About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My big fat Greek debt crisis

It's been plastered all over the news for months now, ever since the debt crisis in the Eurozone started: Greece had big problems in maintaining fiscal discipline, and now all of Europe has to pay the price. There have been some protest voices, sure: some say that Greece would do better to opt for an Iceland-style scenario, others rightly doubt the disproportionate influence of rating agencies - which, by the way, are all US-based and have often been wrong - and some on the left sing the familiar tune of a European Union too beholden to neoliberal fundamentalism.

What surprises me about all of this is that people act surprised. Disregarding all valid objections against the straitjacket Athens finds itself in, back when Greece joined the Eurozone, all politicians already knew it was cooking the books and shouldn't have been let into the Euro in the first place. Hell, when it joined the EU, a lot of the reasons for its joining were rooted in cold war ideology that wanted to reward Greece for casting off the chains of military dictatorship without lapsing into communism.

It's worth looking back at the '80s for the root causes of the current crisis of the European Union. When Greece joined the EU in 1981, it had gotten rid of its military junta for barely seven years. By contrast, the first post-Communist Central European countries only joined the Union 15 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, while Spain and Portugal waited over a decade. How did anyone seriously expect that Greece would mature into a perfect democracy with a forward-thinking fiscal policy by mere virtue of entering the Union in its infancy stages of liberal democracy? Secondly, the early '80s were the onset of neoliberal orthodoxy. The crazy caroussel that put countries like Spain, which did not accrue outrageous debts, in such a bad spot was played by institutions and countries that were much better at them than weak, newly democratic governments could hope to be. Compare Iceland and Luxembourg. Luxembourg is an obscenely rich, small country with a population comparable to Iceland's, and has a bloated banking sector. The difference is that it's had that for a very long time and knows better how to game the system. Iceland didn't, overplayed its hand and crashed.

The biggest winners and losers? Why of course, again since the '80s, the biggest winners have been financial elites who do not produce anything of value for anyone, their political lackeys who try to make others believe that poor people are stopping them from becoming as rich as them, and right-wing media who support that message with lurid fearmongering. The losers: everybody else.

For what it's worth, I believe in a common European currency and I believe in the European Union as an idea and a concrete project. How we can do it differently and to the benefit of the peoples of Europe rather than a handful of old white men, I'll address in a later post.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

White Whine #2: 'Feminazis'

The common image of the screaming, bra-burning, feminist with a square jaw and copious armpit hair is not only ridiculous and demeaning, it is also untrue. There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism. I'll try to be as brief as possible here, but what men feel selective outrage over (e.g. men being portrayed as stupid doofuses in commercials) is actually a much wider range of topics that hurts both men and women. A few statements:

- Not all women are feminist, and not all women understand feminism.
- If an individual woman happens to be a bad person, it's fundamentally wrong to attribute her bad traits to her being a woman.
- Physical, verbal and sexual violence against women is still an enormous problem.
- Feminism has no need for a 'male perspective' precisely because our entire society is informed by this very same male perspective.
- Feminism by not hostile to men, but it is hostile to patriarchy.

The common shorthand is that "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people". That they get treated fair and square, not written off, insulted, lavished in unwarranted praise, treated with kid gloves or fawned over simply because they happen to women.

If men who felt selective anger at being caricatured, what they need to blame is not feminism but patriarchy in general. In fact, if we would all take a few seconds to think that this sort of minor inconvenience is what women and other minorities face every day, we might begin to understand their plight.

One last thing: it's dumb to portray men as some sort of manchild-neanderthals, but as a man, I must say that no matter how coarse, this is a stereotype that we owe to ourselves. Some men still even pride themselves on it. And really, one joke in bad taste and men are hurt? I guess you've never tried to go in an online multiplayer game as a woman.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

White Whine #1: White Entertainment and Straight Pride

"But why is there no White Entertainment Channel or Straight Pride parade?" Because pretty much everything is tailored to white, heterosexual people. History? The deeds and acts of white people, pretty much. Literature? A history of old, dead white men. Most important movie characters? White men. Pretty much every major institution in the West? Geared towards heterosexual people. The reason why 'White Pride' or 'Straight Pride' is absolutely stupid is because the entire West is one big celebration of whiteness and straightness through a mechanism called privilege. Lastly, there is currently no 'White Pride' group that is not at least covertly extremely racist and hateful.

Are progressive movements antiquated?

The most high-profile progressive cause of today is probably the LGBTQ movement. They fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and push for equal rights to heterosexual couples. While a lot of countries in the West still have miles to go to achieve true equality, the headway these movements are making is undeniable. It is a more quiet but by no means less vocal movement than the American Civil Rights movement of the '60s, the sufragettes of the '20s and beyond, and the first workers' unions of the early 20th century. Unfortunately, all this progress has lulled a lot of self-described progressive and conservative people alike into a false sense of comfort.

Certainly, if we have to believe the uninformed, the West has moved beyond racism and sexism, unions protect workers' rights and all is well. It's true, progress has been made on many fronts since the start of the 20th century, but to say that empowering movements have become obsolete is misguided at best:

- Violence against women is still a jarringly frequent occurrence
- The 1% continuously try to use their political henchmen to make people believe that unions and regulation are their enemy
- Racism, no matter whether it is dressed up as 'ironic' or not, still prevents people from getting hired and gets exploited by opportunist politicians
- Hostility against sexual minorities, verbal or otherwise, is still commonplace outside of large urban centres and sometimes even inside of it
- Women are still a minority in corporate Boards and high-profile political life

The list goes on and on. To make matters worse, there's a number of groups that insiduously claims that it is now, in fact, heterosexual white men who are getting the short end of the stick. The problem with this statement is twofold:

- Most hetereosexual white men are completely blind to their own privilege because they never experienced anything else
- They focus on petty anecdotes or elements of a patriarchal society that harms everyone, not just them

Progressive movements are certainly not antiquated. In fact, more than ever, in the face of environmental collapse, resurging hard right movements, corporate media manipulation and cynical exploitation of fear, a coherent progressive message is more important than ever. The bottom line is, and this will return in this blog a couple of times, that we are all in this together. Only if we attempt to erase mutual prejudice, we can truly make the playfield level and be societies that offer everyone equal opportunities to succeed in life and be happy - not just the 1%, who is happy to make us believe that 'uppity' minorities are our enemy and the cause of our problems. That is simply not true. The real problem is a deeply-entrenched system of privilege over privilege that finally ends with a tiny amount of white old men.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What is privilege?

The difficult thing about privilege is those born into it rarely notice it. Even worse, some do recognise it and fight very hard to maintain that position of social dominance over others and other groups.

Now, what is privilege?

I am a white, heterosexual, middle class, cisgendered man. My opinions will never be challenged because of my gender, I will meet far fewer obstacles in my professional life, sexual intimidation and sexual assault are but extremely dim fears on my radar, I do not have to deal with any sort of religion that tells me I am a second class person, I don't look particularly poor so I don't have to face stereotypes of laziness and stupidity, there are no powerful political parties in my country that openly hate or mistrust me because of my skin colour, and I am not really judged as a person for the amount of sex partners I have had.

Do you see the pattern developing here? These are all problems faced in various forms by groups in society that are less privileged than I am. Sure, it is entirely possible for me to get raped or to be the target of racial hatred, but not only is it much more unlikely to happen to me than to women or non-white people, but by definition, other groups have to face fears about these matters on almost daily basis.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Alpha+Good

This is uncharted territory for me, but a long time in the making.

Not only have I decided to start up a third (!) blog, I will also write it in English to potentially reach a much bigger audience. For my fiction, essay and poetry projects, my English is simply not good enough (or, to be kinder to myself, I'm not experienced enough in that type of English to master it as well as I master my native language), and most of the books that I review aren't even available in English.

The reason for this blog is that I wanted to divorce my political and social opinions a little more from my literary work. Of course, there will always be a certain osmosis between both. However, more and more, my political, ethical and philosophical convictions have been melding into one coherent structure, driven by a purpose - to help others. I fall squarely within the realm of progressive politics, and there's a lot of work to be done all over the world to improve our lot.