#Charlottesville – “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here”

There is something to be said for the idea that anti-fascist protesters can resort to violence too quickly. But this idea can be debated without endorsing or excusing fascism, which you do when you describe these acts of violence as morally equivalent.

There is merit in the idea that anti-fascist violence gets judged by a more charitable standard than fascist violence. But it’s understandable, and appropriate, to condemn violence committed in the service of oppression and racism more harshly than violence committed in opposition to that.

The idea that anti-fascist activism has encouraged or provoked a rise in fascist activism is not obviously implausible. But being able to provide a historical account of the origins of some fascist activism explains, rather than excuses, (some of) that activism.

A focus on social justice causes such as anti-sexism, or #BlackLivesMatter, could well have played a part in exacerbating conservative white fears related to a loss of control over, or alienation from their culture and values. But if your culture and values are premised on racist or sexist impulses and stereotypes, there is no place for them in nations that are committed to equal liberty and humanism.

Yes, the political left has problems to deal with. Many of us – broadly defined – have arrived at incoherent positions on free speech, where we appeal to subjective or unprincipled definitions of harm to suppress speech we don’t like, and promote speech that we do.

Many of us have arrived at incoherent positions regarding when violence is justified, as is the case with the “punch a Nazi” trope where it seems to be entirely up to the eye of the beholder who counts as a Nazi and who doesn’t, and where there’s little thought given to articulating why it’s okay to punch them but not to kill them, or how we’ve found ourselves in a position where we’re glamourising violence in the first place.

But all of these things do nothing to make a moral equivalence between fascism and anti-fascism remotely plausible. The far-right have killed many more people than the far-left, and they are also greater in number and more organised.

And finally, one side is often motivated by, and leads to, erosion of democracy and freedom, while the other attempts to combat that erosion.

There is a discussion to be had regarding the tactics of that combating, and whether we sometimes get things wrong when pushing back against those who promote racism, sexism, or the toxic nationalism of many on the far-right.

If you haven’t watched the Vice documentary of the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, please do, and decide for yourself whether the time for that discussion is now.

Should we, now, be engaging in whataboutery, criticising the alt-left, or mentions of violence “on many sides”? Or should we be making it clear that whatever the severity of those problems are, they pale into insignificance comparised to the problems presented by folks like Christopher Cantwell, the white nationalist quoted in the title of this post, and featured below.

As for me, while I’ll not be going around looking for Nazis to punch, I’ll certainly be doing my utmost to remind people that not all speech is equally virtuous or valuable, and that a commitment to free speech doesn’t suspend our ability – or our obligation – to defend civilisation against fascism.

Anecdotes versus data in public discourse

“The plural of anecdote is not data” is a phrase well-loved by scientific sceptics. Often attributed to Dr Ben Goldacre, but probably originating with Raymond WoIfinger, the phrase cautions us against the mistake of thinking that what you experience – or what you and your granny or friends experience – might not actually be representative of any significant trend, or give you valuable evidence regarding the causal efficacy or role of something you might regard as significant. Continue reading “Anecdotes versus data in public discourse”

#BlueWhale: a greater threat to journalistic reputations than to teens

Any suicide that isn’t preceded by careful deliberation, in full knowledge of its consequences, is undoubtedly a sad thing. Other suicides would often be tragic also, as much as I respect the freedom to make that choice, outside of the moralistic prescriptions of societal norms.

Teen suicide would often not be preceded by that deliberation. We’re more vulnerable then, and might be inclined to overestimate our misery, and underestimate our prospects for the future. Continue reading “#BlueWhale: a greater threat to journalistic reputations than to teens”

So that is indeed enough: Karel Schoeman and assisted dying

Karel Schoeman never wanted to be old. I don’t either, but maybe you do – or maybe you already are, by whatever metric you use to measure such things. Regardless of where you stand on that, I’m fairly confident that none of us want to die slowly and painfully.

Or even live, if it feels authentically pointless to do so, or if your thoughts routinely turn to how you can no longer add the value to others’ lives you once did. Or live, if you know that you are for the most part a constant burden to both yourself and to others. Continue reading “So that is indeed enough: Karel Schoeman and assisted dying”

Huffington Post, Shelley Garland and editorial responsibility

Edit (19/04): All the details of this saga have now been revealed. See Verashni Pillay’s post, and its linked interview with “Shelley Garland”.

Update (22/04): The Press Ombudsman’s ruling is out, and it’s pretty damning for HuffPo.

A quick recap for those of you who don’t know the story. On April 13, Huffington Post South Africa published an opinion piece, by someone identified as Shelley Garland, headlined “Could it be time to deny white men the franchise?“.

The consequences of publishing this piece were fairly predictable. For some, this was further confirmation that HuffPoSA has a political or ideological agenda – here, an anti-male and anti-white agenda. Continue reading “Huffington Post, Shelley Garland and editorial responsibility”

Basic Education in Demonology

Well. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and I had a rather interesting morning. I was part of the group that drafted a charter on rights and responsibilities for religious conduct at schools, and today we (and other interested parties) gathered to discuss the charter, and to hear the Minister’s thoughts on “harmful religious practices” in schools.

Instead, what we mostly got was lessons in how many demons are out there, hungering for your kids’ brains souls, and how only Jesus can save them. Continue reading “Basic Education in Demonology”

Dying with dignity

Yesterday, a strange collection of people received an unusual email. It was a suicide note from a man we knew to varying degrees, sent to people with whom he’d formed a connection over the years, whether via secular humanist activism (as in my case) or badminton, or something more intimate, like being family or close friends.

It was scheduled to be sent hours after he had taken his life, and included instructions regarding memorial services, burial and the like.

I didn’t know him well, so I’m not sad at his death in any personal fashion. I am however sad at how he had to die – alone, and with no certainty that his suffering would be alleviated, given that the medical support that should be available at times like these cannot be provided unless you can find a physician who is willing to break the law. Continue reading “Dying with dignity”

On the “caged woman” on the back of a bakkie

The racial debate attracting the most opinion and anger in South Africa right now was sparked by this photograph:

Photo: Denise Rens/Oos-Kaap Plaaswerkers Opstand/Facebook

Some folk on social media are desperately reaching for an analysis of this that eliminates race and structural power imbalances from the situation. Others are focusing on the cage (it’s a sheep pen) as the primary problem. They are both wrong.

Continue reading “On the “caged woman” on the back of a bakkie”