Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Authoritarianism and “Social Justice Warriors”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 22, 2014

(Only a short post today — bad headache).

Internet activism has a bad reputation, and it’s one I largely agree with — clicking a petition or sharing a Facebook meme does very, very little to make a difference to the world, compared to even half an hour actually doing something in the real world.

But it doesn’t make no difference, and in the case of identity politics, “raising awareness” might actually do more good than people realise.

I’ve spoken before about Robert Altemeyer’s book The Authoritarians (available to read here, for free), but basically Altermeyer has found a set of questions whose answers tend to correlate strongly — if you answer one way for one, you’ll answer the same way for the others — and cluster people according to personality type. He calls the resulting scale the Right Wing Authoritarianism scale, and the people who get high scores are more likely to want strong leadership, to dislike members of groups they regard as “other”, to want to protect “people like us” from outside influences, and so on.

There are a few things about people who get high RWA scores which are important to note. The first, and most important, is that these are the people who are most likely to commit hate crimes — they’re far, far, more likely to commit acts of violence against those in out-groups than other people are.

The second, though, is a fascinating fact that Altemeyer discovered. This is that people with low scores on the test, when told about the scale, say that they want to get low scores — that’s not especially surprising. If someone who doesn’t dislike outsider groups is asked if they’d like to dislike outsider groups, they say no.

People who get medium scores also tend to say they want to get low scores, because a basic description of low-RWAs makes them sound nicer than high-RWAs, and everyone wants to be nice.

Or almost everyone, because high-RWAs don’t want to get a low score. But here’s the odd thing — they don’t want to get a high score either. They want to get a score in the middle. They also believe that their scores are in the middle, that everyone else thinks like them, even (especially) when they’re extreme outliers.

This is because, for high-RWAs, group identity is about as powerful a motivator as it gets. They need to think that they’re “normal” — that their group is the normal, average, group, and that they’re the most normal, nondescript, member of it. They need to feel like they’re just like everyone else.

This means that high-RWAs will go along, to an enormous extent, with the stated values of the people they know. They will follow the crowd — but only when it is made explicitly, obviously, clear that the crowd is going in one particular direction. Otherwise, they’ll keep going in whatever direction they were already travelling, while thinking they’re right in the middle and going with the flow.

This means that loudly, repeatedly, vocally making it clear that some opinions are the opinions of the out-group, and not of decent good people like us, that only those bad other people have such bad opinions, and that no normal person could possibly hate LGBT+ people or black people or whatever groupand that LGBT+ people (or whoever) are in the in-group to which all good normal people belong — has a very good chance of, relatively quickly, turning those people who are most likely to physically attack those people at the moment into people whose very sense of self depends on them being defenders of that same group. It doesn’t happen overnight, but there are a large number of people who were virulent racists forty or fifty years ago who now would not dream of expressing or acting on racist opinions, because those opinions mark you as a member of the out-group.

“Social justice activism” is, in essence, just about members of marginalised groups (and, yes, sometimes groups that aren’t marginalised but like to think of themselves as being persecuted so they can feel special, but less often than the caricature would suggest) saying publicly, over and over again, “we exist. We are in your community. We are the normal people you see every day. And no good, decent, normal person would possibly want to hurt other good, decent, normal people like us.”

It might not have much effect compared to other things people can do, and it certainly does nothing to dismantle the social and legal structures that perpetuate oppression, but by helping to redefine “normal” in the minds of high-RWAs, it might actually help protect people…

Linkblogging For 21/07/14

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 22, 2014
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A Sweary Rant About Political Discussion

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 20, 2014

I posted a link to Tim Farron’s rather good speech on Tumblr yesterday. Someone who’d been following me there for a few weeks posted Standard Aggressive Rant Number Five in response (take the couple of lines saying Thatcher wasn’t utterly evil out of the context of a speech that says she was wrong about everything important, in damaging, harmful ways that will take decades to fix, and use that to “prove” that Lib Dems are “really” evil, heartless bastards who deserve to be shot). I posted this in response, and thought it worth posting here too:

As a general note, if you’re going to reply to one of my political posts by calling me “hateful”, “on the side of evil”, and say I deserve to be shot, and your reason for this is that a single paragraph near the beginning of a speech I link to says some mildly positive things about Thatcher while the entire rest of the speech says things like:

Her economic solutions were wrong and have had a lasting and damaging impact – handing control over our major utilities to foreign investors and poorly regulated oligopolies, abdicating responsibility for managing our economy at all, weakening the infrastructure that underpins our economy and weakening and dividing our society.

My argument is that the post 1979 consensus should now be considered dead. It doesn’t need an FDP-style rebrand, it needs a decent burial.

Beveridge’s consensus was ambitious, the consensus of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron is unambitious. It says that government cannot make the difference, it says that all we can do to help business is to back out – that all that businesses need is the free for all of Beecroft, that all our economy needs is another inflated south east housing boom, that our infrastructure needs will be met by unaccountable monopolies doing it in their own good time.

That consensus has failed, utterly.

The Thatcher / Reagan economic experiment surely should have died at the collapse of the banks in 2008, yet somehow that corpse is still twitching. The financial crisis was the clear physical proof that the economic experiment that supplanted the Beveridge consensus had failed utterly.

But don’t misunderstand me, the Thatcherite consensus that Cameron sustains and Miliband has no answer to, has been demonstrated to have failed not just in the crash of 2008 and the poverty, misery and inequality it has inflicted, but also in the absence of so much of the infrastructure we need to plan for the future. Lets just be honest and acknowledge that we still have pathetic rail links, a massive housing shortage, a massive skills shortage, laughable broadband connectivity, an appalling energy crisis and the ultimate crisis of climate change. The Thatcherite consensus has damaged our society and it has weakened our economy. Conservatives have often talked about their admiration of Victorian values – if only they really did admire those values, because Victorian values included ambition to build an infrastructure, to create a transport, communications and logistics backbone to our economy, to make a difference, to see a problem and not worry about whether fixing it would fit with your ideology, but to just get on and fix it.

And where the whole piece is about how Thatcher and her ideological successors were completely, utterly, wrong, then you can just fuck off.

I have spent much of the last four years dealing with abuse and, in several cases, actual death threats, from people with whom I would agree on at least 80% of individual political issues, because the way I choose to fight for those issues is in a party that works within the system and has to compromise (and yes, to my mind, compromises far too much and too often). I note that the “revolutionaries” and “progressives” who do this never do so to supporters of the Labour party, a party that for much of my adult life was led by actual war criminals and still has many on its front benches, or to supporters of the SWP, a party full of rape apologists.

Everyone working for political change has to make compromises, and it is entirely right to question those compromises, to debate them, to argue over them, and to say that others have compromised too much. It is utterly wrong to use abuse and threats to try and silence those who’ve made different compromises.

And even if it would have me, I’d want no part of a revolution that was so committed to ideological purity that anyone who disagreed with it was called “evil” and told they’d be “put up against the wall”. Should there ever be the danger of such a revolution, in fact, I would be proud to volunteer to be the very first up against the wall, because I wouldn’t want to live in a world which didn’t tolerate honest disagreement.

So fuck you if you want to use abuse and threats as the first recourse in political discussion. Fuck you if you want to kill me and people like me, or even people who disagree with me in every way. Fuck you if you put ideological purity ahead of making a real difference in people’s lives.

When my revolution comes, you’ll be given a far worse punishment than being put up against the wall. You’ll be given complete freedom of speech, but so will people you disagree with, and there’ll be nothing you can do about it.

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Why Did Mike Love Sack Brian Wilson From The Beach Boys?

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 20, 2014

I still, two years after the end of the Beach Boys’ reunion tour, get people coming to my blog looking for an answer to this question. I thought it probably worth laying out the facts for those people.

The simple answer: he didn’t. For the longer answer, read on.

At the end of the Beach Boys’ reunion tour in 2012, there were a lot of news reports claiming that Mike Love “fired” Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, and that he owned the Beach Boys’ name. This is wholly untrue, but to see why, we have to look at a bit of history.

Mike Love does not own the Beach Boys’ name. The name is owned by Brother Records Incorporated (BRI), who are in turn owned equally by Love, Wilson, Alan Jardine (another former member of the Beach Boys) and the estate of the late Carl Wilson (another former member of the band). BRI in turn license MELECO, a company owned by Love, to put on shows as “the Beach Boys”. That license has various conditions attached — Love must pay a (hefty) fee to BRI, must use only male vocalists, must do shows that feature a lot of fun and sun songs, and so on — in order to make sure that Love’s band don’t damage the value of the Beach Boys brand name, so Love definitely doesn’t own the name.

That license is non-exclusive, but between 1999 and 2012 Love was the only person to have been granted a license. However, in 2012, a second license was issued by BRI, to a company called 50 Big Ones. This company had three owners — Love, Wilson, and an outside producer, Joe Thomas.

Thomas was an integral part of the reunion. He had control of a number of tapes of songs he’d co-written with Wilson which were needed for the reunion album, he had experience putting on live shows for TV specials (which was part of the package), and he’d worked with all the Beach Boys without too much of a problem in the past. But while he was someone who was (at least at the start) acceptable to both Love and Wilson, he was definitely “Brian’s man”, and this meant that Wilson had de facto control over the reunion, although both men had to compromise enormously.

(The other Beach Boys didn’t really get any say over the reunion. David Marks and Bruce Johnston aren’t corporate members, and Al Jardine, while a full corporate member, isn’t part of the family. More to the point, Love is the frontman and Wilson was the one who would make the reunion a big event that would get news coverage and record company interest).

We know that there were things Love didn’t like about the reunion tour — in particular, he complained about the large band (mostly Wilson’s musicians, although two crucial members were from Love’s band), disliked the album (into which he had comparatively little creative input — it was mostly Wilson and Thomas’ work), and didn’t like the experience of working with Brian’s “people”.

On the other hand, he did like the setlists (which were one area where he was in charge), working with Jeff Foskett (Wilson’s right-hand man, who he’s since hired for his own band), the intro music (which he’s kept for his own shows) and the video screens used during the show. He’s also kept some of the changes that were made to arrangements during that tour.

So Love didn’t think it was a wholly positive thing, but nor did he think it was a wholly negative thing. So why did the tour end?

The reason was only recently made public, in a Facebook comment by Love’s daughter, but it’s been obvious to those who have been paying attention since it happened.

The reunion tour was originally meant to last fifty shows only, almost all in North America. But a short while after the tour started, an agreement was made to extend the tour by twenty-something shows and visit Australia, Japan, and the UK.

And when that agreement was reached, an email was sent to Love, by someone in Brian Wilson’s organisation with the power to make statements like this, saying that “these will be absolutely the last shows for Wilson”. This was an open secret among Beach Boys fans a while ago, and was made public in that FB comment. I have spoken to people who’ve seen the email in question, and I know those people to be trustworthy.

Having been told a fixed end date, after which the reunion tour was over, Love booked shows after that date with his MELECO license, for the band he’d been touring with for years.

However, in the last week of the tour, long after contracts had been signed and tickets sold for Love’s band’s shows, it became clear that Brian Wilson and Al Jardine were both quite keen (at least at that moment) to continue with the reunion tour, and Wilson said in a statement “it feels a bit like being fired”. This, and similar statements from Jardine, along with a hell of a lot of jumping to conclusions from reporters, led to reports that Love had sacked Wilson, Jardine, and Marks.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Wilson was not informed of the ultimatum sent out by the person in his organisation. It’s also possible that he forgot it or changed his mind between then and the end of the tour. We can’t say for sure whether Brian Wilson brought the tour to an end and later regretted it, or whether someone in his organisation overstepped themselves and messed things up as a result. But what we can say is that Mike Love didn’t fire him.

It may well, of course, be Love’s choice that there hasn’t been any further reunion activity — I don’t think he was especially unhappy for the reunion to end — but he didn’t set the end date on it. Someone else did.

(An extra note for the hard of thinking — I am NOT saying that Mike Love didn’t do whatever other bad thing you’re about to accuse him of, nor am I calling Brian Wilson a liar, nor am I “taking Love’s side over Brian”. Brian Wilson is responsible for at least 85% of what I like about the Beach Boys, and a vastly more talented artist than Love. If I had to pick a side, I would pick Brian over Mike every time, but I simply don’t think there is any value whatsoever in choosing goodies and baddies and fighting for one side in interpersonal problems between people I don’t know.

Nor am I saying “Brian is being manipulated by people in his organisation”. He might be. Or he might be manipulating the situation. Or there could have been a genuine error. Or any of half a dozen other things.

If you don’t know why I add these caveats, just count yourself lucky — you’ve clearly never been involved in the less salubrious parts of Beach Boys fandom).

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Why You Will Not Find My Books In Kindle Unlimited

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 18, 2014

(OK, so I lied about there being no post. I have to do something to take my mind off rubbishness.)

Amazon have announced a new feature, Kindle Unlimited. This feature allows Kindle owners (so far only in the US) to download as many books as they want, one at a time, for a $9.99 per month flat fee — it’s a “Spotify for books”. Authors get paid as soon as the Kindle owner reads more than 10% of their book.

This is, in theory, a great thing, but in practice it’s evil. That sounds harsh, but I think it’s fair. And there are two main reasons it’s evil.

The first is that it requires participation in “KDP Select”, Amazon’s exclusivity programme. If you sign up for this, you can’t have your books available digitally anywhere else. I’d have to pull my books from Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and the rest, take down the PDF versions on Lulu, and remove the blog posts they were based on from here.

This would not be too terrible for me financially — I sell barely anything through any of those bookshops, and because I’m not good at sorting out tax stuff I haven’t even collected the money I’m owed for most of the sales (it’s all accruing in my Smashwords account, and I’ll get it eventually).

But it would mean that anyone with a non-Kindle e-reader would be unable to buy my books, making it bad for other readers like me (I have a Nook, and mostly buy from the Kobo shop and smaller ebook stores owned by publishers like Obverse or Baen).

It would also be one more tiny step towards Amazon being the only ebook retailer around, which would be bad both for readers (because monopolies are very bad for consumers) and for writers (because monopsonies are even worse for suppliers).

So I would consider it immoral to be involved — in the sense that the most moral action is the one which, should everyone take it, would improve the world the most, not in the sense of judging authors who decide differently. But that’s not actually the worst thing.

The worst thing is that, as with the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (which also requires participation in the KDP Select programme), there is not a flat fee paid to the author for each book read, but instead there’s a pot of money chosen by Amazon (at the moment $2million, as a promotional thing — normally closer to $1million, but offered at their discretion; they could make it ten cents if they wanted) which is split between all the authors according to the proportions in which their books are borrowed.

This is what makes it evil rather than just normal nasty corporate capitalism, because it turns what should be a positive-sum game into a zero-sum one.

If they made payments by number of books borrowed, say a dollar a book, that would be great. I could encourage you to read my book, and I’d get a dollar, and also encourage you to read, say, Andrew Rilstone’s latest book, and he’d get a dollar too.

But with the system where you’re paid by proportion of books borrowed, if I encourage you to read Rilstone’s book, then that means I’m getting a smaller share, so the incentive is for me to discourage you from reading any books by anyone other than myself. It’s a neat and nasty way of breaking any sense of community for authors (and one which would incidentally make collective action much more difficult should Amazon’s terms become more onerous).

This is not only classic divide-and-rule, pitting suppliers against each other, the worst kind of monopoly capitalism, but it’s also a catastrophic thing for readers. One of the most important ways people find new books is when authors reference or acknowledge each other’s work. But if you’re signed up to KDP Select, then you can’t tell readers about those other authors, who might make your share of the pie smaller.

And look at what that pie is. $2,000,000 . Sounds a lot, doesn’t it? But how many subscribers are they going to get at $10 a month? I’d guess quite a lot more than 200,000.

But more importantly, the number of books in the programme is “over 600,000″. Break that down, and that means that the mean payment per book — in this special promotional period where they’re paying more — is $3 per month. Obviously some will get more, but only because others will get even less.

The worst thing imaginable would be if this was a success, undercutting actual ebook sales to the point that it was the only way writers could actually make any money. And I can see that happening if something isn’t done about Amazon’s monopolistic practices (of which this is just one of many).

Thankfully the Big 5 publishers are staying out of this evil, and so long as they are, people will still buy books.

Because I don’t know exactly what the price for my soul is, but I do know it’s more than $3.


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