People Are Good, But Stupid – A Maxim For Life

A while back, I ended up playing a game of Psychosis – a board game with questions loosely based around psychology studies, some of which are even still in-date. A more interactive element comes from group activities where Player A gets to answer a question in secret, while the others guess their answer. Usually, these take the format of “So tell me, __________, what is your favourite colour?” – but mostly a bit more interesting than that tepid example.

So I was asked, as you do in the game, “So tell me, ____________, do you think people are A) Mostly good, B) Mostly bad”. I think it may have been more of a scale, but I forget the precise details.

Do I think people are, generally speaking, good or bad?

That sparked off a bit of a debate, as these people know me quite well.

On the one hand, I display a huge amount of cynicism toward people. I generally believe the worst in them. I know the harm they cause, and my cynical reaction is to literally expect it at every turn. If someone isn’t good, I seem to treat it as a mind-blowing exception to the pattern. On the other hand, came one argument, someone wouldn’t do that if they didn’t fundamentally believe humans were, deep-down, good… but perhaps misguided. A social cynic would have to care about people, and care about their goodness, to rant and rave when they see it going awry.

And I suppose they got it right. I believe people are fundamentally good. I just also believe they’re too stupid to really know what that means.

Everyone wants to be “good”. The connotations of that term alone drive people toward it. It’s positive, it’s beneficial, it’s virtuous and admirable pretty much by definition. But even ignoring the definition, people try to act good – no-one truly wants to cause excessive harm and suffering, we all want to benefit the rest of the world. Even if all they have to go on is “to be good is to be like God”, they’ll instinctively drive toward the harm-reducing, well-being-maximising acts, and the Argumentum ad Dictionarium only comes out in the wash of post hoc rationalisation. We’re driven to be good, rather than bad, and broadly agree on what it means to act those ways even if we disagree when it comes to the tedious, academic unpacking of those terms.

The exceptions are true exceptions, and driven either by a pragmatic need to break the vague Rules of Goodness (committing a theft because you need money) or a misunderstanding of what constitutes benefit to people (committing a theft because you believe it to be victimless or out of quasi-nihilistic self-interest). Even in the edge-cases of outright psychopathy, we attribute actions to a misfiring and a misinterpretation of morality rather than a drive to be evil.

Calling those exceptions “stupidity” may be an over-simplification – and I have something saved in my drafts folder about a better and more powerful definition of “stupid” to work with. Yet, it conveys the idea: we want to be good, we all agree that good means maximising well-being and reducing suffering, but the analytical component of figuring out what that all means in reality. Mother Theresa thought she was doing good, and reducing suffering, and bringing dignity to people through bringing them, and herself, closer to God – yet those with a keen eye for detail may have seen suffering increase as she deprived the poor and sick of medical treatment while keeping them in squalor, and then spent her donation money on establishing convents. We can’t deny her intentions to do good, and her justifications that her acts were, ultimately, good. And I don’t think it’s a mere disagreement on the definition of good – she wanted to reduce harm and increase well-being, to bring dignity to people. She simply approached it in a… well, somewhat questionable way from the perspective of an outsider with identical motivations and values.

Look at, say, most racists, sexists or homophobes amongst others with an -ist or -phobe levelled at them. They probably don’t think that what they’re doing is bad. Even the hardened ones. They believe their opinions to be innocent and valid.

This is perhaps where the social justice world fails to get through to them – by believing that a bigot is out to cause harm rather than simply misunderstanding whether they cause harm in the first place, they alienate rather than educate. If we approached them as having good intentions, we might be able to convince someone that their approach to implementing those intentions is where the harm comes from.

“Where’s the harm?” is, ultimately, what hides underneath all the usual defences of hatred and intolerance. At the thin end, someone might defend a racist joke because “it’s just a joke!”; they’re asking where is the harm in something they perceive as truly harmless because they literally don’t see any harm derived from it. And it goes all the way to the extremes of “yes, I might be herding these people into a gas chamber, but, it’s just following orders so I’m not really complicit, and, besides, it’s purifying our race so is obviously beneficial – if we don’t gas this menace we’ll just suffer in the long term”. Maybe that one requires a little more work to get around.

We’ll always find a motive to justify ourselves. We’ll always find a reasoning to back up our acts. We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t, fundamentally, driven to be good – because otherwise we’d be happy to admit that, yes, our actions are harmful to others and we don’t care, yet this is largely not what we see. And we wouldn’t be happy with flawed reasoning if we had the self-awareness to fully analyse it and come to a better conclusion, and then re-address our actions appropriately.

In other words; we want to be good, but we’re too dumb to figure out how to do it properly.

A Crisis of Identity

Allow me to go all special-snowflake and super-self-indulgent for a bit. Normal service will resume shortly.


I’ve had trouble recently figuring out exactly where I fit in the world.

I feel too weird for ‘normal’ society, but too normal for ‘weird’ society.

I mean, consider: My week isn’t spent counting down to Friday where I go out to get drunk in a packed club; my political opinions go beyond “They’re all crooks!”; I don’t work in an office where my surname has remarkably transformed into ‘from accounts’ or ‘from purchasing’; I can count on one hand the exact number of times I’ve given a shit about sport in the last twenty years; And my main sexual fetish isn’t “phwoar, tits!”.

Meanwhile, at the same time: I hate whimsy; I can’t stand poetry; I’ve committed the ultimate sin in thinking that Doctor Who is just a TV show and, really, just a wee-little-bit shit; I don’t have any ironic hobbies like knitting or collecting tea; I don’t have any mental illnesses or disorders, neither self- nor professionally-diagnosed; And I’m basically cishet scum through-and-through.

So I wonder why either group puts up with me.

I could become a conservative, but I think they’re the Evil Fucking Empire. I’m obviously a liberal, but the liberal-left’s innate talent for self-destruction through its purity culture makes me want to curl into a ball and cry. I could go the South Park route and become apathetic and develop a disdain for any thought that challenges me to care or develop or change but, at the end of the day, I just give too much of a shit about things for that nonsense.

Is my real place with the more-mainstream nerds, fighting for Comic-Con tickets and arguing about X-Box vs the PlayStation 19? Probably not, since I have no idea where I’d find the disposable income for all that bullshit, and I find the casual misogyny and the neckbeardiness that comes with the territory utterly repellent. Does that mean I should join in full-time with the Social Justice Enthusiasts, instead? I suppose so, but I find them to be mostly cloud-cuckoolanders who need to learn to live in reality as it is, first, before they have a hope in hell of changing it because, goat-dammit, guys, perfection is the enemy of good/better, here!

A religious group is a non-starter, obviously. Maybe I could get in with the hardened, out-and-proud Atheists? Well, to be honest, I’d rather join a religious cult that was happy to admit to it, and I like that when I use the word “logic” I mean some bollocks like “(∃x∈X|x=n)⇔n∉Y” and not “Feminism and Islam are the greatest threat to humanity because Logic”.

Metalheads? Frankly, I’d rather be locked in a lift for 24 hours with a Trump fan than a Tool fan, and if I can’t stand the liberal purity culture I’ll last about half a second in the world of “METAAAAAALL!!!!!”. Besides, the broader ‘alternative’ crowd have always looked at me with suspicion for having zero interest in ever getting a piecing or tattoo ever.

So all those sub-cultures and movements are out, and I’ve never felt right nor welcome in any of them.

I’m not, and probably never will be, the great, perfect, stalwart LGBT ally people want me to be, but I’ll never go back to the “eugh, why does it always have to be about the gays!” crowd because fuck that. I know for a damn fact that privilege is very real, but I know there is literally fuck-all I can do about it – which I know because I once asked what I could do about it and had shit slung in my face for it. And, yes, quite, simply not talking about racism won’t make it magically go away but neither will only talking about it.

Or do I just bite the bullet and turn normal – Get a trendy haircut, support the local sports team (Go Sports Team!), share post-memes with Minions on them, comment on a Facebook post that already has 150,000 comments on it, roll back my self-awareness, and start regularly watching Eastenders? Or go full tits-to-the-wall odd – Shave one eyebrow because “that’s so random!”, take up body-painting, change my Facebook profile picture to the flag of whatever country is going through the shit this time, buy some goofy hats, take up barefoot running, and then invent my own sexual orientation because “there isn’t a word that describes me!”?

Or, is this just normal and expected. Are we all like this and all thinking the same thing?

I’m Proud to be a Racist

Hi…

I’m an increasingly-pudgy white guy running headlong into middle age faster than I want to. I’m currently contract-hopping between various teaching positions at fairly decent universities. I’m a bit of a nerd.

Also, I’m a racist.

And, what the heck, while we’re at it, a bit of a sexist, and probably with a dash of homo-, trans- and xenophobe thrown in there, too. Add whatever else you like to the list. It’s probably the case.

“Holy fucking shit!” I can hear you cry already. “No, you can’t possibly say…”

Hold on a minute, Skippy. I’m going to unpack this one piece by piece. Although if you’re absolutely desperate for the reason for the title (it’s a cheeky bit of rhetoric), skip to the last few paragraphs.


Firstly, just to throw it out there, and I’ll re-colour this paragraph to set it aside and may refer to it later, I don’t quite believe the phrasing of “I am a…” has much use. In fact, I believe any phrase or sentence with the verb “to be” (am, is, was, were…) in it has inherent issues in meaning, though some use-cases have more trivial issues than others. More specifically, I believe any phrase that begins with “I am…” is held hostage to the recipient’s conception of what follows it. “I am a feminist”, for instance, would flag up totally different conceptions if I said it to renowned feminist third-waver and YouTube vlogger, Bitchy McLesbianface, compared to saying it to renowned MRA, basement-dweller and masturbation enthusiast, Neckbeardsley Fedorason. To say that sort of “I am…” statement, I have to worry about everyone else’s prior biases, definitions and connotations in picking the words that follow. I believe such a phrase lacks an inherent meaning. And, if given the choice, I’d avoid it altogether and go straight to what someone actually believes, rather than an immutable identity, particularly a one-word identity.

BUT, that’s for another time. For now, I’m going to throw that personal philosophy aside, assume words have inherent, laconic meaning, and go for the phrasing that will resonate strongly with people (since people exist). And instead of avoiding it, I’ll unpack it instead.


So, I am a racist.

Oooooh… controversial!

Anyway, the reason I want to say this is because, as an increasingly-pudgy white guy heading inextricably toward middle age, I’ll often end up on the receiving end of such an accusation. Either explicitly to my face (rare) or implicitly when the words “white people” get thrown around as a broad-brush generalisation (pretty much every day).

Immediately, my first response – apparently – should be to absolutely lose my shit over this.

“I’m not a racist! I have plenty of black friends!” I should shout (well, two, but I hail from the North, where even that’s considered a cultural invasion).

Or perhaps I’m supposed to get up and scream about social justice warriors and their assumptions. “Hey, you’re making it about race! Who’s the racist now?!” before high-fiving myself and leaving for a quick wank over how totally awesome that comeback was.

That’s what I’m supposed to do, if reactions elsewhere are any indication.

Screw that. I’ll take it like adult. Yes, I probably am a racist (see blue paragraph above).

Why?

In short, a little thing called “subconscious bias”.

Now, if you’re au fait with those two words, you can probably stop reading. This will mostly be revision. If not, then either keep reading or JFGI, and ram it into your squishy little brain.

We can’t escape our subconscious. It’s that thing that apparently makes us obsessed with our parents’ genitals, and so leads to like to be tied up in bed while staring at a strap-on shaped like a gummy bear (we’ve all had that one, right, guys? Come, safe space here, just us bros…). But, more than just a one-shot joke for amateur psychoanalysts, our subconscious is immensely useful to us. It allows us to walk without thinking about the complexities of counter-balancing with our spine and centre-of-gravity, it lets us drive and listen to the radio at the same time after much practice, and it allows us to immediately switch our flight-or-fight response to the ‘ON’ position without having to look behind that rustling bush to see if it’ll eat us first.

But, just like how our flight-or-fight response switches on regardless of whether that rustling bush is caused by a tiger or just the wind, our subconscious is prone to taking a lot of background noise and forming a lot of patterns that aren’t fully helpful in the civilised world.

For instance; commute via train into a busy city – say, London – in the early morning and almost undoubtedly you will come across the sight of a lot of cleaning staff. They’ll push bin-buggies around, empty the bags, pick up discarded paper coffee cups, or scrub out the toilets of the arriving trains. Almost certainly, they’ll be young, black males. Immediately your brain makes a connection, and it begins to wire memories and information together in a complex web for future access. See another young, black male picking up litter, and that connection gets stronger. See a white youth doing the job and your brain might remark on it, save it for later, and give you the false impression to your conscious mind that more white men are doing the job than reality suggests. You then pass another black male doing the cleaning job, and the brain ignores it – it’s part of the existing pattern, a pattern that begins to get stronger.

{Young, black, male} = {blue-collar, low-paid, manual labour}

At the same time, you’re likely to see a lot of people commuting in to high powered office jobs in the Big City. They’ll be white, male, a little older, and wearing suits. Again, your brain makes the connection. These are the commuters to be serviced – they’ll throw their coffee into those bins that are emptied by the young, black males. Your brain makes a connection.

{middle-aged, white, male}  = {suit, good job, money}

Your brain makes these connections and patterns automatically. Don’t claim it doesn’t. It does. Denial won’t help you here. This is a process we’ve evolved over time, and we wouldn’t survive without it. These connections and biases are known to be real. They’ve been demonstrated in the lab and in the wild, and they very much have an effect on our thoughts and actions.

Eventually the connections become strong. Every time we see them reinforced, the connections begin to merge into one thought. And maybe, with a strong enough pattern, it begins to inform us of what the world should be like.

white = {suit, money, good job}

black = {low-paid, manual labour}

This is, of course, just one example. And it’s not just for skin-colour or ethnicity. It works for gender, sexuality, age and anything we can think of. So long as connections are made, stereotypes are enforced (“stereotype threat” is a related phenomenon, yet outside the scope of this), then the patterns will reinforce themselves and inform our attitudes.

The illustration may change location, it’ll change the details, but the overall story is the same. Patterns form – anything that conforms to the pattern reinforces it, anything that goes against it might flag up as an exception. Television advertising, for another instance, plays on this in both ways. It takes advantage of existing stereotypes in order to compress its story down to a few seconds – the woman of the house knows how to cook and clean, the man of the house is a deadbeat and feckless, the children suspiciously uniformly covered in the right amount of dirt to make the power of the washing powder clear, the bank-manager is crisply suited and trustworthy when talking about interest rates, the happy friends eating snacks are all well-off and clearly well-paid so you don’t have to worry about “so how do they afford snack food?”. It’s a cycle of stereotype and aspiration working together. These things prey on our preconceived notions to tell a story, and then at the same time reinforces that pattern by their mere existence.

In this instance, racism, sexism and so on, are all things your brain does automatically. This isn’t to say that very conscious decisions such as “we should string up all the niggers because they’re sub-human” don’t exist, but those attitudes are increasingly pushed to the margins in the modern world. We are “post-racism” in the sense that such attitudes are rare, obviously wrong when presented, and it’s the norm to openly remark upon them as wrong and/or immoral. We’ve effectively ostracised overt racism (well, just), we now need to deal with subconscious biases and the deleterious effects they can have on society. From casual references to “going for a chinkies” (that’s “Chinese food” for non-English readers) to asking anyone with non-white skin “where are you from?” (and following it up with “where are you originally from?”). And, of course, other aspects all the way to things like “that’s totally gay” (that’s “gay = bad” for those less acquainted with older English literature where it’d mean happy and carefree).

Learning that these biases exist, but are hard to spot, is a first step. No, you shouldn’t really win prizes for this alone, but let’s give credit for the baby-steps here.

The patterns are absolutely everywhere.

You see a female secretary, and you see another female secretary, and another, and another… soon, your brains says…

woman = {secretary}

…and you find yourself asking a CEO to make you a cup of tea just before your job interview with her just because she’s a she and dressed that way.

Is the black guy in a suit the doorman, security guard… or the academic researcher you’re meeting? Well, it’s a black suit and he’s beside the door so… Your brain has made so many connections, that its instant response is to tell you something that, upon rational reflection, is completely wrong. Sure, you’ll realise the mistake and come to the rational conclusion – but in those vital moments of a first impression, what have you thought? Undoubtedly something that will inform your thought processes for some time to come. Before long, you’re not just creating a cringe-story for the internet, you’re hiring and firing based on your biases. Without realising it, you’ve become the linchpin of the cycle yourself. All the while muttering “but I’m not…

Take, for instance, the well-known cases of blind CV studies. By merely changing the name on a CV from a “white-sounding” to a “ethnic-sounding” name, you can reduce the chances of getting a positive response to a job application dramatically. A first-class graduate called Muhammad will have to work harder than a first-class graduate called Dave (or even a second-class graduate called Dave, for that matter, as the effect here is very pronounced). By changing from a masculine name to a feminine name you can cause a significant drop in suggested starting salaries for the applicant, even though the CV content is the same. At no point, at all, do any of the people reviewing these CVs actively think something along the lines of “I just don’t like women and think they should be paid less” or “I don’t think we should employ ethnics because they smell funny” – it’s their subconscious biases talking, and having an unfortunate real-world effect.

And don’t think this is purely a “poor little old me and my oppressed minority” game at play. I mentioned above a bias that suggests “woman = secretary”, and anecdotally I know of a situation where a man’s CV was immediately thrown into the discard pile for a secretarial job, and the reason given was  “why would a man want to be a secretary?”

So, really, these biases have a wide effect and can seriously pollute our conscious thinking, too. They’ve informed us of how we think the world should be. And that cuts in a lot of different directions when it comes to both individual actions and systematic results.

But mostly, here’s the main thing about these biases – they won’t go away by pretending they don’t exist. We need to seriously examine them. We need to admit they’re there, and begin to look at how we could possibly address them. We need to treat them as real things, that we can address as grown adults.

Yet, instead of that, we treat it as a stigma. We treat it as something that says “those silly little black folk say that I think they’re arbitrarily sub-human!” and act as if it throws us in with the Klan. We’re happy to accept that an overtly-racist and overtly-sexist crowd acts irrationally, but refuse to even consider that we might act irrationally in response to a programmed bias – even if that’s pretty much the definition of irrationality. We panic. We deny it’s true – we shout and scream and demand the accusation be withdrawn because it can’t possibly be true because it isn’t. We interpret an accusation as “You’re a racist!” and counter it with “But I’m not a racist!” (blue paragraph).

As a result, nothing of value happens.

Nothing gets done. Nothing gets improved. We go about our business, as usual, being both the cause and effect of subtle, subconscious, social and systematic biases and prejudices. All the while, stating very clearly that we are not racist, sexist or whatever… yet telegraphing to the world that we very much are. (*cough*blue paragraph*cough*).

So, in that respect, standing up to say “I am a racist” (again, see blue paragraph) may well be a vital first step to progress. It’s the stepping stone to “I’m not a racist” carrying some actual weight. It says I’m willing to admit I may have a bias. It means I’ve analysed the world, and figured out that it doesn’t revolve around me. It says I know what the real problem is. I says I accept it, that I’m not ashamed of it, and will try by best to change. Dealing with it is for another time, but it says I’m ready to at least try. That’s something worth standing up for.

So, yes, I suppose I am proud to be a racist, because it means the people who come after me definitely shouldn’t be.

Things To Do Instead of Transformers 4…

Transformers: Age of Extinction recently came to Netflix. Yay!

And I sat down and watched it… Yay?

transformers-4_2

Reviews the world over have pretty much panned it, so I can’t add to that. Instead, here is a non-comprehensive list of things you can do instead should anyone suggest watching it even for Bad Movie Night:

  • Literally nothing – Sit in a reasonably comfortable spot, stare at the wall, and do nothing. Don’t even think. Through this, you run a small risk of entering a Zen-like meditative trance and experiencing Enlightenment. Meanwhile, there is no place in the infinite reaches of the multi-verse where this is possible by watching Age of Extinction. The potential drawbacks including DVT and existential dread of wondering why you’re doing this are the same in either case here.
  • Watch 9 Songs – Until very, very recently, if anyone asked me “what is the very worst film you’ve ever watched?” I would answer, without a beat, 9 Songs. It’s pseudo-pornographic crap held together by the worst the 2000s’ Indy music scene has to offer and some additional supposedly-deep and meaningful claptrap about ice cores. I can’t quite remember the details, I mostly recall a strong feeling of “Thank Christ that bullshit is over” at the end of 9 Songs and a desire to get wasted to blot it out. It is still better than Age of Extinction.
  • Get a prison-tattoo – With a blunt needle. And infected ink. Of a swastika. On your genitals. It’ll be an actual good story to bring up on a first date, and may give you a sense of achievement.
  • Read John Knox’s Monstrous Regiment of Women or some of John Norman’s Gor series – In either of these cases you will find a better, more progressive, enlightening, balanced and respectful treatment of women than you will find in Transformers: Michael Bay’s Ode To Statutory Rape.
  • Watch the YouTube video of all the dinobot scenes from the movie – If you watch Optimus riding Grimlock while wielding a sword, your inner Transformers fanboy will certainly be sated. You can then watch this for two-and-a-half-hours on a loop and pretend it’s part of a much better story that makes actual sense.

transformers-4

  • Experiment with auto-erotic asphyxiation – A lot of people say it’s terrible, and it’s not worth it. And they also say that it could actively damage or harm you. But hey, a lot of people like it, and do it, and say it’s worth it if you’re into that sort of thing. You know, the exact same line of reasoning that says “go see a Michael Bay movie that isn’t Bad Boys“.
  • Find an internet comments section and read it – Like “doing nothing” this has a small but finite chance of causing enlightenment.
  • Floss your eyeballs – This entirely fictional health tip is likely to cause a lot of confusion and discomfort, is totally unnecessary and will make you question what you’re doing and why you took this advice. The same thing will happen as you watch Michael Bay slowly pan over an underage teen’s hotpants while openly discussing how she’s getting the D from a 20 year-old. Except after this, your eyes will at least be a little cleaner.
  • Figure out of Mark Wahlberg is a net-positive to humanity – Wahlberg is the best thing about this movie. He acts his little pudgy nose off fully realising all the dimensions (all none of them) of the flat, motivation-free character the writers bestowed upon him in Age of Extinction. So good. On the other hand, Planet of the Apes. So fuck me. On the other hand, Ted. So good. On the other hand, Ted 2. So fuck me. Then try to fit Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch into that puzzle. It’s likely that 2 hours 45 minutes later, you may have come to an answer satisfying enough that you could write it up and submit to a sociology journal.
  • Inject marijuana into your nipple and breastfeed your partner – I just can’t find this one in my copy of The Encyclopaedia of Unusual Sex Practices. So if you do manage to do this in the space of three hours, it’s three hours well spent pushing back the boundaries of human imagination.
  • Listen to Linkin Park – All of it. Every album. Track their slow decline from nu-metal superstars to post-modernist, self-mythologising “Artistes” of some description. You also get to hear their contributions to the Transformers soundtracks, which I kinda like in an easy-listening, non-offensive, wouldn’t-throw-a-brick-at-the-DJ-if-they-played-it-in-the-10pm-slot sort of way despite the general flat, triteness of those three songs. You also get to throw yourself to your knees and scream along to Numb like you’re still 15 and hate your parents. And that’s basically Jailbaity McJailbaitface’s entire character development in Age of Extinction.

transformers-4_3

  • Watch the first (live-action, 2007) Transformers movie – hey, it’s a big dumb blockbuster tent-pole release, but it does exactly what it says on the tin: giant freaking robots kick the shit out of each other for a bit. And thanks to Speilberg’s “a boy and his car” concept, actually gives it a human dimension that may make you give a shit about the characters as they run and scream from the destruction on screen. Yes. I feel this film is actually good. In fact, watch Dark of the Moon instead, that also holds up as vaguely-coherent entertainment. Don’t watch Revenge of the Fallen, however. See the rest of this list before sticking Revenge of the Fallen on. In fact, watch Age of Extinction before Revenge of the Fallen.
  • Or fuck that, watch the 1986 animated Transformers: The Movie – You get G1 Optimus not acting like a murderous psychopath. You get Galvatron. You get Unicron. You get the Dinobots. You get ‘You Got The touch’. You get the death of Optimus Prime, too. You get Orson Welles for fuck’s sake. Sure, it’s an objectively kinda-not-that-good film, and, yes, the animation is dodgy as all hell, and yes, it’s painfully ’80s, but you can watch it twice in the space of 2014’s offering.
  • Write a blog post reviewing a bad film – Hell, it’s working for me right now. I’d say this is 2 hours 45 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, but in reality it’s 2 and a half – because the only reason to sit through the credits is to find out which writer needs shot as an example to others.

No, it’s not terrorism

Whenever a white man is accused of, or commits, a crime, particularly a horrific and targeted one, our leftie-liberal response is always the same: why won’t the media call it “terrorism”?

“But that’s what it is!” we cry.

After all, “white guy does it” = “sad loner with mental health issues”, “brown guy does it” = “links to terrorism”. Whether the “terror” label applies or not has nothing to do with the nature of the crime. This is a pattern seen so frequently it hardly needs discussed or proven here. Even obvious cases of supposedly normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill murder, people might expect to investigate so-called “links with terror” if the perpetrator matches up to the wrong part of a Dulux colour chart. But if they don’t, we look the other way – probably blaming “mental illness” as if that sweeping generalisation was any more helpful than “terrorism” as an explanation of motive.

Our usual response is “why won’t the media call it what it is: terrorism”.

But I think there’s a better way of looking at it, namely, to ask “why does the media call it terrorism when it does?

On one level, it gets us the exact same answer. It tells us an event is called terrorism because of ethnic identity, or the tangential involvement of religion. Well, religion applies at least in today’s narrative. Back in the ’90s Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kaczysnky were the prototypical terrorist narratives: Paranoid lone bombers, high-intelligence/low-empathy psychopaths, anarchists or vaguely-right-wing separatists. Before that, in the ’80s, that narrative followed paramilitary organisations such as the IRA, organised groups with a specific goal that would birth the idea of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – since the rise of Daesh, our narrative is swinging slightly back toward this but the motivational focus now lies with religious, rather than national, identity.

On another level, asking it that way around reveals something about the word “terrorism”. It’s applied loosely, and only when the context of a crime fits the narrative, rather than the crime itself. It doesn’t really add new description. If I were to shoot someone in the face, calling it “terrorism” or not doesn’t change the fact I shot someone, nor does it change why. “Terrorism”, as a label takes what we would otherwise call “crime” (murder, bombing, threats, all of which are nicely illegal already without needing further legislation) and portion off a sub-group for special treatment for no real reason. Except perhaps political ones.

Make no mistake, I’d rather we never used the term “terrorist” at all.

We can pretend that when we label crimes as “terrorism”, it’s for good reasons. We can pretend those reasons make sense and aren’t, at the end of the day, arbitrary.

“Ah, but it means they use fear as a tactic!” pipes up one commenter. So? Are you saying a little old lady stuck in her house because there are kids loitering outside isn’t experiencing a strong element of fear? That victim of a burglary, or their neighbours who have realised they no longer live in a “safe” neighbourhood, aren’t experiencing fear? What about the mass campaigns by the media to make us fear paedophiles, are paedophiles now terrorists “by definition”?

“No, you don’t understand, terrorists are organised!” So Anonymous are organised? No, but terrorist “organisations” usually work as just separate groups operate, almost as emergent phenomena, from following an ideal rather than an obvious command structure. And would organised crime count? Organised crime and gangs have structures similar to terror cells, planned crime, pre-meditated in advance in secret, has all the trappings of a terror plot.

“But terrorists are influenced by radical religion!” shouts a neckbeard, desperately clutching to his copy of The God Delusion. Well, only since 9/11. Kaczynski and McVeigh had no links with religious fundamentalism, and the Troubles in Ireland are only religiously motivated if you sweep 95% of history under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist Meanwhile (to bring it briefly back to the original, usual complaint) countless crimes are motivated by religion and aren’t labelled “terrorism”. Bombing abortion clinics? Shooting up churches? We need to remember that what terrorism “is”, is whatever the current narrative says it must be. Even when the narrative claims “religion”, it’s very selective with which religion counts.

But what use does the term have? Why have that narrative?

In short, “terrorism” is a word we use not to describe a crime, but to determine how we should react to it. And the reactions can be very different to mere “crime”.

The perpetrators need interrogated, often tortured, and that’s okay because they’re terrorists not criminals. Or we need special departments set up to tackle it that require more money and more funds and take much needed cash from other projects, and that’s okay because they’re not crime networks they’re terror networks. Or we treat the perpetrators differently and don’t give them fair trails as people, but that’s fine, we can throw out the basic tenets of our civilised democracy because it’s terrorism, which is different just because okay. Or we need to repeatedly punish and spy on the law-abiding, civilian population to protect them, because we’re stopping terrorism so the population feels safe. That last one holds so much more in America, where you’re forced to take your shoes off to board a plane but can buy all the guns you want without so much as a cursory “are you on the no-fly list?” background check. Such absurdities occur when you stop trying to prevent crime and start trying to prevent terrorism, and distinguish the two through a magical arbitrary method that falls foul of prejudice, misunderstanding and good old fashioned racism.

We can kid ourselves that it isn’t true, but with its constant changes of definition over the decades and its very selective application, it’s very clear “terrorism” as a term exists only to determine our reaction.

“Terrorism” is a term that adds no real descriptive value to any crime, but by heck we collectively shit our pants when we apply it to a crime, or an act of war, or a conspiracy.

So, instead of getting annoyed when the media refuses to label a white man’s crime as an act of terror, let’s look at when they do call it terrorism and demand to call that what it really is.

Horrible and Demeaninng Lies We Tell Ourselves…

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Lies we tell ourselves to make us feel worse:

  • That other person is dwelling on that mistake I made way more than I am, I insulted and belittled them and they will hate me more every day as they remember it forever.
  • I annoy everyone around me by talking about my favourite interest when I shouldn’t, but at least I let them know I’m sorry about it.
  • I failed because I’m not good enough for this.
  • I rely too much on others and they all resent me for it. They do everything for me and I could never do anything in return that they’d ever want.
  • That person could never love me… they must be lying about it whenever they say they do. The more they say it, the more they must be lying.
  • I’m below average at everything, everyone else does it all better than I ever could.
  • No-one else finds this hard to do and hard to deal with, they all know what they’re doing and will succeed no matter what.
  • I will definitely fuck this thing up, it always happens to me because I’m a fuck up because I always fuck up.
  • I’m poor because I deserve to be, I could never do anything better because I don’t deserve to do better.
  • This one thing defines me and, if I ever lose it, I’m no-one. If I ever fail, that failure will define me instead.
  • Everyone hates me. I hate me, so everyone else must do, too.
  • This isn’t just my perception, it’s true – I really do suck and everyone hates me.

Except for me, these are definitely true for me…

Convenient and Reassuring Lies We Tell Ourselves…

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Lies we tell ourselves to feel better:

  • If I were a concentration camp guard, I wouldn’t have obeyed and followed orders because I think for myself.
  • The music I like is musically better than everyone else’s, because I feel a deep connection with it others are too stupid to see.
  • I totally don’t have any biases or prejudices toward people, so I don’t treat others badly for being themselves.
  • I’m above average is every respect because I think and my eyes are open to the Truth.
  • I never get in the way of someone at the supermarket because I’m always attentive and vigilant unlike that idiot who’s been selecting stuff from the meal-deal section for a while now.
  • I would never have crashed that car and killed people because I pay attention when I’m driving.
  • I don’t annoy everyone online because my Facebook posts and Tweets are personal and important, and also funny and insightful.
  • I would never  let my kid fall into a animal pen because I keep an eye on them at all times.
  • I’m poor because I’m not paid very well for what I do, others are poor because they’re too lazy to work as hard as me.
  • I never got any help or handouts in my life.
  • I found it funny, so that joke must be funny to everyone else.
  • I would never believe something that obviously untrue and false, because I’m not stupid.
  • I don’t lie to myself to make me feel better.

Well, they’re lies you tell yourself. They’re just true for me. Obviously…