Tricks In Neoliberal Culture #001: Affirming Values Through Compliments

Say you’re a ne’er-do-well with a need or desire to pass yourself off as a bleeding heart. Say you don’t have enough time on your hands to do the actual work of a bleeding heart. Perhaps you’re too busy on account of maintaining a cocaine habit, or just sleeping in, or some-such.

Only, you’ve got a start-up, or a spokesperson gig that brings you work, fame and/or fortune, and it all rises or falls based on your standing.

Do not worry. Other people do this work all the time; capitalise on their labour. You just have to find a way to take credit, without appearing to take credit, all while minimising the expenditure of your resources.

This is where compliments come in, and they work at all scales.

Example 1

“Wow. Those cancer researchers do a great job. People really need to be more aware of how cancer effects people!”

Sounds twee, doesn’t it? Likeably twee though, and lets face it, it’s easy to portray anyone criticising such sentiment as being cruel. It’s also a bit of a non-sequitur; it doesn’t follow from the great job cancer researchers really are doing, that people need to be more aware of the social impact of cancer.

Hell, everyone knows someone who’s been “touched by cancer”.

But people don’t pay attention to this kind of detail. You can even put it in the same paragraph and people won’t notice.

“Wow. Those cancer researchers do a great job. People really need to be more aware of how cancer effects people! Everyone knows someone who’s been touched by cancer! Did you know that?”

Being a layabout spokesperson for cancerishness stuff is as easy as that. If someone points out the flaws in the argument, then simply call them cruel and fall back on the crowd to defend you.

It’s vitally important that you place these details well beyond reproach, because these details actually relate to what you’re going to do, and you don’t want your actions being scrutinised.

“Cancer researchers work hard. To draw attention to how bad cancer is, we’re having an iced-genital challenge. Just record yourself icing your genitals, nominate someone else with warmer genitals than yourself, maybe send some money to our cancer awareness campaign, and all will be good!”

Bucket_of_Ice Place genitals here, and send me your cancer dollars
(Photo Source CC: Nautical9)

Thing is, after getting your not-for-profit up and running, you’re not going to send that money on to fund cancer research. Oh no, you only send those boffins compliments. You? You fund cancer awareness. Who is doing the cancer awareness work that you will be funding? Why that would be you!

Compliment cancer research + patronise cancer-induced suffering with “awareness” shite = profit.

Well, not literally. By “profit” I mean “expenses” like business lunches (that you like to eat), travel (to where you want to go), employing people (such as yourself and your fuck buddies), and so on. All to make people aware of cancer, the effects of which have been experienced in at least some capacity by… everyone.

If exploiting people’s gullibility makes you feel poorly, just remember that thanks to this, you can probably afford to buy yourself a pony. If you still feel poorly after buying a pony, then you’re shark bait – use the pony as a decoy when predators arrive and then harden the fuck up.

Example 2

Okay, so maybe your career as a spokesperson or thingy-thing-doer or whatnot isn’t at the kind of level where you can just up and establish a not-for-profit and market the shit out of yourself The Cause. Do not worry; I said this was doable at all scales.

Don’t ever let it be said that Ayn Rand didn’t collect social security. Also, if government money is available for a cause, fucking aim for it. (Depending on where you live, this trick may instead mean taking money from corporate PR departments – the point is, never think of where the money comes from or what it’s supposed to be for).

Whatever your situation may be, if you’re at least worth spit, there are always organisations with money floating around, looking for spokespersons for causes. The most sincere (and hence the most exploitable) of these look to outsiders, rather than their founders, to do the awareness-making and speaky-speak.

Often, they want someone to look as if they’re from outside the establishment because it gives a (false) appearance of independence. Tiny Tim can sell Scrooge’s good intentions better than Scrooge can.

The best place to prowl for these lush gigs is around performance artists. These needn’t be major recording artists, although it could be – you could work your way up to that if you’re evil enough. Again, this is doable at all scales.

As with the first example, you want to compliment others while minimising your workload. Essentially, this just means being a part of the crowd, while nominally, also being on stage.

Open mic sessions, spread between more established performers, are great for this. Become a regular at such gigs!

Write super-sanctimonious shit. It doesn’t have to be good, just be earnest. Nobody notices your artifice, or at least, if they do, they don’t want to be the only one who’s calling you on your shit – that’s a one way trip to lonely-town. You’ll get away with it – this is the easy bit.

The two important things that you do not want to fuck up, are; being louder in your praise of other artists than everyone else is, and not praising the wrong kind of shit.

If you want a gig as an anti-racism spokesperson, it doesn’t matter if on some level, your own performance is implicitly racist or patronising because most people at stage performances do not do deep thinking, and the ones that do don’t get listened to because they’re too quiet. It will matter however, if you give a huge fucking applause to a KKK slam poet; you’ll be the one sad fuck in the crowd who’s cheering them on. You’ll be the one pathetic twonk in the scene who cheered on that bonehead that one time.

Don’t be that twonk.

No, what you want to do is wait until that exploitable Social Justice Warrior who’s been fighting racism all their life, comes on to stage to slam, rhyme and free-verse about it, and then hit them with a “YES! YES! YES!”

Pick some affirmations that are short, abrupt, preferably monosyllabic, infinitely repeatable, don’t require thought, and then blast them out. Stand up while you’re hollering if you can.

Do not be bothered with any of that foot-rumbling crap, or that clicky-shit they do at slams in Melbourne. You’ll just blend-in if you resort to that. SEIZE PEOPLE’S ATTENTION! Take attention from the artist who has fought against racism all their life, and focus it on you, but don’t appear to be greedy while you are doing it; “YOU ARE BRILLIANT! I LOVE IT! SO TRUE! YOUR WORDS! SO WISE! INSPIRATIONAL!”

Be careful with “inspirational” though – the audience surely won’t know, but artists may cotton on to your motives when you use this word. If that happens, and the artist criticises you, take advantage; you can just feign innocence to make them look both bad, and bad to work with. Eliminate the competition with a smile.

All of this will work even better, if you’re looking for an anti-racism gig, if the artist you are exploiting is a person of colour and if you are white. Seriously.

Why? Because you’ll probably have a mostly white audience who on some level want the continued comfort of white people being in charge of any and all discussions of racism; people recruiting speakers from the arts use the audience as barometer. The disposition of the audience is also likely true of any number of advocacy bodies looking to recruit anti-racist spokespersons as well, or at least, this is mostly true of most of the well funded ones.

And if you fail, so what? You’re just some person who doesn’t like racism. You can’t be faulted for that, right? Again – feign innocence.

It’s not like this takes much effort anyway. If you don’t win the first time around, you may as well safely sit back, relax and have a beer, and maybe buy one for the new POC friend you’re mooching cred from.

You can go back to hating Jews and feminists after you’re done, which nobody is going to call you on unless you’re silly enough to make it an integral part of your shtick.

The thing with a low-investment, high-payoff scam like this, is that you can effortlessly repeat it over and over and over again. It’s mutable as well; it works just as well for disability advocacy, asylum-seeker advocacy, victims-of-crime advocacy…

If you’re a high functioning sociopath, all advocacy is potential self-advocacy, and don’t you go forgetting that, John Galt!

Observations

Go and attend some free public events centred around do-gooders and artsy types. Make observations. Particularly, watch the people who give the most compliments.

What labour do they actually perform?

What do they get out of the event?

How do they hide their exploits, if any, from being detected?

What values are they affirming through their compliments, and what signs do they actually show of living up to these values (Google is your friend)?

~ Bruce

Tricks In Neoliberal Culture #000: The Beginning

I have this new series of posts lined up, which as you can probably tell, will fall under the title ‘Tricks In Neoliberal Culture’. Jaded political types will have some idea what I’m on about, while the less wonky may very well scratch their heads.

“What the fuck is neoliberalism? Can it help me?”

Well, if you’re a self-made Übermensch, dependent on no-one, then yes, neoliberalism can help you. The basic, unvarnished truth of neoliberalism is that it advocates for the freedom of the powerful to take away the freedom of the poor. The result, when people operate under this scheme, is a condensation of power at the top, while people at the bottom claw their way over each other instead of cooperating.

If this all seems a bit unfair, just remind yourself that sociopaths have rights too, and then proceed to be tolerant to a fault. Easy. Now you’re on-board with neoliberalism.

But what about the history of neoliberalism? Don’t worry about that. Aside from acknowledging the fact that neoliberalism really took off in the 70s, you really don’t want to go into history. People will only point out pesky things like misreadings of Adam Smith, and historical burst-bust cycles resulting from failed economic doctrines that don’t account for the actual irrationality of markets.

Remember: Unrestrained markets are good for the powerful to freely take freedom from the less powerful, and hence good for everyone. You don’t want to be contradicted on this when you’re pushing your boot down on someone else’s shoulder. Insist at all points that markets are rational.

You are an Übermensch (or a John Galt, or an Atlas – take your pick)!

How do you survive in this brave new neoliberal world?

Start-ups! Risky investment! Self-positioning! Marketing! Marketing! Marketing!

But most important of all, thou must learn to shank thy neighbour! That’s where the tricks come in.

Now to be fair, even communists have done their fair share of shanking over the years, and they may even shank with what is broadly the same cut.

However, tricks done within neoliberal culture, even the same tricks, are just done with so much more flair. Consider the difference between being stabbed amidst Las Vegas neon, versus being stabbed amidst Soviet Bloc brutalism.

Details on tricks will be forthcoming.

~ Bruce

Dear Facebook Friend…

Last month, in writing the post ‘If you’re not trolling, and you’re not a bigot, you’ve no reason to ‘like’ “The Mind Unleashed”’, I mentioned that in response to the mentioned woo, conspiracy theory, and anti-Semitism laced Facebook page, people could…

‘Encourage your friends who subscribe to the page to do a little digging for themselves, instead of passively being spoon-fed. Crap like that spread by “The Mind Unleashed” only does as well as it does because the practice of being spoon-fed advice is so well accepted.’

…and that possibly (as a last measure on Facebook)…

‘you explain to “The Mind Unleashed” subscribing friends, why you take anti-Semitism and bigotry seriously, and that this is why you are ‘unfriending’ them. Then proceed to ‘unfriend’ them.’

These will still be options for some folks, should they wish to do so. However what I want to do now is provide people with an alternative; a short, prepared letter they can use to copy, paste and send to their Facebook friends. Not everyone is up for fully confronting people about these kinds of things, and for some, having a proxy do the arguing may ease some of the pressure.

All you have to do, if you want to use this letter, is copy the bit after the separator below, and paste it into a message to the friends you want to reach.

You don’t have to link back to this post. You don’t have to mention any kind of intellectual property rights (I cede all copyright) or mention my name. You can use my name as it appears at the end of the letter if you want, or you can replace my name with your own and alter the content accordingly. Whatever makes it easiest for people to get the message across is best.

(I do insist though, if you substantially alter the letter, that you sign off with your own name).

The letter follows.

***

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Disappearance of the “Scarlet A”, and musings on “Atheism Plus”…

AIn October of 2007, if you were a reader of my old blog, you may have noticed my signing up to The Out Campaign; a campaign where atheists donned the now near-ubiquitous (in one form of another) “Scarlet A” – outing or presenting themselves as godless in response to a world where godlessness isn’t always tolerated.

I make no reservations about declaring my “post-atheist” condition; I have never actually been religious; I don’t live in a culture where I am oppressed on account of my lack of religion; I live in a culture where in general, I am tolerated. Unlike some of my fellow Freethinkers from “post-atheist” cultures though, I have no intention of belittling the struggles of atheists in less tolerant climates, even in less-than-tolerant developed nations like the US.

(I.e. I’m not going to play that game).

Back in 2007, I had a Catholic friend who shunned me when I revealed that in fact, I was irreligious. Our friendship was originally fuelled in no small part by our mutual concerns about social justice. And then it was over…

Did I suddenly identify as oppressed? No. However, in a process resulting from this shunning, somewhat like being injected with the proteins of a virus, I was in a sense inoculated against the real thing. I found it easier to empathise with people who were oppressed, or at least marginalised on account of their atheism.

The “Scarlet A” then, was about solidarity.

It’s now 2014, and things have changed. The website for The Out Campaign is clearly no longer properly maintained, at the time of writing featuring broken image URLs. Iterations of the “Scarlet A” have mutated, speciated and in some cases metastasized.

While I don’t object to most instances of the use of the “Scarlet A” still in use, it’s just lost relevance to me. It’s not clear that it symbolizes what I wish to convey by displaying it, so I’ve recently dropped it from my sidebar. Indeed, I’ve been  meaning to do so for some time.

***

“Atheist plussers”…

I’ve nothing against the “Atheism Plus” crowd, and I utterly object to the abuse they’ve received – abuse both leading to the creation of “Atheism Plus” in the first place, and abuse directed at them afterward. I wish them all needed respite from this abuse as well. This alone, depending on your definitions, may or may not make me one of them, although I’m not giving you a stake in my identity either way.

My interest in social justice has me holding a number of values also shared by the “Atheism Plus” crowd (“Atheism Plus” essentially being atheism “plus” social justice). This may or may not, depending on your definitions, also mark me as objectively fitting in.

Only, I have next to no interest in identifying, nor being interpellated* as such.

I’ve said it before over the years and I’ll say it again; I’m a lefty before I’m an atheist. While I may have many of the same priorities on my list as “Atheist Plus” atheists, I’m likely to order my priorities differently. Also, given my experiences on the left seemingly being different to that of many of the “Atheist Plus” crowd, I suspect it is likely that there will be concerns I have that we don’t share.

There’s also differences between the American and Australian left to consider. In Australia, we haven’t slid as far down the path of neo-liberalism and anti-unionist culture, and hence aren’t likely to have all the same invisible assumptions about such things – the kinds of assumptions that can be unwittingly adopted even by their opponents.

(I see this to some extent in the small-business-owner-like culture surrounding a number of social-justice-oriented public speakers and writers from the US, not limited purely to those from an atheistic background).

Generally, what’s the “Atheist Plus” take on the Reaganite union bashing of the 1980s, and its spread via globalisation? I don’t know. This isn’t a criticism of “Atheism Plus”, but rather an observation of potential sources of difference of priority.

This may or may not signal a conflict between myself and any given “Atheist Plus” position in the future. And if it does, people involved may want to know where I’ll be coming from should this happen; all else being equal, if it’s a choice between acting on the material left-wing concerns of a unionist/worker who happens to be religious, and entertaining an abstract theological point raised by an atheist who happens to be leftish, I’m not going to be siding with the atheist. (Also, theology doesn’t interest me that much).

(I happen to suspect that there is too much of what could be considered tantamount to class blindness in “Atheism Plus”, albeit not wilfully so. Considerations of class aren’t as prevalent amongst “Atheism Plus” as I’d be happy to see in a left-wing movement/organisation. It all comes across as being a bit too exclusively white collar).

Such a conflict may never occur, however a fundamental difference in the sorting of our priorities remains, even if our values are largely compatible. This matters to me.

***

Nothing has fundamentally changed about me regarding these matters over the past ten years. The only thing that has changed is the broader context I find myself engulfed in. I doubt I’m alone in this.

At any rate, I’m not going to make declarations of loyalty to groups that I know in advance that I may not be able to honour. And the “Scarlet A”? Gone.

I will however say this much; I am still an atheist writer, only I’m not just an atheist who writes. Often I will focus on issues from an atheist perspective, however my perspective isn’t solely defined along such lines. This may be a source of future conflict.

Allies who fail to understand this may wind up feeling betrayed. Enemies who fail to understand this risk making themselves look foolish.

~ Bruce

* Also, I don’t think my status as a subject is secondary in the generation of my identity, thank you very much anti-humanists.

Over a year of this crap…

Contextual back-story: Over a year ago now, in South Australian Humanist/Atheist circles, we had what could be called a situation.

Towards the start of 2013, months before this “situation”, I was drafting an anti-harassment policy for the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA), during my stint as treasurer. The HSSA, from then and until this day has had a close association with a group now known as the Atheist Community of South Australia (ACSA).

The policy I was drafting drew inspiration from policies enacted by American Atheists, and the Center For Inquiry, with considerations made for local contexts, and a number of rational criticisms of such policies taken into account. The process was supposed to and to some extent did, incorporate criticisms from the floor at meetings – i.e. it was intended to be a democratic process.

(As an aside, I have been informed that the HSSA committee has in the past few months, passed a version of the policy as a bylaw, in lieu of putting it to a vote of the membership. There is of writing however, no sign of the final policy on the HSSA website, nor have I obtained a copy, nor had one sent to me as a member.)

Almost from the inception of the drafting process, there were problems. I was warned by an official of a large atheist group that I shouldn’t attempt it – not from an objection to such policies, but on account of the rubbish I’d have to put up with.

At the very first meeting where I announced the drafting process, I was persistently interrupted by a chap named Mark Senior, who objected to my attempt at a criticism of the attitude behind a t-shirt worn to a convention in the US. What his objection was exactly, can’t be ascertained, given that I never got to voice my criticism for him to respond to in the first place. Suffice to say, it heralded a year of complete horseshit to come.

But yes… the mentioned “situation”. That occurred at first not in the HSSA, but in ACSA, and was noticed by Jason Thibeault of Lousy Canuck fame.

Short version: A bunch of chaps got angry about feminism, “Atheist plussers” and The White Ribbon campaign, a number of these guys also being anxious about the drafting of an anti-harassment policy. Lines were stepped over by a number of parties.

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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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