Wednesday, February 07, 2007

BAD MANNERS, BLOGWAR AND WHY CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS

There is a war between the left and right
A war between the black and white
A war between the odd
And the even.


“There is a war”
Leonard Cohen


Sometimes I don't speak too bright
but yet I know what I'm talking about
Why can't we be friends?


“Why can't we be friends?”
War

I first became aware of blogwar when I received two comments at my blogger site. One was from Iain Hall (whom I’d never heard of) paying me complements on my earlier piece re. cultural studies, the other was from ‘bourbon-boy’ who informed me that Iain’s plug was the ‘kiss of death’.

Now up ‘til that point I’d pretty much ignored the blogsphere. I started this as a way of getting over an entrenched and prolonged block. It never really occurred to me that there were a million blogs out there all expressing political views and that the heat of normal political debate manifested in cyberspace also.

Anyway so I looked up Iain’s blog and was pleasantly surprised to see that he was a conservative. This is because tho’ I’m not I think it important to be able to communicate across the battlelines of the political spectrum. Ideology often acts as an inhibitor to the exchange of ideas. Ideas, ideologically organized, are soldiers in an army. One army fights the other. It doesn’t matter that some ideas are worthy and some not so much so. It matters not likewise that if this army’s idea were combined somehow with the idea from that army good might result. What matters is defeating the enemy?

I think this a problem.

The necessary precursor to accomplishing inter-ideological ceasefire naturally is to get them to listen. If a conservative liked my stuff then I was at least getting them to listen.

I then went to bourbon boy’s site, known as HALLWATCH. This site is dedicated to shitting on Iain Hall!!! I thought this a bit strange as Hall is not a major media figure exactly, he’s a bloke who blogs. Still HALLWATCH is dedicated to tearing old Iain a new arsehole. It’s not so much a debunking of his views (like Boltwatch) but simply an all out effort to humiliate the guy.

An example of the kind of thing you get there is:

This is a good example of just what an arrogant fuckwad Iain is, when I read stuff like this then I feel no guilt about running Hallwatch and focusing on this big mouthed rural jerk off from Queensland (where men are men and women are usually men too.)

According to Bourbon-boy: “HALLWATCH represent a growing trend of decent bloggers who are unhappy with Iain and his actions on the Net.” Bourbon-boy has a small crew who all express the view that the man deserves to be skewered with a scud missile. It’s funny in a playground fashion. But there’s the inevitable hypocrisy. HALLWATCH a site objecting to the bad ethics of one Netizen responds with comparable tactics. For example: Bourbon-boy accuses Iain of being, amongst other things, a stalker however he continually makes reference to Iain’s personal life!

There’s a whole history involving Iain’s crew and Bourbon-boy’s crew going way back to I don’t know. I won’t go into it because I don’t want to get into it. If you guys are reading this I am not taking sides. For others if you want to check it out, check it out.

But I must ask: if Hall is so evil why doesn’t he just write him off, block his commentary ignore him? What is the point?

This sort of stuff’s all over the place. Consider an otherwise sober site (that shall be nameless here). Normally the debate’s quite civilized. But there’s been a running rant/counter-rant between two gentlemen (also to go un-named) who, I guess, purport to be scientists arguing about climate change. The following is a selection of their oratorical eloquence:

Give us one in your own words liar.

“Bird-brain, Have you actually read Lomborg’s book?”

You dirty-homo?

What award are you going for. Jack-ass of the year 2007?

Fuck you, you filthy faggot.

You are blowing hot air out your arse,

Bird-brain. Of course I’ve read Lomborg’s book stoopid, whereas you obviously haven’t. You should learn to shut your fat gob when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Since you have an intellectual capacity inferior to slime mould it would be pointless providing you with evidence. Now why don’t you go to the gym and shed some more of the disgusting walrus blubber that insulates your repulsive person
Get to it fatso- run, run run! .


Now I suspect that these guys really enjoy shitting on each other. I reckon they look forward to it all day (do Bourbon-Boy, Iain Hall and co?). But as much fun as this is - I have learned nothing from it.

In a recent interview for Esquire biochemist James Watson stated that he’d “turned against the left-wing because they don’t like genetics, because genetics implies that sometimes we’ll fail in life because we have bad genes. They want all failure in life to be due to an evil system.” (Esquire “What I’ve Learned” Jan 2007 p. 90). Indeed this underlies in terms of Watson’s own field the problem many have with the left these days; the dogmatic adherence to allocate a social explanation for everything.

Elsewhere Watson says that “new ideas require new facts.”

But new ideas require more than new facts, they require the capacity to face them. New facts can be unpleasant. Genetics as Watson (a formerly left-leaning Democrat of the libertarian mould) poses facts unpleasant for those of us with egalitarian ideals. But facts are facts. For those of us who enjoy our cars arguments for the necessity of drastically reducing human carbon emissions might also be unpleasant.

Much of that argument at present between scientific camps as between journalists, politicians and others is a wrangling between world-views that select facts to suit themselves. This is potentially disasterous either way. To drastically reduce emissions means reducing growth implying unemployment and the perpetuation of pre-modern lifestyles for much of the world; to do nothing when action is required to avoid catastrophe is likewise potentially lethal.

We need facts and solidarity not devisive point-scoring. The same thing I’d suggest goes for terrorism. The left taking the knee-jerk oppositional stance to the chauvanistic posturings of the US administration take the view that one should side (or at least sympathize) with al-Qaeda. Absurd!! This is an organization which would like to sweep aside most of the social progress that Western leftists have fought for over the last two hundred hears or so.

That’s not to let the right off the hook so easily. There’s a whole catalogue of discourse that vilifies Muslims as barbarian hordes all too eager for war. Ironically enough much of this vitriol is expressed in barbarian war-mongering terms. Either/or. Either kill ‘em or go to bed with ‘em. It never occurs to either side that al-Qaeda might actually piss off a lot of Arabs. For a ‘left-wing’ Palestinian who hates terrorists check this out.

This “Jew-hating terrorist" devotes time and money to the following anti-Semitic endeavours:

I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine that was on my Thesis Committee (A 75 Year Urban City Plan for Jerusalem). He is the Rabbi of the third oldest congregation in America. He liked the idea a lot and is not only willing to help but thinking of coming himself. If anyone else would like to come or help shoot me an email.

Following in the footsteps of a very courageous idea, we are going to begin funding the temporary swap of Arab and Israeli bloggers… Let me explain. Rabbi Belzer is the founder and vp of an organization in Ireland that brings Palestinians and Israelis together to develop understanding… a beautiful objective.


The project’s called “meet your cousin”. What a barbarian!! And being against the death penalty (unusual for a bloodthirsty Palestinian I guess) here’s his reaction to the death of a leading al-Qaeda figure: Burn in Hell: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Oh!!! What?

You “learned” ladies and gentlemen from either end of the political spectrum in this most “civilized” and Christian Commonwealth of Australia this attitude doesn’t exactly compute. Does it? Here’s a Palestinian (and a critic of Zionism) who doesn’t like terrorists and is friends with Rabbis!

See? The world is not that simple. What makes it simple is people who reach for one piece of information with which to explain a complex issue and then roll it up and spend the rest of their lives beating others ‘round the head with it. To those of you inclined to do this I’d just like to say, quietly, over a quiet afternoon cup (doesn’t have to be latte or even coffee): I’M SICK OF YOUR FUCKING SELF-RIGHTEOUS RANTS!!

Just quietly.

The scientist vs. scientist diatribe above concerned the famous “skeptical environmentalist” Bjørn Lomborg who, as I recall was spat upon at Oxford for debunking some environmentalist claims. Lomborg had originally been trying to debunk a conservative assertion that most of the problems cited by ecologists in the 1970s had been favorably dealt with. The environmental lobby had vigorously refuted this. Lomborg suspecting they were right set out to attack the conservative position. He found that it was the environmentalists who were wrong about a lot of things. How much I can’t say because Lomborg’s research has also been questioned. He did as I remember state that global warming was still a major problem.

The veracity of Lomborg’s research is immaterial. What is relevant here is the reaction of environmental activists. They attacked him for disproving their propaganda. My perspective at the time was why? He seems to have shown that we can deal with whatever environmental damage we have caused. Surely this is a good thing.

For many environmentalists (and I wasn’t at the time much concerned with those sorts of things) Lomborg’s book was good news. A lot of the opposition came from people so dedicated to the fight, to the hatred of the other side that they considered him a traitor. This is not to infer that environmentalists are a pack of liars. They aren’t. But there are liars and fools on both sides of the fence: left and right.
Pertinent to twentieth century issues this might pass. But the twenty-first century is potentially both a much more dangerous place and a much better place. Terrorism. Environment. Peace and sustainability. Stakes are high. If we win, we really win and if we lose...

In the process of winning a never-ending rhetorical battle we lose the capacity to absorb the new facts that they might present. I believe the growing rift between the left and right and the corresponding loss in capacity for self-criticism, reflection and old fashioned courteous listening is dangerous, literally. It's not like we can ever be a big happy circle dancing around to the same tune. Our taste in music is different. But we can endeavour to be a tad more respectful. Surprisingly it doesn't cost much.

What is required now is a putting aside of the bulky twentieth century dogmas and prejudices. Begin again with basics. What was it you really believed in again. What’s going on? Truly. And, that old and timeless classic...

What is to be done?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well put. I'm a uni student on the right. The same problem plagues student politics... its a shame that in certain spheres, people who are prepare to work together regardless of political ideology to achieve positive outcomes are rare exceptions to the rule.

Adrien said...

I'll be revisiting my days in student politics soonish in furtherence of this theme. The post'll take into account the irony of what happened to hacks of the left and right considering how we turned out.

Drop by sometime.

tigtog said...

Well said, adrien, and I'm totally in agreement with your general thrust.

One specific triggered the contrarian in me, though:

The left taking the knee-jerk oppositional stance to the chauvanistic posturings of the US administration take the view that one should side (or at least sympathize) with al-Qaeda. Absurd!!

I agree it would be an absurd position if it in fact happened. I'd be hugely surprised if anyone but the loopiest fringe figure actually said any such thing. The immediate anti-all-Muslims backlash following 9-11 was the irrational kneejerk that was the real problem, especially combined with the "but why do they hate us? bewilderment.

Pointing out legitimate reasons for Muslims to resent how successive USAn administrations meddling in the Middle East has distorted their political processes, and how that plays into recruitment to al-Qaeda, is not the same as sympathising with al-Qaeda, even though that's how it's been spun by the left-haters.

If we don't understand why and how some longstanding legitimate resentments work to attract young Muslim hotheads to the murderous agenda of al-Qaeda, how can we truly counter them effectively? "Bombing them back to the Stone Age" is not a realistic solution for an organisation that will just regroup elsewhere.

Bruce said...

Bourbon-boy has a small crew who all express the view that the man deserves to be skewered with a scud missile.

Although not a regular by any means, I've commented at HallWatch, criticing the site for Harrasing Iain Hall. My position towards HallWatch has been consistently one of opposition (and my position on blog-watching blogs is that they are absurd). You'll notice 'Bridgit Gread', who is a regular commentor there, is also opposed to the 'mission' of Hallwatch (and doesn't think much of "Bourbon Boy").

Outside of that, BB has about 2-3 regular commetors, so the idea that all of his "blogcrew" (not that he really has one) express this view is in my opinion rather misleading.

Considering that the nature of a lot of what is going on with this "blog war" involves criminal behaviour (posting of people's addresses, spying attempts offline, etc) one should perhaps be a bit more careful with the truth.

Characterising this as a left versus right struggle, also seems to me to be misleading. The predominant criticisms that people make about Iain, are not about his politics. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they throw in "right-wing" in a string of angry adjectives (not that most people write angry about Iain) but the actual political dialogue has been minimal.

Heck, on occasion, when there has been left-right dialogue, the dialogue has been somewhat of a front for antagonising/baiting people. And that's what it's all been about; antagonism. That and ego.

Iain systematically abuses someone, criminally. Then someone complains (or doesn't.) Then almost inevitably, some anonymous pest comes in and systematically and criminally abuses Iain out of spite or out of some unrequited act of vengeance. It's a cycle that's been going on for over a year (and despite earlier signs, hasn't improved.) Politics has little to do with it.

Speaking from personal experience, Iain doesn't really engage in deep reasoned political discussion. Maybe an obviously sensible one liner here, a compliment about a post on a topic there. But that's just a foot in the door of people's comments sections, rather than participation.

I've seen Iain abuse the politeness of other bloggers in order to bait them. Mikey used to be really inclusive of Iain, defending him (overzealously in my opinion) against the likes of Bourbon Boy ("Ransack" aka "Ian Haul" was the culprit then).

Mikey likes to keep an open forum as well, and it's that sence of fairness (and Mikey's candid nature) that left him open for abuse. I saw it coming, and as expected, it happened. I've seen Iain try it on other bloggers as well (Petal, Arthur Vandelay) but they weren't really as vulnerable as Mikey.

Most of us want to be fair with differing points of view (that's how functioning democratic political discourse works), and if not that, at least want to be seen as being fair. Just keep in mind that one needn't be inclusive of those who don't reciprocate that fairness, but rather exploit it.

/* END ACRIMONIOUS BILGE TOPIC */

On the more general topic of your post (and I wish my first commentary at your blog had been more in line with the general line of topics than the above specifics), I have to agree with TigTog. The left leaning haven't exactly signed up with Al Queda, not at all and certainly not as a knee-jerk responce.

TigTog says it well, so I'll make my addition as minimal as possible (which isn't small).

The notion of a left-terrorist sympathy is simple a rhetorical tool. All it takes is to distort "the left's" argument by means of removal of the implicit "fact-value" distinction (or "Hume's is-ought" if you want to be all academic).

Just because it is recognised as a fact that Al Queda gain recruits etc by X means, does not mean that X forms the basis of a value shared with Al Queda.

It's a ploy used by creationists elsewhere. "They believe in evolution, therefore they must be social Darwinists." Evolution (theory of fact) does not lead to the values of social Darwinism any more than recognising the actions of the west as causal in terrorism (theory of fact) leads to values of justification/sympathy with terrorists.

Conceeding to points raised by other political or philosophical leanings, when a valid and material point is raised, is the scholarly, honorable and fair thing to do. However, when your opponent is lying, it's clearly the wrong thing to do (especially if you are aware of how they have fibbed).

I can see that you want to be fair when dealing with political/philosophical poles, but you can't be charitable with the truth. The Al-Queda sympathy line, like the Evolution-leads-to-Social Dawinism/Eugenics/NAZIism (etc) is simply a deceptive fabrication.

It's people's sence of fair play that spin doctors often exploit to pass of fallacy of truth; e.g. Discovery Institute claiming that ID is a controversial science that is being censored etc. I just don't want to see you getting exploited.

As for student politics. I had my stint. Have to say I agree with anonymous (I'm of "the left" incidentally.)

My patience with most student pollies from both sides of the spectrum has long since evaporated. Labor Right and Liberal hacks can be malicious, and the left hacks I've just found complacent (use their possy as a placeholder in the hope hey'll be randomly pre-selected like their other family members.)

Bruce

adrienswords said...

Tic-Tog

Thanks for comment and your point is well made. I have a tendency to be glib. You are indeed correct in that the vast bulk of what can be called the left cannot be said to have sympathised will al-Qaeda. As I recall even Green Left weekly condemned 9-11 although they did go into lengthy detail as to why it was all ultmately America's fault. I really can't justify the statement and therefore I'll withdraw with qualification.

I don't think we understand the Middle East. I lived there for quite a while I don't understand it. I don't think they understand it. Tho' the left's criticisms of American foreign policy are warranted and, considering the silence of our mainstream media on the subject, necessary, I think that they too are one sided. we often criticize America for its ills and forget that it's also a benefactor. The right do the reverse.

The fact is the Middle East mess has occured for a lot of reasons. America is a rather late comer to the situation. They cannot be held entirely responsible.

It's interesting to read some of the blogs from the Middle East. For starters I'd recommend sandmonkeyblog.com and onearabworld.blog. These guys (from the right and left respectively) have some interesting comments.

All that said there are many on the left who persist in certain past errors. If no-one's supporting al-Qaeda there are supporters the Islamic Republic of Iran which has links (tenuous) to al-Qaeda and is not a very nice place to live.

What I'm basically saying is that the left can be just as inclined to play the absolutist bad guys/good guys game as the right with equally absurd results. There are no good guys and bad guys in the world of realpolitik, there are simply powers and alliances.

Despite the glib bluntness of the sentence you quoted I think the general point is still valid. The left's position re. multi-culturalism lead them into some pretty stupid extreme relativist positions.

For further illustration please read the following articles:

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=207

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=211

As for my sense of fair play being railroaded by ID advocates I'm fully aware of the difference between philisophical debates and scientific ones. ID has not been demonstated scientifically but persists in attempting to use political means to be regarded as such. That doesn't matter. Everyone could vote: Yes! The Earth is flat. But it'd still be round.

adrienswords said...

Bruce

Thanks.

It seemed to me that Bourbon-Boy has a crew or at least a small bunch of people who share an intense dislike for Iain Hall. By the way I hadn't noticed that Bridget was disapproving of Hallwatch. But whatever. My aim was not to take sides in the Iain Hall wars but to use them as a starting point to discuss something else.

When I get abused in debate my usual reaction is a dismissive bemusment and if that fails I simply withdraw. If someone wants to have a go at you usually they want to see a reaction. Don't react. It's normally that simple.

Sometimes you have to fight. But often you don't.

The thrust of my article wasn't even in defense of fair play exactly but in defense of civil discourse as a means to a useful exchange of views. Neither the right nor the left has the monopoly on morality or common sense. The energy we waste in wasting each other might be put to better use if there was more of a tendency to compromise at times. That is often not possible: either you go to war or you don't for example. Still in regards to many issues: the environment, co-operation might be more productive than shitfights.

In another post I'll be asking why it is that people identify with these labels. Thinking back to my student hack days in terms of how the 'right' and the 'left' turned out is actually pretty funny.

Cheers