Response from a “Zionist run internet blog”…

First of all, before I get into the meat of things, I’d like to thank the people who helped promote via social media, my last post which criticised The Mind Unleashed. Rousing Departures is actually a small personal blog that usually attracts very minimal traffic – my traffic stats graph currently has a couple of large columns for the last few days, while the columns for the rest of the month are barely visible, having been squished down to scale.

Indeed, a week ago as of writing, I managed to get nine page views for the day – the past couple of days have seen page views in the thousands. And the Facebook page for Rousing Departures? That currently has less than fifty likes, compared to The Mind Unleashed’s three and a half million… (Keep this in mind, when you consider some of the responses I’ve received, that follow).

I’m currently in the process of trying to organise a collaborative blog with a few other writers, which would have been a far better venue for this discussion, but there have been setbacks. My apologies on that count. Still, this isn’t about blog-promotion – this is about bigotry and bogus medical advice, so I’d better get on with it.

Those of us who have been criticising The Mind Unleashed (TMU) over the past few days, appear on some level to be striking a chord; RationalWiki now has a section on TMU, and importantly, TMU has itself responded…

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If you’re not trolling, and you’re not a bigot, you’ve no reason to ‘like’ “The Mind Unleashed”…

It’s gone off like a pig in a cake shop; the amount of ‘likes’ the viral Facebook page, “The Mind Unleashed”, has attained (currently around two and a half million, with oodles of shares and likes – marketing manna from heaven!) Like many other viral Facebook pages, it lures people in with affirmations, platitudes of dubious worth, plagiarised conspiracy theorist memes, and dangerous medical misinformation served up as wisdom.

The target audience is the superficially-leftish end of the spectrum; the well-meaning but politically naive, and those who just don’t like to see the underdog kicked; from people who haven’t had the opportunity to acquire genuine critical thinking and/or research skills, to the histrionic-sanctimonious; the aspiring George Galloways; the would-be-cult-leaders.

I have a special loathing for the piece of disinformation, beloved of “The Mind Unleashed”, and oft repeated without reference to anything other than anecdote, that cannabis can cure cancer. Aside from anecdote never being a good basis for medical advice, this rubbish is just plain wrong, and could encourage people with cancer to disregard sound medical advice from oncologists. People have already been killed by this kind of thing.

This may be sinister, but it’s not this sinister aspect of “The Mind Unleashed” that I want to draw attention to.

The sinister aspect of “The Mind Unleashed” I want to address belongs to the general category of being-overtly-shit-to-members-of-social-groups. “The Mind Unleashed” is anti-Semitic. To be on board with “The Mind Unleashed”, is to enable the hatred of Jews.

I trust that at least some new-age-type-folk may object to such hatred.

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Plucked From The Nether: ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’

In November of 2010, on my previous blog, I wrote a post with the title ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’, ostensibly spurred on by a comment  by Sean of Bookonaut (née Blogonaut) fame. However, I didn’t disclose at the time that I’d already been mulling over commentary on much the same topic, made on Facebook, by a much-loved atheist who went by the name of Candy Hogan. This is what she posted, earlier in November 2010;

“when i go to read my newsfeed often want to scream. I understand the proud atheist thing, but WHY does EVERYTHING have to be about RELIGION? dammit, its boring! u might as well be practicing these religions u claim u hate cuz theyre ALL U TALK ABOUT!! in depth studies of inconsistancies… why isnt it enough to just not believe? new subject PLEASE???”

(Candy Hogan, November 18th, 2010)

I originally considered dedicating my post to her, however, given that I opened by quoting Sean (and that a dedication seemed potentially too familiar), I opted not to. A few weeks later, in early January 2011, after a bout of viral pneumonia, Candy Hogan’s life came to an end.

I’m periodically reminded of Candy every now and then (as I have been again, now) – she was witty, occasionally a little caustic (while still being witty), and thoroughly irreverent. Nobody, including atheists, could be guaranteed immunity from her sense of humour. Discussion, with Candy as a participant, was never allowed to stagnate for long, if at all, and even while for the most part I sat on the sidelines, I considered Candy’s thoughts worthy of attention.

So with the exception of a little spit-and-polish here and there, the following is ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’ as it appeared in November of 2010, now re-dedicated to Candy. Vale Candy Hogan.

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This dog may look forlorn, but what happens next will surprise you and melt your heart…

dog This dog may appear forlorn, sad, lonely and abandoned, but often things are not as they first appear. Dogs are wonderful creatures, and man’s best friend, so you would think that nothing good that they do would be cause for amazement.

“Selflessness and love? That just what dogs do!”

But this “sad” pooch was only moments away from a revelation that would change his life forever, melt hearts across the world and show that dogs really do have a whole heap of surprises up their sleeves to teach us cynical humans.

Watch below and weep tears of joy…

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“Real men”, plus “hyper” and “toxic” masculinity…

rmdbg A few weeks ago on my birthday, after watching Godzilla with a friend, downing a few drinks and engaging in critique of the movie’s gender politics, discussion turned to the assumptions underlying, or inferred by, a number of terms. Specifically we discussed the terms  “real men”, “toxic masculinity” and “hyper-masculinity” (all while my friend’s copy of “Demonic Males” slowly emerged from her handbag). First, I’ll briefly address the “Real Men Do/Don’t…” meme that’s recently been going around.

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Don’t get me wrong, “buying girls” is shitty behaviour of a high order, and should be strongly campaigned against even if only because people are not objects to be bought or sold. View just technically, before suffering gets taken into consideration, this is a compelling justice concern.

My objection isn’t with this side of the equation at all, rather my problem comes from the part that ascribes the relevant agency to “real men”. What the fuck is a “real man”? (That’s a rhetorical question).

Others have made critiques on the basis of the inferences the “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign makes about gender roles, and they are critiques that I generally agree with, however I’ll be addressing another problem.

It’s pretty obvious that most people using the term “real men” aren’t arguing that the concept of “men” is more than just a useful fiction in the philosophical sense, nor, obviously, are they arguing that men who buy girls don’t have existence. What they are implying, if not plainly stating, is that objectively “this (not buying girls) is an essential criteria for being a man”.

This is more or less true for all the other instances of the “real men” meme. You can perform a Google image search to find that other essential criteria of “Man” are argued to be the ability to grow their own scarves, to be able to shave with chainsaws, to abstain from quiche, and other such nonsense. Adelaide band The Beards, performs a line in pseudo-ironic, hipster sexism along much the same lines…


Because it’s original and edgy, because sexism hasn’t been around since… the dawn of history… (3:49)

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You can see how this kind of terminology is a problem with only a little thought experimentation.

Say you have before you, an adult randomly selected from the population of people who have been arrested, charged and sentenced for buying one or more girls. Picture them in your mind. Is it conceivably possible that their sex is “male”? Is it conceivably possible that they self-identify, gender-wise, as a man?

If it’s even logically possible for the answer to these questions to be “yes” (and it’s pretty obvious that this is highly likely to be the case in the “real world”), then we have problems when it comes to the wording of the campaign in question. The statement “real men don’t buy girls” is in contradiction with the evidence presented by these scenarios; here you have men who buy girls.

Either we are in error about the offender’s gender and sex, or we are wrong in assigning certain characteristics to the class “Men”; i.e. either “real men” do on occasion, buy girls, beat wives, and so on and so forth, or they don’t, and the people who do these things are… who or what exactly? If they aren’t Men, then what are they?

More importantly, how do you decide, in a non-arbitrary manner, what constitutes an essential gender criteria, or do you instead, like some folk, avoid trying to objectively define other people’s gender all-together?

Speaking practically, this issue can be side-stepped if different rhetoric is chosen by the people designing these campaigns… “Men who buy girls should be policed more aggressively” or “children should not have to live with the threat of being bought by men”, for example.

The fact that all this mess can be side-stepped with so little effort on the part of campaigners, all without compromising on the message of the campaign, means that there’s really no excuse for getting it wrong.

Admittedly, not all men may find this language comforting, unequivocal as it is about the acts of particularly rotten men. But I’m not in the business of consolations. If you want that, I’m sure Alain de Botton probably has a bromide of one sort or another to sell you.

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(Now if at this point, you’re complaining that this is all just an exercise in semantics, it’s possibly because you’re bigot, or at the very least, the kind of person who doesn’t like to consider the consequences of what they communicate to the world around them. Why you’d even be reading this post in the first place then, is a bit of a mystery.)

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The problems associated with essentialism and gender don’t stop there though. Earlier, I mentioned the “Real Men Grow Their Own Scarves” iteration of the meme.

Taken only a little bit seriously, this is clearly ridiculous. Are you really going to suggest, that because someone cannot grow a beard sufficient to function as a scarf, that this, and this alone, disqualifies them from being a man?

No, you wouldn’t? Perhaps it’s just a harmless joke, right?

Allow me to extend this further with another small thought experiment.

You encounter someone who identifies as a trans-gendered male, who may or may not have been designated the sex of female at birth, and they are unable or unwilling to grow a beard sufficient, by your standards, to act as a scarf. Are you going to acknowledge and treat them as a man?

If your answer is “no”, you’re a transphobe. Congratulations.

Of course, being precisely this kind of asshole to transgendered folk isn’t the worst kind of bigotry they are subjected to, and somewhat less so is naively enjoying Internet memes about “real men” and beards. However, you’d be hard pressed to find an instance of harsher forms of transphobia that aren’t also based on gender essentialism, whether that essentialism takes the form of tropes about “real men” or “real women”, or not.

By using the language and logic of gender essentialism, the “Real Men don’t buy girls” campaign feeds into transphobia. Indirectly, perhaps, but almost inevitably once the logic and language of essentialism takes a hold of the way we talk about gender.

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This brings us back to the matter of “toxic” and “ultra” masculinity.

Given events like the recent Isla Vista shootings, back to the less-recent serial killings of the Hillside Stranglers, or the all-too-familiar skews in statistics like those for domestic violence, and all the chest-beating, pigeon-strutting,  violence-signalling, late-night-posturing bullshit that goes along with it, it’s hard not to view the terms “toxic masculinity” and “ultra-masculinity” as pointing to substantive cultural phenomena. And without entirely discounting the role of the biological, I don’t have any great problem in acknowledging that these phenomena exist as cultural phenomena, and that they, as cultural phenomena, present obviously serious social problems.

However, both of these terms do more than just point to the phenomena they are primarily intended to. They carry other inferences, and baggage, in much the way “real men” conveys more than anti-child-exploitation campaigners may intend.

The concept of toxicity is one where something specific, at a certain level or concentration, becomes harmful – what then, about masculinity, is specifically the part that becomes toxic?

Similarly, “ultra-masculinity” implies the ability to measure a quality, or qualities of masculinity, such that their exaggeration can be noticed above and beyond “normal” levels. What exactly are these qualities, and what makes them a part of masculinity, such that masculinity in general, necessarily infers them? Or put more succinctly, why are these qualities essential to masculinity?

“Toxic” and “ultra” masculinity don’t come out and say it, quite as much as does “real men”, but gender essentialism is implied by the choice of words.

If you’re not a person who has a problem with gender essentialism, the problems posed by its logic, or the consequences of its ideological offshoots, then you’re obviously not going to have a problem with these terms. Again, one wonders why such a person would even be reading this.

And I guess that in addition to this, if you’re also feminist, that having these words in your lexicon still isn’t going to be an issue. In this matter at least, you perhaps count yourself as being ideologically in the company of the likes of Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer. It’s not my place to tell you who or with what ideas you must affiliate, but I can make observations.

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I’m not asserting that the phenomena that “toxic” and “ultra” masculinity point to entail gender essentialism, but rather that through baggage and inference, the language does. If you’re the kind of person who seeks to avoid gender essentialism (i.e. not a “TERF”), while criticising misogynistic culture, then I think you’d possibly be the kind of person who’d want to keep the concepts, but ditch the language.

Examples of how the rhetoric of “toxic masculinity” could contribute to transphobia don’t immediately come to mind, but the logic would seem to leave it open to such a possibility. The idea of “ultra masculinity” on the other hand, through the simple idea of men being able to be more objectively belonging to the class “Men” than others, present obvious exclusionary potential I don’t even want to speculate about.

(It shouldn’t need pointing out that the logic in all of this sets a precedent for/necessarily implies essentialism along the lines of “toxic” and “ultra” femininity, and “real women”, with all the potential for re-enforcement of archaic gender roles and trans-misogyny that comes with it).

Stated outright, “toxic” and “ultra” masculinity, like “real men”, despite what people’s intentions may be, are still rooted to varying extents in patriarchal language*. How much of a problem you take this to be is up to you, but for my part, I’m not ambivalent about it.

As of yet, I don’t really have a handle on any neologisms that could act as substitutes for “toxic” or “ultra” masculinity that wouldn’t also generate a good deal of fruitless confusion. I’m stuck with expending extra words each time I want to talk about “harmful interpretations of masculinity” or “patriarchal culture” or “misogynistic ideations” or “rape culture”.

Usually this entails just being clear, at length, about the matter at hand, but the loss of useful-if-problematic terminology isn’t something to be overlooked either; conversations can get bogged down or driven into rhetorical side-alleys without specific technical language. The word-smithing continues.

~ Bruce

* Patriarchies, and patriarchal cultures, being essentialist themselves.


Signs of the alien…

hockey It’s been just over a month since the loveable, cuddly, Shrek-like-grump otherwise known as Joe Hockey, apparently outed himself as an elitist jerk through the simple act of smoking a cigar. Apparently, cigars are the hallmark of fat cats, investment bankers and the like.

This narrative isn’t particularly convincing, and seems to me, more like a facile inversion of former Prime Minister John Howard’s out-of-touch remarks about lattes and chardonnay. I found it just about as convincing when Republicans in the US too, speculated about the dining habits of Al Gore and John Kerry.

In order to be petty enough to both appreciate, and to find confirmation in these kinds of damnation-by-commodity associations, people have to first be pretty well polarised for one reason or another. Welded-on party loyalists, haters, the politically humiliated, the desperate and the short-term-angered.

Which is to say, once you can sell this kind of thing to an electorate, you’ve already got them. At best, this stuff’s for shits and giggles, or for preaching to the choir.

At worst, which is often the case, its abject foolishness. (I include in this category, marketing-driven “analysis” that merely capitalises on the political resentment of a target audience in order to sell subscriptions and draw advertisers).

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Now the budget that Hockey has delivered; that’s doing a lot of the left’s campaigning for it. If there’s anything that screams “Elitist Bastard” louder than cigars, lattes, chardonnay and Perrier ever could, it’s fiscally pummelling the stuffings out of the poor and the aspirational.

This, rightly, has pissed people off. Parents don’t want their kids living with them until thirty, much less are they happy to continue feeding them if fairly paid work isn’t available. Few Australians are willing to be targeted to take the brunt of the current account deficit, much less the many who can’t, or are less likely to be able to afford being weathered by austerity measures.

This is before considering education cuts, and fee hikes, and repayment scams, which a cynical elitist government could conceivably pass off to some extent, as Making Those Educated Folk Pay Their Way. A good raft of the fiscal restraints of the current budget are like this; potentially passable with old-school conservative guile. But a good few also, are clearly not.

At the time of Hockey’s supposed cigar transgression, Australians’ rage over the budget was starting to boil. A month later and it’s now spilling over. But the cigar had nothing to do with this.

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Policy points are squidgy things. Ordinary folk don’t always vote on them, because they often don’t keep the details in working memory for long before something else in their busy lives comes along to distract them.

This budget of Hockey’s may be an exception though, much as was the Work Choices legislation during the last Howard Government. But if we’re talking about signs of elitism, other than in pure policy terms, and if we’re not talking about whether politicians prefer Iced VoVos over Biscuits Roses de Reims, what else can we turn to for a diagnosis?

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On Wednesday, Treasurer Joe Hockey told The Sydney Institute that “…criticism of our strategy has been political in nature and has drifted to 1970s class warfare lines, claiming the budget is ‘unfair’ or that the ‘rich don’t contribute enough”, and that “…only in a closed economy, based on old style socialism, can a government hope to deliver uniform equality of outcomes”.

There’s a lot you could say about this purely on the basis of policy points; a mixed economy has been part-and-parcel of the New Left since there was a New Left; the Hawke-Keating government opened the Australian economy to the world more than any other, and few-to-none of Hockey’s mainstream critics actually seek to reverse this, or, one could point out that there is a vast multitude of possible fiscal platforms more equitable than Hockey’s that don’t even approach being socialist.

In short, in terms of policy points, you could point out that what Hockey is saying is unequivocally false; that it’s horseshit.

But being tricksy or false hardly signifies that he’s being an elitist dirtbag. Rather, what it does show us is that he’s either or both foolish, or dishonest. This wouldn’t be telling us anything that we don’t already know.

Currently, opposition leader Bill Shorten is hounding Hockey for his dividing Australians into a cynical dichotomy of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’. With little doubt this is something worthy of criticism, the banal outrage element amongst consumer-reader markets not withstanding. Indeed, if only Shorten could be more the media darling on this, that he was during the Beaconsfield Mine collapse in 2006.

What this particular language doesn’t do though, is highlight the very real division between Joe Hockey, and “Average Joe”; that he is not one of us. Hockey’s divisiveness, in this case, is pure demagoguery of the Alan Jones, or 1990s Current Affair variety, and like the politically dishonest and the foolish, the political demagogue experiences little difficulty blending in with us commoners.

Indeed, wealthy demagogues are particularly adept at passing themselves off as battlers or hard workers; it’s a good part of what makes them so politically dangerous.

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No, it’s Hockey’s remark about 1970s socialism that does the trick, more than cigars, foodstuffs or demagogic bloviation ever could. Outside of the sheer wide-ranging cruelty of this latest budget, it’s this arcane and somewhat abstract point that Hockey makes that best signifies that he is alien to us little people.

Labor could almost be forgiven for not realising it. Almost.

Oh Labor

Despite the achievements of the Hawke and Keating governments, there’s still a fiscal insecurity lurking at the back of the minds of many an ALP member; The Spectre of Gough. Beating back the Global Financial Crisis under Rudd may have exorcised this anxiety to some degree, but I’m sure it’s still there in no insignificant measure.

So when the Liberals concoct an imaginary “Budget Crisis”, and the Australian public reject a perfectly fiscally competent government, you can expect that folk in the Labor party are going to worry about their party’s (allegedly) long-standing reputation for these things.

Only, outside of the political classes, nobody really gives a rat’s posterior about this anymore. The public’s interest for political history isn’t as great as the average party wonk, and is easily subsumed by urgency and practicality. The “Budget Crisis” was such an urgency, and the in-fighting that made Labor appear impractical, was clear, apparent and immediate.

This had nothing to do with the hauntings of The Spectre of Gough.

Similarly, and to my point, aside from the party faithful, and the welded-on, the Australian electorate couldn’t give two farts about Hockey’s venture into the shortcomings of “1970s socialism”. Aside from being factually dubious, which many a wonk will be tempted to address, and aside from alluding to fiscal ghosts, which many a Labor-type may be baiting into defending, it’s just too alien.

Talk of historically closed economies, and the alleged unattainability of attempts at absolute and uniform equality, are at least for the time being, too far removed from the electorate’s immediate concerns, which thanks to Hockey’s callousness, are now many.

If Labor want to take full advantage of the way Hockey has alienated the Australian public, it needs to jump on the arcane and abstruse qualities of his ideations, and use them to portray him for what he is; out of touch with most Australians, and utterly unconcerned with their welfare.

Hockey is far too busy chasing ideological spectres of his own imagining to be worried about us plebs.

A stark, alternative approach, would be for the ALP to continue overlooking openings like these, instead remaining distracted by their own flirtations with the abstract and the tenebrous, thereby opening themselves up to fair speculation that they too, are too busy with other things to care about the little folk. It shouldn’t need saying that I don’t think this is a good idea.

Shake off the fog, the ghosts and the long shadows, Labor. A strong opposition is needed.

~ Bruce


Rousing Departures Glossary Entry #1: Epistemic Analingus

Epistemic analingus:

(I) The idea, inferred or stated clearly, that the truth of a proposition rests upon its utility to an adored or politically useful individual.

(II) The practice of distributing charity in interpreting arguments on the basis of a potential interlocutor’s utility, or relationship, to one’s self.

See also: Brown-nosing; self-serving bias.

~ Bruce