) I didn't publish it at the time, because I didn't think it was very interesting:

Our own beloved Ken Livingstone has been accused of a faux pas.

Apparently, he felt that a Labour MP accepting a donation from a hedge fun manager was “like Jimmy Savile funding a children's group”.

The press can be awfully innocent about this kind of thing. The Sun prints the words SEX and BOTTOMS in capital letters, as if they can hardly believe such things exist; anything stronger is blocked out with asterisks. It is okay to print photographs of ladies with no bra on page three of a family newspaper, but god forbid a child should see the word T*TS. They go pale and start to tremble, like your maiden aunt, if anyone uses the F-word. No news reporter has even heard it before.

The formulation like putting X in charge of a Y is so common that it barely reaches the dignity of being a cliche. Like putting Herod in charge of an orphanage barely counts as a simile: it's proverbial. As popular as a pork chop at a Passover; as useful as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest. You might have thought that Blackadder’s as cunning as a fox who had been awarded a degree in Cunning from the University of Cunning (or merely as cunning as a cunning thing) would have killed it off.

Jimmy Savile has a special and strange status which is probably not comprehensible to anyone outside of England or under the age of 45. He isn’t the only entertainer to have been retrospectively exposed as a sex offender; but I think most of our reaction to Rolf Harris’s conviction was “that’s really sad — he seemed so nice”. And Harris was famous for something: it is possible to think that he deserved his jail sentence and that Sun Arise is a terrific song. But so far as anyone can tell, Jimmy Savile never did anything apart from sit around being Jimmy Saville. He played records on the radio, but no-one tells us that he was a master of the craft (like Terry Wogan) or that he championed bands that no-one else cared about (like John Peel). He somehow just existed; being vaguely flamboyant; fronting shows he had nothing to do with; universally present.

I have said elsewhere that in the 1970s the BBC was a genre, almost a place, in a way that can hardly be understood today. More than one of us felt that Basil Brush must be a friend and neighbor of Tom Baker because their shows were on straight after each other. Savile wasn't the guy who fronts that make-a-wish show (“Dear Jimmy, Please could you fix it for me to play the drums with Gary Glitter”); he was more like that weird neighbor you keep bumping into. So the discovery that he was not merely a children’s entertainer who was also a child molester (though God knows that would have been bad enough) but a child molester who appears to have become a children’s entertainer in order to gain access to hundreds and possibly thousands of children genuinely feels like a bomb has gone off through our collective memories. You are thinking about that nice show where the young boy got to star in his own episode of Doctor Who, and then you remember whose show it was. There was that day when Boy George visited my school (true story) after some girls had written to complain that morning assembly was too boring. But who had they written to? Oh yes. Better stop telling that story.

The press love a villain. They compete with each other to see who can condemn the villain in the strongest terms: never mind “disgraced entertainer Jimmy Savile”, not even “evil Jimmy Savile” it needs to be “vile pervert Jimmy Savile”. But what they love even more is a stick to beat the BBC with. (The same journalists who shake when they hear the word “fuck” still regard the idea of showing pictures on the radio as a peculiar fad which will pass before the days of fleet street and hot metal come to an end; their masters hate anything state run because they can’t buy it.) Never mind that Savile was courted by Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles; never mind that Norman Tebbit was one of the few people prepared to defend him when the child rape allegations came out; never mind that he was lauded by anti-sex campaigner Mary Whitehouse. He was a BBC man to the core, and therefore the BBC is infected by his evil.

(The BBC did, in fact, behave reprehensibly, failing to respond to complaints and allegations and evidence because Savile was high profile and rich and could afford the best lawyers in the land. But so did everybody else.)

But what has happened as a result of this is that Savile has been invested with a peculiar kind of anti-sanctity. There is a weird process by which a tiny minority of celebrities become untouchable. You aren’t allowed to say anything against Diana; you aren’t allowed to speak against dead soldiers or appear without a poppy between Halloween and New Years Eve. (When I say “you aren’t allowed to” I mean “if you do, the papers will attack you, not for what you said, but for daring to take the name of our beloved royal family or our brave servicemen in vain”. There's no actual law against it.)

Savile seems to have achieved a level of anti-sanctity in a way that hardly anyone else ever has. When the serial killer Myra Hindley died, she was cremated in private, her ashes scattered in secret and the hospital room she had died in was repainted. That kind of fear of contamination, which features in no actual religion, is the true faith of the Englishman and woman. Someone isn’t a criminal at one time of their lives and not at another; people who murder children without motivation aren’t mentally ill. They have a disease called evil which is communicable — through bed sheets; through white emulsion; through saying their name. Jimmy Savile is like a Weeping Angel; his evil somehow transmissible through his image. We’re allowed to see bad 1970s pop music shows, but his face has to be pixellated, like when someone takes their clothes off on Big Brother and the viewers would be struck blind if they saw a willy. The tabloids got cross because they found there was still an interview with him on a no-longer updated BBC website.

In real life, most of us don’t think that way. Most of us think of the Queen as a somewhat anachronistic feature of the British constitution that we are nevertheless vaguely affectionate towards; that fuck is quite useful as an exclamation mark but shouldn’t be used as a comma; and that Jimmy Savile was a nasty sex criminal who they should have caught earlier. There are other nasty sex criminals; it’s a truism that most kids who are abused are abused by members of their own family. I shall forebear from telling the P.E teacher story again.

It would have been better if Ken Livingstone had said like putting Herod in charge of a children’s home rather than like putting Savile in charge of a children's charity. It would have been better if he'd thought it through a bit and realized that, er, one of the nasty things about Savile was that he actually did support children's charities. Quite likely the tabloids were simply looking for someone from The Left at whom to direct mock outrage but Ken should have thought it through and not offered them an open goal.

But ultimately, he has misused a holy name. The drawing of a line of sanctity around something is never good; it always prevents thinking. The question to ask about a sex offender is how he got that way, how he got away with it for so long, what we should do if this situation arose again, and whether bleating about "elf and safety” necessarily helps. The anti-sanctification of this figure means he is merely a symbol of evil in general and the evil of public service broadcasting in particular.

And it neatly distracts us all from Ken’s point. What is a Labour MP doing taking money from a hedge fun?

Isn’t that like the Resistance being financed by Kylo Renn?

Anyway. That was the essay. Can anyone think of any other profane figures of proverbial evil that Ken should avoid make glib remarks about?

* Ken Livingstone is a politician, former Mayor of London, and sometime Labour MP. In the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council specifically in order to stop him being leader of it. The press called him “Red Ken” because he held extreme views such as children should be taught about homosexuality in school sex ed lessons and Sinn Fien would have to be brought into the mainstream political process. If not for his policy of cheap travel on the London Tube, putting 1 Dalling Road and Denmark Street within easy reach of suburban schoolboys, it is most unlikely that I would have become a Dungeons & Dragons player or a comic book collector.



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Extra


When sorrows come they come not single spies
But in battalions. 
Shakespeare

There are some perfectly good things to be said about “grief athletics” and “grief inflation”. One might indeed compare the outpouring of public grief over the very funny Victoria Wood (2016) and compare it with that over comedy legends such as, say Eric Morecambe (1984), Charlie Chaplin (1977) or even Stan Laurel (1965). One could do a similar compare-and-contrast with Prince and Bowie on one hand and John Lennon and Elvis Presley on the other, and wonder how on earth we are going to top it when Paul McCartney finally shuffles of this mortal coil. (Fortunately, Bob Dylan is going to live forever.)

My working hypothesis is: “Until 1997, the death of a singer or sportsmen was show-business news or sporting news; after 1997 it became simply news. Before 1997, a death from natural courses would be reflected by an obituary and possibly an season of old movies on BBC 2. After 1997, the amount of newsprint given over to the death had to reflect the perceived importance of the deceased person. Not giving enough column inches to the departed would be a faux pas on a level of bowing from the neck instead of from the waist at the cenotaph, or being seen out in October without a poppy. AN INSULT TO THE DEAD." Prior to 1997, a tabloid might make Elvis Is Dead it’s front page story; after 1997 the serious broadsheets did so as well. 

My mother used to say that people always died in groups of 3, although the rule didn’t apply to major family bereavements. Great Uncle Bulgaria said something similar, so I suppose it was a proverb. I suppose that if old Mrs Dodsworthy three doors down passed away; and a few days later you heard that old Rev Bandersnatch kicked the bucket in his home for redundant clergyman, then you would be consciously waiting for Number 3, and be positively relieved when the paper recorded that Uncle Tumble, who you used to watch on the radio when you were a kid had gone to join the choir invisible, and could stop counting. 
It’s an old saying that “Dog bites man” is not news, but “Man bites dog” is. But if a local man dies after being bitten by a labradoodle (which is “news” in practically anyone’s book) then, for the next three weeks, the local paper will (quite understandably) think that every dog bite in the hospital’s incident book is worth a mention giving the punter (quite wrongly) the impression that there has been a terrible epidemic of men being bitten by dogs. It only required two deaths — David Bowie and Terry Wogan — for someone to decide that 2016 was a terrible year for celebrity deaths; and from then on every obituary  has been underlined in magic marker. 

No such thing as a Curse of Superman had even been thought of before Christopher Reeve had his riding accident.

One of the most boring and annoying rhetorical devices is the one where you pretend that because you think that something ought to be true, it actually is true. It might, in fact, be that the United Kingdom would be better off electing it’s next titular head of state rather than handing the title to the eldest child of the present incumbent. (1) I am, as everyone knows, agnostic on the issue. I tend towards saying that the process would be so complicated and divisive that it’s not worth the effort. Would we simply elect a new King when the old King dies, or would we stop having Kings and elect a President every five years? What would he be President of? “The United Republic”? “Greater England”? “New Britain”? “The Margaret Thatcher Memorial Islands”? This is a country where people claim that a preference for simple plurality vs instant run-off elections is a matter of ineffable religious conviction, for goodness sake.

But, as a matter of fact, we do have a Queen, and it is not too unkind to think that the time is not remote when we must, in the course of nature, have a new King. So there is a certain amount of interest in the day to day life of the Queen, and the next King, and the next King but one, and even the terribly cute next King but two. As arguments go, “Why are we interested in a photograph of an old lady and her grandchildren” and “Why does this require any coverage beyond a simple ‘Elizabeth Windsor, 90 today’ in the announcements column” makes republicans look like grumpy old twits. Republican twittery is cut from very much the same cloth as atheist twittery. I suppose it has to do with being against something rather than in favour of something. 

It might be that the public ought to care more about the finer points of the E.U referendum than about the death of a funny person who used to come on the telly when they were kids. But thinking that a thing is so does not make it so. (Patrick Stewart is getting worryingly close to his 80th birthday.)

There was a point, just after I left college for the second time, when all the legendary geek writers and artists seemed to be turning up their toes. The Golden Age of science fiction and comic books was the 30s and 40s, so many of the participants were always going to to die in the 90s. (2) The 1970s were the Golden Age of television: everyone had a TV, but there were only two channels (plus a third one which only showed nature documentaries in Welsh) and there wasn’t much else to in the evenings, so a very fine comedy actor like Ronnie Corbett could easily become a household name. A generation before, he’d have been making a very decent living as a much in demand stage actor; remembered by no-one except a few aficionados; a generation after, his well reviewed comedy shows would have had to compete with eighty five channels showing rolling 24 hours footage of cats falling off sofas. The entertainers who were always going to die in the second decade of the second millennium weren't cleverer or funnier than the entertainers who have died at other times. But they were famous in a way no-one had ever been before, or ever will be again. 

It isn’t big or clever to look at a photo of the next-but-one King and the next-but-one Queen outside the Taj Mahal and say “Why is a couple sitting on a bench news, especially?” It isn’t big or clever to pretend that you don’t know who Prince is. I suppose that it is possible to cut yourself off from popular culture to that extent (”and what exactly is a ‘beatle’?”(3)) but that rather prohibits you from talking bout it. I don’t think I could name a single professional football player. (There used to be someone called David Beckham, but he retired to sell perfume and knickers.) 

For some people, it may simply be a logical error. If A is better than B then it follows that B is positively bad. If B is not quite as good as some people say, then it follows that B is awful. So the correct way of expressing the insight that "I am quite surprised, actually, by the importance the media attached to David Bowie" is "David Bowie was a talentless hack who couldn't sing."

But some people are, sadly, positively addicted to saying horrible things. If a lot of people are sad because a singer they liked as died their drug forces them to say "Who the hell was he?" A mad, sad man who writes for the Telegraph managed to describe Prince as “an obscure, sparsely talented performer”. A below the line commentator spoke about his “welcome death”. (4) The humans suffer from a disease called hatred: one day it may be possible to cure it. 

I was a bit surprised, actually, that a left wing paper like the Guardian ran a full page solid black front page to mark the death of a singer. I used to think it was silly to feel sad when a performer you liked died: since I have been going to live gigs, and since several of the performers I most revere are the wrong side of 70, I don’t feel that any more. If Prince merits a front page and a pull out supplement, then nothing short of suspending all other reporting and printing 60 pages of black ink will suffice for Dylan. But as I say: he is immortal. 

I blame Diana. 


(1) Another thing I find boring and irritating is when people say "titular" when the actually mean "eponymous". 

(2) Gene Roddenbury, 1991; Isaac Asimov, 1992; Joe Shuster, 1992; Jack Kirby, 1993; Jerry Siegel, 1996; Bob Kane, 1998

(3)It is very doubtful is any judge ever actually said this. And if even if he did, every word spoken in an English court is recorded verbatim so it is fairly important that slang terms and terms from popular culture are defined for the benefit of future generations. I know this from having watched Crown Court when I was off school with ‘flu. An American Judge would have said “And for the record, Mr Starr, could you tell the court what a Beatle is…” and no-one would have found it especially funny.

(4) Imagine being a Daily Mail journalist and having to sit up all night working out how to get some hatred and bile into reporting the death of an elderly middle-of-the-road comedian who just about everybody like. Imagine reading the Daily Mail and learning of the death of Mr Ronnie Corbett under the headline “WHY WASN’T HE GIVEN A KNIGHTHOOD”. (Due to an establishment conspiracy, apparently.) 



Saturday, April 16, 2016

How to Break a Franchise

Comic

Princess Leia and Sana Starros take take Dr Aphra to the Rebel Prison Planet. A mysterious third party breaks into the prison, and begins executing the prisoners. Then, the power cuts out, the cells open, and Leia is trapped in the dark with  a mob of cold blood imperial murderers.

When Marvel's new Star Wars title launched last year, it felt impressively like a comic book adaptation of a lost 1979 movie, albeit with material from the sequels and prequels folded into it. So deftly and tactfully was this handled that it smoothed over some of the cracks in the Star Wars Saga; almost convincing us that the Episode IV Darth Vader really was still the Episode III Anakin Skywalker underneath. Issue #15, (an excerpt from Obi-Wan's lost journal) was both a shameless exercise in faux nostalgia and also a cunning synthesis of the old and new movies. A young kid called Luke shoots womp-rats near Beggars Canyon watched over by a figure who is older than Ewan McGregor but younger than Alec Guinness. It was the most enjoyable Star Wars Thing in years. 

But there is a growing sense that, now Luke has read Ben’s diary, and now that Darth Vader knows who destroyed the Death Star, writer Jason Aaron has filled in the space between Episode IV and Episode V and been reduced to making stuff up. And the more stuff gets made up, the further away from Star Wars we move, until, in issue 50, 60, 70 we'll realize that, even though the main character is based on reference photos of a very young Mark Hamill, what we are reading a generic space opera comic unconnected with any movie and Uncle Walt declares the whole thing non-canonical. 

I remember reading the first issue of Ultimate Spider-Man when it came out and loving it like I hadn't loved any comic in a decade. Everything that was ever fun and good about Spider-Man, re-imagined in a millennial setting. I forget how many issues it took before Peter Parker was being hassled by Nick Fury and dating Kitty Pryde and meeting up with his father’s old colleagues and dying heroically and being replaced by a much younger kid. Nothing against the comic: stuff had happened. Stuff had to happen. But the more stuff happened the more obvious it became that we were no longer re-imagining Spider-Man but, reading about a completely different character with a similar costume.

Sana Starrors and Dr Aphra? Who the hell are they? (*) And what the hell is the Rebel Alliance doing with a Prison Planet?

The new Rebel Prison arc (beginning Star Wars #16) is perfectly logical. The Rebellion, as depicted in the movies, is something way beyond being a guerrilla force or a bunch of terrorists. It has medals and insignia and battleships; I seem to think that the role-playing game described it as having its own currency. It's the remains of the Old Republic; the other side in a pretty substantial civil war. So of course it must take prisoners. And if it takes prisoners it must have a prison, unless it executes them on the spot, which is what rebels would do in a civil war but not what goodies ought to do in an heroic space opera. And if there is a Rebel Prison, then the prisoners must be very scary indeed, and there must be lots of people who would like to free them and lots of people who would like to kill them.

Perfectly logical. But if you are going to apply perfect logic to Star Wars you might as well go home. 

Jason Aaron has a pretty good handle on the character's voices and Princess Leia still sounds a bit like Princess Leia. But she is forced to have conversations that are just not the kinds of conversations that Princess Leia ought to be having. 

— I won’t let you do this, I won’t let you gun them all down.

— I know you won’t because you still believe you’re fighting a noble fight, don’t you. But there’s nothing noble about war, princess. Not if you want to win.

—I’m not going to debate you. I’m just going to stop you. You’re not killing anyone else.

—You’re right. You are. I’ve just released 17 cold blooded murderers from their cells, Princess. Perhaps you can have that debate with them. Though if you’d rather live, I suggest you get busy killing them. 

Princess Leia, the Princess Leia who called Chewie a Walking Carpet and was only a little bit sad when her planet blew up is just not big enough or real enough to be having Socratic dialogues about ethics. She doesn't become more real by debating with Hannibal Lecter, any more than Penelope Pitstop becomes more real by carrying a huge great phallic gone. She just becomes less like Princess Leia. To even ask the question "is war ever noble" is to abolish the franchise called Star Wars. 

Okay then, clever clogs: what would you have done if you were writing Star Wars and were forced to address the question of what the Rebels do with baddies they capture?

I would have imagined something shiny and wonderful. One of the races in the Alliance is a telepathic mind parasite that subsists by sucking the evil out of other life forms. Someone knows an Old Jedi Trick of gently turning people back to the Light. The same medical science that can graft new limbs onto wounded heroes can also teach bad people to be good. There is a beautiful, paradise like planet many millions of light years away where bad people are sent to live more or less contented lives until they can no longer harm society.

But actually, I would say "This is not the sort of question you ought to ask about Star Wars, any more than you should ask if Luke killed the civilian crew of the Death Star or how Biggs joined the Rebellion quite so quickly. It’s just not that sort of story."


Cartoon


Three elderly Clone Troopers are holding out on a cobbled together Old Republic Walker. Two Imperial AT-ATs are bearing down on them. They know that they have no chance, but mean to go down fighting. They attempt to ram one of the AT-ATs legs. Suddenly, with a literal fanfare, a Rebel spaceship zooms in. It loops over the top of one of the Walkers, and three people jump onto the roof of the cockpit. Two of them, a man and a boy, cut a hole with their lightsabers; the third, a bad tempered alien, jumps through it and bangs the heads of the two pilots together. The rebels commandeer the AT-AT and immediately start shooting at the other one. 

In one sense, it’s the total lack of ambition which makes Star Wars: Rebels the one iteration of Star Wars that honestly recaptures the spirit of '77. Clone Wars always felt too big and self-important. It was not only the story of a major galactic war; it was an attempt to justify the existence of the prequels: to convince us that galactic politics and swashbuckling could go together; to redeem Anakin’s character from what Hayden Christensen did to it. Rebels doesn't pretend to be about anything other than five incredibly generic characters running errands for the Rebellion. Episodes sometimes seems to have been created via a Random Mission Generator from the Star Wars role-playing game. “We need you to fly to the Planet Such-and-Such and deliver supplies / pick up supplies / make contact with Rebel agents there." One episode is lifted directly from a West End adventure module. 

So all that matters is that everyone should be having fun; that every plan should be more complicated than it needs to be; that every battle should involve a silly stunt; that no character can ever face certain death without a wise-crack and smart remark. And in almost every episode, Rebels triumphantly delivers on this modest objective.

Why didn't they shoot at the AT-AT with the ship's cannon? Because that would have been no fun. 

Why did Zeb bash the troopers' heads together rather than punch them?  Because it’s more fun that way.

Can lightsabers really slice through armour like butter, even armour that's impervious to heavy gunfire? No, not all the time. Only when it's fun. 

In the final episode of Season I, our heroes end up flying a captured imperial TIE-fighter, which Hera, the resident graffiti artist has resprayed with a psychedelic, floral pattern. How do they get away with it? Player-character immunity and an awful lot of Force Points.

Even now the Extended Universe has been purged, Star Wars is a strange, four dimensional text, and that temporal depth makes Star Wars: Rebels something more than the thrilling adventures of Kid Jedi. The cartoon takes place 14 years after Revenge of the Sith, and five years before A New Hope. So the prequels are something which the older characters can look back on; but the original trilogy is something which hasn't happened yet. Every time Princess Leia or Moff Tarkin or, yes, the big guy with the black cape and the breathing problem come on stage we fans look back to Star Wars but the heroes look forward to adventures yet to come. Kanan, the aging not-quite Jedi, remembers the massacre of the Jedi Knights from Attack of the Clones: 14 years ago, from his point of view; 11 from ours. Princess Leia looks much as she did in Episode IV, which is 40 years ago from our point of view, but still in our hero's future. And most interestingly, in series 2, running the Rebellion is none other than Ahsoka Tano.

Who the hell is Ahsoka Tano? If you missed out on Clone Wars, then you won't know that Anakin had an apprentice: at first, as reckless and irresponsible as he was; but by the end, a wise and noble warrior. She walked out of the Jedi Order in the final series of Clone Wars in 2012, which is to say, 18 years ago. 

Whoah, Andrew. A minute ago you were complaining that the Star Wars comic was focusing on characters who were never in the movies. Now you are excited because an older version of a character from one cartoon series has turned up in a different cartoon series?

Yeah. It's a matter of how you do it, I suppose. I had a hundred a twenty episodes in which to get used to Ahsoka; and it helps that the cartoon series offered a more convincing picture of the Clone Wars than either of the movies that referenced them. And I am more inclined to buy into Ahsoka's presence in Rebels, because a confrontation between "the Sith Lord" and his former apprentice is an intrinsically interesting set up; just the kind of thing that ought to be happening in Star Wars. We've never seen someone who knew and liked Anakin Skywalker confronting him as Darth Vader before. (When Obi-Wan confronted Darth Vader, Anakin Skwalker didn't exist; not in that sense.)
The little boy from Episode I who is addressed as "grandfather" in Episode VII; the young, comic relief character ("Snips") in on cartoon who is also the mature, tragic leader in another; characters who look back on previous movies as parts of of their youth or as parts of a past known only from folklore...

It would be silly and over the top to say that Star Wars is about time and memory; Remembrance of Things Past considered as a weekly cartoon strip. But remind me: what are the first words of the caption that appears at the beginning of ever Star Wars movie? 

Trailer


The Binary Suns motif taps out on a tinkly instrument: a piano or a harpsichord or some such. The same only different. 

We are following someone into the Rebel Base; walking behind her. 

(The Rebel Base on Yavin; the actual Rebel Base on Yavin, with all the technicians and X-Wings and droids Is Biggs there, for example? I bet he is, even if we can't see him.)

The back view of a character is familiar to anyone who has ever played a third person computer game. "Identify with this character" it says "She will have a little bit of individuality, but she's basically just your avatar in the virtual world." 

Note also the lens flare. Computer games love lens flare even though no actual lenses are harmed during the making of computer games. Lens flare says “documentary”. It says "this isn’t a thing we made, this is a thing being shot, by some camera man embedded with the Rebel Alliance".

She is Jyn. She is a woman. She seems to be in handcuffs. The voice over must be an Imperial Officer reading out a charge sheet. She must be some kind of criminal who the Rebels have rescued. 

There is a flashback. Another market. Another heroine. Another hood. She is shooting Stormtroopers. Stormtroopers used to fall over politely when they were shot. Now they are propelled across the landscape. 

There is stuff which everyone can see; everyone who has ever been to the movies; everyone who has ever been inside a toyshop. X-Wings; the Death Star; Stormtroopers; Walkers. They are what tell us that this is Star Wars. You could make a movie about someone going to the shops to buy some potatoes and if there were Stormtroopers, Walkers, Death Stars and X-Wings you would still know it was Star Wars. 

And then there is stuff which only the fans can see. Not so much a dog whistle as a little pat on the head. The person talking to Jyn is Mon Mothma. Mon Mothma is the leader of the Rebellion. She appeared for a few seconds during Return of the Jedi and even fewer seconds during Revenge of the Sith. And now she is talking to a lady called Jyn in the actual secret rebel base on Yavin from Star Wars. Good fan. Have a treat.

We always knew that the Death Star was the sort of thing you could mistake for a small moon; but the beauty shot of the small-tiny Star Destroyers passing in front of it… It sort of sums up the ever escalating scale that Star Wars was about but never quite had the special effects for.

The Death Star. The actual Death Star. The Death Star from Star Wars, only awesome. 

The very first thing we knew about Star Wars was that Rebel Spies had managed to steal plans to Death Star in capital letters, and that they did this while Rebel Spaceships were winning their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire, also in capital letters. That was all we knew about the Galaxy, and all we needed to know. 

Someone stole the plans and gave the to Leia, who gave them to R2D2, who gave them to Luke, who gave them to that guy with the beard at the end of Star Wars. Is there any reason at all why it shouldn't be a lady called Jyn? Revenge of the Sith ended with C3P0 and R2D2 on the Ship from scene one of Star Wars, which is to say, the Rebel Blockade Runner, which is to say the Tantive IV. Is there any reason why Rogue One should not end with Jyn handing the Plans of the Death Star to Princess Leia? 

How much back-story be piled onto one film before it breaks? Robin Hood can always play another trick on another fat monk. Ishmael can never be seen to go on another whaling voyage?

We do not know, at this stage, if Jyn is the hero of the movie; or merely the one that the first trailer has decided to focus on. At least four other characters appear in the montage: 

White Guy With Mustache. 
Asian Guy With Stick. 
Bald Black Guy.
Guy With Beard and Plaits.

Trailers have a structure as fixed and invariable as the Journey of the Hero itself. No longer is there a booming voice saying “It was a TIME of heroes” or “Never before in the history of motion pictures..."
Instead, you get clips of dialogue playing over one or two scenes from the film: enough to tell you a tiny fragment of the story. And then, quickly, and totally without context, a montage of other characters and scenes, and another bit of dialogue which sums up what the story is About. Unfortunately, the story is never About “dinosaurs” or “gangsters” or “huge great space stations the size of a planet”. The story is always About family, or love, or how one man must choose. 

It seems that Bald Black Guy is Jyn’s mentor. He is the one who gets to announce what the film is About. 

"What. Will. You. Do. If they catch you. Whatwillyoudoiftheybreakyou? If you continue to fight. What will you. Become!” 

That’s the important question. What will you. Become? How will delivering the plans to Princess Leia affect you personally.``

Tell us, Jyn, tell us, about the personal journey you’ve been on.

*
It was been widely reported that Star Wars fans were unhappy that the protagonist of Rogue One is a lady. 

This is not true. 

Anyone who noticed the sex and/or gender of the main character was by definition not a Star Wars fan. The only possible reaction a Star Wars fan could possibly have had to the trailer was "bloody hell it's the actual Death Star and it's huge" with a possible side order of "AT-AT walkers! AT-AT walkers. I had one of those on my bedroom floor when I was a kid." The people who were unhappy about the protagonist being a lady are male supremacist nut jobs pretending to be Star Wars fans. They are cross about a lady having a big part in Star Wars because they are always cross about ladies having big parts in anything, on general principles.

The highest female representation in a Star Wars film to date was Episodes II and III in which 33% of the main characters are female. Rogue One seems broadly in line with the Original Trilogy and the Force Awakens, with four male characters to one female. No Star Wars movie has had more than one woman in a major heroic role. If one wanted to have a sensible discussion about gender balance, one would have to say “Boys feel intimidated if there is more than one girl in the team; the film makers can see that this is a problem and are trying to get round it by allowing the one permitted girl to be team captain."  (**)

When I saw Jyn, I did not think “Oh oh oh she is a lady there will never again be another movie with a male hero, I am undone,  its plickle kreckness gone mad.” 

But there was a small part of me which thought: “Oh oh oh she is an orphan loner who lives by her wits in alien markets and gets into trouble and breaks the rules and says ‘Yes Sir’ in a sarcastic voice. Which is quite close to Rey the orphan loner who lives by her wits in alien junk yards and Ezra the orphan loner who lives by his wits in alien markets, but quite a long way from Luke the restless young man who wants to go to the academy.”

That's the story that the trailer seems to be telling us. An unorthodox rebellious soldier, quite unsuited to the military. An old mentor, who has to teach her discipline, not realising that she is actually showing him that imagination and rule breaking isn’t such a bad thing after all. 

In short the plot of every war movie you’ve ever seen; ever Dirty Dozen movie; every Rogue Cop film. J.J Abrams even turned Star Trek into the story of an unorthodox, rebellious Captain entirely unsuited to any kind of military career. 

By all means, show us the rebels striking from their hidden fortress. By all means, show us the Death Star from an new angle and Walkers from the perspective of the troops on the ground. But please, don’t try to show us “the reality of war”. 

This will be a film, say director Gareth Edwards, in which "good guys are bad and bad guys are good". I could hardly come up with a more precise definition of what Star Wars is not. I’d honestly rather see the film about people buying potatoes.


(*) A former associate of Han Solo, and a rogue archaeologist who worked with Darth Vader in a different comic.

(**)

IV: Luke, Han, Chewie, Ben / Leia 20%
V and VI: Luke, Han, Chewie, Lando / Leia 20%
I: Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Anakin / Amidala 25%
II and III: Obi-Wan, Anakin / Amidala 33%
VII: Poe, Finn, Han, Chewie / Rey 20%
Clone Wars: Anakin, Obi-Wan / Ahsoka 33%
Rebels: Kanaan, Ezra, Zeb / Hera, Sabine 40%



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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."


TEST YOURSELF

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.







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