Saturday, October 24, 2015

Non-Conventional Weapons

Okay, so this kind of thing, raised in relation to some students' barney with Germaine Greer, really isn't at all helpful:

Speaking from personal experience, it's incredibly difficult to convince people that the European Convention on Human Rights doesn't e.g. confer entitlements to free trips to Disneyland for terrorists and so on, since Britain's moronic tabloids have been selling the public variations upon that theme for years.

The Court here is not talking about private citizens deciding that they don't like cranky Antipodeans and don't care to hear their views.  It's talking about states taking action to avoid actual pogroms and suchlike - Radio Rwanda-level calls for extermination of minorities, and so on.  Including reference to ECHR here is a bit like shouting about Nuremberg principles after the cops have pulled you over for speeding - it's not that it's just incorrect, it's also a honking great category error.

Anyone invoking the Convention on such spurious grounds is inadvertently doing the same damn thing that the Sun does - helping to convince people that ECHR exists in part to empower thin-skinned twits who don't want to hear opinions that they don't like, at everybody else's expense.  At a time when the government is actively looking for excuses to do away with the Convention rights, this type of thing is utterly counterproductive.

On the wider topic of the article - basically, banning Germaine Greer for her comments about trans women - well, I'll say this:

Any small group of people declaring that only their precise opinions on a particular subject are permissible, and angrily insisting that disagreement is tantamount to outright bigotry and hatemongering, is

a) About to start losing the few friends that it currently has, and is

b) Likely to fragment into even smaller groups of people who really, really don't like each other very much.

I'll also add that loudly accusing public figures of misogyny and hatemongering is quite a silly thing to do, unless you're very certain of your arguments, given the pro-plaintiff biases of Britain's libel laws.  Unless there's a sharp rhetorical cooling-off, I predict that this habit is going to result in some fairly hairy litigation and crushing defeats at some point, and probably sooner rather than later.

On the wider point of whether trans women are women, well, you can include me out of that particular debate - it's a battle that appears to be being fought with nuclear missiles and nothing else.  Nonetheless, let's note that if you ever find yourself accusing Germaine Greer of being a misogynist, you probably need to re-examine your reasoning, because it appears to be fundamentally fucked up in some fashion.


septicisle said...

I don't have much to add, but in danger of making myself look like a complete berk, what really gets me is when there aren't nuclear missiles being thrown about so much of the debate and commentary or at least what us passer-bys see is so fucking shallow. It is Caitlyn Jenner, it is music videos, it is Beyonce, like that debate the Guardian reported on between Erica Jong and Roxane Gay which was equal parts the young and old misunderstanding each other but the young getting extraordinarily angry about. Rather than being cynical about what is being sold here, capitalism getting ever better and quicker at swallowing rebellion whole, it's actively embraced. And fair enough, perhaps these celebrities are icons for them, in which case great. It just leaves me cold. Seeing Greer getting so exasperated and then going "for fuck's sake" was a delight.

flyingrodent said...

I've always been well-disposed towards Greer, even on occasions where she's been talking bollocks. You know where you stand with her because she says what she thinks and doesn't arse about with euphemisms.

Having seen a bit of E Entertainment's Jenner stuff - which is far more than I've ever wanted to see of anything on that channel - I can confirm that it's incredibly crass and commercial. Perhaps it's doing some good, and I hope that it is, but the one I saw was basically money-spinning while a very rich old celebrity spouted some fairly whiffy Republican views about poverty and welfare-dependency, so I'm not inclined to think charitably of it.

ejh said...

Curiiously enough Nick on Germaine (and others) from Standpump in 2009 is entitled Turning A Blind Eye To Misogyny. There's a lesson there for all of us, and I imagine we will all be learning it in the loudest and most confrontational way possible.

Justin said...

My personal philosophy is that we all should be allowed to be who we want to be. I don't doubt that there's some school of thought in all this that would consider me a bastard.

Iain Coleman said...

Greer has been reliably awful to transgender people for many years, not just in the calling-them-names sense, but in the trying-to-stop-them-get-jobs sense. As much as I'd advise arguing and protesting over no-platforming, I can't say it's surprising that people have got pissed off with her.

Anonymous said...

That was an awful interview by Newsnight. It was just Kirsty Wark firing off absurd scenarios and instances then demanding Greer respond to them when she isn't even that interested in transgender issues, but is being forced to talk about them constantly by the media.

McGazz said...

There's no good analogy but... I think we can agree it'd be pretty rough if people were being abused (including in the media)/attacked/murdered regularly for having Scottish accents. I could do a funny English accent when I left the house to avoid hassle but I'd be about as convincing as a person pretending to be a gender they're not.

It wouldn't help, and I wouldn't be overly chuffed, if washed-up, conservative old shites who get a disproportionate amount of coverage as some kind of 'voice of nationality issues' kept loudly declaring that Scottish people weren't real people and were just English folk pretending, because we're perverts, showoffs or sick.

The reason Greer gets so much fucking airtime as a "feminist" is precisely because she no longer represents feminism and can be relied upon to spew conservative, establishment-friendly guff. She is to feminism what Dan Hodges is to the Labour Party or Harry's Place is to left-wing activism. With the greatest of respect, you know less than fuck all about gender stuff (I'm no expert myself) and that's why you can't see it the way you would if it was party politics.

"Any small group of people declaring that only their precise opinions on a particular subject are permissible, and angrily insisting that disagreement is tantamount to outright bigotry and hatemongering"

A pretty good description of the first feminists, socialists, gay rights campaigners, anti-racists, etc.

My precise opinion on skin colour is that it doesn't correlate with intelligence or personality traits. I'd say to disagree with me on that *is* tantamount to outright bigotry and hatemongering. There was a time when you could have deployed the above argument against me and patted yourself on the back over how considered, rational and clever you were.

flyingrodent said...

With the greatest of respect, you know less than fuck all about gender stuff...

No need for the respect, this is absolutely right, on both science and theory.

There's no good analogy but...

This isn't a bad one: I know it's not at all what you meant, but it'd raise the topic of who does and doesn't sound Scottish, and maybe who is and isn't Scottish. The answer would probably be something like - some folk are, some folk aren't, and with some people there are fairly complex issues about identity. And if you thought you were Scottish but others didn't, you could ignore them and think of yourself however you like.

Of course, you probably wouldn't be able to talk about it at all without somebody somewhere accusing you of being a pro- or anti-Scottish Nazi, but that's the way things are these days.

A pretty good description of the first feminists, socialists, gay rights campaigners, anti-racists, etc.

It is. It'd also cover Morrissey fans, militant Rangers supporters groups and the Libertarian Party, so it's not always proof of bona fides.

Anonymous said...

As Justin says above, perhaps we should all just be allowed to be who we want to be. But in that case, why was Rachel Dolezal given such a rough ride for declaring herself to be black? Why can you self-certify your gender but not your race? Because identity politics.

And both Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore have been much more hateful towards trans women than Greer, and neither employed the humour that Greer did:

"Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress, doesn't make you a fucking woman. I've asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I'm going to wear a brown coat but that won't turn me into a fucking cocker spaniel."

Well I laughed.

ejh said...

Did she say that? What an arsehole.

Anonymous said...

She did indeed

ejh said...

And this is from 1989.

flyingrodent said...

What an arsehole.

She's been a professional arsehole for quite a long time now. As McGazz says, it's why she's never struggled for a TV gig, as such people generally don't.

More broadly, I don't really see how this type of thing is going to stay out of the courts for long. The pitch and intensity of the arguments are just too extreme, ludicrously so - some of the stuff that's flying about is the kind of thing that I'd reserve for chucking at actual Nazis, as in people who openly state that they want to march minorities into the gas chambers.

Sooner or later, somebody is going to take the hump at being denounced as a bigot or a campus Robespierre or whatever, and it's going to end up in front of the beaks.

When it does, both sides better show up armed with better arguments than Greer's "cocker spaniel" effort, or wild claims about encouraging violence.

dsquared said...

Oddly, I have actually lived a version of McGazz' example.

Because, I wasn't always Welsh.

My family moved to Wales from England when I was young, and I was one of a sizeable minority of English speaking, English accented pupils in a majority Welsh-speaking area. It certainly was the case that having the wrong accent and language would get you attacked and abused while I was growing up - added to which, my family had a business in the tourist industry, which at the time meant there was no shortage of people wishing us to, as the modern saying goes "die in a fire". I'm sure trans people have it much worse off course, but even the low level of bigotry and harassment that went on in North Wales in the 1940s caused me quite a few conflicted feelings about the fact that I was growing up as the Welsh speaking son of a Welsh family in Wales and was therefore likely to be seen by the world as Welsh, when at the time, I very much thought of myself as English.

Anyway time passed and I grew up and I find these days I'm Welsh. Although I don't speak the language very well and have a pretty funny accent, so lots of people don't think I'm really Welsh and will tell me to my face that I'm English (this most recently happened while watching Wales v England in the rugby fanzone). But when I tell people the facts, they accept me as Welsh, and I'd find it insulting and ignorant of anyone if they denied my Welshness.

Except... that when I go back to my grandmother's village and spend time among native-tongue speakers with Eisteddfod medals, I know that it's obvious that they're going to regard me as not quite being Welsh in the same way that they're Welsh. I've had a lot of opportunities as a result of my English father's background and international travel. I'm Welsh, but I'm not born and bred Welsh. Although in a lot of political contexts I'd stridently assert that there's no difference between my Welshness, theirs and that of a new immigrant from Liverpool or Lithuania, there's a difference.

So how do I feel if an English person moves to Wales,adopts a few obvious traits of Welshness and immediately declares they're Welsh? Well, as I say, for many political purposes I'd defend their right to do that, but deep down I'd think it wasn't quite right - I'd think that this is an identity which has been associated with a lot of trouble in history, and you can't just take it on by saying so.

If someone then wanted to argue against Welsh-speaking spaces because they were discriminatory against non-Welsh speaking Welsh (something which happens all the time) I would start thinking "hang on, if you want to be Welsh you need to recognise that part of that involves having some respect for people who have always been Welsh and who created the identity that you and me have decided to take on". I'd think that people who regarded their own act of self identification as obliging everyone else to reorganise social practices that mattered to them weren't really acting all that much better than the kind of bigot who insisted that someone like me could never be "true" Welsh.

Anyway, I'm not sure how well analogies work so I'm sure I've put far more weight on that one than it can sensibly bear. Just my dwy ceiniog

dsquared said...

1980s, of course, although my grandparents confirmed that it was basically the same when they moved there in the 40s

flyingrodent said...

I think my parents would get a good chuckle at that Dan - they've lived in the village that I grew up in for more 35 years and they're still regarded as outsiders by a good chunk of the residents.

On the bizarre national identity stuff - there's a fair amount of this stuff around in Scotland at the moment, unfortunately: people who feel entitled to be really offensive and aggressive to your face, or to ask you really blunt questions; folk who have very forthright opinions on what you should believe and so on.

This isn't really that good an equivalent for being transgender - that's much more fundamental, I imagine, and you'll get much the same grief anywhere on Earth, if not significantly worse - but since it puts the situation into terms even I can grasp, I'm happy with it for now.

One thing that questions of national and gender identity share in common though is a low likelihood that anybody's lives will be significantly improved by them being discussed with greater amounts of bile and mutual contempt. Which is unfortunate, because that's definitely the way things are going

Witchsmeller Pursuivant said...

This is pretty good on Greer and identity politics.

ejh said...

Funnily enough I've spent much of the afternoon on Facebook saying what a lousy article I think it is. "Chinese re-education camps", "burn the witch", "thoughtcrime"...."Greer is being ostracised and shunned, cast out of our moral community and declared beyond redemption, simply for the crime of believing the wrong thing"...oh really?

Witchsmeller Pursuivant said...

It's a bit hyperbolic, yes. But their are some valid points made. This seems spot on to me;

What all of this assumes is that we have the right to make these kinds of claims on each other's inner lives. It supposes that I can legitimately demand that you believe the things I believe in order to validate my identity, that I can demand that you share my perception of myself because it would be injurious to that perception if you do not.