It’s getting harder to be average

When I was at school, I was excellent. I didn’t find anything particularly difficult, and I breezed through exams without having to study for them. I assumed that when I left school, the world of work would be much the same and I would be hugely rewarded for doing sod-all.

Spoiler: nope.

One of the things about growing up – unless you’re lucky enough to benefit from inherited wealth and/or nepotism – is that you soon learn that you are not the genius you thought you were. It turns out that the world is full of people who are not just as clever or as talented as you, but who also work much harder than you do.

That leaves you with two options. One, find ways to compete. Or two, have an almighty shit-fit about how it’s soooooo unfair that others are allowed into your treehouse. Previously the highly privileged railed against “PC gone maaaaaaad”; now it’s about “wokeness”. But it’s always a toddler tantrum.

Laura Waddell in the Scotsman, itself no stranger to publishing such tantrums, writes about two kinds of contrarians: the career ones who manufacture controversy cynically to pay their bills, and the people who mistake loss of privilege for conspiracy.

The second camp is rooted in insecurity about one’s own position in the professional world, and a sense of being left behind as it changes. This can be seen in the desire to suck up to a stale model of power, the white male change-maker who held court when the controversialist’s career was on the up. Mocking others is an ingratiation attempt, showing they’re in the same camp, fighting newcomers who dare think they deserve a place at the table. But it is always easier to trick oneself into believing advancement of others has resulted in one’s personal persecution, than come to terms with being average among the competition.

White people aren’t necessarily better writers than people of colour. Men are not necessarily better musicians than women. Straight people are not necessarily better CEOs than gay people. But for a very long time, mediocre people have had better opportunities than others purely because of their skin colour. their gender or their sexual orientation because they and people like them promoted the people who were exactly like them – and limited the opportunities for people who were not.

Waddell:

The problem is not the existence of others – it’s just not being good enough. The world is just a little less likely to reward them for it.

Offensively ignorant

The LGB Alliance, on the actual anniversary of Section 28:

“We never demanded society change its laws” isn’t just shockingly ignorant, although of course it is. It’s also a grossly offensive insult to the thousands of gay, bisexual and lesbian people (and of course trans people, but the LGBA doesn’t even pretend to care about them) whose lives were ruined by anti-gay legislation over hundreds of years. Very little of that legislation was changed by LGBT+ people asking nicely.

It’s also a raised middle finger to the very many brave gay, bi and lesbian activists (and of course trans activists, but the LGBA etc etc etc) who fought so hard and in many cases lost so much to gain the most basic human rights for LGBT+ people.

Wedge issues to unite the right

Laura Bassett, writing for GQ.com, explains how the US Christian Right moved from being largely pro-abortion (in some cases because they were racist and believed abortion would limit the number of black children) to becoming militantly against it.

The short version: strategists used abortion as a wedge issue to rally the faithful and grow the Republican Party.

[Republican activist] Weyrich tried to make pornography the wedge issue, he tried prayer in schools, he tried the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution which would have guaranteed equal legal rights to women, and none of those issues really rallied his troops. “I was trying to get people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” he later admitted at a conference in 1990. Then, six years after Roe v. Wade in 1973, Weyrich and Falwell noticed that conservatives were starting to get uncomfortable with the spike in legal abortions after the landmark case and with the sexual, social and economic freedom that reproductive rights had brought to women. So they went all in on making abortion a wedge issue that could marry the Christian right and the GOP.

Most people are in favour of a woman’s right to choose, but the Christian Right claims to speak for the majority. It funnels money into pressure groups and grass-roots groups, demonises the powerless, misrepresents facts, spreads blatant falsehoods – as the piece notes, that includes claiming that pro-choice people are murdering children after they’ve been born – and incites violence.

It’s so horrific, and so horrifically familiar.

Battling homophobia?

David Paisley took a look at the Twitter feed for the LGB Alliance on the international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (#IDAHOBIT); you’d expect a group that says it’s standing up for lesbian, gay and bisexual people to have something to say about ignorance and bigotry.

He made this image. On the left, all the posts the LGB Alliance made about homophobia and biphobia on #IDAHOBIT. On the right, the posts they made on the same day attacking trans people, criticising LGBT+ organisations, attacking inclusive education and attacking LGBT+ people for supporting trans people.

As Paisley points out, the single post to mark #IDAHOBIT was “just a hashtag and a link to an article two years out of date.”

Paisley:

Let’s look at the response of their followers.

For their #IDAHOBIT tweet:
Retweets: 1
Likes: 11

For their anti trans tweets:
Retweets: 467
Likes: 4126

The organisation went on to attack the Council of Europe for publishing guidance designed to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination and to attack Amnesty International for saying trans rights are human rights.

Paisley:

The majority of their posts are about trans exclusion, not “LGB” supportive issues… despite the abusive language of their followers they are careful not to be abusive themselves.

Sometimes, though, the mask of respectability slips. The other week, the group and its followers went after SNP MP John Nicolson with often blatantly homophobic abuse; when presented with evidence of it, two crowdfunding websites ejected the LGB Alliance from their platforms.

That was an expensive mistake that they’ll no doubt try not to repeat, but I suspect the mask will slip again soon enough: after all, this is an organisation whose co-founder suggested that gay teachers are predators.

The writers who want your granny to die

Peter Geoghegan and Mary Fitzgerald in The Guardian on the “lockdown sceptics“:

It is no surprise that so many professional contrarians are paid-up lockdown sceptics. They are products of our distorted media ecosystem, which invariably privileges heat over light. For them, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about – even if what you are talking about amounts to social Darwinism.

But the lockdown opponents are not just media “personalities”… How long before a British parliamentarian goes full “plandemic” and wonders aloud if Covid-19 is all a conspiracy?

“I am proud of the progress I intend to reverse”

Equalities minister Liz Truss has marked international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia with a feel-good Twitter message:

It’s a shame that that progress is threatened by, er, Liz Truss.

Cherries, condoms and coronavirus

During the AIDS epidemic, some people who didn’t want to wear condoms claimed that it wasn’t because they were selfishly putting other people at risk; it was that the virus was so small that it could pass through microscopic gaps in the material condoms were made from, so there was no point in people wearing them.

During the coronavirus pandemic, some people who don’t want to wear masks are claiming that it’s not because they’re selfishly putting other people at risk; it’s that the virus is so small that it can pass through gaps in even the fabric of medical-grade masks, so there is no point in people wearing them.

Both groups of people were wrong, because viruses don’t travel by themselves; they need a host. In the case of AIDS it was bodily fluids; with coronavirus it’s droplets. And in both cases, the hosts are much, much bigger than the virus – so condoms prevent the spread of AIDS and masks reduce the spread of coronavirus.

This is technically known as the fallacy of incomplete evidence, although we know it as cherry picking. It’s when you carefully choose evidence that appears to support your position and ignore or discount anything that contradicts it. You’ll find it in climate change denial and creationism, anti-trans activism and racism and pseudoscience of all kinds, and it’s been with us for millennia.

Or at least, all the evidence I choose to believe says it has been.

Doing the devil’s work

According to STV and Glasgow Live, there are “mass gatherings” planned for Glasgow this weekend to protest against the lockdown.

The story is interesting for all the wrong reasons.

Reason number one is that it isn’t true. A couple of far-right yahoos [update: their group is a front for the racist Britain First] have shared their drawing of a “come to our demo” leaflet – they don’t even have a real leaflet, just a drawing of one – on Facebook. Describing this as “plans” for “mass gatherings” is rather like saying I have “plans” to marry the actor Emma Stone or to be a size 8.

And reason number two is that this kind of credulous reporting runs the risk of creating something from nothing. The coverage could encourage people who’d otherwise be unaware of the yahoos to wander down to the proposed meeting either to support it or demonstrate against it – thereby turning a couple of yahoos in a park into a much bigger thing.

This is happening far too often with far too many publications, not just here but in the US too: again and again one or two clowns come up with a social media account, a snappy name and a logo and they’re immediately taken seriously by reporters who don’t do even the most basic checking.

This is what happens when you chase traffic, not accuracy; when you pay your reporters not because of the quality of their work, but the quantity of content they produce; when your publication encourages churnalism, not journalism. It’s easy to exploit, and there’s no shortage of bad actors happy to exploit it.

If you get coronavirus, don’t blame the Tories

Jon Alexander, on Medium.com:

The immediate response to the government’s new Covid19 messaging has been a mixture of confusion and outrage. Commentators and academics seem bemused, the only possible explanation being that the government is incompetent.

But actually, I think it’s very deliberate — and if their ultimate goal is to retain power rather than save lives — very smart.

…Covid19 will now become an inconvenient hindrance to our lives, but one that each of us needs to take personal responsibility for dealing with, and getting back to normal as best we can. In this story, government steps back and gets out of the way, because people are best left to look out for themselves. We are individuals, there is no such thing as society.

The dark corollary of course is that if you get the disease, it will be your fault — because you will not have stayed sufficiently alert.

Ill communications

When you’re trying to keep people at home over what’s likely to be a hot and sunny bank holiday weekend, it’s hard to imagine a worse headline than this.

It’s from today’s Daily Mail (in England; the Scottish edition has Nicola Sturgeon saying the lockdown can’t be lifted yet). The Mail of all papers should be wary about headlines with “Hurrah” in them.

The Mail is one of several tabloid newspapers who are promising an end to lockdown starting Monday and publishing it on their front pages the day after the UK death toll became the highest in Europe. There are officially more than 30,000 people dead; the real number is believed to exceed 50,000.

Let’s see what the papers have to hurrah about.

Has the UK reached its own testing target? Nope: the much-promised 100,000 tests per day hasn’t been achieved at all. The government attempted to pretend otherwise by counting 40,000 tests posted but not received; that worked for one day, but the daily number is back down to 80-something-thousand.

Do front-line NHS workers have adequate PPE? Nope. The much-lauded order of PPE from Turkey is being sent back today because it doesn’t meet NHS standards.

Do we have enough testers and trackers in place to know where the virus is and where to target resources? Nope.

Do we have a trace, track and isolate system in place? Nope.

The official stats are online. We are currently recording over 6,000 new cases a day.

All of these things together mean that the lockdown shouldn’t and won’t be lifted on Monday in England; we may see some very minor changes, such as stopping the cops from shouting at sunbathers, but it isn’t safe to change things yet.

That’s not what the papers are suggesting, though, and as a result we’re going to have a weekend of people flouting the lockdown because hey, it’s going to be lifted on Monday anyway.

Apparently the government are deeply concerned about this; what I thought was a deliberate leak to distract tabloids from the death toll is reportedly an unsanctioned leak that’s been blown out of all proportion to produce front pages like this:

If it’s true that this isn’t what the government wanted, it’s clearly a case of reaping what you’ve been sowing: this is what happens when you don’t communicate clearly with a country, when you share policy and plans not with Parliament but with your pet newspapers, when your government cares more about PR than PPE.