The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'conformism'
Psychologist Bruce Levine makes the claim that, in the US, the psychological profession has a bias towards conformism and authoritarianism, and against anti-authoritarian tendencies. This bias apparently results from the institutional structure of the profession, which selects for and reinforces pro-conformist and pro-authoritarian tendencies, and manifests itself, among other things, in those who exhibit “anti-authoritarian tendencies” being caught, diagnosed with various mental illnesses and medicated into compliance before they can develop into actual troublemakers:
In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by (1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians, and (2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.
Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.
Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.Showing hostility to or resentment of authority will get one diagnosed with various conditions, such as “opposition defiant disorder (ODD)”, a condition which manifests itself in deficits in “rule-governed behaviour”, and for which, as for many parts of the human condition, there are many types of corrective medication these days. (Compare this to the condition of “sluggish schizophrenia”, which only existed in the Soviet Union and manifested itself as a rejection of the self-evident truth of Marxism-Leninism.)
While pretty much every hierarchical society has mechanisms for encouraging conformity to some degree, Dr. Levine's contention is that the increase in psychiatric medication in recent years may be leading to a more authoritarian and conformistic society.
The Portland (that's Portland, Oregon, btw) Mercury's Chas Bowie looks at the amount of vitriol focussed at "hipsters":
The truth is, it's all too easy to conjure a mental image of what people mean when they use the word "hipster" derisively. We likely imagine someone overly concerned with fashion, possessive of a condescendingly dismissive attitude toward everything outside their insular realm, a sheep-like trend follower, and an infuriatingly non-individualized personality who likes whatever band Pitchfork tells them to and whose shoes cost more than a day's wages. When I think of the worst end of the hipster sliding scale, my mind goes straight to the too-cool-for-me guy at my video store, who's always too involved in watching the collected music videos of Hall & Oates on the overhead TV to make eye contact while I rent my movie. He's always wearing lame ironic T-shirts, and his attitude reeks of smug... hipsterness. There's no other word for it. And if I perceived the city to be overrun with hipsters like him, I'd be an angry, I, Anonymous-writing citizen, too.
But the truth is, what rubs me the wrong way about this guy has nothing to do with his relative level of hipsterdom. The fact is, the guy is a self-absorbed narcissist who's overly vain about his wardrobe and hairstyle, and is generally unfriendly. As evidenced by sororities, law firms, sports teams, country clubs, sewing circles, and virtually every other social group the world over, this is by no means an exclusively hipster phenomenon. The fact remains that every demographic is composed of roughly 10 percent assholes. BuddhistsBowie then looks at the "hipster" stereotype (or rather, the "hipster" stereotype minus the "narcissistic asshole" stereotype), as described in a book titled The Hipster Handbook, which suggests that a hipster (in the US, at least) is someone who studied liberal arts, does not vote Republican, and has eclectic tastes in music:
By and large, the term "hipster" is used to point to somebody who enjoys art, good films, and music that you won't hear on most Clear Channel stations. They are generally uninterested in climbing corporate ladders and would instead rather work somewhere that allowed them the freedom to pursue creative endeavors, like their band/crafts/activism/MP3 blog/whatever. They're probably down with recreational drug use, prefer bikes to cars (at least ideologically) and have more interesting homes than decidedly suburban non-hipsters. As it stands right now, we have no term to designate this group of individuals, except for the word "hipster."If I ask somebody what a bar is like, and they tell me it's a hipster bar, instead of recoiling, I figure there will be good music, as well as a lot of people who share my interests. I won't expect it to be full of BMW-driving fatcats with McMansions in the West Hills, or guys who want to chug beers and yell at the football game on TV. If I'm crashing on a friend-of-a-friend's couch out of town, and I'm told in advance that my host is a hipster, I'll breathe a sigh of relief that they'll probably have a good record collection, a lot of books, and a healthy hatred for George W. Bush. If it turns out he has a serious attitude problem and acts like he's the king of Williamsburg, then the problem isn't that he's a hipster, but simply that he's another generic fuckface.He comes to the conclusion that, while the term "hipster" has been bandied about and abused so much that the only thing that any two people labelled as "hipsters" have in common is "a general distaste for mainstream popular culture" (well, that and a hatred for George W. Bush, though that's more or less moot nowadays). By which token, hating on hipsters looks more like the atavistic herd mentality of bullies, the tendency to reflexively strike out and attack difference, on the gut feeling that difference threatens group cohesion or "values".
Bowie then signs off with:
I'm sure this essay will prompt plenty of emails calling me a hipster (or the charming variation "hipster fag"). So preemptively, I say to you finger-pointers: "Sure, I'm a hipster. Call me that all you want. In the meantime, enjoy your Olive Garden, your Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, the Tim McGraw and Faith Hill show coming at the Rose Quarter, the Da Vinci Code, Rachael Ray, bloomin' onions, your middle management job that you'll probably die with, the new Rod Stewart box set, and Renée Zellweger's upcoming movie with Hugh Grant. I'll be back here in the middle of the city with my hipster friends talking about art and books, going to see live bands, searching for new experiences, and drinking better coffee than you. Signed, Your Hipster Friend, Chas Bowie".
As the Australian government prepares tests to ensure that prospective citizens conform to John Howard's idea of what it means to be Australian (rumour has it that there is a question on Donald Bradman's batting average, and that asserting that Australian values are based on secularism is officially wrong), The Age's Catherine Deveney has prepared her own citizenship test:
Are these terms related: chuck a sickie; chuck a spaz; chuck a U-ey?
Explain the following passage: "In the arvo last Chrissy the relos rocked up for a barbie, some bevvies and a few snags. After a bit of a Bex and a lie down we opened the pressies, scoffed all the chockies, bickies and lollies. Then we drained a few tinnies and Mum did her block after Dad and Steve had a barney and a bit of biffo."
Macca, Chooka and Wanger are driving to Surfers in their Torana. If they are travelling at 100 km/h while listening to Barnsey, Farnsey and Acca Dacca, how many slabs will each person on average consume between flashing a brown eye and having a slash?
The people to be granted citizenship are the ones who call it a crock and cheat.
The Age has a piece on another cultural trend in Howard's Australia: the transformation of Australia's obsession with sport into an aggressive, militaristic conformism, intolerant of dissent from the majority view:
It was being used as "gang colours", the producer said; "racism disguised as patriotism". There had been reports of people the previous year, hot on the heels of the Cronulla riots, bullying others into kissing the flag and pledging their allegiance -- and shouting the sportscry "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi oi oi!". Not only the slogan but the whole attitude of barracking seeps across to other things. Eggheads (probably a less derisory term in Australia than intellectuals) are castigated for holding thoughts and attitudes divorced from those of the mainstream. Questionable, but isn't that what intellectuals and artists occasionally do everywhere? Tolstoy no more passes for a typical Russian than Shakespeare could pass for a typical Englishman.
But, as the barracking mood has spread across the country, there has been an exponential growth of the idea of something or someone being "un-Australian". Not part of the team. This idea has become so entrenched that people have been deported who have spent virtually their whole lives here but were infants elsewhere. Undesirable, not ours — although they may have been almost entirely shaped by an Australian upbringing.
The notion of being "un-Australian" is a silly one and should be sent back to the America of the Cold War, where it belongs. If we are truly a nation, then every citizen is a member, enriching it with the narrative, patterns and choices of their lives. Whoever heard of anybody being called "un-French", or even "un-English"? "Un-New Zealand" wouldn't even get to first base — not only because it's a mouthful, but because neither Maori nor Pakeha can claim the whole.Adding to this is a creeping militarisation of Australian public life:
The barracking mentality has become more prevalent at the same time as a deepening khaki tinge has entered our national life. We don't hear much now of Australia as a pioneer of democracy: it's Gallipoli, the Western Front, Kokoda. Our history has been militarised. Then there's our military Governor-General, who does quite a good job (when he's allowed to). There are also things like the recent advertisement for Boags, which has a soldier in uniform, saluting, with his glass of beer. Or The Australian deciding that the Australian of the year should be the digger — advancing democracy around the world. You would think it was 1942.
But now the link (between sport and the military) is much more explicit. It is used to fire up sportspeople. Cricket teams off to England to play for the Ashes have stopped off at Gallipoli. And at the Athens Olympics, one of the girls in the softball team enjoined the others to "think of the Anzacs". "It lifted us," commented another. "It really lifted us.""Think of the Anzacs" could also be a good motivational phrase to encourage Australians to knuckle down and accept the American-style working conditions being brought in as part of the government's industrial relations laws. When you're working longer hours, competing against your coworkers not to be dismissed, think of the diggers who had it much worse.
A military presence has become part of the scene at major football matches. Four days before last Anzac Day, a Hawthorn-Carlton match began with the two teams lined up before an enormous Australian flag, the crowd being asked to stand while two buglers played the Last Post. Then there is the special Anzac Day match: although only 13 years old, it is presented as being as traditional as Waltzing Matilda. War planes flew overhead, veterans were whisked around the ground in a lap of honour, while on television the army logo appeared throughout — along with an advertisement for recruitment. The risk is that sport and militarism are becoming increasingly aligned to produce a blunt equation: sport + patriotism = the military.This could bode ill for other aspects of the local culture:
With the virtual collapse of high culture, and the weakening of its local forms (which looked so promising 30 years ago), we may be left with little else, particularly as sport is so deeply Australian. Most of our popular cultural icons have been sold off. But in becoming more sports-obsessed, the country could also become increasingly illiberal and increasingly militaristic.If the article is true, Australia is in danger of turning into a latter-day Sparta, a muscular, militarised, fiercely conformistic nation with no place for those who aren't part of the team.
The Guardian looks at the history of
soccer football in Australia, from ostracised pastime of immigrants to its new acceptance by the mainstream, itself a result of recent changes which wiped out the ethnic-sectarian undercurrent:
But the 'ambush' sprung by 'real' football tells a deeper story, of the great changes Australian society has experienced, post-war. With the southern and eastern European migration came soccer, a game derided as 'wogball' by the chauvinistic and racist society of the late 40s, 50s and 60s. It was played in dirt paddocks, not on groomed sports ovals. There are anecdotes of immigrant schoolboys being caned for daring to play the game, as well as for speaking in their parents' tongues to each other, in the playgrounds.
Australian sport was dominated by cricket, rugby union, and rugby league, as well as another code called Australian Rules football, a cross between a pub brawl and gaelic football. This ethnic 'obscurity' persisted, and the administration of inwards looking soccer clubs and teams became mired in ethnic rivalries.Which rings true; it wasn't that long, from what I recall, that various regional soccer clubs were strongly affiliated with ethnic communities, and from time to time, the clubhouses of clubs associated with ethnic feuds (think Serbs vs. Croats or Greeks vs. Turks) would be torched. This went on until the soccer league collapsed and was rebuilt, with ethnic identities and the word "soccer" banished.
And in other news, Singapore's dominant People's Action Party was reelected, again, with a landslide. The party has ruled Singapore, a model "managed democracy" untroubled by the disorder and strife that having plausible opposition parties with a chance of winning brings about, since independence in 1965. Opposition candidates do occasionally arise, but they stand little chance of winning: electorates are so small that the government can punish rebellious ones by withdrawing funding, and any opposition figure who persists in causing trouble can easily be sued into bankruptcy under Singapore's British-style libel laws. In the government's argument, this is a good thing, as not having to worry about the cut-and-thrust of party politics means that the leaders can concentrate more on wisely and efficiently steering the ship of state:
It is clear Mr Lee expects to lead the country for many years, and comments he made last week showed he does not want a pesky opposition getting in the way. "Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament," he said on May 3. "Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I'm going to spend all my time thinking what's the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters' votes."This state of affairs may not last forever, though, as an opposition party has now formed and contested more than half of all available seats.
The PAP has easily won the past three elections because opposition candidates stood for fewer than half the seats. It has won every election since independence in 1965. This time, 47 of the 84 seats were contested.The People's Action Party can, for the moment, still rest easily: it has won all but two seats in the country's parliament, and won't yet need to submit to the indignity of parliamentary debate of its legislative programme.
An article on how massive, retailer Wal-Mart's influence affects the video game industry (at least in North America), from puritanical social norms being enforced in game design to the range of marketable games being constrained to a few tried-and-tested mainstream genres, with little room for innovation:
Developers have produced "special Wal-Mart editions" of some games, such as Duke Nukem 3D and Blood, that delete the two principal bugaboos, nudity and excessive gore. Other developers just sanitize their games across the board. As a Ritual Entertainment developer remarked in an online chat promoting their Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 game (2000), "There's not much nudity other than statues. Wal-Mart is picky about that. When you have to decide between feeding your family or putting nudity in the game, you choose food."
More pertinent than the packaging of games is their content. Wal-Mart and other retailers display an ever- decreasing range of game types. More and more, it is difficult-to-impossible to market an adventure game, or a non-Microsoft flight simulator, or a non-Maxis city-builder, or a non-Civilization turn-based strategy game. Did the audiences for these forms simply wither away? No, they're still out there - but they're not sufficiently profitable for big-box retail chains. The commercial range of games shrinks because of the free market's uncompromising pursuit of the majority at the expense of all minority tastes. We see this most clearly in Wal-Mart's signal triumph in game design, Deer Hunter.
A new report might challenge Australia's image as a tolerant, easy-going society, at least as far as non-heterosexuals are concerned, showing that gays and lesbians suffer abuse and depression in Australia. The survey of 5,500 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people revealed that 90% curb public affection for partners, 60% have suffered verbal abuse, nearly half have suffered a major depressive episode, and 16% have had suicidal thoughts. I imagine that Family First and the outer-suburban evangelical megachurches can take heart in the Australian silent majority's true-blue, dinky-di, resounding disapproval of "deviant" and "immoral" sexual behaviour. Meanwhile, those who don't fit in with "mainstream Australian values" can always pack up and move to Berlin or somewhere where that sort of thing is tolerated.
It would be interesting to compare this to, say, 10 years ago, and to see whether this has always been the case, or whether things were more tolerant back then and this is a sign of a growing culture of social conservatism and intolerance in Howard's Australia, which some commentators have pointed out.
Victoria's (State) Health Minister Bronwyn Pike will release this report, along with a website dedicated to gay and lesbian health.
The Federal Government, meanwhile, is expected to announce its own solution to the gay depression crisis, in the form of Medicare funding for a range of faith-based programmes to cure homosexuality.
Since coming to power just over 10 years ago, Australia's unapologetically right-wing government has been at war with the culture of the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC (which, being a not-for-profit, government-funded entity, tends to attract people with left-wing ideals). Periodic purges of leftists and threats to its funding have kept it mostly timid and less than eager to make trouble for the government or question its agenda, though this is a less than permanent solution. Now the government's Communications Minister has announced plans to change its culture more permanently by introducing advertising.
If this goes through, Australia may soon lack a non-commercial broadcasting network funded on ideals of public service, with everything being turned into a colossal shopping mall of easily digestible mental junk food designed to attract the broadest possible audience, without the risk of challenging anyone's beliefs or requiring them to think. Those who dislike crass, loud, intelligence-insulting ads and programming designed for the lowest common denominator will be out of luck, but then again, such attitudes are fundamentally un-Australian, and have no place in a relaxed and comfortable society.
(As if by coincidence, The Soul Jazz Tropicália CD arrived in the mail today; the booklet, which gives a detailed history of the Tropicália movement and its suppression by the Brazilian military dictatorship, mentions at one stage that immediately after the military coup in 1964, the dictatorship encouraged a "television-based society" to reinforce social control. Television, it seems, is an ideal tool for instilling conformity and passivity, with its passive nature and narcotic pull; after all, why go out and do things in the mundane everyday world if you can involve yourself in the plot of Friends or Lost? And more channels of TV don't seem to be much of an answer; as has been claimed recently, all that replacing a few channels everyone watches with hundreds of niche lifestyle channels does is hasten social atomisation and encourage a sort of nihilistic solipsism and further withdrawal from any sort of social discourse. In short, the effects of television are great if one wants a passive, docile population delegating the consent of the governed to technocrats, not so good if one wants a vigorous social discourse. Discuss.)
And in other news from Australia: the country's political climate may be moving further to the right, with the Christian Fundamentalist Family First party set to win the balance of power in South Australia, getting the preferences of Labor ahead of the Democrats. Family First are the charming people whose policies involve reinforcing social discrimination against homosexuals, stepping up the War On Drugs, and installing a Saudi-style national internet firewall to protect Australians from seeing immoral content online. Now it looks like they may be leaping over the Greens and what's left of the Democrats to become the party of the balance of power for the Howard era.
The anti-immigrant right in France has adopted a new tactic: handing out pork soup to the poor and hungry, pointedly excluding Muslims and Jews from their charity.
With steaming bowls of the fragrant broth soon passing through the crowd, Odile Bonnivard, a short-haired secretary turned far-right firebrand, climbed atop a dark sedan with a megaphone in hand and led the crowd in a raucous chant: "We are all pig eaters! We are all pig eaters!"
The movement began in the winter of 2003 when Ms. Bonnivard, a member of a small far-right nationalist movement called the Identity Bloc, began serving hot soup to the homeless. At first, she said, the group used pork simply because it was an inexpensive traditional ingredient for hearty French soup. But after the political significance of serving pork dawned on them and others, it quickly became the focus of their work.
Australian treasurer Peter Costello to gay marriage activists (paraphrased): "Shut up and just be grateful we don't criminalise gay sex":
Mr Costello said: "I think we do recognise the rights of gay and lesbian people in Australia." "We do not criminalise conduct or behaviour."
"I thought that was appalling. It was offensive. I found it suggesting that we were lucky that we weren't being thrown in jail," Ms Stricker said outside the Sydney Institute meeting. Prof Phelps, also offended by the comment, said it would be like saying to Mr Costello at the Sydney mardi gras: "You are really lucky that we don't lock you up because you are heterosexual." "That's as offensive as his comment to people who are in a committed same sex relationship," she said.I wonder whether not criminalising homosexuality is a policy issue which will become negotiable as those outer-suburban evangelical megachurches grow in political influence, and the government starts looking for minorities to bully to retain their favour.
If this article is to be believed, the young people who grew up in John Howard's Australia have taken the Tory government's values wholly to heart:
The language of the Howard Government on religious minorities and refugees has resulted in a generation desensitised to the very human realities and manifestations of global inequity and ethnic difference. When Howard talks of "queue jumpers" and "illegals" to describe refugees, there is a knee-jerk tendency among young people to apportion blame rather than feel empathy. This is a state of affairs that Howard has personally overseen, a significant paradigm shift that entrenches a deep and pernicious ethos of social hierarchy and privilege.
Simultaneously, there is a tendency of young people to flock to evangelical religious movements in the past five years, particularly in the outer suburbs of our capital cities. Without wishing to speak disparagingly about young people seeking spiritual depth, we can say that within these new popular religious movements disengagement with mainstream political reality is fostered. To many of these groups, "family values" becomes a code for being anti-gay, anti-euthanasia and anti-abortion. It is alarming to hear how frequently young people today embrace this kind of neo-conservatism, almost like a race to see who can be more right-wing.
Moreover, with Howard's constant talk of a very white-bread brand of traditional family values being paramount to a good society, we have seen a sudden rush of young people to get married early, get a home loan and shift to the suburbs at the first opportunity. This obsession has even extended into the gay community, which after fighting for 30 years to keep the government out of the bedroom, now appears to be fighting for the approval of Howard for their relationships.
Coupled with this, we have witnessed in Australia a new kind of hyper-consumerism. The social centre of town on any given evening is now the local shopping centre. Young people are all too eager to get the biggest credit limits possible, and max their Visa cards out with the casualness of a walk in the park. Indeed, the Howard era has brought us closer to US style ultra-materialism, where "retail therapy" is the new buzz word. Feeling bored or depressed? Better get to Chadstone shopping centre. The so-called metrosexual male has become little more than a crass marketing ploy.The lack of empathy, hyperconsumerism and devil-take-the-hindmost mentality could be the same Hobbesian muscular nihilism witnessed in the United States. Though the rise of US-style right-wing evangelical churches and acceptance of conformistic ideas of "family values" is more alarming, especially coupled with the thread of intolerance for difference hinted at. Australia may be changing, on a deep level, into one large Red State, one in which nonconformity is something to be punished and straightened rather than embraced.
A judge in the United States has denied a woman custody of her child after seeing photographs of her participating in Church of the SubGenius events; or so she says, anyway:
On February 3, 2006, Judge Punch heard testimony in the case. Jeff entered into evidence 16 exhibits taken from the Internet, 12 of which are photographs of the SubGenius event, X-Day. Kohl has never attended X-Day and is not in any of the pictures. Rachel is depicted in many of these photos, often wearing skimpy costumes or completely nude, while participating in X-Day and Detroit Devival events.
The judge, allegedly a very strict Catholic, became outraged at the photos of the X-Day parody of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ — especially the photo where Jesus [Steve Bevilacqua] is wearing clown makeup and carrying a crucifix with a pool-noodle dollar sign on it while being beaten by a crowd of SubGenii, including a topless woman with a "dildo".
His Honor also strongly disapproved of the photos of Mary Magdalen [Rachel Bevilacqua] in a bondage dress and papier maché goat's head. The judge repeatedly asked, "Why a goat? What's so significant about a goat's head?" When Rachel replied, "I just thought the word 'goat' was funny," Judge Punch lost his temper completely, and began to shout abuse at Rachel, calling her a "pervert," "mentally ill," "lying," and a participant in "sex orgies." The judge ordered that Rachel is to have absolutely no contact with her son, not even in writing, because he felt the pictures of X-Day performance art were evidence enough to suspect "severe mental illness". Rachel has had no contact with Kohl since that day, February 3, 2006.Various SubGenii, Discordians, pagans and miscellaneous freakonauts are getting involved in mounting an appeal, a process which is expected to cost US$50,000. Some are concerned that, should this judgment be allowed to stand, it may set a precedent denying practitioners of non-traditional lifestyles equality before the law when it comes to child custody.
There is a discussion of this case on Metafilter, with some comments casting doubt on the SubGeniis' account of the case.
(via Boing Boing)
A new study has confirmed that people like the music that other people like, rather than judging it objectively:
Researchers created an artificial "music market" of 14,341 participants drawn from a teen-interest Web site. Upon entering the study's Internet market, the participants were randomly, and unknowingly, assigned to either an "independent" group or a "social influence" group. Participants could then browse through a collection of unknown songs by unknown bands.
In the independent condition, participants chose which songs to listen to based solely on the names of the bands and their songs. While listening to the song, they were asked to rate it from one star ("I hate it") to five stars ("I love it"). They were also given the option of downloading the song for keeps.
In the social influence group, participants were provided with the same song list, but could also see how many times each song had been downloaded.
Researchers found that popular songs were popular and unpopular songs were unpopular, regardless of their quality established by the other group. They also found that as a particular songs' popularity increased, participants selected it more often.
So what drives participants to choose low-quality songs over high-quality ones? "People are faced with too many options, in this case 48 songs. Since you can't listen to all of them, a natural shortcut is to listen to what other people are listening to," Salganik said. "I think that's what happens in the real world where there's a tremendous overload of songs."Which certainly explains [insert massively popular yet mediocre artist in the genre of your choice here].
(via Boing Boing)
In this Australia Day edition*: John Howard claims victory in the culture war; in his personal aircraft-carrier-off-the-Californian-coast moment, Australia's conservative Prime Minister has asserted that the forces of relativism, debates about Australian national identity and the Marxist-Keatingist "black armband" view of history have been decisively vanquished; consequently, Australians are free to feel no guilt over the past, to not apologise for anything, and gleefully ignore the fact that effete, garlic-eating Euroweenies and latte-sipping traitors in their own ranks see them increasingly as ugly, gormless redneck cowboys. Howard also called for a "coalition of the willing" to fundamentally change how Australian history is to be taught; his view is basically centred on the Western cultural tradition, with, as one would expect, a lot of emphasis on "Judaeo-Christian values" and other things conservatives fawn over, as opposed to, for example, the post-Enlightenment liberal-secularist tradition or pluralism.
Another sign that, in Australia, the conservatives may have won the culture war: sales of Australian flags have increased by 300% in the past five years; perhaps Howard's campaign to socially engineer a US-style culture of flag-waving jingoism in Australia (witness the recent federal requirement for schools to have flagpoles and flag-waving ceremonies) has borne fruit?
* referring to it by other names, such as "Inv*si*n Day", may be seditious under Australian law.
Village Voice cartoonist Ward Sutton presents his Person of the Year: Joe Smith: common man, regular guy:
Apparently, next week is National Singles Week, an event to highlight the growing proportion of the population that is uncoupled, dispel myths about all singletons being desperately unhappy, and push for the government to reform laws that penalise people for being single. (Note: this is the British government; the Australian government firmly believes in the absolute supremacy of the nuclear family and is as likely to look favourably on alternatives as it is to sign the Kyoto protocol or start inviting controversial art-house filmmakers to screen their wares on its relaxed and comfortable shores.)
About 48 per cent of the adult population is now single, and by 2010 more than 40 per cent of households are expected to be occupied by single people.
(Is this one-person households? Being uncoupled I can understand, though I can't imagine 40% of households in Britain being occupied by people who can afford to live alone. Not unless they redefine bedrooms as separate households or somesuch.)
The survey, timed to coincide with National Singles Week, which begins on Monday, found that 82 per cent of those questioned said that being single gave them "an opportunity to try new life experiences" and 89 per cent said that travelling alone "boosted their confidence" and allowed them to be more spontaneous and adventurous.
"There are disadvantages to being single. Apart from some financial ones, there are social ones as some couples think of single people as predatory and many older single people are lonely," Ms Knowles said.
A court in Sicily has overturned a decision by road authorities who suspended a man's driving licence because he was gay:
In a written ruling released on Monday, the Sicilian court said: "It is clear that sexual preferences do not in any way influence a person's ability to drive motor cars safely."
The judges added that homosexuality "cannot be considered a true and proper psychiatric illness, being a mere personality disturbance".
Homosexuality is legal in Italy, but openly anti-gay comments from politicians and officials rarely cause a stir.
A PhD study into music copyright enforcement (by a former lawyer for ARIA, the Australian RIAA equivalent, no less) has found that consumer choice of music titles has fallen dramatically, with the number of music products released falling 43% between 2001 and 2004; and it's likely to get worse as record labels merge and "rationalise" their catalogues into safely marketable titles. Alex Malik argues that this, and not file sharing, is to blame for falling music sales.
"If you go into a typical CD store these days, there's the new Australian Idol CD and of course there's the other new Australian Idol CD. You'll also find more DVDs and accessories than ever before ... But if your tastes are a little eclectic or go beyond the top 40, you may be in trouble," he said.
Of course, one could argue that the majors are now signing a lot of exciting, energetic indie bands from the underground. Except that this argument falls apart on closer examination; most of the major-label-indie fall into one of several formulaic, easily marketable categories: 70s garage primitivist rockists (think Jet/The Datsuns/Kings of Leon/&c), other radio-friendly post-ironic rehashings of old formulae (Scissor Sisters), easy-listening vaguely-indieish pap like Keane and Badly Drawn Boy, and attempts at The Next Interpol/Franz Ferdinand (or whatever the band of the moment happens to be).
Which is what happens when recording companies become agglomerated into large corporations beholden to shareholders who demand safe returns; in such a model, there is no scope for maverick A&R people to make decisions based on gut instinct or take risks. But that's OK; with modern market research methodologies, there is no need for such archaic and unreliable practices, when formulae can me made up to please enough of the market. The same has happened in Hollywood, where all scripts are plotted out with special script-writing software that ensures that characters move and develop like automata along pre-programmed tracks. The scriptwriter only has to flesh things out.
The twilight of secularism (an ongoing series): Australia's highest-ranking Catholic clergyman and leading conservative hardliner, Cardinal George Pell, gave a speech comparing Islam to Communism and saying that secular democracy has failed and must be replaced with what he called "democratic personalism", with paternalistic Christian government being the only hope of countering the spread of fundamentalist Islam.
"The small but growing conversion of native Westerners within Western societies to Islam carries the suggestion that Islam may provide in the 21st century the attraction which communism provided in the 20th, both for those who are alienated or embittered on the one hand, and for those who seek order or justice on the other," he said.
He asked: "Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic? Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions? "What would democracy look like if you took some of these things out of the picture? Would it cease to be democracy? Or would it actually become more democratic?"
Perhaps, after a few more terms of John Howard/Tony Abbott, we'll find out. Besides which, "democratic personalism" has a nicely euphemistic ring to it. Given how misleading it is for the Tories to call themselves the "Liberal Party", perhaps they'll take the hint and rename themselves the Democratic Personalist Party.
Via tyrsalvia, a fascinating article on why people vote as they do. As many have undoubtedly suspected, very few people vote rationally, i.e., considering and understanding the issues or policy platforms in question, with the vast majority of votes being cast for reasons unconnected to ideology, political belief or the candidates' visions:
Converse claimed that only around ten per cent of the public has what can be called, even generously, a political belief system. He named these people 'ideologues,' by which he meant not that they are fanatics but that they have a reasonable grasp of "what goes with what" of how a set of opinions adds up to a coherent political philosophy. Non-ideologues may use terms like "liberal" and "conservative," but Converse thought that they basically don't know what they're talking about, and that their beliefs are characterized by what he termed a lack of "constraint": they can't see how one opinion (that taxes should be lower, for example) logically ought to rule out other opinions (such as the belief that there should be more government programs). About forty-two per cent of voters, according to Converse's interpretation of surveys of the 1956 electorate, vote on the basis not of ideology but of perceived self-interest. The rest form political preferences either from their sense of whether times are good or bad (about twenty-five per cent) or from factors that have no discernible "issue content" whatever. Converse put twenty-two per cent of the electorate in this last category. In other words, about twice as many people have no political views as have a coherent political belief system.
Philip Converse's study, published in 1964, reignited doubts into the meaningfulness of democracy, and three theories have emerged over how a democracy really works. Theory 1 says that electoral outcomes are essentially arbitrary, i.e., the amount of signal (i.e., decisions made rationally by informed voters) is overwhelmed by noise (reaction to slogans, misinformation, sensational news, random personal associations (by some accounts, the colours of politicians' neckties are more important than their policy positions in deciding their fates), and even satisfaction or otherwise with things out of politicians' control, such as the weather). Theory 2 states that democratic decisions are made by elites who control the media, and have the power to send the messages which the apolitical bulk of the public respond to; i.e., the electoral process is essentially a low-pass filter on the opinions of Rupert Murdoch and his fellow oligarchs. Theory 3 states that the cues people respond to are heuristics which, to most intents, are as good as doing one's own research; these include consulting peers' opinions and intuitive judgments, i.e., "low-information rationality".
An analogy (though one that Popkin is careful to dissociate himself from) would be to buying an expensive item like a house or a stereo system. A tiny fraction of consumers has the knowledge to discriminate among the entire range of available stereo components, and to make an informed choice based on assessments of cost and performance. Most of us rely on the advice of two or three friends who have recently made serious stereo-system purchases, possibly some online screen shopping, and the pitch of the salesman at J&R Music World. We eyeball the product, associate idiosyncratically with the brand name, and choose from the gut. When we ask "experts" for their wisdom, mostly we are hoping for an "objective" ratification of our instinctive desire to buy the coolest-looking stuff. Usually, we're O.K. Our tacit calculation is that the marginal utility of more research is smaller than the benefit of immediate ownership.
The use of these heuristics leaves plenty of blind spots in the electoral process.
Bartels has also found that when people do focus on specific policies they are often unable to distinguish their own interests. ... When people are asked whether they favor Bush's policy of repealing the estate tax, two-thirds say yes--even though the estate tax affects only the wealthiest one or two per cent of the population. Ninety-eight per cent of Americans do not leave estates large enough for the tax to kick in. But people have some notion--Bartels refers to it as "unenlightened self-interest"--that they will be better off if the tax is repealed. What is most remarkable about this opinion is that it is unconstrained by other beliefs. Repeal is supported by sixty-six per cent of people who believe that the income gap between the richest and the poorest Americans has increased in recent decades, and that this is a bad thing. And it's supported by sixty-eight per cent of people who say that the rich pay too little in taxes. Most Americans simply do not make a connection between tax policy and the over-all economic condition of the country.
Australia has made its choice, the Tories have been reelected with an increased majority, and look like gaining control of the Senate as well (current predictions show them set to have half the Senate in their own right, with a Family First senator giving them a majority, in return for a religious conservative legislative agenda). The Greens did well, but, with Labor having collapsed under them, they will be unable to do much with all their Senate seats. So, what can we expect in the next three years?
For one, we're likely to see a stepping up of the culture war. The election has shown that Australia is polarised, between a small, cosmopolitanist minority in the inner cities who voted Green, and the majority of Herald-Sun-reading suburban battlers who back Howard. Given the acrimony before the election (other parties directing preferences away from the Greens as if they were One Nation, and scare ads about the Greens standing for drugs and paedophilia), and the Family First factor, the prospects of a new, triumphant Howard government waving the olive branch of inclusion seems unlikely. What seems more likely is that the boot will come down hard, and the culture war will become uglier, dirtier and more brutal, with the full weight of a completely controlled legislative apparatus being used to instill "Australian" values and punish the deviants who resist them.
What will this entail? For one, more censorship. Under Howard, Australia had already become quite a censorious society (witness the banning of Baise-Moi in the cinemas a few years ago), and will do so even more as Family First push for children and adults to be protected from filth. Expect more controversial films to be denied classification, or film distributors to even stop bothering trying to get a rating for anything controversial in Australia, while many films which are shown will only be shown in expurgated editions. More internet censorship is on the cards. Family First proposed a national censorship infrastructure, like Singapore's, funded by a $10 annual levy on each user; it is not unlikely that the Howard government will borrow this idea. After all, the current censorship arrangement (as secretive and undemocratic as it is) still doesn't stop children from viewing filth at a few mouse clicks (as any tabloid journalist will be happy to demonstrate). And national censorship infrastructures have been shown to be workable; Singapore, China and Saudi Arabia have them, and Britain now also has infrastructure in place to block web sites (it is presently used to block a few child pornography web sites, but could be pressed into service to block the next equivalent of Spycatcher or David Shayler at the drop of a D-notice, but I digress). Some in the Liberal Party even suggested, some years ago, blocking all adult content from the mainstream internet, requiring those perverted enough to look at such content to register for access through a special proxy server. Registration would, presumably, limit one's career prospects in certain industries, just in case your Suicide Girls habit made you into a kiddie diddler.
With Australia's new family-friendly cinemas and internet, the country's reputation as a modern, cosmopolitan society will suffer. Film and arts festivals will lose any edge they had, attracting little in the way of anything controversial but instead presenting only comforting banalities. Sydney and Melbourne will once again give up their claim to be world cultural capitals and fall back to being big provincial towns. And don't expect anything like Piss Christ being exhibited in an Australian gallery; chances are, Andres Serrano wouldn't even get a visa. Welcome to relaxed and comfortable Australia, where decent people needn't fear having their sensibilities offended.
Other consequences of the Culture War could be loss of reproductive choice (current health minister Tony Abbott mentioned his opposition to abortion, and with Family First's new influence, it could be banned or restricted), institutionalised discrimination against homosexuals (they are, after all, deviants who have no place in Howard's idealised 1950s suburbia), continuing denial of indigenous rights, not to mention a policy of pure spite towards refugees.
And then there is the US-Australian Free Trade Agreement, in which Australia signed over vast swathes of economic sovereignty to the US in return for access to US markets for its sugar industry, only to find out that that wasn't part of the deal, but pressed on anyway out of loyalty. Since we're adopting wholesale the US software patent system, we can expect small Australian software companies to go out of business, unable to risk the cost of patent litigation, or be bought out en masse by multinationals with patent portfolios and cross-licensing agreements. Within a few years, the Australian industry will be little more than a branch office of US multinationals. Open source may not escape unscathed; given the broadness of software patents, anything without a multinational with a huge legal department behind it will be too much of a risk for anybody to use, distribute or support. And then there's our adoption of US copyright laws without actually having a Constitutional fair use provision, as the US does, which means that anyone with an iPod is committing a crime.
If there's one good thing that may come out of the new, repressive, paternalist Australia, it is the prospect of an underground culture flourishing in pockets of resistance. After all, it was the roiling undercurrents of resentment in Thatcher's Britain that gave us everything from alternative comedy to the explosion of British indie music and art. (Not that the Thatcherites took their credit for that happening on their watch; they were too busy promoting their view of proper British culture in the form of Lloyd-Webber musicals and insipid Merchant-Ivory costume dramas and the like, their own equivalent of "Relaxed and Comfortable".)
An interesting piece (from a US ex-Republican) positing a single axiomatic principle, originating in the Puritan experiment in the American colonies, from which all conservative ideology can be derived. Similarly, the first principle of lifestyle liberalism, which says basically that punishing "deviants" from the one true lifestyle is unnecessary and/or unfair, and what conservatives don't grasp about liberal economics (here "liberal" is used in the US colloquial sense, and basically means everything other than "strict user-pays" and that old Reagan/Thatcher trickle-down voodoo). (via tyrsalvia)
An interesting essay on the subject of taboos and intellectual fashions, by Paul Graham:
The word "defeatist", for example, has no particular political connotations now. But in Germany in 1917 it was a weapon, used by Ludendorff in a purge of those who favored a negotiated peace. At the start of World War II it was used extensively by Churchill and his supporters to silence their opponents. In 1940, any argument against Churchill's aggressive policy was "defeatist". Was it right or wrong? Ideally, no one got far enough to ask that.
Moral fashions don't seem to be created the way ordinary fashions are. Ordinary fashions seem to arise by accident when everyone imitates the whim of some influential person. The fashion for broad-toed shoes in late fifteenth century Europe began because Charles VIII of France had six toes on one foot. The fashion for the name Gary began when the actor Frank Cooper adopted the name of a tough mill town in Indiana. Moral fashions more often seem to be created deliberately. When there's something we can't say, it's often because some group doesn't want us to.
Suppose in the future there is a movement to ban the color yellow. Proposals to paint anything yellow are denounced as "yellowist", as is anyone suspected of liking the color. People who like orange are tolerated but viewed with suspicion. Suppose you realize there is nothing wrong with yellow. If you go around saying this, you'll be denounced as a yellowist too, and you'll find yourself having a lot of arguments with anti-yellowists. If your aim in life is to rehabilitate the color yellow, that may be what you want. But if you're mostly interested in other questions, being labelled as a yellowist will just be a distraction. Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.
(Via Slashdot, where it has devolved into the usual melange of Hitler references, Libertarian/Objectivist railings against the collectivist tyranny of taxation, flames directed respectively at Bush/neoconservatives and effete Europeans/elitist liberals, assertions that global warming is a lie perpetuated by a powerful environmentalist conspiracy, unsubstantiated claims about Israeli involvement in 9/11 and rants about why feminism and the homosexual agenda have ruined America; and not a word about Bill Gates being a Sith lord either. Looks like Slashdot has turned into talkback radio.)
A former teacher blows the lid off the real functions of schools; sounds somewhere between a Situationist pamphlet and a New Waver sound collage: (via NWD)
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the conformity function," because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in "your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.
This part makes some sense (and reminds me of a claim I heard that the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was behind the modern education system's emphasis on unstructured rote memorisation of facts rather than critical analysis; the former makes useful worker drones, whereas the latter can breed revolutionaries and troublemakers. Mind you, it wouldn't surprise me if the source of the claim was some Marxist or anarchist pamphlet.)
Point 5, however, is a bit more paranoid.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called "the favored races." In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
Granted, school is a brutal, high-intensity pressure-cooker environment that brings out the worst in its inmates, and I can buy the theory that it conveniently serves the purpose of instilling conformity and social cohesion (though, these days, TV, short attention spans and medication also help); however, the claim that it's designed to act as a system of psychological eugenics to keep the unfit from breeding is a bit harder to swallow.
So, since "marriage" is only for a man and a woman who want to make babies, is staying childless a reason for the government to break up a marriage? What about people like myself and my partner? We're married, but have no intention of children. Worse yet, with three cats we're actually helping the survival of another species, which must make us some sort of traitor to the women-are-for-making-babies school of thought.
(You can never trust these cat-owner types; they dress funny, read too many books and have unorthodox ideas or lifestyles. I wonder whether keeping cats (or having cat litter/cat food in one's supermarket purchase records) would increase one's score in TIA-style dissident-profiling systems. But I digress.)
He also points out anointed successor Costello's opposition to gay marriage, a bit of a step back from his lofty speechifying about his visions for a tolerant, indeed, liberal, Australia. I wonder whether it has anything to do with him falling out of favour as the next PM (something Nick Economou mentioned on 3RRR recently). Perhaps he was put on notice that if he kept that sort of thing up, the succession would go to Tony Abbott or some similarly staunch hard-liner?
Colour me surprised. Our enlightened PM lines up alongside the Axis of Medieval, ruling out giving gay relationship status equivalent to marriage, which is "one of the bedrock institutions of our society" and "very much about the raising of children". Howard insists that this is not discriminatory, even though unmarried couples pay extra taxes and are not entitled to certain benefits, in effect subsidising those whose lifestyle meets the approval of John Howard's god. (Australia is a liberal democracy; you have the right not to be relaxed and comfortable, living in the suburbs in a state-sanctioned heterosexual breeding partnership, pumping out children to fight for God and Empire and spending your weekends polishing the Holden Commodore in your driveway or punting the footy to little Darren in the backyard, but you'll pay extra taxes if you do as that sort of thing should not be encouraged. Make it easier on yourself and conform.)
The Harry Potter books might not be a Christian or Libertarian allegory; they may just be gay (or even just queer):
The interplay between the world of magic and the world of Muggles in the Potter books is identical to how queer historians and sociologists describe the interplay between the closeted gay world and the mainstream world, particularly in the days before the gay-liberation movement. Homosexuals were everywhere, yet heterosexuals usually could not see them. Gay bars looked just like straight bars from the outside. Gay people invented elaborate codes, often in language, dress, and deportment, so they could recognize one another but not be seen as abnormal by the heterosexual Muggle world. In his book Gay New York, historian George Chauncey writes of the "invisible map" that exists in all cities that enables queers to find fellow travelers and assembling places: people and places usually invisible to the unknowing heterosexual. This is precisely the situation in the Potter books, where Hogwarts, Diagon Alley (where the magic shops are), 12 Grimmauld Place (the meeting place of Order of the Phoenix), Azkaban Fortress, and even magical buses and trains that run out of major terminals exist in the middle of large cosmopolitan cities and yet remain invisible to Muggles who simply cannot see them.
Even if the gay thing is a bit far-fetched (and I'd put it on a par with the Lockhart-is-Philip-Pullman rumour or the alleged Objectivist government-interference subtext), the article makes a very valid point: the reason the God-botherers don't like these books have less to do with sorcery and witchcraft and more to do with their message against social control and indoctrination:
Children, before they are completely socialized, have vibrant imaginations and often a very finely tuned sense of alternative possibilities. They are, in a very real sense, queer. They have to be taught how to become "civilized." Socialization involves mastering table manners and politeness, but it also concerns learning how to conform to the worlds most terrible ways. Children have to learn racism to hate or fear certain people because of how they look; they have to be taught that work is far more important than play and that pleasure is always suspect; they have to be taught that there is only one correct way to worship God and everyone else is going to hell; they have to learn that heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of sexual behavior, and that some forms of sexual pleasure are wrong. They are taught to be normal whatever that may mean within the terms of the prevailing culture. They are taught to be Muggles. Is it any wonder evangelical Christians find the Harry Potter books threatening?
(via Largehearted Boy)
Another reason to be glad you're not in Texas: A man was assaulted and told to "go back to Iraq" for remaining seated while a "patriotic" country song played at a rodeo. (via The Fix)
(Since 9/11, country music has made a resurgence as a sincere voice of American nationalism, and is now well back in the mainstream in the US. I wonder how this will affect the cultural stock of alt-country among hipster types; I can't see the twang having the same amount of ironic cachet in the age of Toby Keith and red-blooded patriot anthems all over Clear Channel.)
Family values masquerading as social justice: The conservative government of Australia extends its social-engineering-through-taxation scheme, with a plan to punitively tax non-breeders and use the proceeds to pay people to have children ("be fruitful and multiply", as the Good Book (which was written back in the days when the world was underpopulated) says). The amount of tax Australians pay is becoming increasingly dependent on their divergence from John Howard's model of Judaeo-Christian family values. It's chequebook paternalism, folks.
One theory suggests that artists and criminals have a lot in common psychologically, such as a disdain for the rules of normalcy and often a primal rage, one which is expressed with creation in one case and violence in the other. (via FmH)
Bias in the Blogosphere, an analysis of the blogging phenomenon using the Chomskyite propaganda model, and concluding that blogging is a reactionary, right-wing propaganda machine by its very structure. Makes some good points (about linkwhoring, the threat of being Dooced or mailbombed serving to shut down dissenters, and dependence on official resources for facts), but it appears to fall into the "blogging was born on 9/11" fallacy, the stereotype of equating blogging as a whole with the right-wing, jingoistic talkback-radio excesses of the "warbloggers". (via Graham)
It may well be that the majority of bloggers are wealthy white males, Libertarians turned born-again Rush Limbaugh clones when the planes hit the WTC, but that just reinforces Sturgeon's law; specifically, that when people have the means of expressing themselves, the vast majority will use it to download porn, put up photos of their cats, discuss the last episode of Friends, or loudly expound their allegiance to their favourite thought-saving orthodoxy, and only a small proportion of content will be actually interesting. (Well, that and the primal instinct to form packs and do battle against rival packs.) So it's not unexpected that big chunks of the blogosphere look like a conservative, vaguely xenophobic suburbia; well, that and the LiveJournal britneyblogs, and the technofetishistic E/N sites run by misogynistic virgins, and so on. Just that warblogging is the currently fashionable flavour of blogging for pinks.
Forbidden thoughts on 9/11, ranging from political thoughtcrime and hate-mongering to just people getting in touch with their inner sociopath.
"I used to think all firemen were hot. I now think they are slimy. At least four times last October I was in a bar where a fireman was so forward and sleazy, saying things like 'It's been so hard. You can't believe it' while pawing me. I'm sure his buddy who died running into a building on fire would feel vindicated by this slimeball getting laid, but I'm not going to participate." -- Anne, 31, an advertising sales manager in New York
I read [the New York Times'] 'Portraits of Grief'... as object lessons in why one should never aspire to be a model employee.
"The day of 9/11, [my friend and I] spoke frequently, as we always did, being that we were inseparably close. The next day she called and said that she was walking in her neighborhood and some 'Indians wearing saris' were walking down the street and she spit on them -- it was her patriotic duty."
And then there's the response of British artist Damian Hirst, best known for chainsawing cows in half, who acclaimed the terrorist attacks as a work of art; echoing what Laurie Anderson said (many years ago), that terrorists are the last true performance artists. (Wonder what will happen when Hirst next sets foot in New York; I imagine quite a few people would see it as their patriotic duty to grab a Louisville Slugger and form a welcoming committee for him.)
Whenever talk of fighting bullying at schools comes up, the religious right and their ilk get up to vigorously oppose it, as it would protect leftists, homosexuals, freaks, nerds, hippies, atheists, questioners and other undesirables from being set right by the crew-cut defenders of our values. Bullies, their argument suggests, are the unsung guardians of moral probity, the kids who draw the line and make sure everybody else toes it, without whom the values that make Our Great Nation great would be lost, and who grow into staunch patriots, the backbone of society. Well, perhaps this is the sort of righteously patriotic act they have in mind. (via one.point.zero)
Do you suspect that your neighbour may be a terrorist? Take this test and find out if your suspicions are true. (via Charlie's Diary)
Take a stroll down your street. Which houses are missing the appropriate decorations for the time of year? Which are missing a well-decorated Christmas tree and lights? Which do not have Fourth of July decorations? Which are missing an American flag? (this is an obvious sign of a terrorist's house.)
(How to determine if your co-worker/neighbour/spouse/brother may be a terrorist (Australian version): ask them which football team they barrack for. If they answer, ask them to name the team captain and several players. If they are unable to provide answers, they may be a terrorist sleeper agent.)
Scratch an atheist and you'll find a
Since the terrorist attacks, discrimination against atheists has increased in the US, with the Godless being shunned, denied jobs and vilified as traitors if they reveal their beliefs. As a result, many have retreated to the closet.
Mark Barnes of San Francisco says that revealing his atheism was as difficult as revealing his homosexuality in his native Oklahoma. Filmmaker John Mendoza, whose 2001 movie "Blasphemy" was shown at the meeting, says his mother, "who prayed on her knees in front of the sacred heart of Jesus every day, felt she had failed me and my older brother told me to stay away from his children." And Mary from Berkeley says, "My parents still think I'm going through a stage. Mom, it's been like, 15 years!"
Wonder if it will get to the stage of atheists pretending to be Christians (or indeed Buddhists or Unitarian Universalists or something), or of witch-hunts for "new Christians" who are just going through the motions and secretly teaching their children Darwinism and secular humanism. The more some things change, the more they stay the same. (via 1.0)
Burn down the disco, and hang the blessed DJ: An aging rocker on why dance music is rubbish:
The dance craze is the very antithesis of what punk stood for. Punk was iconoclastic. Its gigs were exuberant and unpredictable. The Pistols and The Clash lifted two fingers at some of the worst aspects of British society, with its class-ridden inequality, nauseating obsession with the Royal Family and penchant for vile-tasting beers. Dance, on the other hand, is contrived and controlled. John Major's government gave it an undeserved outlaw appeal by trying to curb large raves through public order legislation. The little grey man need not have worried his funny-looking head. Dance culture is about as big a threat to the governing classes as Val Doonican or Celine Dion.
A friend of mine, a former punk who claims to appreciate the underlying aesthetics of dance music, explained to me why I am a dance philistine. "It's very simple, Dave. You don't take E." Taking ecstasy "gives you a great buzz", my friend informed me. After popping an E tab once, he stayed up all night reading gardening books, planning his shrubbery in minute detail. Hearing that an ex-punk resorts to rave drugs, to improve his gardening, convinced me that something is seriously wrong with the world.
I must confess that I don't entirely disagree with him; I listen to more music played by live musicians than pre-sequenced electronica (though a bit of the latter), I don't have much time for the sorts of homogeneous, repetitive records that you can only appreciate when on drugs at a club, and on most of the times I saw "live electronica" acts, I found them boring (with the exception of the more theatrical acts like Down Town Brown).
OTOH, I wouldn't write off all electronica in the same vein; some of it (such as Negativland's The Letter U and the Numeral 2, which he rubbishes in the article) has more in common with his beloved punk genre's core ethos than he gives credit.
The punk rebellion started because music in the Seventies had become mind-numbingly bland. As we approach the millennium, the dance music promoted by the style gurus is even more infuriating. Any attempt at a punk rebellion now would probably be ludicrous. Yet we urgently need something with similar vitality and imagination to challenge the mediocrity stifling European club-life.
I think the problem is not that there is no challenging, vital music, but that the industry and market ignore it and select for easy-to-digest blandness instead. (link via 1.0)
Thank "Bob", I'm well clear of the Dido demographic, the latest lucrative market segment (which seems to be essentially smug, superficially fashionable thirtysomethings who consider themselves much more hip and with-it than they actually are, and/or are in denial about their comfortably bourgeois, alt-MOR tastes).
20 Protection by Masssive Attack Yes, you know that Blue Lines is really the one to have, but you got this because you've heard of Tracey Thorn. You wanted something edgy and hip hop but with the reassuring Marks and Spenceryness that was Everything But The Girl. And you got it!
Anyway, I've got only three titles from the list (Dummy by Portishead, Play by Moby (which I have since found too bland to be worth listening to, and which is probably a candidate for the next CD-liquidation sweep), and OK Computer by Radiohead (though I think that Kid A and Amnesiac are doovy)).
The Onion: Family of Five Found Alive in Suburbs:
Upon discovery, the family was rushed back to civilization. Attempts to reassimilate the Holsapples into metropolitan living with a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago and dinner at a nice Peruvian restaurant were met with resistance. "When we got to the museum, the family became quite agitated," psychologist Dr. Allan Green said. "Jay kept calling all the modern art 'weird' and Meredith said, 'If we wanted to look at art, we could just go to Deck The Walls at the mall.'"
Upon arriving in Buffalo Grove in 1993, the Holsapples befriended the locals, called "suburbanites," and soon adopted their ways entirely, from the mode of dress to the food they eat. Meredith Holsapple described in great detail the suburban settlements called "sub-divisions" where great emphasis is placed on maintaining lawns, watching televised sports, birthing children, listening to Top 40 music, and collecting stuffed animals.
(Insert topical Morrissey lyric here) The institution of marriage, once nigh-mandatory for all not sworn to religious solitude, is in decline; according to Peter McDonald of the Australian National University, one in four young people today will never marry, mostly out of choice. This is partly because of the trend towards postponement of marriage; however, even counting de facto relationships, long-term coupling is also in decline.
Professor McDonald said coupling trends in Australia had changed drastically but had now settled and were expected to stay put. This allowed the ANU to estimate Australia's future marital make-up. "It's extremely unlikely we'll go back to the extremely early marriages that we had in the '50s and '60s, when women were married as teenagers, which is pretty amazing now," he said. "People just got married, very often, to the first person they went out with. They didn't think about it very much. These days, people often have several partners before they get married."
That probably won't stop our back-to-the-1950s federal politicos; how much do you want to bet that tax breaks towards early marriage (i.e., punitive taxation for single people) or some similar social engineering scheme will be floated in Federal Parliament...
In the latest surprising development, Australia's authoritarian-moralist prime minister John "The Beast" Howard has put forward plans to roll back the Sex Discrimination Act, restricting IVF treatment to married heterosexuals. The Beast claims that children have a right to be born into a traditional heterosexual family. Why not extend it further and ban non-church-going couples from having IVF treatment? After all, shouldn't children in Howard's Menzies-retro utopia have a right to a good, moral, Christian upbringing, rather than being brainwashed with permissiveness and SEXular humanism? Perhaps Howard should bring back the traditional Australian policy of taking children away from their parents and putting them in more traditional homes; only rather than just targeting Aborigines, extending it to target all who disagree with Howard's vision of moral purity.
Being boring: How Gay has become the New Straight in America:
As humorist Fran Lebowitz put it: "Who are now the most square people on Earth? Who are the only people left who want to go into the Army and get married? Homosexuals."
The modern experience of coming out of the closet has been funneled down to a prescribed set of rituals involving a blase soundtrack of disco anthems, a few white tank-top T-shirts, some boots, some unhappy Thanksgiving dinners with the family, a regrettable tattoo, some poetry scribbled in journals. The majority of gay people do not get pummeled or fired or expelled; they emerge a wee bit neurotic and immediately set about shopping.
The only people still preoccupied with gay male sex are the ones waving "God Hates Fags" posters in front of the statehouse, forever transfixed by the clinical details of sodomy, looking as anachronistic as the white people who yelled at black school kids.
All-too-realistic Onion article: Columbine Jocks Safely Resume Bullying
Cameras were installed on school grounds, enabling authorities to more closely monitor the activities of all students for suspiciously nonconformist behaviors or modes of dress. All entrances to the school are now locked and accessible only by intercom or specially coded key card, preventing the sort of open, comfortable learning environment that might encourage students to express themselves. The soothing presence of armed patrols, coupled with high fences surrounding the grounds, reassures jocks that they can feel free to once again torment the school's geeks as they did before April 20, without fear of reprisal.