It’s the day before the UK elections and you seriously cannot get away from it anymore. Everyone and everywhere is now a hotbed of political discussion, households everywhere have solved the refugee crisis and produced cutting edge political arguments over and over, but it all culminates in tomorrow’s vote.
Today I wanted to work through some thoughts I had about bias and context. Recently, I went from a modern day blog about (mocking) hardcore misogynists, WeHuntedTheMammoth, to watching a BBC4 documentary about women in Restoration England, (cos as we are aware, I am the biggest snob/nerd), followed by an advert for Handmaids Tale, and by accident, I realised we seriously need to talk about confirmation bias.
It’s kind of the unspoken monster in the corner of internet or even real debate. Everyone is kinda aware that it’s there, but no one wants to look right at it or admit it, everyone would rather get on their sounding boards and say their piece. I feel that it’s the biggest single obstacle to cooperation that there is.
On the Internet
If someone thinks that women are evil and that society should contain them, then the truth is in the eye of the beholder. All the evidence of misogyny because evidence for misogyny; women have been hated for thousands of years becomes proof of inferiority, not unfounded discrimination. It’s mirror opposite to the intention of this material, another example that comes to mind is the inanity of video responses to Anita Sarkeesians now infamous video games feminism videos:
This trend extents to other areas too, like research about racism. One of my favourite tumblr discourse adventures was when I was “debating” someone about anti-black racism, and they pulled up a source to say that black people and specifically black babies were less scientifically fit, something to do with birth rates and survival.
I inconveniently cannot find the file anymore, if you wanted to trawl through the wreckage of my tumblr discourse page you might find it, eventually, but today is not that day. (Note: I really did enjoy that page at the time, but for the reasons listed in this article I rarely bother taking part in it anymore.) but he linked me to an scientific journal that explained that systemic anti-black racism was probably behind these differences, which he was using to say were in fact inherent proof of inferiority. The goggles were firmly fixed on, all related evidence was now either conspiracy or consolidation.
Ugly bigotry is not the only place we see this, though it’s common and it’s easy because there are strong feelings either side. Other places where this confirmation bias comes in are common, for example parenthood; All childhoods are viewed through the lens of parenting styles, in gender, in ability, in moral character. Similarly in institutions, like prisons or care homes, prisoners or patients are sometimes seen through a moral lens as “difficult”. In the state, especially when it comes to social security, lower classes are viewed through a lens according to what political end of the spectrum you are.
Confirmation bias sees antagonism where there isn’t, and can conjure it up through force of will; think someone is “bad”, but no one else sees it? Treat them (subtly) like shit until boom, like magic, they misbehave or underperform, bam, your point is proven. You see this circle over and over again; the gender pay gap is a flawless example of this. Evidence that “women aren’t hired at the same level as men” could be interpreted to mean women are terrible lazy employees, which would make not hiring them a very sensible option, which would then help to cause a gender pay gap, starting the cycle again.
When you look for antagonism, you can help to cause it. In this way, you enter yourself and the opposing side into a battle that neither of you might want, but both feel you have no choice in. This is never going to be a helpful or productive environment, it is beyond evidence, and is personal biases made real and reinforced through the antagonism they both create and sustain. You shape the evidence according to your beliefs, then shape your reality according to those beliefs.
The truth is that seeing any ground as a battleground will end in the fighting you already have decided is necessary. The only way to get around this, is to to address it in ourselves, which is actually easier done than “said”, and takes a long time. It’s hard to say because even when we doubt ourselves, we know that others will doubt us more; so we aren’t eager to rush in with a nuanced view that will get melted down even more in the discourse that follows. If we want genuine nuaunced discussions, more peaceful interactions about practical solutions and goals on the same page, we first have to believe that this is a possibility. We have to believe things are neutral, so that they are, so that we can see them this way. We have to believe peaceful outcomes are possible, so that they are.
In the example of the state and other institutional forms of this self-reinforcing confirmation bias, it’s about defining things in a neutral light, not an emotive one. Interpreting situations as neutral allows us to break free of our confirmation bias just a little. If we consider that a woman’s sexy blouse isn’t proof that women are evil harpies manipulating the world through breasts, then what is it? Just a blouse? Then we feel there is no action needed, and the situation de-escalates. Instead of a fight about her blouse, the woman goes about her work day, and someone is mildy sexually frustrated, and the situation ends there. The autistic kid is bad at eye contact? If we see that as okay, we don’t fight them to make eye contact, and the situation de-escalates. The kid goes about their life without fighting themselves to make eye-contact they don’t need. Mentally ill but without medication? If we see it as okay, we let that patient be less sedated without seeing this as a loss, then that patient goes about their mental illness without fighting staff about medication.
There obviously are situations where it is not actually okay. We can’t simply tell each other what these are, because everyone will see things differently. We can try and work out what they are, looking past each other’s blind spots and possible biases in a gentle co-operative way, and that’s what is trickier to do, but still much easier and more productive than becoming slaves to our own confirmation biases. We all make choices in our beliefs, and this then shapes how we view the world and evidence about it, the best way to then work together is to be honest about this, and admit that we really aren’t all seeing the same thing, to try and come to a peaceful cooperation instead of getting bogged down in our own little worlds.
(Wow, so that was a little longer than expected and I’ve been sat here at least an hour and a half…next time, I’m putting a limit on, and hopefully that will make my writing a little bit more focused!)
Day off blog post 4
Since the world as I knew it turned totally fascist two Tuesdays ago, I’ve been looking at activism with fresh eyes. No longer for me is it a conscieable option to simply sign the occassional petition and hope for enough money to go to a protest, or choose a career in meaningful inter-personal work and generally be a good example of loving diversity in society, I feel a need to do more.
In that vein, I have been looking at crises (awful word) with a vewito see what I can actually do to them. My tumblr dashboard has been flooded with information about the considerable impact that just ringing an office can have compared to an email, but for most American situations, I’m not going to get away with pretending to be a concerned citizen, and I’d rather leave that energy to the people who do live there.
At last, after a few days of idly scrolling various sites with few urgent UK actions leaping out to me, one landed. You can probably tell by the title which campaign that was.
Specifically, it was this article in the Guardian that popped up and made me take notice; titled “Restricting niche porn sites is a disaster for people with marginalised sexualities”. Hardly the most high-brow cause to catch my attention, but the connotations of this bill are worrying, even when they make for tacky-sounding, eye-catching headlines. I had known about part of this since 2014, when there were campaigns about banning face-sitting in paid-for porn content. I don’t actually watch porn, but even at the time that sounded unfair, and difficult to enforce. I don’t recall actually doing anything though.
Not this time however, I was going to follow through with my feeling of unease at dubous moral-sounding censorship and find out exactly what was going on. Cue this monstrosity when I look for the actual bill:
Horrifying, but I continued:
Argh, it somehow got worse!
As you can see, the actual bill, in all its (dry, dull, jargon-filled) entirety is available for any old blogger to see. That’s pretty cool, for someone who is curious above and beyond their level of comprehension, and worth bearing in mind for future parliamentary processes.
Armed with this excessive tool for research, I tried to dive deeper into the questions of censorship this article raised, and what possible reasoning there could be for it getting so far in parliament.
It turns out, it’s framed as for children, that’s what the costly age-verification requirement is about, and this bit could drive independent sites out of business according to the owner of Dreams of Spanking and author of the guardian article, Pandora Blake. It wasn’t clear to me if that cost would fall to producers, and it wasn’t made clearer by the helpful-sounding “Age-Verification Provider: Designation and Funding” section, because with all the referrals back, there’s barely anything in each actual section. The line (terminology leaves me behind, apologies) labelled 6 states that: “The Secretary of State may pay grants or make loans to the age-verification
regulator to cover expenditure incurred in the carrying out of its functions.“, which to me reads as it being state-funded, at least in some part, and at least state-provided.
But I’m no expert, and I began to question if it would not be a better solution to check age as part of a ISP function, like with parental controls…struck by the fundamentally bizarre logic that the government is assigning itself as everyone’s parents, and forcing everyone to have parental controls on their provider, without a choice or other option, and that does seem very wrong.
Other individuals seem to have had this thought too, if you’re going to meddle in censorship, do you even have a workable plan, UK government? Business Insider thinks not “The UK is banning ‘non-conventional’ porn and it could censor huge swathes of the web“,and raises a lot of good points about mixed social media sites, with a wide range of age ranges and content available. Someone, somewhere in the policy rooms, has either already thought up a detailed answer to this or is thinking it up right now, but it doesn’t mean much if we in the general public have to wait until this bill is realised in order to see how it will work. This was the first part that I decided I needed to ring someone about…and then wrote my blog post before doing that, but stay tuned for when I do, coming sometime next week!
In my travels, I found further interesting points about this bill for example WebDevLaw in “Idiocy By The Back Door” considers its huge scope, and how its structure allows a lot of significant issues to be ignored; which is worth mentioning before I continue to contribute to ignoring significant issues and focusing on the porn.
My solitary excuse for this is that personally I agree with the view presented by many, including Sex and Censorship that porn is the canary in the mineshaft of personal freedoms. There’s a distinct feeling of pearl clutching in the specific acts affected by this law, coming directly from the 2014 law in which paid-for online pornographic content became rated by the BBFC same as DVD’s . Sex and Censorship did a good job in pointing out what a lot of mainstream reporters failed to pay attention to at the time, that it wasn’t to do with even subconscious sexism, even if it sounds like it, and has that effect. For example, face-sitting. Hysteria ensued when it was described as unnrateable by the BBFC, and therefore could not be available in paid-for online content in the UK, but looking into the logic more thoroughly than you would normally ever want to in Myles Jackman’s incredibly thorough guide, you can see that dick-sucking to the point of risking breathing is also unrateable, and that facesitting is allowed as long as airways are clear. Again, at this point it is acceptable to sit back again and wonder why on earth the government cares this deeply about what’s going on in our respective knickers, and doesn’t this all feel a bit invasive?
The excuses, which I am finally getting to, lie in obscure old laws that do provide a decent service on the face of it; The Obscene Publications Act of 1959 and the amendment of 1964, protecting the general public from bestiality and necrophilia, for example. The confusing part is the subjective judgement required in judging whether material is likely to “deprave and corrupt” those likely to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it. The BBFC heavily leans on this act in order to create its ratings, which means items viewed as violating the OPA are refused ratings, and somehow, this has got twisted to the point that anything that could be significantly dangerous in pornographic material will be refused a rating, when a simple “do not try this at home or without professional training” disclaimer would surely be sufficient? This is phone call number two, that I *still* haven’t made yet, and you should still stay tuned for, not to say that the answer doesn’t exist, it’s just impossible to find for the average blogger (i.e me).
The Adult Provider Network is a trade association which provided a rebuttal to this section of the bill, a part that promised to essentially ban any unrateable content. They raise the incredibly valid point material designated as pornographic is held to a completely different standard than regular entertainment material, despite being a subjective and delicate difference between mediums;
“Depictions of a person gagged with all four limbs bound are prohibited content, and yet depictions of this act in a sexual context are permitted in 18 classified mainstream media entertainment such as Hollywood films.”, and several other pertinent suggestions for improvement and potential pitfalls that are interesting to read. They pretty much mirror the original Guardian article sentiment, but in formal bill-memo terms.
The Digital Economy Bill is a monster of a bill in every respect, and so it is complicated in many facets. It doesn’t only concern porn, but copyright law, and internet provision too, and this is how politics takes over, by being so huge and intimidating that we cannot understand it, let alone provide reasonable rationales against it. But slowly, I will be trying to uncover more information for my own purposes in the next few days, and maybe it will make sense, or it will be even more outrageous. Either way, fighting starts with knownledge, and damn, I have a lot more respect for lawyers and bill-writers and policy-makers etc. than I have ever had before now!
Until the next time, good luck and happy interneting!
Quick Thoughts on the EU Leave Campaign
- their advocates (Katy Hopkins, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson to name a few) are some highly “controversial” i.e bigoted and small minded individuals that only a minority adore
- everything’s about immigration; as if the basic person understands anything about whether it’s good or bad for the economy when even the academic community of economists are DEEPLY and PASSIONATELY divided on the subject.
- when it’s not directly and explicitly about people’s projected insecurities about the mean Other People taking all of Our things, it’s about RED TAPE.
- as if anyone knows what that means
- someone shouts something about banana’s
- no but seriously if the average person doesn’t know the net benefits of immigration (because no one actually knows the real total) then the average person also definitely doesn’t know or understand the purpose and relevance of regulations and standards. snigger about banana rules and the EU rooting through our shopping baskets all you like, but actually, someone’s gotta write rules, or you’d be first in line with your round-looking banana claiming that it’s inadequate.
- for a nation that’s so scared of change like having a *splabour government
(just kidding I am going to do a longer post on this later)
So on Saturday, Facebook and Twitter feeds everywhere exploded with the #JezWeCan hashtag amidst the news that rebel back-bencher and longtime labour MP Jeremy Corbyn had won the Labour leadership election, a process constantly smeared with doubt in the media, with Buzzfeed doing an extensive series of articles about how suspiciously easy it appeared to register a fake member in this election to vote (they used Ned the cat as an example) and other reporters eagerly picking up on the trend.
Regardless, it’s a massive victory. 59% of the vote, a genuine mathematical majority for the first time in years. In fact, it’s a far higher majority than it took to elect the Conservative government into power during the national elections, which pours cold water on people claiming that his leadership is somehow illegitimate but in the same breath defending Cameron’s cronies because “democracy!!”
The shake up of politics feels tangible. The press everywhere are falling over themselves to either praise or condemn him, proclamations of “THE FAR LEFT” held up both in reverence and in fear simultaneously by each side, in quite hilarious manner. Whatever your opinion of socialism, your reaction to a “negative” or a “positive” paper here is going to be determined by this opinion, not by the headlines either way. There is a real and tangible split, and for many, this is genuinely exciting, as there has been no real split in British Politics since the 1980’s and the infamous time of Margaret Thatcher.
Many papers are clinging onto this fact, and using this to argue that a split can only inevitably mean another far right wing Tory victory, but to this I argue: What’s new? The Tories already hold an outright majority of seats in the House of Commons, with all of their opposition together being smaller than them (and therefore ultimately powerless in a first-past-the-post voting system where the vast majority of the party MP’s vote with their leader). The Tories already want to change the human rights act and put the Hunting Act back on the table, how much worse can it really get? They already want to cut and privatise the NHS, and they can’t privatise the Rail service and close down the coal mines AGAIN, because they already did it last time! (As an interesting note, Corbyn has said he will consider OPENING the deep coal mines in the North, which is fantastically interesting and deserves it’s own post about the Northern Economy). In all honesty, how much worse could it be?
As another point, it is in fact, a different time. There’s social media and connectedness like never before, and not only that, there’s also the very real benefit of hindsight. We have seen Thatcher, we have seen what happened then. History might rhyme, but it certainly doesn’t have to repeat itself! No one, based on history, was predicting that Corbyn would win this leadership election, the rebel back-bencher. No one, based on history, was predicting that Labour would lose almost all of its Scottish seats to the SNP. No one, based on history, can exactly tell the future for our people right now.
People are ready for a change, that’s what the SNP win and Labour losses tell us, what the record wins of both UKIP and the Green Party are telling us. People are polarising again, and we need a political landscape that reflects this; that reinvigorates the voting public again and spurs us on, beyond the “middle of the road” politics that Blair bought in in the Nineties, into truly polarised politics with real changes. Imagine a political landscape with clear borders to get behind, where everyone has a party that they can be passionate about…imagine what we could do then. The number of people who are socially aware of classism, oppression, the myth of trickle down economics is growing, and we can only hope that when our new polarised governments arise, it will be coming down on the side of the Left, fuelled by the hysterical attempts at muck-slinging by the right wing media bloc (which have undoubtably played an accidental role in the hype for this party leadership election).
At least with this new balance of right wing and left wing, we can finally begin to excercise some real choice in our national elections… in 5 years time.