The Stupidest Piece You’ll Read On Charlie Hebdo

A noble tradition and commendable practice exists among the political left, which comes into play in the public discourse when people commit appalling crimes. I’m talking about the practice to try and understand what factors came into play, what exactly drove someone to become a reckless criminal. Historically this has been rejected by the political right in a display of confusion and dishonesty, with the claim that “Understanding the criminal is excusing them”. Which couldn’t be less true. Sometimes, though, the left focuses so tightly on the responsibility of the society at large that it -conveniently, it seems- forgets about the personal responsibility of the criminal.

A prime example of this latter paradigm  is provided in this Salon piece, entitled “Hebdo shooting’s missing context: How long-held vilification of Muslims got lost in the discussion”, where Ms. Falguni A. Sheth explains us how, to quote the subtitle of the article verbatim, “The shootings were obviously horrific — but the response has been transformed by a narrative of Islamic terrorism”.

Americans should have learned several things from their experiences in the aftermath of September 11, 2001: first, the purpose of a public claim of “terrorism” is often to mobilize and centralize all firepower and legal authority behind the executive branch. This enables such leaders to shore up an otherwise faltering leadership and thereby their capacity for retribution in the name of justice. Second, “terrorism” is often asserted to insinuate a causal link between an act of violence committed by someone perceived to be Muslim and the presumed “dangerous values” of Islam.

Do you mean, like the leader of the US’ “executive branch”, calling the teachings of Islam “good and peaceful” shortly after the attacks? Or maybe he was insinuating something there? Mr. Bush sounds quite upright to me in this clip. As far as I know, President Bush never changed his position on the topic.

That link is not factual, just evocative.

It’s also quite virtual as I just showed.

It serves as a rhetorical device that casts aspersions onto all Muslims — deeming them all to be religious zealots, regardless of their views or place on the political spectrum.

Boy, she can get a lot of mileage out of a fictitious “link”.

It is especially effective to use the term “terrorism” in non-Muslim societies to describe violence that is suspected of being enacted by Muslim individuals – regardless of whether they are part of a larger organized agenda. Even if the Kouachi brothers had just been punks acting without permission or authority from others whom they claim to serve, it’s not hard to imagine the term “terrorism” being deployed and spread exponentially by an obedient press uncritical of the state’s agenda

Here Ms. Sheth is simply resorting to what I’ll call an argument from fiction. She’s saying “Well of course the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo massacre acted as part of a network, but if they had acted alone, they would still have been called “terrorists” ant that would have been unacceptable”. Which, even if her fictional situation were true, would still be wrong. You don’t have to be part of a global network to be a terrorist, you just need to exert violence on civilians to further political goals. Which the Charlie Hebdo assassins did.

— and eager to parrot the socially-sanctioned racism of elected leaders in the name of patriotism.

Main theorem of the self-hating, islam-fancying left: if you can throw random accusations of racism around don’t think twice about it. Do it.

Remember the Boston bombings, where the Tsarnaev brothers were accused of terrorism, but despite extensive attempts, could not be tied to a larger terrorist organization.

That is pure nonsense, of course, as I argued above. Here goes the definition of terrorism according to Wiki: “Terrorism is commonly defined as violent acts (or threat of violent acts) intended to create fear (terror); to perpetrate for a religious, political, or ideological goal; and to deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (e.g., neutral military personnel or civilians). Another common definition is political, ideological or religious violence by non-state actors. Some definitions now include acts of unlawful violence and war.” I can’t see any mention of “doesn’t count if you’re not part of a group”.

The narrative offered by French President François Hollande in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings Wednesday morning was that these were “acts of terror against free speech.”

Yep, it was only a “narrative”. Good thing Ms. Sheth is here to set the record straight. Let’s see how she does it.

The ensuing outcries and oaths of “Je suis Charlie,” seem to reiterate the same exclamation — that the shootings were retaliatory acts of intolerance against a French journalistic institution that equally and even-handedly satirized Catholics, Jews, as well as Muslims.

Believe it or not, she’s now going to argue against this position. Brace yourselves.

We also heard the hasty admonitions by Hollande not to lump Muslims with the fundamentalists behind these attacks. But he knows well that “terrorism” is a loaded term that insinuates that the wider Muslim community supports, or is at least sympathetic to, such acts of violence.

That is just pure, gratuitous slander. What’s getting clearer and clearer at that point in the article is that Ms. Sheth is simply objecting to the use of the term “terrorism” because, according to her, it is “a loaded term that insinuates that the wider Muslim community supports, or is at least sympathetic to, such acts of violence”. What a sheer joke.

There appears to be little interest, either on Hollande’s behalf or from various media sites, about whether such insinuations are true.

Maybe because the insinuations were not made and because, on the contrary, most politicians and media outlets did their best to make the distinction between muslims and jihadists.

Indeed, why would Hollande mind? Prior to the attacks, Hollande had the support of 13% of the French people, while Marine Le Pen, unabashed Islamophobe and reactionary extraordinaire, was carrying nearly 30% of support.  See paragraph 1.

I don’t like Marine le Pen very much, but I’m not that more keen on those who bandy about the non-word “islamophobe”, which I’m pleased to see the WordPress spellchecker doesn’t recognise. I also think that calling her a “reactionary extraordinaire” is a tad strong, but I won’t spend time defending her here, I’ve got better things to do.

There is even less concern about how the promiscuous deployment of the term “terrorism” will harm all Muslims,

If it wasn’t crystal clear by now, the central message of this piece is to urge people to stop using the word “terrorism” because it harms all Muslims. As if urging everyone to stop drawing cartoons of the prophet of Islam wasn’t enough.

even when Muslim populations condemn such violence — and even after they have already been subject to insults through satire.

Boo fucking hoo.

My words are not an endorsement of censorship;

Except of the word “terrorism”.

I am merely pointing out that Muslims have already been subject to Charlie Hebdo’s satire and journalistic decisions. And again, because of the murderous actions of three men with assault weapons, the larger Muslim population is again the recipient of insults, backlash, and racist violent actions.

Nothing excuses the violent backlash. I struggle, however, to see what Ms. Sheth’s mention of it brings to the argumentation.

Except, this time, Muslims are being attacked by police authorities and civilians alike in the name of French “Republicanism” and a “free and open society.”

What a web of lies this piece is. Meanwhile French policemen are deployed to protect mosques, among others.

It is reported that 3.7 million people marched in France last weekend, in a show of “national unity to honor the 17 victims of three days of terror.” The rally was led by French and other notable patrons and purveyors of liberalism, tolerance, and democracy: David CameronBenjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, among others.

Can you sense Ms. Sheth’s attempt to induce guilt by remote association? I can.

It was an awe-inspiring scene, seeming to reflect a resolute resistance to seventeen murders in a gruesome massacre that has captivated the world.

Why “seeming”?

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls took time away from his effort to impose economic austerity upon French society to assert a brave, commonly echoed sentiment, among the French: “We are all Charlie, we are all police, we are all Jews of France.” But this splendid statement of resistance was hardly as heroic as it was intended to seem.

As some have pointed out, Charlie Hebdo’s acts of “satire” were disproportionately directed toward the approximately four million Muslims who have attempted to make France their home.

One more lie that she won’t even be bothered to back up with a link. She prefers to go for the standard argumentum ad numerum. And of course she makes the confusion between criticism of ideas and of people, what did you expect?

Others have charged that the satirical ire the magazine repeatedly directed toward Muslims could be more accurately characterized as racist rather than merely satirical.

Once you’ve got yourself a good lie, why not repeat it twice in two sentences?

But at some level, that doesn’t really seem to be at the heart of the anger expressed against the violent acts committed by the Saïd and Cherif Kouachi or Ahmed Coulibaly.

Could that level be… reality?

Rather, the anger seems to be directed against the supposed inability of Muslims to laugh at themselves, i.e., their supposedly unique inability to tolerate the satire or invective or belittling of the precepts that good French Republican citizens imagine are representative of Islam.

This inability is not supposed. Or we wouldn’t have had the Salman Rushdie affair, the Theo van Gogh affair, the Danish cartoons affair, and the various Charlie Hebdo cartoon affairs.

And this is where the foundations of the politically inexpensive show of defiance on display in the march can be found: it is in a collective outrage that Muslim migrants to France, along with the Algerian migrants and inheritors of a French colonial legacy, refuse to know their place.

You read that right: the peaceful walks throughout France in the wake of the attacks were racist rallies where people showed up to tell French citizens of North African origin to know their place. That is, according to Ms. Sheth.

I am not talking in this instance about the horrific, murderous acts of the Kouachi brothers or Ahmed Coulibaly. Their actions are neither condoned nor accepted by French Muslims or millions of Muslims around the world.

Except by those who condoned, praised, or excused it.

But that point is, really, irrelevant to this point; in the name of free speech, the rally of outrage around the world is really aimed at the perceived defiance of Muslims, in their refusal to abide by French republican secular norms.

The rally was carried out to show that French citizens, and people throughout the world indeed, care about freedom of expression and secularism.

Many non-Muslims around the globe seem to believe that Muslims themselves are to blame for their own vilification. But it is a classic blame-the-victim outrage shrouded in the discourse of French secular republicanism, obscured in the mantle of anti-terrorism discourse.

Talking about “blame-the-victim” tactics, how’s your attempt to blame “French secular republicanism”, namely, the victim of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, for being indirectly responsible for Islamism and accuse it of racism going, Ms. Sheth?

The unspoken assumptions behind the global outrage over last week’s events seem to be: How dare Muslims believe that they can continue to live as a conspicuous religious minority in a secular French republic?

This whole article is based not on what French political leaders or citizens said or wrote, but on made-up “unspoken assumptions”, fantasised “insinuations” and imagined nefarious intentions.

How dare they refuse to assimilate? At one level, the refusal to assimilate appears to be signaled by the seeming refusal of Muslim women to remove their hijabs and niqabs, or of Muslim men to shave their beards, or in refusing to “become” French.  But at another level — the French, through their own inconsistencies are well aware that the eradication of these outward signs of religiosity are not really the purpose of recent legislation to that effect.

Could that level be… your sick, monomaniacal mind, Ms. Sheth?

The most egregious violation of decorum conducted by the Muslim population (not just in France, but elsewhere in the Western world) is that they refuse to stop being Muslim (and I mean that in all of its impossibility).

More babble.

That refusal to “stop being Muslim” is synechdochically linked to the globally institutionalized War on Terror,

Ms. Sheth needs a psychiatrist and not a cheap one.

as initiated in its latest incarnation by the U.S. in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, but as joined and taken up by other nations eager to conflate their own Islamophobia with a righteous battle against Muslim religious extremists.

“Can you hear me shaking my head?”

In light of France’s long and troubled racist history, when the account of the Charlie Hebdo massacre is uncritically and squarely located in the narrative of terrorism, we still haven’t gotten the full context.

Fair enough, but if you think taking the “full context” into account means to forget about Islamism, banning the word “terrorism” because it attacks all Muslims, and stealthily call French secularism “racist”, you’re dead wrong.

As Americans know all too well, despite pretenses to the contrary, terrorism is a vaguely defined legal and political concept, that is most often used to denounce countries with whom it has had a long and troubled concept.

You know what, that could be an interesting discussion to have. But not with a lunatic like you, Ms. Sheth.

It should be self-evident that “free speech” qua invective camouflaged as satire hardly renders damage to secure populations on the scale that it does to vulnerable minorities. Did Charlie Hebdo satirize Christianity? Of course. But those satirical images raised neither eyebrows nor alarms — not because devout Christians aren’t offended or have “thicker skins,” or are “more rational” than Muslims, but because Christians are neither religious nor ethnic minorities.

And now the icing on the cake.

Christians are not politically vulnerable in the Republic of France; they are the opposite — secure and fully capable.

The Catholic Church is largely irrelevant in the French political life.

With the support of a powerful Church they are able to muster huge marches against same-sex marriage and other perceived religious offenses.

With the exception, I admit, of its fight against gay marriage. But far from all Christians opposed the bill. To a large extent, moreover, French Christians do not politically associate on the basis of religion.

Nor are Christians the subject of a long-standing debate about whether their presence is an economic imposition, undermining society, or a political burden on French society. They are part of the establishment and power elite. As such, their security is guaranteed, since Christian values have long been secularized as a part of French — and lest we forget, American — society.

I fail to see how “Christian values have been […] [secularised]”.

Contrast the secure status of Christians to that of the long-standing debate about the “Muslim problem.”

Can you imagine her jubilating at her stealth evocation of the “Jewish question“? Disgraceful.

Muslims, who in 2010 made up approximately 5.7 % of the population of France, have long been subject to political harassment, institutional racism, and cultural contempt.

Except for positive discrimination in the public school system, where poor neighbourhoods often have a lower student/teacher ratio.

Consider the French legislation that, in the name of laïcité, or public secularism, outlaws “conspicuous” religious garb in public institutions or for those delivering public services, but primarily enforces the prohibition on the hijab and more recently, the niqab, and initially forgot-about Sikh turbans.

Consider the high rates of economic discrimination against Muslims in France. As Laila Lalami points out:

[…A]cademic studies have repeatedly shown that French Muslims are twice as likely to be unemployed than non-Muslims. They graduate from high school at lower rates and are imprisoned at higher rates.

As stupid as it would be to imply that this is solely the fault of Muslims themselves, it is equally laughable to turn this sentence as an outright complaint, as if it were everyone’s birthright to graduate from high school no matter how hard one works.

Many of them live in densely populated housing projects, with little access to the kinds of opportunities other French citizens receive.

You know, I think to some extent that’s true, but how far have we gotten from the initial topic?

Somehow, the French state is overwhelmingly concerned with prohibiting the hijab in the public sector in the name of strengthening the unity of the secular French state, but unemployment seems to be too trivial a problem to manage in the name of French republican freedom.

Those French bastards.

What if the Charlie Hebdo massacre had been committed by Catholic or Jewish extremists? Would there have been the same references to “terror”?

After the one at the start, we’re gifted with another argument from fiction here.

Would the same political leaders have turned up in a show of unity against “acts of terror against free speech”? Would 3.7 million people have turned up to insist that “Je suis Charlie”?

You know what? I think more would have. Because if the assassins had been Christians or Jews, we wouldn’t have heard, coming from monomaniacal censors and political opportunists, that protesting for freedom of speech and secularism in that context is somehow racist.

I doubt it.

We can regain our breath. The argument from fiction’s over.

We would do well to consider the Paris massacres and the ensuing cries of outrage not only in the context of terrorism, but in context of the long-held vilification of Muslims.

You just did, Ms. Sheth, and got nothing of value out of it. Maybe if someone that wasn’t so eager to see racism in secularism tried, they’d come up with something interesting.

Like many other religious and ethnic populations, Muslims are as complex as they are diverse, and they too have been at the receiving end of political and cultural persecution for a very long time. The cultural and political responses to the Charlie Hebdo massacres should take those circumstances into account.

Praise Allah it’s over.

Shit Religious People Say

When moderate apologists for religion debate with atheists, you can always hear the same go-to phrases. And yes, they’re coming from both sides. In the case of atheists, why would we refrain from using our strongest arguments over and over again? In the case of theists, why would they have anything new to say? They’ve been trying to come up with reasons to hold onto their superstitions for millenia, and they’ve been failing at it from the onset.

And boy, does it show. In my opinion, it never shows quite as well as when they reach for their go-to move, the “respect” card. Because, you know, in a debate of ideas, there’s nothing better to do than just demand that your dialectical opponent respect your point of view. Yes, religious people are helpless in a debate of ideas, where people are supposed to use facts and reasoning to support their point, because they have neither facts not sound, honest reasoning at their disposal. Or, if they have the latter, they know making use of it will just obliterate what they’re trying to say. Asking for respect in a debate of ideas is very much the dialectical equivalent of raising a white flag. It’s an admission of defeat if I’ve ever seen one. It’s the thing people do when it’s been shown convincingly they can’t defend their position for their life.

But hey, moderate apologists don’t necessarily believe religion is true, many of them just believe it’s helpful. Useful. It makes people happy, and it makes them behave. Well at least that’s what apologists say. And yes, they believe what they say. To illustrate how right they are when they say that religious people can be great people, religious apologists like to mention, beaming with self-importance, how so many religious believers “reconcile” their religion with other things. You rarely don’t hear apologists go over how so many believers manage to “reconcile religion with culture”, “reconcile their faith with science”, “reconcile their beliefs with modernity”, “reconcile their convictions with tolerance of homosexuality”, etc. And those apologists are just so proud of it. As if it were a point in their favour. While what they’re really saying is “Some religious people are hardly religious at all, and they’re great people”, or just because I can’t help myself, and to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens from memory, “These people are so open-minded, they’re hardly religious at all”.

Thoughts Around Books (3) Why Postmodernism Leads to Totalitarianism

For many reasons, some of which are very clearly stated in Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom’s Why Truth Matters, postmodernism has consistently been associated with radical epistemic relativism, which I can try and sum up here:

  • It’s a view according to which all opinions and beliefs are equally valid, because their validity is inherent to a particular set of beliefs of values held by certain social groups.
  • It has kickstarted the Strong Programme in the sociology of science, which, according to David Bloor, one of the central proponents of this movement, should explain demonstrably false and demonstrably “almost true” beliefs by using the same types of explanations, in other words without ever resorting to actual objective evidence.

Proponents of postmodernism and its avatars such as deconstruction have consistently labelled themselves as progressives and leftists, claiming to be doing liberatory work. Among others, postmodern critics of science have claimed that they were doing their best to set people free from the totalising influence of the Enlightenment, labelling it as an ethnocentrist (see, e.g., Andrew Ross) and “phallogocentrist” (see, e.g., Luce Irigaray) enterprise.

Scientists, along with serious scholars in the fields of sociology and history, have long recognised that the postmoderns’ call to ignore evidence and privilege belief, far from being a tool for human emancipation, is a very straightforward endorsement of the worst kind of reactionary obscurantism, popular among the people any postmodern would see as a lethal political enemy. In fairness, postmodernists don’t call for obscurantism to be upheld to the detriment of rationality, they just want to declare them equally valid.

That can’t work, though. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that in a postmodern world -and to a decent level approximation, our “world” is largely postmodern, at least as far as the ubiquitous media are concerned- obscurantism and totalitarianism will always prevail. Irretrievably. Because if the possibility to argue and to provide factual justification for belief is out of the table, then that means that automatically, “power alone can settle any question”.

I actually think it’s even slightly worse than that. The precarious balance between different points of view, unequally supported by evidence and/or unequally compatible with basic human rights, can be broken without any political or military power grab. The only thing that’s needed for things to go awry is for one of the many “equal” points of view to include, as one of its tenets, the idea that it shouldn’t be legal for opposing points of view to be expressed. Then proponents of relativism face a choice: silence a point of view which is “as valid as the others”, or ignore at least part of the other, totalitarian point of view and pretend that all points of view are equal and somehow socially compatible all over again.

There hasn’t been a general prescription on how to solve such contradictions. But in many cases, one can take a safe guess what the choice of relativists has been. Most prominently, perhaps, the political left in much of Western Europe has, by and large, resolved the contradiction between the Enlightenment and Islam, the second of which forbids any serious dissent and hence free expression, the absolutely central ingredient of the Enlightenment, by upholding Islam. The UK has been a particularly egregious example of this phenomenon (take a tour on the Guardian website).

Thoughts About Books (3) Benson & Stangroom – Why Truth Matters

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom’s The Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense was a short, playful, obviously humour-driven book. Their next book together, Why Truth Matters, published in 2006, is very much the background behind the joke. And really, this time there’s no harm in explaining the joke, because the joke itself was funny.

This book is a heartfelt defence not so much of the scientific method in particular, but of the value of respecting empiricism, facts and data in general. This defence is needed, they argue, in the face of the attempts by political ideologues, left and right, to make truth contingent and/or decide that what’s true is what fits their agenda. Targets on the right are chiefly religious (for instance, the Brigham Young University), while the main recurring target on the left is the “fashionable nonsense” of postmodern academics.

Benson and Stangroom write in a direct, no-nonsense style. That’s what the book is so good: they know what they mean -and they want the reader to know it- and they know what their arguments are. Contrast that with how postmodernists have made a living out of selling their boring, equivocal prose as essential, transgressive work, and, why not, to the work of theologians who deplore “scientism” while happily putting wishful thinking on a pedestal. I think it’s a very good idea to have put an excerpt from the review of the book in The Independent on the back cover, which goes

A sassy and profound response to [a] cascade of superstition and silliness… Benson and Stangroom answer the clotted, barely readable sentences of the postmodernists with sentences so clear you could swim in them.

It is my conviction that, when someone thinks they have something interesting to say, they will endeavour to put it clearly. This has not been the case of many postmodernists, many of whom are only too happy to argue that what can be stated clearly has nothing of value to offer, if only because it is too simple. Or, maybe more directly, because so many people apparently feel threatened by it.

I very much enjoyed this book, and it seems to me that it got better as I was advancing through the chapters. It might have been due to the fact that I only started to read it more quickly than a couple of paragraphs or pages at a time about halfway through. If this is so, it means that this book rewards focused, patient reading, which is probably one of the best compliments one can make about a book.

The Facepalm Factory of Social Justice

It never stops. They never stop. Everyday people write, it seems, on how women are discriminated against in fields such as science and technology. I’ve already had a long post on this, but of course that wasn’t going to solve the problem. It just keeps coming and coming, and when I decide to waste ten minutes of my life and read one such piece the only thing it does is to make me think of new reasons why this is largely BS. So let’s dive into one particular piece. It’s called “Why nerd culture must die” -no less. As has become customary, I’ll react mid-text.

My first girlfriend was someone I met through a MUD, and I had to fly 7,000 miles to see her in person. I read a paper version of the Jargon File at 15 and it became my bible. Just reading its descriptions of the internet I knew it was world-changing, even before the web, and as soon as I could I snuck into the local university computer labs with a borrowed account to experience the wonder of Usenet, FTP, and Gopher. I chose my college because Turing had once taught there, and the designer of the ARM chip would be one of my lecturers. My first job out of college was helping port the original Diablo to the first Playstation, and I spent five years writing games. I’ve dived deep into GPU programming. I’ve worked for almost two decades at both big tech companies and startups. I’ve spent countless hours writing about coding for the pure love of it. I’m a grown man who still plays Dungeons and Dragons!

That’s the typical tactic used by social justice types when they’re about to attack scientists or, in this case, computer scientists and/or nerds. Inherently I’m not opposed to it, but it’s so often done so disingenuously it’s surprising to see that the author of the present piece, Pete Warden, does apparently mean it. A very good start indeed.

My point is that if anyone can claim to be a nerd, it’s me. As a lonely teenager growing up in the English countryside, reading the Portrait of J. Random Hacker gave me a wonderful jolt of excitement and recognition. I’d never met anyone like that, but knowing that there were others out there like me gave me hope. As I went through college I started to discover a few more people who took a perverse pride in being geeks, but it was still rare and very much outside mainstream culture. Nobody really understood why I took a poorly-paid job in game programming after college instead of joining a bank, and most people’s eyes would glaze over when I mentioned I worked in computers.

What is implied here is that this has changed over the years. Which is flat out wrong. Look at enrollment in science at universities in the West. It is insanely low.

Over the years I gradually built a group of friends who shared the same interests in sci-fi, comics, games, and computers. It was nerd culture that brought us together, and their support was life-saving, but they were hard to find, and we were still way outside the cultural mainstream.

Over the last decade, that’s changed. Comic book adaptations are the safest bet in Hollywood. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have made fantasy something anyone can enjoy without embarrassment.

Mr. Warden is now busy pretending that the success of blockbuster films has relevance in the popularity of computer science. In other words, he’s equating mainstream pseudo-geek fashion with marginal nerd “culture”. The popularity of specific genre varies over time, but one thing remains true: intellectual, technical, and scholarly pursuits remain unpopular, and Batman films won’t change that. 20 year old girls who’ve never opened a Terminal in their life but wear “geeky glasses” because it’s hip won’t change that.

Perhaps most importantly, nerds now have money, power, and status. The biggest, fastest-growing companies in the world are run and staffed by us, and mainstream culture has shifted from mocking us to respect. Startups are sexy. We’ve won.

A more sobre analysis would be to point out that hi-tech is now the industry of industries, the business of businesses. Still, in reality, the people in positions of power are still largely -and maybe, more than ever- managers and public relations employees, not to mention people working in finance.

And that’s where the problem lies. We’re still behaving like the rebel alliance, but now we’re the Empire. We got where we are by ignoring outsiders and believing in ourselves even when nobody else would. The decades have proved that our way was largely right and the critics were wrong, so our habit of not listening has become deeply entrenched. It even became a bit of a bonding ritual to attack critics of the culture because they usually didn’t understand what we were doing beyond a surface level. It didn’t used to matter because nobody except a handful of forum readers would see the rants. The same reflex becomes a massive problem now that nerds wield real power.

More of the same blabber.

GamerGate made me ashamed to be a gamer, but the scary thing is that the underlying behavior of attacking critics felt like something I’d always seen in our culture, and tolerated. It only shocked me when it was scaled up so massively into rape and death threats, and I saw mainstream corporations like Intel folding in the face of the pressure we can bring to bear.

If you wonder what GamerGate is and what relevance it has to the discussion at hand (very little, I think), you can take a look at David Pakman’s You Tube channel and do a bit of research. David Pakman is very impartial, which does not mean he is objective, but his coverage is.

That’s why Marc Andreessen’s comment that Silicon Valley is nerd culture, and nerds are bro’s natural enemies felt so wrong. Sure, we used to be picked on or ignored by the bro’s, but that was when we had no money or power. Now we have status, bro’s are happy to treat us as buddies instead of victims, to the point that we’re unlikely to think of them as bro’s. I’ve pitched most VC firms in the Valley at one time or another, and a lot of the partners come from business or finance backgrounds. There are nerds in there too of course, and they do control the culture, but they also get along perfectly well with the preppy MBAs. The same holds true across the whole tech industry – they might have tried to steal our lunch money twenty years ago, but now they’re quite happy running biz-dev while we do the engineering.

One of the things I love about nerd culture is how much it values evidence and checking facts. When I’m optimizing code, my intuition about which parts are slowest is often wildly wrong, so I’ve learned the hard way that I have to profile the hell out of it before I try to fix anything. It’s a core skill for dealing with computers, our gut feelings often don’t work in such an alien realm, so skepticism becomes a habit. What has surprised me is how we leave that habit behind when confronted with evidence about ourselves. Pretty much every statistic we can track has shown fewer women getting computer science degrees and working as engineers compared to the 80’s. It’s a basic fact that we’re an incredibly imbalanced industry in all sorts of ways, from race to class and gender, and we’re getting worse.

And here the hammer’s dropped. Those nerdy bastards, not giving computer science degrees to female students.

I’m not claiming to know the answers, but you don’t have to be a social justice warrior to notice something is going very wrong somewhere. Even the Jargon File acknowledged, to paraphrase, that hackers routinely behave like assholes. Is it a crazy leap to imagine that this deeply-rooted tolerance of terrible behavior might drive people away?

Is it a crazy leap to imagine that women just don’t want to study computer science? That, in our free society, their choices are really theirs? That, to the extent where they want to go into traditionally male-dominated fields, they prefer to go into, say, business or law, despite the fact that in such fields people are on average less liberal, more socially conservative,  and less intellectually close to the ideals of women’s liberation than academics, intellectuals, and nerds? It’s quite common for young women to tell about how, as interns or employees, they’ve experienced sexual harassment in private companies specialised in business or law. It’s much less common to hear such testimonials from young women in science or engineering, as far as I know. And yet, more young women study business or law than they do science or technology. Could this be an indication that they study what they want to study and not the fields in which they are treated best?

When I look around, I see the culture we’ve built turning from a liberating revolution into a repressive incumbency. We’ve built magical devices, but we don’t care enough about protecting ordinary people from harm when they use them. We don’t care that a lot of the children out there with the potential to become amazing hackers are driven away at every stage in the larval process. We don’t care about the people who lose out when we disrupt the world, just the winners (who tend to look a lot like us).

The truth is, most people won’t be bothered to learn even a tiny bit of programming. They -and, to some extent, I’m putting myself in that lot- want to be passive users in a world in which they control everything superficially but really know nothing about. Of course, the power of programmers comes with responsibility, and nothing excuses abusing one’s power. But power is very much at the heart of most human endeavours. As far as “nerd culture” is a thing, it will feature its fair share of selfish people.

I’d always hoped we were more virtuous than the mainstream, but it turns out we just didn’t have enough power to cause much harm. Our ingrained sense of victimization has become a perverse justification for bullying. That’s why I’m calling time on nerd culture. It’s done wonderful things, but these days it’s like a crawling horror of a legacy codebase so riddled with problems the only rational decision is to deprecate it and build something better.

What would something better look like? The Maker movement gives me hope, because including all the kids we’re missing is built in from the start. Whatever the future becomes, the bottom line is we need to value being a decent human being a hell of a lot more than we do now. Our toleration of asshole behavior must end, and it’s such an integral part of nerd culture that nuking the entire thing from orbit is the only way to be sure.

I fail to see what “nuking nerd culture” would be. Surely, this can’t be an enjoinment to the rare people who know how to really use computers, people without whom society would be at a loss, to stop coding. Maybe, what Mr. Warden wants is the classic feminist request. It’s been made about everything. Science, atheism, video games, and now computer coding: “This field shouldn’t be about advancing our understanding of the world/abilities to change the world, it shouldn’t be about trying to reach its own goals, it should be about how women are oppressed”. Which means we’re back to “Stop coding. Now”.

On Emma Watson’s HeforShe Speech

It’s been months since my lifelong crush Emma Watson gave her speech at the United Nations Headquarters, and I’ve been struggling to really make sense of it since.

Fortunately, someone at BuzzFeed took the time to make a transcript of this speech. I’ll react in-text.

Today we are launching a campaign called “HeForShe.” I am reaching out to you because I need your help. We want to end gender inequality—and to do that we need everyone to be involved.

This is the first campaign of its kind at the UN: we want to try and galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality. And we don’t just want to talk about it, but make sure it is tangible.

I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.

Notice the classic jump from “gender equality” to feminism. It’s not even commented upon.

For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Here I very much struggle to decipher what’s going on. Look at the previous paragraph. What did she mean when saying “I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”? That’s what I wonder about. Did she mean that the purported “man-hating” associated with “fighting for women’s rights” has to stop? Or did she mean that people must stop saying that “fighting for women’s rights” is “man-hating”? When I first heard this speech, my hypothesis was that she had accomplished, with these two sentences, the tour de force of having “everyone” agree with her by having different people understand different things. Feminists would understand that accusations of “man-hating” are bogus while those who are increasingly wary about the excesses of 21st century feminism would understand that the “man-hating” has to stop. Upon rehearing the speech, I now think it’s very likely that she meant that the accusations are bogus. Which they are not. Not even a bit.

I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not.

That is like a feminist wet-dream straight out of the Ban Bossy campaign.

When at 14 I started being sexualized by certain elements of the press.

14, you say, Emma? Could it have anything to do with the fact than at 14, girls are fairly close to the end of their puberty? Also, what does the Yule Ball scene in the Goblet of Fire film, where the public is invited to see Hermione as a woman for the first time,  tell you? It tells me that teenagers, by definition, start becoming sexual. And yes, it happens a bit earlier for girls, who hit sexual maturity and their reproductive peak earlier.

When at15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams because they didn’t want to appear “muscly.”

Not anyone’s fault if you have stupid friends.

When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings.

That sentence could be construed to mean just about anything.

I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word.

Yes, yes it has.

Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive.

Why is the word such an uncomfortable one?

Maybe because it carries on its shoulder the wrong assumption that all inequalities between genders are to the disadvantage of women.

I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.

What does “being socially respected” mean? Because if anything, I cannot think of any demographic being more “socially respected” than young women.

No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.
These rights I consider to be human rights but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influencers were the gender equality ambassadors that made who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists who are. And we need more of those. And if you still hate the word—it is not the word that is important but the idea and the ambition behind it. Because not all women have been afforded the same rights that I have. In fact, statistically, very few have been.

It’s amazing that she can repeat the same diagnosis ad infinitum, without ever trying to come up with hypotheses as to why it is the case that women often enjoy less rights than men. She won’t be bothered to mention the elephant in the room, that is, religion. That is one of the things I dislike about 21st century feminism. It always assumes everyone is complicit and hence guilty.

In 1997, Hilary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly many of the things she wanted to change are still a reality today.
But what stood out for me the most was that only 30 per cent of her audience were male. How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?

Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Thanks, we already received the invitation.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less of a man—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

Not to be a killjoy or anything, but does that mean you brought up all these problems faced by men simply because overcoming gender stereotypes on men would change things for women?

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

Yep, apparently, you did.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.

If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.
I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.

You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN. It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better.

And having seen what I’ve seen—and given the chance—I feel it is my duty to say something. English statesman Edmund Burke said: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.”

In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt I’ve told myself firmly—if not me, who, if not now, when. If you have similar doubts when opportunities are presented to you I hope those words might be helpful.

Because the reality is that if we do nothing it will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly a hundred before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education.

If she won’t mention religion here, she never will. So close, yet so far.

If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists I spoke of earlier.

And for this I applaud you.

Nope. I “believe” inequality, and I’m a humanist, not a feminist.

We are struggling for a uniting word but the good news is we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I am inviting you to step forward, to be seen to speak up, To be the he for she. And to ask yourself if not me, who, if not now when.

Thank you.

In conclusion, Emma Watson’s general intentions and main diagnoses are beyond argument. But the main objections I have to mainstream contemporary feminism can be raised against this speech:

  • She only pays lip service to male-specific problems, and does so only to conclude that the answer is feminism.
  • She conflates perceived “gender stereotypes”, which really only affect people who choose to be affected by them, with actual gender-based discrimination by law (forced marriage, no secondary education for girls, etc.).
  • She can’t be bothered to mention that religions (really, all of them) are to blame for an overwhelming majority of the discrimination faced by females. Rather, she’ll “spread the guilt around”.

For these reasons, I’ll keep trying to do what I can to improve equality. That’s why I call myself a humanist and not a feminist.