Is Gamergate a classic case of left-wing infighting?

I published a ‘think piece’ on gamergate over at the research side of the website yesterday. I argued that the pro-gamergate side was likely to lose because the left usually wins (for good or bad) on cultural issues:

Gamergate is one of the most interesting cultural issues that has appeared in years. It is a rare time that the losing side of the culture war has put up a good fight. But the anti-gamergate side will win, because Progress always wins. I’ll try and give a concise guide to gamergate, what’s at stake, where it came from, and why exactly it is that it will lose.

I read another good post on it from Cathy Young over at realclearpolitics—she made a different point to mine, trying to stress how it was not reasonable to characterise much of the movement as anti-women or misogynist, but simply taking an alternative (and she believes, valid) approach to improving the lot of women in gaming:

There are valid concerns, shared by at least some GamerGate supporters, about sex-based harassment in gaming groups and stereotypical portrayal of female characters in videogames. Unfortunately, critics of sexism in videogame culture tend to embrace a toxic brand of feminism that promotes antagonism, grievance, and intolerance of dissent, not equality or empowerment.

When I posted my piece on twitter I asked for constructive criticism, and one good point that was made is that, at least according to their own views of themselves and their results on political compass tests, gamergaters tend to lean left.

This makes me think that gamergate might be best characterised as a case of leftist infighting, but this time between Murray & Herrnstein’s ‘cognitive elites’ that make up social justice anti-gamergate journalism and the broader constituency of more ‘normal’ pro-gamergate leftists holding more traditional leftist views. An open front in the war between New and old versions of what justice consists in.

This fits with my anecdotal experience that it is those (like Richard Dawkins) who are or have been associated with the left that experience most of their ire when they state or are suspected of having unacceptable views. As ever it’s interesting to look at the parallel with religion, which abhors apostates much more zealously than infidels.

And it also fits with the modern left’s de facto focus on race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability as opposed to their previously overwhelming concern with economic exploitation or justice. As I said in the think piece:

Bear in mind that although social justice advocates do care about wealth disparities, this is far from their main concern, at least in terms of how they allocate their time. For example, insufficiently pro-transgender feminists will arouse large campaigns stopping them from giving lectures at many universities, while libertarian capitalists can speak freely. This is why I have argued that social justice is (a) a facet of neoliberalism, and (b) an artefact of the cognitive elite’s takeover of society. This is what makes the modern social justice movement so different.

This ends up working quite well for the ASI: we are quite comfortable with social progress as long as it allows for liberal economic policy, and only tend to object when social progress conflicts with more important goals such as free speech.

Copyright reform is not a joke

Yesterday was a good day for mischief-makers, for it saw an amendment in the law to permit the use of copyrighted material ‘for the purposes of parody, caricature or pastiche’ without having to first seek permission from the rights holder.

Indeed as if to celebrate, the infamous Cassetteboy released a (NSFW!) glorious mash-up as a homage to our dear PM in the form of Cameron’s Conference Rap.

Given so much of the great British humour, it’s bizarre to think that permissionless piss-taking has up to now been verboten. Tools like parody and caricature are part of our cultural heritage, used to make important political statements and hold the powerful to account just as much as they are employed for light relief. Nevertheless sketchwriters for the BBC and student drama societies alike have had think carefully about their work or else risk court action, whilst takedown and infringement notices litter the remix, remake channels of YouTube.

This exemption allows copyright law to better reflect people’s actual habits and cultural opinions. It also lends intellectual property regimes a greater overall legitimacy, which could prove valuable when encouraging behavioural changes and in tackling issues like piracy.

It will enhance our cultural commons, thanks to the new (and newly-legitimized) avenues of expression and unleashed creativity. Lifting the restriction on social and commercial innovation will also yield economic benefits, with the government’s Hargreaves Review suggesting that it could boost the economy by between £130-650m per annum.

Works will still be subject to the ‘fair dealing’ criteria, which only allows for a limited amount amount of a copyrighted material to be used. No doubt this will prove problematic at times- for example, do Downfall parodies involve only a limited amount of the original film? Copyright holders will still also be able to legally challenge a work for infringement, then requiring the artist to prove in court that their work is in fact actually side-splittingly hilarious or a devastating work of satire.

Depressingly, as insignificant as the exemption seems, it is one of the very few pieces of sensible copyright policy to emerge in recent years (and it still took the ORG 9 years of campaigning to achieve it). Modern copyright law is beyond a parody. It is overlong, over-broad, a drain on resources and a chill on innovation. It is no longer a vehicle to foster creativity, but a monster caused by rent-seeking and lobbying by vested interests. And the excessive, damaging ideas – from extending copyright further, to imposing harsher criminal sanctions on infringers and threatening search engines with anti-piracy legislation - continue.

There are a number ways in which we could radically reform copyright law whilst maintaining the commercial incentives to create (many of which are for another blog!)  However, given the number of international agreements on intellectual property the UK is signed up to, the gradual expansion of ‘fair dealing’ exceptions (say, to cover all non-commercial uses of copyrighted work) could be the most politically viable way of reducing the deadweight loss caused by current copyright laws.

Even this seems like a long-shot though, particularly given how long it has taken to get such a reasonable exemption applied. Copyright laws might be a farce, but they certainly aren’t very funny.

The People’s Republic of South Norwood

South Norwood, the unassuming splodge in the London Borough of Croydon is no more. Long live the People’s Republic of South Norwood! You may not have noticed, thanks to a concerted media blackout by The UK Establishment (though the WSJ did get wind), but last Friday was the day of the Great South Norwood Referendum and the dawn of a new Republic.

Inspired by the Scottish Independence movement and frustrated by the disdain with which local government treats the area, local heroes The South Norwood Tourist Board  held a (definitely absolutely legitimate and totally binding) referendum for the community: Should South Norwood remain with Croydon Council, unite with an Independent Scotland, or declare their independence? The public spoke, and voted to boot out their uncaring and overbearing masters to go it alone with a whopping 53% of the vote.

It’s hardly surprising that the downtrodden population of South Norwood had enough of Croydon Council, who have simultaneously ignored pleas to clean up and invigorate the area, whilst clamping down on displays of frivolity and fun. Notoriously, head of the Council’s Health and Safety outlawed plans for the community-led ‘Lake Naming Ceremony’, inspiring a crowd of revellers (and a gang of Morris Dancers) to hold an illegal event in subversive defiance. It will be written in history that the naming of Lake Conan Doyle sewed the seeds of secession.

Now that South Norwood has established its independence it faces a number of tough questions. What does this mean for its governance and security, its relationship with the UK, and its currency? Addressing these will be challenging, but there’s every indication that an independent South Norwood could thrive.

At first glance South Norwood is remarkably unremarkable. Long overlooked by pretty much everybody, it is yet to benefit from the gentrification of neighbouring Crystal Palace or the massive regeneration of Croydon town centre. Yet, with its blossoming community spirit (galvanized by the tireless tourist board), more lakes than the lake district, and a country park grown on top of an old sewer farm, its potential is undeniably huge.

Clearly, it is for the people of South Norwood to decide what shape their Republic takes. But as an ex-resident and dear friend of the area, I’ve outlined a few of the topics they need to address, and give a few suggestions on how to achieve a radical, yet roaringly successful Republic: (more…)

Sir Paul Nurse has finally decided to fire Paul Ehrlich from the Royal Society

We have to say that we’re not quite sure whether “fire” is quite the right verb for getting rid of a Fellow of the Royal Society. But given the manner in which Paul Ehrlich has been wrong in every single prediction he’s ever made about human beings, population levels, wealth, the economy or the environment it is about time that Britain’s leading scientific organisation dispensed with his services.

So we can only say Hurrah! to this statement from Sir Paul Nurse, the leader of that most prestigious of Britain’s scientific organisations:

Britain’s most senior scientist has launched a fierce attack on influential figures who distort scientific evidence to support their own political, religious or ideological agendas.

The president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, said scientists must challenge serial offenders from all spheres of life who continually misused science to support their preconceived beliefs.

Speaking ahead of an inaugural speech he will give next week as the incoming president of the British Science Association (BSA), Nurse said it was not enough for scientists to sit on the sidelines and sneer when public figures expounded unscientific nonsense.

Quite right too and we might even add to that Hurrah! with a “Well done Sir Paul” and even an “about time too”.

We could mutter something about why on earth was he there in the first place, possibly even grumble about it taking so long to do the right thing, but as the Good Book tells us more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth etc. So we should simply rejoice.

Maybe Karl and Friedrich were right about this Produktionsverhältnisse?

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels introduced us to the idea of Produktionsverhältnisse, the thought that social relations are determined (or, in a weaker form, influenced by) the methods of production. They did mean it to cover all parts of life too, the way we work, the way we marry, the way we trade and so on. All of which leads to an interest in this:

Women who have several sexual partners before getting married have less happy marriages – but men do no harm by playing the field,a study has found.

According to new research by the National Marriage Project, more than half of married women who had only ever slept with their future husband felt highly satisfied in their marriage.

But that percentage dropped to 42 per cent once the woman had had pre-marital sex with at least two partners. It dropped to 22 per cent for those with ten or more partners.

But, for men, the number of partners a man they appeared to have no bearing on how satisfied they felt within a marriage.

Researchers said the study showed that sex with many different partners ‘may be risky’ if the woman is in search of a high-quality marriage.

It concluded: ‘Remember that what you do before you say ‘I do’ seems to have a notable impact on your marital future. So decide wisely.’

The findings were published in ‘Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?’, published at the University of Virginia.

Well, yes, there’s more than a modicum of special pleading going on in that. One explanation for it all is that the more experience of men a woman has the more she realises that most aren’t very good at this sex thing, leading to possible unhappiness with the Chosen One.

Being less cynical (and possibly less amusing) about it though it is true that one of the great societal changes of the last couple of generations has been the change in attitude towards virginity, pre-marital sex and so on. And that’s where Mark and Engels might well have been right: for the technology surrounding reproduction has changed in that time period too.

Time was when the only reliable method of knowing that a man was bringing up his own children was if his wife had been a virgin at marriage and chaste since then (no, not celibate, obviously). These days that’s simply not true: and the reference is not to DNA testing. Effective and reliable contraception has meant that, by and large, pregnancies are the result of an active decision. Thus that value of virginity and or chastity has fallen.

This is all allied with Gary Becker’s work on why the wages of prostitution are so high: it’s not, at root, a highly skilled job after all. But it does involve a high expenditure of social capital: thus the wages to compensate for that.

In a world where highly desirable men would insist upon having virgin wives then virginity had a high value. In a world where this is not so, for virginity is no longer the only valid assurance of not being pregnant by another, the value of that virginity has fallen.

And we can most certainly see this as being true in the society around us. Outside certain highly religious groups there simply is no value placed upon the virginity of a woman of marriageable age (something that has risen by about a decade as well).

So we might well say that the change in the technology of reproduction has led to those changes in social relations. Which would be interesting, to find something that the Bearded Ones were actually correct about.

This is not certain though, not certain that we’ve identified the correct technology. For the rise in pre-marital sex didn’t actually start with the pill, in the sixties. Rather, in the fifties, with the ability of penicillin to cure the clap. Which might make slightly more sense: human beings, young human beings especially, are known to be subject to hyperbolic discounting. Knowing that a horrible disease can be cured near immediately might well have more effect on behaviour than a longer term concern of the quality of a future marriage partner.