About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several 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. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Democrazies

If you would ask an average citizen of a Western-style democracy to define the pillars of their government, the answers you'd most likely get are (1) rule of law, (2) separation of powers, (3) freedom of expression, (4) government by and of the people and (5) separation of religion and state.

Ever since Karl Popper wrote his 'The open society and its enemies' in 1922, democracies have had an uneasy relationship with 'enemies within', movements that seek to end one or all of those five pillars. The irony is that these movements demand protection under the banner of freedom of expression, so a democracy finds itself in a bind: to ban movements that, say, advocate a second Holocaust, anarchy or the establishment of a ruthless theocracy, a democracy would have to violate its own principles, thus changing in nature and inching closer to the goals of what they want to rid society of.

'Freedom of expression' is a thorny and misunderstood term. It's the ultimate refuge for people who refuse to face facts ("I have the right to say global warming doesn't exist!") and really, there's no country where such freedom is unlimited. For example, the Hitler salute is banned in many Western European countries, and a lot of countries have hate speech laws.

The question remains, what can a society do against fascist parties or religious fundamentalists of all stripe that make sure they don't cross the line into hate speech territory? I personally believe there's no simple recipe. Rather, there's several things a society can do:
  1. Examine and expose. Don't pretend they don't exist. For example: a Belgian pact to keep out the far-right from all governmental levels only served to make it stronger throughour the '90s and '00s until its role was usurped by a new right-wing party that is worryingly growing very similar the one it's now absorbing.
  2. Ridicule. Extremist movements are often completely prepostrous in their end goals. For example: by treating scientifically unsound theories like creatonism as serious contenders, the media legitimise it. Note that humour or ridicule should use sound logic themselves, not just 'funny because because'.
  3. Address root causes. Why do these movements arise? While their ideology may be repulsive, their anger and resentment probably has a real cause. For example: the rise of movements like the UKIP is tied to the scathingly anti-European, populist anger addiction of right-wing tabloids that thrive on sensationalist headlines to sell more copies.
  4. Educate. True democracy starts at home and in schools. It's necessary to explain to people time and again why a democracy is a good idea, why it is not always what people think it is and why it is important to develop critical thinking. For example: the influence of corporate-owned media and the poor quality of education has deluded millions of Americans to vote Republican, against their own interests.

On a last note, extremist movements are very adept at adopting emancipatory rhetoric from feminist, gay or other minority groups. They paint themselves as martyrs or victims. However, there is a big difference: traditional emancipatory movements fight for inclusion in a larger whole. Extremist movements want to exclude everybody else.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Can you be too politically correct?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer:

'Political correctness' is a term dreamed up by reactionaries. They mean to say that people will say (or not say) certain things out of fear of offending a certain group, while really, everyone is thinking something else. Someone who prides themselves on being 'politically incorrect' then tries to twist antiquated prejudice or ignorance into being some sort of free speech hero.

A good example: 'Oh please, don't be so politically correct. That guy over there is not 'challenged', he's a cripple.' For one, it's of course pretty dumb to think that you, as part of a dominant outgroup, gets to decide how someone from a minority gets to call themselves or wants to be addressed. Secondly, it assumes that everyone secretly thinks 'heh, a cripple' when they see someone in a wheelchair. It's something that resurfaces often in discussions with racists, sexists and rape apologists - they all seem to think that everyone believes what they do, but they just cover it up because it's not palatable to some imagined left-wing cabal of good political taste.

There is no such thing as 'political correctness'. The only people who force themselves to say things they don't believe are, indeed, the very same reactionaires who know their beliefs are not shared by the majority of people (but never realise why most people think they're wrong). Another instance is where people feel they want to be nice and inclusive to minorities but involuntarily offend them by being as inoffensive as possible. Like, for example 'I love gay culture, it's so colourful and feminine!'.

So, being too 'politically correct' comes from the same misguided beliefs and ignorance that the term itself originated from. Interestingly, there's also a considerable overlap between the desperate wish not to offend anyone and what's been identified as the 'geek social fallacies'. Trying to be inoffensive is not what respect is all about. Respect is trying to understand someone else.