Posts Tagged ‘Gender Roles’

The Young Turks on the Republicans’ Hatred of College Education

August 20, 2017

‘Do I detect an air of anti-intellectualism in this country? Came in about four years ago.’

-Bill Hicks, American comic, speaking four years after the election of Ronald Reagan.

Earlier today I posted a piece commenting on clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, about Rush Limbaugh’s mindlessly stupid ridiculing of NASA’s announcement that they may have discovered flowing water on Mars. Limbaugh’s a right-wing radio host, who’s been fouling the airwaves with his views about liberals, socialists, communists, gays, feminists, anti-racism activists and so on since the 1980s. He sneered at NASA’s announcement because – wait for it – the agency was part of a ‘leftist’ plot to promote global warming!

Not only does he not understand the science, nor the reality of global warming, I don’t think he knows anything about NASA. I know quite a few people, who are fans of space exploration and research from across the political spectrum, including Conservatives. None of them have ever considered that the space agency was ‘left-wing’, although some of its leading scientists and advocates, like Carl Sagan, were. And the accusation that the agency’s data on global warming is faked for political purposes is risible.

But this shows the contempt Limbaugh has for science, and for education generally.

Florence, one of the many great commenters on this blog, has a background in microbiology and has been very interested in the question of life in space. She has posted a long comment to my piece. I recommend that you read all of it. But the end is particularly important, as she wonders how we got to this point where science is so despised.

And of course, back to NASA. I was fairly sure the alt-idiocy had already “proven” it was part of the deep state and the heart of black ops and skunk works and a branch of the CIA. These latest revelations only serve, as you say, to illustrate the total lack of education to an acceptable level in this day and age, more worryingly the lack of scientists in government in the USA and across the world. The charge against the scientific community lead by Trump and his “business men” ilk, with the violent and thuggish self styled fascist enforcers and militias coming out the woodwork in the last year, make the premise of the Handmaids Tale seem worryingly prophetic. How did this happen?

I think it’s part of a general distrust of intellectuals in American culture, which has increased massively amongst Republicans in recent years. In the piece below, The Young Turks discuss the finding that a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning people distrust college education. They also note that they don’t just look down on higher education. They also hate and distrust the media and science. 58 per cent of Republicans and Republican supporters state that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, compared to 45 per cent a year ago, in 2016.

Cenk Uygur suggests that part of this is the use of propaganda by the party’s leaders. Part of the problem is that Conservatives tend to be more authoritarian than left-wingers. Thus, they’re more likely to follow the opinions of their leaders, and in the case of the Republican party, these leaders despise higher education.

Ana Kasparian, his co-host, who I believe teaches political science herself, argues that it’s because the Republicans want to keep you stupid. They’re trying to privatize education, and get children instead to attend private schools through voucher schemes, where the normal educational standards do not apply. There’s more than an element of hypocrisy in this. Those public figures trying to destroy the American educational system and minimize the benefits of higher education are themselves highly educated. Many of them have gone to Ivy League universities. Anne Coulter is one example. In her book, which Kasparian laments she has had to read, ’cause she’s got to debate her, Coulter states that the only purpose of college education is to produce ‘social justice warriors’. Yet this woman went to Cornel. Yet education is one of the great indicators of how well an individual will do in the future. And as she points out, it also protects you from scams.

Yet the Republicans themselves are also slightly divided on the issue of the benefits of higher education. 46 per cent of Republicans earning less than $30,000 a year say that college has a beneficial effect on how well you do. This declines for those earning over $30,000 all the way down to 32 per cent.

Uygur and Kasparian admit that there are caveats and qualifications to this issue. Higher education has a down side, in that students are saddled with an immense amount of debt. This needs to be reformed. But Republicans don’t see college as a negative because they feel sorry for the students burdened with this debt. No, they want to keep people stupid and misinformed, so they don’t climb the economic ladder and they can’t fill them with some of the nonsense they believe.

Uygur concludes ‘So don’t go to university, because if you go to a real university, you might not go to a Trump university, and that would be bad for Trump.’

Once again, this is an American issue that applies almost in toto to Britain. Continental visitors and emigrants to Britain have commented on how anti-intellectual British society is. And this anti-intellectualism is again part of British Conservatism as well. Way back in the 1980s Private Eye reviewed a book on Conservative by the right-wing British philosopher, Roger Scruton. Scruton declared that Conservativism wasn’t an intellectual force, but was largely unspoken, and based on the power of tradition. For which the reviewer thanked Scruton for being honest about how anti-intellectual it was. Intellectuals and science are distrusted, because many of their findings contradict or cast doubt on traditional attitudes. For example, feminism attacks traditional notions of gender roles. Black and Asian intellectuals and activist have also undermined commonly held racial assumptions about White superiority and the subordinate role of their ethnic groups. Left-wing historians and political scientists have also challenged the class basis of western, including American and British society, as well as the supposed beneficial nature of western imperialism.

Some of the Republican distrust of science comes from Biblical literalism. The findings of geology and cosmology contradict a literal reading of the creation of the world in Genesis. That said, one study found that the people, who had the greatest faith in science were actually Creationists.

The Republicans and some of their British counterparts, like Nigel Lawson, also deny the reality of global warming. Hence Trump’s decision to close down that part of the federal government that researches and publishes studies of climate change and the pollution and decline of America’s epic natural beauty. It’s why Theresa May and Dave Cameron get annoyed whenever anyone shows how terrible fracking is for local people and the environment.

Science can be particularly difficult for the layperson to understand. It can involve very careful statistical analysis of complex data. And some of the raw phenomena are extremely weird. Quantum physics is a case in point. The world of subatomic particles is contradictory and very different from the macroscopic, everyday world. Subatomic particles dart into and out of existence in the quantum foam at the very lowest layer of matter. Light can be simultaneously a wave and a particle. Particles may be in two places at once, under their position is recorded by an observer. They can also move between one place in the atom to another without physically crossing the space in between. And two entangled atoms can behave as one, even though they may be separated by light years. It’s so bizarre that the scientists studying it have said that ‘you don’t understand it. You just get used to it.’

Also, some of the pronouncements made by intellectuals themselves have given critics ample ammunition. Like the statement by one professor a few years ago that snowmen were racist and sexist. Or the £20,000 in grant one scientist received for researching the terribly important issue of why cornflakes get soggy when you pour milk on them.

There’s also the problem that scientific opinion also keeps changing on medical matters. Every so often researchers discover that certain foods are harmful for you. On the other hand, certain others are beneficial. Only for these opinions to be revised a few years later.

But the nature of science is that it is a process, not a set body of knowledge, and that it’s conclusions and statements may be revised as and when later discoveries are made. It’s why no-one now believes that an immaterial fluid – the ether – permeates the universe, with atoms only whirlpools in it, as they did over a century or so ago.

And so the right-wing press, like the Scum all the way up to the Torygraph, and particularly the Daily Heil, will publish endless numbers of articles attacking ‘left-wing’ intellectuals. Paul Johnson, the Conservative pundit, who used to write for the Daily Mail and Spectator, amongst other rags, wrote a book on them. Entitled Intellectuals, Johnson used it to explore what right intellectuals had to tell us what was right and how to order our lives. Private Eye also reviewed this as well. You will not be surprised to read that most of the intellectuals Johnson wrote about were left-wing, and many of them had shabby personal lives. Karl Marx is one example. Others were gay, or otherwise had colourful sexual tastes, like Kenneth Tynan, who apparently was into S&M.

But none of this actually refutes the value of their work, which has to be judged on other terms. Marx’s own bad behavior as a man doesn’t contradict his philosophical and economic theories any more than Alan Turing’s homosexuality refutes his work on mathematics and computers. But this doesn’t stop Johnson trying to tell you that their own bad behavior disqualifies intellectuals from having the right to explore how society may be improved. An attitude that, incidentally, is apparently shared by that other Johnson, Boris. This should rule Boris out as well as a serious politician, if true.

In the meantime, don’t let the Tories and Republicans run down public education. And stick up for proper intellectuals and intellectual discourse. As someone once said, ‘Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains.’

On the Selection of a Female Dr. Who

August 6, 2017

The week before last, the BBC finally broke the tension and speculation surrounding the identity of the actor, who is going to play the next Doctor. They announced that the 13th Dr would be played by Jodie Whitaker, an actress, who has appeared in a number of crime dramas. Like many people, I was shocked by this radical departure from tradition, but not actually surprised. The Doctor has been male for the past fifty years, but thirty years ago the Beeb announced that it was considering making the next Doctor a woman as Tom Baker was leaving the role and preparing to hand it on to the next actor. In fact, the announcement was joke dreamed up by the Baker and one of the producers and writing team, and the role went to Peter Davison. The announcement of a possible female Doctor resulted in a few jokes, such as ‘the most painful regeneration of them all’. One of the British SF media magazines – I can’t remember whether it was Starburst or Dr. Who Magazine, then went on to make a serious point, that nothing was known about the Time Lord family, and so it was quite plausible that this alien race could change their genders during regeneration.

I can also remember Mike telling me at the time that there was also a feminist group in the European parliament, who wanted a female Doctor, who would have a male assistant, which she would patronise, in a reverse of the usual situation. The role of women in Dr. Who has been somewhat contentious down the years. Critics, like the Times journalist Caitlin Moran, the author of How To Be A Woman, have criticised the show’s portrayal of women in the Doctor’s companions. She claimed a few years ago on a TV segment about the show that they usually were there to say, ‘But Doctor, I don’t understand’. Others have also made the point that their role tended to be stereotypically passive and traditional. They were to scream when threatened by the monster, and be rescued by the Doctor. It’s quite a controversial statement, though I do remember seeing one of the team behind the Classic Dr. Who saying that there was some truth in it. They had tried to make the Doctor’s female companions less stereotypical, and stronger. So you had Zoe, one of Patrick Troughton’s companions, who was a computer scientist from the future. Romana was a Time Lady, who had majored in psychology at the Academy. In her first appearance in the Tom Baker serial, ‘The Ribos Operation’, it was made clear that she was actually more intelligent than the Doctor, who had scraped through his degree after he retook his exam. Sarah Jane Smith was a feisty female journalist, who was fully prepared to talk back to the Doctor, representing the new generation of independent young women that came in with ‘Women’s Lib’ in the ’70s. And the strongest female companion of them all has to be Leela, a female warrior of the Sevateem, a primitive tribe descended from a group of astronauts sent to investigate a jungle world. Leela mostly wore only a leather bikini, but she was skilled with the knife and the deadly Janus Thorn, a poisonous plant, whose venom killed within minutes. Leela was quite capable of defending herself and protecting the Doctor. In the serial ‘The Invisible Enemy’, for much of the story she is the active member of the team, after she proves immune to the sentient virus that infects and paralyses the Doctor. There were also attempts to introduce strong female villains, such as the Rani, a renegade Time Lady of the same stripe as the Master, but who specialised in genetic engineering and biological transformation rather than mechanical engineering. But the producer or writer conceded that as time went on, these strong female characters tended to become weaker and more stereotypical, so that they ended up screaming and waiting to be rescued by the Doctor.

The stereotypical role of the female companions has become more outdated as traditional gender roles in society have changed, and Science Fiction as a genre began exploring and challenging issues of gender and sexuality. There’s a tradition of feminist SF, which has been present from the emergence of the genre in the late 19th century, but which became more prominent with the rise of the modern feminist movement in the 1960s. A few years an anthology of female utopias, created by late 19th and early 20th century female writers, Herland, was published. It took its title from that of a female utopia described by an early American feminist and campaigner for women’s suffrage. Feminist SF writers include Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, best known for her ‘Earthsea’ fantasy novels, and Sheri S. Tepper. Russ is an American academic, and the author of The Female Man. She considers that the rise of the women’s movement is a far more revolutionary and profound social change than space travel and the other technological conventions of Science Fiction. And many of these SF authors, both female and male, have created worlds and species, in which the genders are fluid.

In Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest, conditions on the planet on which the book is set are so harsh, that little time is available for procreation. The people there are neuter for most of the time. However, they have a breeding season, during which they may become male or female. However, the adoption of a particular gender doesn’t necessarily recur, so that a person, who is female one season may be the male in the following season, and vice versa. Michael Moorcock also experimented with gender identity in some of his books. The Eternal Champion may be male or female, depending on incarnation. And at the end of the Jerry Cornelius book, The Final Programme, Cornelius is transformed into a beautiful hermaphrodite, which leads humanity to its destruction.

Other SF writers have envisoned futures, where humans are able to transform the bodies in a variety of ways, according to taste, including switching genders. In Gregory Benford’s ‘Galactic Centre’ novel, Across the Sea of Suns, the crew of an Earth ship sent to investigate the centre of the Galaxy following the attack of the Mechs, a hostile galaxy-spanning machine civilisation, devise special pods, which can remake and refresh the crew. This includes changing gender. And Ian M. Banks ‘Culture’ novels are also set in a future, where humans are able to use technology to switch genders easily. In Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City, the bored, immortal rich of the titular city on a world orbiting Epsilon Eridani, are able to use nanotechnology and genetic manipulation to change their appearance, often into outlandish forms. One character, a woman, is called ‘Zebra’, because she has covered her self in black and white stripes, and sculpted her hair into a mane that runs down her back. She tells the hero, Tanner Mirabel, that this is only her latest appearance, and that she will probably change it and move on to another in the future. She also states that she hasn’t always been female either.

In the 1990s there was a particularly strong demand for Science Fiction to challenge gender stereotypes. This was a reaction to the traditional image of the genre as dominated by White males, and focused on issues of surrounding technology and hard science. Thus one of the American SF societies launched the Arthur C. Clarke award for Science Fiction that challenged traditional stereotypes. There has also been a demand for a better representation of women amongst the genre’s writers. The anthology of ‘Dieselpunk’ stories therefore has roughly as many women writers as men.

The exploration of gender roles has also included explorations of sexuality, including same sex attraction. Gay fans of Star Trek in the 1980s hoped that the new series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, would include a gay character, a wish echoed by David Gerrold, one of the writers of the Classic Trek series. They were disappointed when the series did feature a story, where Riker becomes romantically involved with a member of the Jnai, an alien race, who have evolved beyond gender, but where it re-emerges occasionally amongst a persecuted culture of throwbacks. Riker becomes attracted to one of these throwbacks, a female, and attempts to rescue her after she is arrested. However, he arrives too late. The corrective treatment meted out to such people has worked, and she is now as sexless as the rest of them.

Gay fans of the series felt that they had been cheated. Instead of a forthright endorsement of homosexuality, they’d been given a kind of half-hearted nod. The issue of gay rights was there, but so heavily disguised that it may as well not have been there at all. They also objected to it on the grounds thta it seemed to reinforce the prejudiced view of opponents of gay rights, who declare that it is about removing gender altogether. This prejudiced was clearly expressed by the conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, a couple of years ago on his show, Infowars. Jones ranted that gay rights was a ‘transhumanist space cult’ intent on creating a race of genderless, cyborg people.

Er, not quite.

Gay characters and the exploration of alternative sexuality have been part of Science Fiction since William S. Burroughs’ books The Naked Lunch, and Samuel R. Delaney, a Black American writer, who also uses his novels to explore racial issues. Gay characters and issues of gender and sexuality have also been a strong element in the modern Dr. Who series. Captain Jack Harkness, a time traveller from the future, who became the lead character in the spinoff series Torchwood, is bisexual, and Ianto in the second series of that show was gay. This is probably mainly due to the series having a strong gay following, and that the writer behind its revival, Russell T. Davis, is also gay. For those, who can remember that far back, he was the creator of the gay series, Queer As Folk on Channel 4 in the 1990s.

There’s a sort of inevitability to the news that the next Doctor would be female, as the new Dr. Who series has also experimented with issues of gender roles. In the episode, ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, Matt Smith’s Doctor revealed that the Time Lords changed their gender, when explaining that another Time Lord he knew always retained the tattoo of a serpent on their arm throughout their regenerations, even when they were female. In the series before last, a Time Lord general shot by Peter Capaldi’s Doctor regenerates as female. And then, of course, there’s Missy, who is the female incarnation of the Master. My guess is that these changes were partly used to gauge how the audience would respond to a new Doctor. Once it was shown that most accepted the idea that Time Lords could regenerate as the opposite sex, then the way was clear for a female Doctor.

The show has also several times had strong female leads, while the Doctor has been more passive. Thus, in the last episode of the First Series, ‘Bad Wolf’, Rose Tiler becomes virtually a goddess, mistress of space and time, after peering into the heart of the TARDIS, saving Earth and Christopher Ecclestone’s Doctor from the Daleks. Catherine Tate’s character similarly rescued David Tennant’s Doctor from Davros and his Daleks after she gained all his knowledge as a Time Lord. And in one of the stories featuring the revived Zygons, it seemed to me that apart from the Doctor, all the characters in positions of authority – the heads of UNIT, scientists and so on, were all female.

The programme has also experimented with male gender roles. In one story about a year or so ago, one of the characters is a man, who has an alternative identity as a superhero following his childhood encounter with an alien device that can grant people’s deepest wishes. In his normal life, he’s a childminder.

It’s been said that there’s a division between TV and film SF, and literary Science Fiction, with the audience for TV and film uninterested in science fiction literature. I don’t believe that’s entirely the case, and the audiences for the various media clearly overlap. And literary SF has had an influence on Doctor Who. In the 1980s the BBC tried to recruit SF writers to give the series a great connection with SF literature. And several of the stories in recent Dr. Who series have shown the influence of literary SF. For example, in the last series, Earth suddenly became a forest planet, as the trees grew and spread everywhere. This, it was revealed, was to save humanity from some cosmic disaster. This looks quite similar to a book by Sheri S. Tepper, in which trees come to life to save people from danger and disaster. And to me, the name of space station in the last series’ story, ‘Breath’, Chasm Forge, sounds a bit too close to ‘Chasm City’ to be entirely coincidental, although the two stories are very different.

I also think that there have been social and political considerations that may have influenced the decision to make the next Doctor female. As well as the general demand within SF fandom for more women writers and female-centred stories, I got the impression that the audience for SF on TV may have slightly more women than men. This is not to say that the numbers of men watching SF is small – it isn’t – but that the fan organisations may have a very large female membership. I certainly got that impression from Star Trek. If that’s also the case with Dr. Who, then the series’ writers and producers would also want to cater for that audience.

I also think that there’s probably pressure too to create a female character, who would act as a role model and encourage more girls to enter science, particularly male-dominated subjects like Maths, physics and engineering. There have been initiatives to do this before, but they’ve had limited effect. You may remember the video one governmental organisation made a few years ago. Entitled Science: It’s a Girl Thing, this featured attractive young women in lab coats tapping away to a pop tune. Many women, including female scientists, felt it was patronising and demeaning. As the Doctor is very much the hero as scientist, who solves problems through his superior Time Lord scientific knowledge, I think those concerned to see greater representation of women in the sciences would welcome the Doctor’s transformation into a woman.

I have to say that, provided the transition is done well, I don’t think a female Doctor will harm the series. As I said, the rumour that there might be a female Doctor along the way has been around since the last Tom Baker series back in 1980s or thereabouts. If done badly, it could easily reduce the series to farce or pantomime by being just that little bit too incredible, or just plain weird. But the idea of gender-swapping Time Lords/Ladies hasn’t been so far, and from previous experience I think it will be done properly. The series might lose some viewers, but I think many of the real, hard-core Whovians, like Mike, won’t be bothered at all. I hope so in any case, will watch the new series with interest.

Kevin Logan’s Pick of Alex Jones Ranting Insanity for 2016

January 3, 2017

The New Year is a time when the commercial channels look back over the events of the previous year. For example, in sport the Beeb broadcasts the Sports Personality of the Year, ITV has Jimmy Carr fronting the comedy quiz, Big Fat Quiz of the Year, Charlie Brooker casts his jaundiced eye over the years’ events in a special edition of Screenwipe. In its prime, News Quiz on Radio 4 did much the same with a special, Christmas edition of the show looking back over the previous year. So it’s in this spirit that I’m reblogging Kevin Logan’s compilation of his favourite bits of sheer ranting lunacy from Infowars’ Alex Jones for 2016.

Jones is a conspiracy theorist, who really does seem to believe that the world is being run by a secret cabal of Satanists determined to destroy everything good and noble, including and especially America. He appeared a few years ago on Jon Ronson’s documentary series, Secret Rulers of the World, in which he claimed that the global elite meeting at Bohemian Grove every year had sacrificed a baby in a Devil-worshipping ceremony. He has his own internet show, Infowars. His broadcasting style is completely unrestrained. He’ll go off on long, splenetic tirades against the ‘globalists’ he believes are wrecking the planet and enslaving its citizens. He’s also done it on British TV. On Jon Ronson’s programme, he went off on a rant about how Americans wouldn’t stand for the globalists’ Satanic shenanigans as this was the Land of the Free, and they were serfs tugging their forelocks to the landlords, like Europe. Andrew Neil had him on his show over here, in which, sure enough, Jones starting ranting again. This ended with camera cutting away from the infowarrior to show Neil making circular motions with his finger around his head in the internationally recognised sign for ‘nutter’. Piers Morgan also had him on his show for an intelligent, informed conversation about the issue of gun rights in America after another mass shooting. Of course, he didn’t get any such thing. Instead, Jones took great umbrage at the question, no matter how mildly Morgan tried phrasing and rephrasing it, and ended up, once again, ranting and threatening the former Mirror editor with dire retribution if he turned up on the other side of the Atlantic to try to take the American people’s guns away.

This short piece by Kevin Logan, who makes vlogs attacking the Alt Right and the disgusting denizens of the Men’s Rights movement, who are frequently part and parcel of the former, contains some fine examples of unbridled lunacy from Jones.
He starts off attacking James Randi, the notorious Skeptic, who specialised in debunking fraudulent mediums and psychics, before going on to claim that the world really is run by Satanists. He also rants about how men are being told that they’re redundant, but there will be a spiritual uprising of real men against the machine Satanist overlords. He also rants about how it’s now hip to fail and be a slacker, have pus and dead babies all over your face, smoke weed and worship Satan. There’s also moments where he mocks liberals, prancing around with exaggeratedly effeminate hand motions, while ranting about how liberals claim their nice and fluffy but really want to kill and enslave everyone. But they look caring and hip while doing so. He also mixes in with his ranting his personal, family history. In his diatribe against Piers Morgan, Jones screams about how patriotic his family has been, as they fought on both sides during the Texas revolution against Mexico. Which as Logan points out, would make Jones a traitor if he personally had done so. He quotes the Japanese WW II admiral, Yamamoto, as saying that they had ‘awoken a sleeping giant’ with their attack on America. He then claims that Oklahoma, and, by implication, the rest of the US, would have caved in without a shot if the Japanese had turned up in pink uniforms claiming to be ‘trannies’. There’s also a scene where he shouts at someone to shut up, and calls them an ‘authoritarian’, which is definitely a case of the pot calling the kettle black. He also rants about how he is being maligned as sexist and racist, and that Fox News will run a hit piece about a serial stalker of women. They will then show his face, turning red.

This is all highly amusing, but there is a deeply serious side to these rants. Jones was and is a very vocal supporter of Donald Trump. He had him on his show several times during the presidential election campaign and the nominations for the presidency. He claimed that Trump was just the man to stand against the globalists, and is still doing so, despite the glaringly obvious fact that Trump is stuffing his entire cabinet with them. I don’t know how many people take Jones or his show seriously. I suspect a large portion of Jones’ ranting is just theatre. He’s got an outrageous image, which he deliberately plays up to as he knows this will get the rubes watching. It’s the same attitude the great actor and drunk Oliver Reed adopted. Reed was notorious for his drinking, but said in an interview once a few years ago that he presented this persona because this is what the public wanted. They didn’t want to see Oliver Reed the actor, he opined. They wanted to see Oliver Reed the hellraiser. And the same’s true, I think, for Jones.

And his rants do show, in a grotesquely distorted form, many of the issues that do haunt the American Right, as well as wider society. When he talks about the threat of the machines taking over, he’s actually addressing a genuine problem that has been discussed by serious scientists. Kevin Warwick, the professor of robotics at Reading University begins his book, March of the Machines, with a scenario set 33 years from now, in which intelligent machines have taken over and enslaved humanity. He has said in interviews that at one time he was very depressed by this prospect, before he turned to exploring cyborgisation. Way back in the 1990s, the Astronomer Royal, Dr. Martin Rees, also discussed the possibility of robots taking over in a book he wrote, Our Final Minute, on possible threats to the future of humanity. And this is quite apart from the threat of massive job losses – about 2/3 are expected to go – from widespread automation during this century.

Since at least the 1990s, and going back even further to the 1960s, if not long before, there have been conspiracy theories about Satanists running the American government. This became particularly strong with the Gulf War and George Bush senior’s comments about a ‘new world order’. This conspiracy theory draws partly on older theories, in which America is being secretly run by the Freemasons and the Illuminati, following 19th century reactionaries, who tried to explain the American and French Revolutions as the actions of clandestine groups trying to destroy the monarchical, aristocratic order of the ancien regime. These theories were later revived by the Nazi and Fascist theorists in the 20th century, like Nesta Webster, and then entered the UFO milieu in the 1980s and ’90s with the emergence of the Abduction myth. This produced another conspiracy theory that the US government were allowing aliens to abduct and experiment on humans, and even create hybrid human-alien children, in return for technological secrets. Several of the people pushing this myth declared that the aliens’ human agents were the ‘Illuminati’, and tried to support this using passages from the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Now, I’ve seen no evidence that Jones is racist or anti-Semitic. It’s clear from some of the videos he’s posted that he has Black employees on his show. But there is a profoundly racist aspect to the UFO conspiracy theories he espouses.

As for the homophobia, very many people, particularly amongst the older generation in Britain and America are unhappy with gay rights. They’re also deeply concerned about feminism and changing attitudes to gender roles. This has left many men feeling emasculated. And this has been an issue in American politics with strongly anti-feminist activists like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly and Anne Coulter, to name just a few. And while Jones’ statement that the new, Satanic order wishes to make men obsolete is farcically grotesque, masculine obsolescence was the stuff of journalistic discussion back in the 1990s. Some of the female journalists in the 1990s did write articles wondering what was the point of men, now that women had shown they could do their jobs, and in vitro fertilisation made them unnecessary for procreation. A number of feminist SF writers published novels about worlds, in which women prospered after the men had all been wiped out by a disease. Now this was an extreme view. Most women, I think, see feminism as being pro-woman, but not anti-man. As for the newspaper articles about men being obsolete, this was a favourite topic of the chattering classes generally. Will Self and J.G. Ballard had the same discussion in one of the literature periodicals at the same time. There is a genuine issue there, but Jones is probably taking far more seriously than many of the hacks, who wrote opinion pieces about it in the ’90s. Apart from that, Science Fiction has been exploring the topics of sex and gender roles since it first emerged as a genre in the 19th century. One pioneering American feminist depicted a future feminist utopia in Herland, while Theodore Sturgeon described a secret community of hermaphrodites in Venus Plus X in the ’50s or ’60s.

There’s also a section of American society that equates masculinity with militarism and firearms. Not only has Jones ranted against gun control, he’s also spouted weird diatribes about the UN coming to castrate every male. This latter seems to be a skewed misinterpretation of the Indian sterilisation programme of the 1970s. Years ago Magonia, a sceptical UFO magazine, commented on how closely guns and masculinity seemed to be linked in part of the American far Right in an article on the spoof space conspiracy, Alternative 3. This was an April Fool’s Day hoax by ITV, in which a fake science programme, Science Report, uncovered the fact that the Earth was dying. In order to preserve the human race, the Russians and Americans were co-operating secretly to colonise Mars. Selected intellectuals were being sent to the Red Planet to serve as the ruling caste. Beneath them were a class of slave ‘batch consignments’, who were deprived of independent will and ‘de-sexed’ through surgery. The producers of the programme also brought out a book. In the American version, the ‘de-sexing’ of the batch consignments was replaced with a statement about them being deprived of the ability to carry weapons. Which seemed to show how at least some in the American conspiracy fringe equated the loss of gun rights with castration.

As for the ranting about liberals wanting to promote failure as being hip, this seems very much to be a product of the Social Darwinist casts of American politics. The 19th century belief that helping the poor through welfare provision was a waste of resources because the poor were clearly biologically unfit, while businessmen deserved their power and status because they had proved their biological superiority in the competitive world of business, comparable to the Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’, is clearly very much alive and well. This also found expression in an SF short story. This described the racial deterioration of humanity following the decision of an American president not to follow the dictates of healthy ‘winner take all’ competitiveness. The result of this was that, millions of years in the future, humanity had degenerated to an unintelligent animal kept as a pet by the new dominant species, a form of Newfoundland dog.

And Jones’ hatred of globalism is clearly a product of American exceptionalism, which sees America as far more virtuous than any other country. As a result, America cannot allow itself to be bound by the rules it imposes on other nations. Hence the reluctance of the Americans to sign up to the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, and the long diatribes by the Republicans and particularly the Neocons against the UN. Again, much of Jones’ bizarre ranting seems to be based on conspiracies theories going back to the 1970s which saw the UN as being set up to produce an oppressive ‘one world’ government. This is a government which the American Christian Right sees as Satanic. This will result in everyone in the world being marked by barcodes at birth, and the institutional persecution of Christians.

Jones’ ranting and his bizarre conspiracy theories and political views are grotesquely funny, but they’re fears shared by a large number of people in America and beyond. A significant number of people are alienated from a political system that seems intent on ignoring and marginalising them, and to some these malign conspiracy theories provide a convincing explanation for the perceived hostility and indifference of the government, or for the shifts in sexual morality and official attitudes towards gender roles during the past decades. Not only are these fears and the issues that inspire them problems in themselves, they are also partly responsible for the rise of Trump and the Alt Right. In that sense, Jones and his ranting need to be taken very seriously indeed, even if what he says is stupid, farcical nonsense.

The Young Turks: Female Staffer on Sexism and Misogyny in Trump Campaign

February 2, 2016

This is another piece about Trump’s terrible attitude to women. A former member of Trump’s campaign team in Iowa, Elizabeth Mae Davidson, has left it and is seeking advice from a civil rights organisation, citing The Donald’s sexism and refusal give women working for him equal pay to that of their male co-workers. She states that she was paid $2,000 a month, while the men, who were also working part-time for the campaign, were paid $3,500-$4,000. She also points out that sexism and negative attitudes towards women were rife in his company.

Cenk Uygur, the Turks’ anchor, points out that her statement about pay has yet to be ascertained legally. It is possible that she could ‘just be saying it’. But he points out that Trump and the Republicans do not want women to be paid equally. They reject it on the grounds that it’s just an excuse for women to sue corporations. Uygur makes the point that as a staffer for Trump, Davidson should have known this, and it should have come as no surprise when he did it to her.

Uygur also reports that when Davidson and another female activist met Trump, he said, ‘You guys could do a lot of damage.’ They thought at the time that he was referring to their looks. Trump, again, has laughed off this accusation, saying that ‘a lot worse could be said’, but denies he actually did so, stating that ‘it’s not in my vocabulary’. He has then gone on to make other comments and accusations against Davidson. One of them is that she behaved strangely when she was on campaign team, to the point where she started dressing as his wife.

Uygur has some sympathy for her position as a woman working for such a terrible man, who does see women simply as sex objects and doesn’t want them to have equality with the men in his organisations. But he criticises her for having the same selfish attitude to these issues that permeates all Republicans. The Republicans don’t care when the policies they advocate harm other people. Not when people are unable to feed themselves on their pay, find themselves discriminated against at work, or are shot down, assaulted and imprisoned by the cops for no reason whatsoever. This last is a reference to the racist shootings by police of unarmed Black men, which sparked the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests. In one of the most horrific incidents, a young boy was shot and killed, simply because he was playing with a toy gun. When incidents like these happen to other people, the Republicans simply shrug and say it doesn’t matter, because it didn’t happen to them. but when it does happen to them, there’s outrage.

Uygur’s entirely right about Trump’s horrendous attitude to women, and the way it’s firmly based in Republican attitudes to gender. The Republicans are very much in favour of traditional gender roles. Jerry Fallwell, the right-wing TV evangelist, first made his breakthrough into national US politics in the 1970s, when he led a campaign against the equal pay act. This was the piece of equalities legislation which gave American women the right to be paid the same as men for the same work. And the attitudes to women get more crazed and reactionary the further right you go. Ann Coulter, possibly the Republican’s most splenetic and venomous polemicists, has stated that she doesn’t think women should have the vote. Really. You can check it for yourself. Along with all the other insane and bigoted things she said. There’s whole lists of them on the Net and Youtube.

And these attitudes aren’t confined to America. They permeate UKIP over here, and you can find the same rants against equal pay and maternity leave for women, and flexible working hours to they could fit in their duties looking after their children, in the pages of the supposedly ‘female-friendly’ Daily Mail. They’ve also attacked equal pay legislation and campaigns as harmful to industry, alleging that such provision for maternity leave will make women employees less productive and more expensive to hire. They’ve then go on to argue that this will result in either less women being employed, or firms suffering economic damage from having to employ them and cater for their needs.

I found this meme about the Republicans’ appalling attitudes to women’s rights on the Tumblr site, 1,000 Natural Shocks. (Over 18s only). It probably refers principally to the most vociferously debated and obvious campaign against a recently won right for women, abortion. But it also describes pretty much their entire attitude to women’s rights as a whole, from working outside the home, equal pay, to the right to vote. And this is all despite the fact that the Republicans also have very powerful women on their side, like Coulter and Sarah Palin. And they are powerful, no matter what can be said about their own intelligence, sanity or the stupidity of their policies. But the danger is, for some reason people still continue voting for them.

Republicans Women's Rights

Joshua Bonehill: Hollywood Nazi Troll?

April 30, 2015

I found this interesting little statement by the comedy fuehrer, Joshua Bonehill, on the entry for him on the Rationalwiki site through the link to it on the SlatUKIP page. I’ve posted a number of pieces on Bonehill commenting on his ludicrous attempts to set himself up as some kind of Far Right generalissimo. He is notorious for hacking into other people’s blogs and twitter accounts in order to malign or threaten them. One of his favourite tactics is to claim falsely that they are paedophiles, a particularly vile and dangerous smear. He was also found guilty of making false claims against pub, whose staff were threatened following another of his lies. He claimed that they wouldn’t serve British servicemen in order not to upset Muslims.

Bonehill as Britain’s prospective Fascist dictator, Bonehill posts racist and anti-Semitic material on his blog. He was appealing for people to join his neo-Nazi organisation as members of an elite bodyguard for him, now styling himself the Founder. He was one of the leading names behind a Far Right march against the ‘jewification’ of Stamford Hill, a predominantly Jewish community in London.

The National British Resistance

A few weeks ago he also got in his local paper for launching his latest Fascist party, National British Resistance, in one of the parks in Yeovil. Despite claiming later on his blog that his party’s founding was attended in secret by fifty Fascists, some of whom had flown in from Northern Ireland, the only member of his massive Fascist legion to appear was, er, him.

He pretty much resembles Spode and his Blackshorts , P.G. Wodehouse’s spoof of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in Jeeves and Wooster, though ‘Founder’ Bonehill’s antics include stunts that Spode would definitely consider well below acceptable behaviour. Like being thrown out of Tesco for trying to defecate in their frozen food section, or prosecution for trying to break into a police station to steal uniforms and equipment.

Bonehill and Trolling

According to a statement by Bonehill himself, preserved on the Rationalwiki, all this Fascist posturing may be just that: a pose. Bonehill has said that this is an attempt to create a false persona in order to troll the Far Right and anti-Fascists alike, based on David Bowie’s adoption of the Ziggy Stardust persona in the 1970s. The full statements says

“It was after listening to David Bowie’s iconic album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” on repeat for the best part of a day, I realised that I too could potentially create a “Persona” and play a character but instead of basing my character in the musical world, I’d place him in the political world – Leader Bonehill, the Founder was born.

Firstly I created my fictional and satire news website – this was the Daily Bale – and set about generating headlines which quickly went viral throughout 2013. I was responsible for creating myths such as the campaign to ban black pudding and various other oddities that were quickly picked up upon right-wing groups such as the EDL and Britain First to which went viral.

Very quickly I found myself at the head of a large news network and found that I had the power to make many hundreds of thousands of people believe utterly insane and crazy things under the guise of Daily Bale News. To this day, people still share Daily Bale articles and I believe it will withstand the test of time.

[…]

After the Daily Bale I took upon elevating my persona the Leader and Founder to another level which became the “National British Resistance”. The NBR was a Far-Right Nationalist movement led by the fierce and no-nonsense dictator, Leader Bonehill.

Through the NBR I made many outlandish claims for instance one of them was that I could “heal” the Left-Wing through a rebirth process and I also claimed to be a “Right-Wing messiah”. I stood in astonishment as people were eating this bait and taking me VERY seriously to the point where I became the obsession of many social media users.

It wasn’t until the press and media caught onto my activity and started reporting on me as a real person that the ego started to be transferred into the real world. I was invited to speak at meetings and felt almost forced to display this persona in public and this I couldn’t keep on doing because it fundamentally went against everything I believe in as a person.

Yes – I make no bones about it, for the past 16 months I have been trolling relentlessly at the expense of both the Left and the Right – it has been through this trolling that I am now appearing back in court over Daily Bale articles but this was a price I was prepared to pay and knew that my actions would of course have very real world consequences.

Leader Bonehill came alive and consumed me at times, the ego almost controlled me and took upon a very powerful and possessive role in my normal everyday life. I found myself almost believing that I was a “Right-Wing messiah” and had been sent from another planet to free the people and bring about a new great nationalist age – though this of course in reality was absolute bollocks and would never happen.

[…]

Everything I have said and done, right from posing for photographs or the videos I have made are the result of this “Persona”. These do not represent my real views and can instead be seen as a comical ‘act'”.

According to the RationalWiki site, Bonehill has since taken this down, but it’s been archived elsewhere. The piece can be read at http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Joshua_Bonehill-Paine.

From this, it would seem that Founder Bonehill is a ‘Hollywood Nazi’, the term the Far Right give to those play acting at being Fascists, but who aren’t the real Nazi thing. And there have been any number of them.

The grotesque theatricality of Fascism, with its bonkers leaders spouting their vitriolic nonsense to crowds at from government palaces and the Nuremberg stadium, the whole weird, twisted spectacle of marches, rallies and parades, and the sinister fascination with its regalia – the uniforms, flags, badges, propaganda posters – has attracted a number of characters over the years, who have adopted it not from any sympathy with Fascism, but from a simple desire to shock and upset. To epater les bourgeois.

Hippies and Punk Fascist Styles

In the 1960s there was a Hippy Nazi party in Florida, which probably had no purpose other than to wind up the straights. One section of the Punks in the 1970s deliberately courted controversy by dressing up in Nazi uniform as part of their general assault on staid, conventional society. Sid Vicious apparently wandered around a Jewish area of Paris in Nazi uniform, but surprisingly wasn’t beaten up.

David Bowie

Bonehill claims he was inspired by Bowie and Ziggy Stardust. In fact, the Thin White Duke did was at the centre of controversy in the 1970s because of his apparent Nazi inclinations. He was arrested by West Berlin’s finest for getting drunk and making the Fascist salute outside the remains of Hitler’s bunker on the anniversary of the Fuehrer’s birthday. Or death – I can’t remember which.

Bowie also directly prompted the formation of Rock Against Racism, after he announced on British television that in the elections that year there was only ‘one choice’ to run the country, and so was offering himself as the Fascist candidate.

Bowie obviously isn’t, and never was, a true Fascist of any kind. For all the homosexuality amongst certain sections of the Nazi party, the Nazis themselves hated gay men and sent them to the concentration camps. They also had very strict and traditional ideas on gender roles. A woman’s place was ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ – children, kitchen, church. As for masculinity, this was belligerent and aggressive. One Italian Fascist slogan proclaimed ‘Fighting is to man, what motherhood is to woman’. Bowie’s bisexual, androgynous persona in Ziggy Stardust would have been bitterly hated and denounced by the Nazis, just as it was by more traditional, staid members of the older generation.

And there are two other reasons why the Nazis also wouldn’t have adopted Bowie. Pop music has its roots in the mixture of White American country music, and Black barrelhouse jazz. The Nazis, as racists, hated Jazz because of its origins in Black culture, and what they saw as its permissiveness and sexual decadence. Quite apart from the fact that Bowie wasn’t racist, as shown by his later marriage to Iman, a woman whose name is the Arabic for ‘Faith’.

The impression I had was that Bowie in the 1970s was less a Fascist, than a very confused mam, driven nearly to the edge of sanity by the adulation of his fans.

Laibach and the NSK

Then there’s NSK and the Industrial rock band, Laibach. They were from the former Yugoslavia, and were part of a wider art collective, Neue Slowenische Kunst, or ‘New Slovenian Art’ in English. Way back in the 1980s they produced a very Wagnerian cover version of ‘Live is Life’, by the Austrian pop band, Opus. The video was shot very much in the style of the kind of Nazi propaganda films celebrating the countryside, hiking and healthy peasant values. The whole album, Opus Dei, could be seen as an exercise in the kind of music that would have been produced, had the Nazis decided to cover the Beatles, Rod Stewart and Queen.

According to one, very scurrilous and entirely unreliable website, the group deliberately set out to portray themselves as genuine neo-Nazis, dressing in Nazi uniforms. They did so, not because they really were members of the hordes of European stormtroopers, but simply to frighten and annoy the Yugoslav government. The band themselves were anti-Nazi, some of the images they used in their art was designed by anti-Nazi artists. Matters finally came to head when the band spectacularly announced that they were ending the whole charade at a concert. They apparently declared ‘We are as much Fascists as Hitler was an artist’. The Aryan warriors of the Far Right immediately went into meltdown. I’ve heard tales of British Nazis angrily destroying their records when they heard about how they’d been deceived.

When the civil war erupted in the former Yugoslavia, and real Fascism raised its ugly head in the chaos of violence, terror and brutal ethnic cleansing, NSK fled to western Europe. They’ve still continued to make music. One of their most recent projects was on the score for the Finnish SF film, The Iron Sky. This was about a war between an America led by a female president, not too far removed from Sarah Palin, and a Nazi colony on the Moon founded after the fall of the Third Reich.

Laibach’s imagery and artistic style draws partly on Wagnerian opera and the imagery and non-racial motifs of the Third Reich, but this is very much artistic pastiche. Their album Opus Dei can be seen as a comment on the Fascist cult of the leader, and the Second World War as trans-European international conflict, but there’s no racist or anti-Semitic content in the music or covered songs themselves.

The Imperial league of British Fascists

At a much lower level, there also have been a number of small groups here in Britain that have attempted to pose as Nazis in order to cause panic and outrage. Way back in the 1990s or early part of this century, the sceptical Ufolks at Magonia reported the furore surrounding the appearance of another bunch of neo-Nazis in the greater London area. This group styled themselves the Imperial League of British Fascists, and were photographed in the local press in Nazi regalia. Further investigation, however, revealed that there was no such Imperial League, and the assembled stormtroopers were merely the supposed informant, who revealed the story to the press, and his mates having a tasteless laugh.

The Fake Nazis of German TV News

Something similar happened in Germany at about the same time. The Fortean Times reported a case, where a group neo-Nazis supposedly filmed in secret goose-stepping about and generally lowering the standards of the Bundesrepublik, were also found to be the film-maker’s own mates in fancy dress. The film-maker had started a scam in which he produced bogus footage of fringe groups performing weird rituals, and then sent them in to the local news programmes on German television as supposedly real events. For which he was paid. He started with the KKK, then moved to the Odinists and Germanic Neo-Pagans before finally being caught with the Nazis. A particularly eagle-eyed viewer noticed that some of the stormtroopers were the same people as the Klansmen and pagans in his other films.

It’s a funny incident, but underneath the comedy is the sobering, horrific reality of the Third Reich and its murder of tens of millions purely because of their race and political beliefs. Contemporary Germany is still coming to terms with the Hitlerdiktatur and its horrors, which means that stunts like this go beyond a joke.

Bonehill – Not Artist, Just Bully

So, if Bonehill is only posing as Nazi as part of some twisted idea of trolling the public and the Far Right, then he’s not the first by any means. Others have done it long before, and no doubt there’ll be similar idiots doing the same in the future as long as the Nazis and their shock value retain some kind of perceived comedic potential.

Possibly the best thing that can be said of many of these individuals, like the German Nazis in the spoof footage, and the Imperial League of British Fascists, is that they stopped when they were finally caught out. Laibach, by far the best of them, knew when to pack it all in and just carry on as rock musicians. Although their music was partly a pastiche of Nazi forms, they had a following, which recognised this as an artistic statement, rather than a genuine political stance , which allowed them to go on long after they had given up the joke.

Bonehill, by contrast, seems to be just a genuinely malign and unpleasant character, who seems to get some kind of perverse pleasure through being personally insulting and persecuting his victims. He is responsible, after all, for posting grotesquely libellous smears against others, including manufacturing a fake image of a Labour election poster for a particularly controversial Black female politico, claiming that she hates Whites.

There’s no artistic value in these antics. Bonehill doesn’t have the musical talents of Bowie, Sid Vicious, Siouxie Sioux or Laibach, and, unlike some of the provocations of the extreme Left, he can’t and doesn’t justify these as Situationist happenings, as Malcolm McLaren did with the excesses of the Punks. It just seems to be personal abuse and victimisation, simply from a bizarre, malicious delight in tormenting others. It’s bullying, pure and simple, no better than the weird personal abuse meted out online by other, normal trolls, who at least don’t try to justify their actions through appeals to David Bowie’s stage antics four decades ago.

This is, of course, assuming that Bonehill is a ‘Hollywood Nazi’. He may well be, but if he is, it appears that there’s also something inside him that enjoys the feelings of malign power he gets by posing as a wannabe dictator.
Whatever the reality is, he’s unpleasant, and it’s long past time the trolling and vilification stopped.