I want to introduce you to a concept: Stealth Authoritarianism.
I truly believe the vast majority of us are good people. Yes. Despite, well, everything. I like to think I am, contrary to what those who choose to misunderstand me might say. I love people madly. Too much. Unconditionally. The real kind of love that tells you when your fly is down and you have B.O.. Because I care about people and their welfare. I even believe that ‘bad’ people are misled or traumatised good people. I empathise with everyone and forgive easily. Yes, it kinda sucks having all these bleeding feelings all the time, but hey, it’s just who I am.
I am sure that, like me, you don’t always live up to ideas of your best self. Because of the way the world around us is constructed, most of us are on a hamster wheel, you just want to get your never ending list of urgent-but-pointless shit done, go for a walk, have a laugh, hang out with friends, eat some food, watch some TV, have a drink or three or ten and be allowed to live your life.
You don’t want to hurt anyone, upset anyone, or cause deliberate harm, so if that means going along with something that’ll make things go more smoothly, you’ll do that.
You just want to be left alone and be free and want that for everyone else, right?
The thing that you probably don’t understand – and take for granted – are the foundations, mechanisms, processes and systems that create blind spots – both in our individual psychological makeup, how we behave in groups, how we interact with other groups and the intricate and overwhelming institutions that are cobbled together out of those individuals and groups to form some sort of functioning society.
I study those blind spots at all levels, and particularly how they’re exploited online by bad actors: how facts are misrepresented, how we get tricked, how individually good people do bad things in online mobs, how good social causes are exploited for profit, and …how all of these things work together to manufacture consent for sinister political motives/outcomes. I am particularly fascinated when it all fails, at all levels, and ends in catastrophe that should have been avoided.
The Gender™️ movement (distinct from trans rights), is one example of this phenomenon. Corporations (US Universities are also billion-dollar corporations, even when you exclude the ‘industry partnerships’) obviously saw an opportunity to expand a growing market.
Unless you live in a land of unicorns and rainbows and have never needed a specialist or a surgeon (or bought a used car), you’ll see an obvious potential exploit in any for-profit healthcare system, let alone in the insane corporate exploitation factory that is the United States.
To make that perfectly reasonable observation online, in 2020, however, is now branded as ‘hate’. Tougher questions about how the way this has been aggressively marketed and astroturfed like Monsanto and Big Tobacco before it, or to point out how this came out of the US (land of the free, home of the plastic surgeons and kleptocrats) and might have less-than-pure political motives, is beyond the pale.
It’s so impolite and rude you find yourself aligned with Westboro Baptists, or worse, J.K. Rowling. And to point out the clear exploitation by Fox and the GOP in their seemingly never-ending culture war, also gets you accused of being a Communist, a Groomer, someone trying to bring down all of Western Civilization™️ (which part, specifically? Marx? The French Revolution? The statues you’re obsessed with? Be clear, my guy, my head hurts.)
Or, worse, Jameela Jamil. Gosh and here I thought I just knew stuff and see a problem and am talking about that problem. Guys, seriously. Take it easy.
If you understand how things work, both on the internet, in social psychology and politics (especially the problem of dark money and televangelism-meets-politics in the US) can see a problem: gaping loopholes that are not only exploiting vulnerable people for power and profit, but selling a future to kids that isn’t realistic, might leave them with a lifetime of pain and regret, and possibly even kill them.
This warrants scrutiny. Sit down, authoritarians whose impulse is to shout “trust the experts and shut up”. That’s not how it works. You shut up for a second, would you? I’m trying to care and trying to do my job and you’re making it really bloody difficult.
Systems fail. A lot. People are fallible. As much as we don’t like to believe it, we are all vulnerable to powerful biases that allow us to bullshit ourselves better than anyone else. When in groups, we also behave in ways that we wouldn’t as individuals. And, because we live in a shitty structure that encourages and rewards all of the worst behaviours at the expense of our best ones, our system fails more often because we are all trying to get by in a system that ultimately depends on, and exploits, that fallibility.
When you’re in the business of truth-seeking, it can be lonely. Especially when you are dealing with issues that strike deep to who we are. For example, there is a concept called identity fusion. That visceral reaction you have when you hear someone challenge a deeply held belief? That’s normal, but it’s also where the exploit is. This is why there is a strong correlation between identity fusion and radicalisation. You see how they are two sides of the same coin? All biases operate in this way: they are both protective and they are vulnerabilities. Ah, humans. Look at us.
These divisive issues are difficult and painful to talk about. Admitting weakness is terrifying and vulnerable. I have to push through that stuff every day, and I frequently fail. The problems are emerging, challenging, and I am frequently misunderstood. But, I’ll tell you, when you are focused on sorting out a mess that nobody else sees and focused on truth, it may be the right thing to do, but it really doesn’t make you friends.
But, you need to understand that bad actors use our biases in order to nudge us towards a certain direction. When you are given an order (even if it is to ‘be polite’ or ‘be kind’) without further explanation – or the inverse, are told that legitimate questions or clarification-seeking based on empirical data is ‘hate’ – never take that on face value.
First, we live in a democracy, which means that anyone who is passing law, or proposing policy, or making a judgement in an official capacity, has an obligation to be clear, define their term and explain their reasoning – even to people they don’t like. This is what helps a democracy function well and gives us a protective layer against bad actors and those who exploit gaps: checks and balances. Especially when there’s money to be made, you need scrutiny and due diligence.
This is how our society functions. You propose a law in parliament, it gets a reading. It gets a second reading. It might go to committee. It might then have a third reading. It may pass, it may not. It may then get reintroduced. If it passes, it goes to the Upper House for further scrutiny.
At all stages, the public can ask questions and make sure the law isn’t going to hurt people. When that law is interpreted in the courts, a judge has to give their reasoning for laying down a sentence or judgement. This is how democracy works. At every turn, you have interest groups that try to corrupt that process, but that is what these checks, balances and levels of government are for.
But that process is also boring. And complex. And sometimes futile. The ‘system’ – for all its flaws – is designed to be the anti-slogan, the anti-bias, the checks and balances on power. Most people do not participate in that process, nor understand how it works. If the democratic process is working as designed, it works to stops us all being caught up in a slogan that manipulates all our blind spots, terminates thought, and suppresses dissent.
In theory. See stealth authoritarianism above. You might know it as institutional capture. I just see it as boring old capitalism and how it operates, but, tomato potato.
Anyone who demands we bypass the often-challenging democratic process is not playing fair. Anyone who avoids scrutiny, will not define terms, won’t answer questions, or goes on the attack – they are either deceiving you, or, in most cases grossly uninformed about how democracy is supposed to work and have an inflated sense of their own authority. Let’s say, authoritarian.
Policy affects the lives of people. As long and boring as it may be, and as urgent as the issue may feel, this process has to have checks and balances in it to avoid catastrophic mistakes and unintended consequences.
It is well established that the vast majority of people – whilst having a lot of feelings and opinions on things and me having to live in a Dunning-Kruger nightmare, are generally unfamiliar with how government works.
- People don’t know the difference between branches of government and their responsibilities.
- People don’t understand underpinning concepts such as separation of church and state, or separation of powers.
- People don’t understand the role of the courts, or the role of the houses of parliament.
- People don’t understand how these interact, why they are set up the way they are, or all of the nitty gritty procedural stuff that goes into living together on this planet.
- And don’t get me started on all of the theory and how it works/interacts with other disciplines of similar complexity, say like tech and psychology…
Most importantly, people have absolutely no clue how fragile all of this is, if we don’t all follow certain rules and discourage certain behaviours. Whilst far from perfect, and definitely needing to be more inclusive and accessible, we work together better when everyone adheres to the social contract. We have learned over time, and often the hard way, that democracy is the only system that works.
Well, so long as totalitarians, whack jobs, corporations and extremists don’t try to subvert it to corrupt it, that is. In this case… we’ve got all four joining forces on a daily basis to create online cults that have swept the world faster than Beatlemania and American Hegemony. The Internet has poured jet fuel on bad actors and selfish people exploiting all the gaps in all the places, and we are only starting to see the consequences of naively designing frictionless experiences that enable it.
Listen to the experts, but also… don’t. But do. But don’t.
If there is one thing you need to know among all of the boring things, it is that our systems exist for a reason. Yes, they’ve sucked for people. We can work on that. But know that we’ve settled on varying flavours of “democracy” for a reason.
We have experts, but they work within a democratic pluralist structure, ideally so that no one person or group or idea gets too much power without a bunch of eyes on it. This is by design. It ends badly and people tend to die if we don’t follow that process, or, even worse, it gets co-opted by bad actors. Pretty much 100% of the time.
Back to stealth authoritarianism.
Think of all the little pieces of information and learning that goes into a parent telling a toddler to stop trying to climb on the roof.
In that moment, you don’t need to tell them all of that information – that there are any number of potential consequences, including death, based on previous experience, that tells you that allowing a toddler to climb up on the roof is a bad idea. It is assumed that you are the more knowledgeable person in that interaction, and so you have the final word. You don’t invoke Isaac Newton or pull out a Powerpoint with child injury stats on it. That’s not authoritarian, that’s just having authority.
Or, think about an all-too-familiar scene: your 14 year old daughter is flailing and screaming at you for not letting her “hang out with her friends”. You, as parent, said no, because she left out some details: that party is in Bali and a bunch of seedy older men are paying for it. She was getting permission by leaving out details and exploiting your trust. She’ll scream at you, call you names, but, because you have more knowledge and experience and have their best interests at heart, it was considered good parenting to say “no” when you found out.
But, she’s still claiming that you are being ‘abusive’ because you won’t let her go to Bali with some dirty old men.
In both those cases, you had the foresight to pull rank and say “sit down”, in front of someone who was very unhappy with you, but any court or reasonable person would back you.
It’s the stuff that is left out that matters. The devil is in the details when you are talking about people’s wellbeing.
So, right now, I am also a parent saying “hey, everyone, we have a problem here”.
What lies beneath
So, what you may see is me mocking people’s “Preferred Pronouns” like an arsehole, or making generalisations about Americans, or generalising about fandoms, or cults. First, I need economy of language and I am trying to persuade. I can’t qualify everything or we’d be here for years. This stuff is complex. But I am always happy to elaborate. My reasoning is clear, and I am being honest with you as best I can.
But as an authority on certain matters, earned through a combination of years of education, practical experience and building trust, I too make comments with an expectation that you see the work under the surface of everything I say, and trust me as an authority.
How do I earn that trust? I state my case and I answer questions. I orient myself towards better thinking, critical thinking, overcoming biases and hopefully getting closer to truth as best I can. I make mistakes, of course. Like everyone else, I have my biases and get tired, or miss things, and need to survive too – often whilst ingesting a firehose of pain, trauma and diarrhoea.
On the flip side of that is I have a few certificates that say I know things, have tenure in my industry and a record of being correct most of the time. I can back my claims, explain my reasoning (if you pay for my time), and I would think it generally has more weight to it than someone who doesn’t have those things. That record is also a shortcut, much like a parent telling a kid to get off the roof, to not have to explain the laws of gravity and write 75,000 words to randos on the internet who read James Lindsay or some thunkpiece on Jezebel and think they’re social scientists now and are pitching a fit.
You’d think that, but no. Sigh.
So, if I mock people who use pronouns in their bio, there is something underneath it that I am happy to explain. Nothing I do is accidental. Impulsive? Sometimes. Premature conclusions in a constantly shifting landscape? Often. But never baseless.
Corporate HR’s hijacking of social issues in order to get around things that are otherwise illegal – stealthily forcing LGBT disclosure in the workplace, or putting misconduct loopholes in unfair dismissal laws, is an egregious and immoral exercise. It warrants ridicule. I make fun of pronouns because it is as meaningful to trans people as a cupcake on R U OK day. I make fun of pronouns because it is revolting to use trans people, vulnerable kids and women as human shields so they can indulge their authoritarian streak and do some good old union-busting with an email signature and a morning tea whilst the left are none-the-wiser and too busy fucking bickering over bullshit like always and forever and for infinity and beyond.
Most people, if asked nicely, will likely use pronouns. I do too, on an interpersonal level. If it was just about that. Don’t care, whatever. Wear a dress, whatever. So long as you hide your boner, shower occasionally and don’t reheat fish in the microwave, I really don’t care. I generally like being left alone, and I want you to be left alone as well. We all gotta get by and get our urgent-but-pointless stuff done.
But the thing is, we aren’t being asked. We are being coerced into accepting an entire premise on which an entire belief system and house of cards is built, which is totalitarian, destructive, and … well… erodes our privacy, trans people’s dignity, has some pretty severe malpractice consequences and will likely result in some heinous legislation from the right that everyone goes along with because they don’t like being forced to use pronouns at work.
But of course, we are told to be polite (again, how you know this stuff came out of the US and is right wing… the left ain’t polite, mate… in fact we tend to be pretty rude, especially to HR and especially to those bougie cunts making us go to a stupid morning tea). We are told that it is ‘rude’ to ask questions. Or, worse, hateful. No, it is democratic to ask questions of people who push for policies that impact others. If you won’t do that, you have an authoritarian streak and that means you need more scrutiny than anyone else.
Corporations, corporate structure and middle managers are anti-democratic/authoritarian by design. But we live in a democracy, and the rights of a citizen are not yours to control. You aren’t in charge. There is a process to follow, there is a social contract, and in a democratic system with checks and balances to protect us from you, well, if you are suggesting a change that affects us… you need to state your case.
Not simply write a cheque and do whatever the fuck you want.
You need to state your case and we get to ask questions, including about who the cheques are coming from and where they are going and how that is relevant to this change in policy. That is our right, not a conspiracy theory you’ve concocted with your team of copywriters at CNN, MSNBC and Fox.
We need to stop being “nice”. For there to be any meaningful change to the way things are, we need to pay attention and start being honest, curious and authentic from a kind and loving place. Because you know who uses “niceness” as a weapon?
Abusers. Bullies. Liars. Manipulators. Bad guys. Human Resources. Advertisers. Cults.
And you know who uses love? Sometimes people who risk it all and take a massive hit to tell you truths that you don’t want to hear. Like, “hey, I know you’re a good person, but you’re being misled and hoo boy, will you look like a bad guy when this all comes out in the wash”.
That’s kindness. That’s bravery.
This is the sleight of hand. Under immense social pressure, you are expected to say “Trans Women are Women” – which – for most people obviously means “yes, I will treat you as a woman if it helps you feel better because I’m not a jerk”, not “Trans Women are literally women”. But there will be those who genuinely despise women and exploit that gap to then argue that in all instances in law, where “woman” is a protected class – such as prisons, rape shelters, clubs, sports etc – that most people believe that “Trans Women are Women” and that anyone who doesn’t is a bigot and a Nazi who deserves rape and death threats.
See how this works?
This is called “Loaded Language“.
They’re basically taking the piss because you know that’s not what we meant, mate. Fuck off. Which is how it makes people like me look “unkind” or “mean”, because I am aware of the traps and don’t fall for it, and am simply fighting for a fair process and open conversation and yeah, some tough love that tells everyone that no, there’s a process to follow and everyone gets a say, whether you like it or not, you bearded smug fuck.
Similar with the linguistic trick of demanding someone say they are ‘anti-racist’. You can’t refuse. You’re kind. you don’t want to get on the back foot with HR by asking why they spent $150k on workshops by obvious grifters who co-opted Black Lives Matter, and that none of that money reached organizers on the ground. That makes you racist. Aren’t you anti-racist? How can you refuse that? Yep, sorry, I can. Doesn’t work. Try again, morning tea cunt.
Fact: the crooks live in the gaps. Bad actors exploit our gaps. Our personal gaps, social gaps, our system’s gaps. Which is why being transparent and precise is the most important thing we have to protect us from bad shit, like violent men ending up in women’s prisons because everyone was too polite or bewildered to say no, girls as young as 12 having mastectomies because everyone was too polite, or blindly trusting of that surgeon with the $80,000 smile to ask a few follow-up questions, defence lawyers for sex offenders arguing that children can in fact consent due to the precedent of said mastectomies, and anyone who questions it being subjected to the most heinous threats and abuse, having their lives destroyed, because they’re a “bigot”.
Sorry, but guess what, even bigots get to ask questions in a democracy. That’s how you stop bad laws from hurting people and cults running roughshod over everyone calling them all bigots.
If you think for a second about the stuff you are being told, none of the language is clear. It’s not clearly defined. It is not precise. It is emotive. It is loaded. This is on purpose, because it is a Trojan horse for some seriously sinister shit, that continuously gets brushed off as an overreaction (gaslighting), rather than legitimate concerns based on facts, history, economics, psychology, and Isaac Newton. And politicians, leaders, and charity groups are all pushing for this opaque, loaded language in law.
Personality test. It’s just a personality test. What are you? A Bigot?
Beware those who will not be clear and precise.
In the law, definitions really matter. Roe vs Wade was fought on the meaning of a few words. With one poorly worded law, people (in this case women and children) suffer. Again, this is mostly because people think a) that if something is illegal, people won’t do it and b) nobody would misuse the law when they know what it meant and c) some imaginary idea that the Police and justice system play fair (but only when it suits them, of course…).
Well, hate to break it to you, but as a former child protection worker, I will tell you now that concepts like “children cannot consent” are challenged in the courts every single day. Row v Wade is always one case away from disaster. Abusers misuse Family Court blind spots that are intended to protect children every single day to get back at their exes. People try their luck on technicalities all the time. In fact, accountants build their entire livelihoods on testing their luck and arguing their case. Jessica Yaniv. Karen White. Lily Madigan. Laurel Hubbard, and so on and so forth. Yes, they might be outliers but they represent a very real problem that needs more public scrutiny.
This is why, in matters of public policy, the law and its language MUST be precise and MUST consider all potential unintended consequences before it is passed. It is fundamental.
Politicians know this.
And yet, trans activists are arguing against precision and deflecting and bullying and destroying anyone asking for clarity.
Why? I dunno. Lots of money and power in it I guess.
So, whilst I am happy to try and find solutions that make life better for everyone, I will not back down when it comes to censorship or silencing of those who have concerns, oppose a policy, or want more information. Even if I disagree with them, they have a right to be heard.
Policy affects everyone, and the way you get that policy implemented affects how our democracy functions. It affects public trust, which matters more than anything in something like, say, a pandemic. Please understand that – right now – whilst it might be the “nice” thing to do, what you are doing is giving legitimacy to a totalitarian movement that is trying to intimidate us into silence, to pass vague and irresponsible law, with anyone requesting transparency and clarity being harassed and abused and destroyed.
All so a bunch of billionaires get richer. Read your Chomsky.
Meanwhile, kids that society is supposed to be protecting are put on experimental drugs with very little scrutiny, and no checks and balances, and young girls having their breasts bound up and even removed. Rape shelters are being hounded and defunded. Domestic abusers are able to terrorise their ex-wives and children. Women are being re-traumatised by a system that is failing to hear their words, and calling them bigots for simply wanting to express their fears and legitimate concerns about women’s rights. And given the reaction by many men, it would appear they really need to be heard.
If you want to understand the sleight of hand that is going on:
“It’s a matter of respect/politeness”.
No, it is a coercive control tactic, using emotional manipulation and social pressure to get us to accept terminology, based on untruths, that asks us to deny facts. It gaslights anyone who has doubts or seeks clarity/asks questions. There’s no detail, and you keep saying “no debate”, which honestly, is a red flag for anyone who cares about a functioning democracy.
“It’s just about rights and dignity”.
No, it is about a loophole where men can fill out a form (Self-ID), pay a few hundred bucks and get access in women’s and girls spaces, no questions asked. And the only answer to any objections is “you’re going to have to trust the system works” to generations of women for whom the system has repeatedly failed (hysteria, lobotomies, vaginal mesh anyone?). This is not about trans people any more than Westboro Baptists are about the teachings of Jesus – they are hiding behind them and lying to you. This needs more checks and balances, whilst also balancing the needs of trans people to not have unnecessary and humiliating bureaucracy. If men who supported this were legit, they would welcome a conversation and seek clarity and consensus, not bully and gaslight critics into compliance like every male abuser since the beginning of time.
“If you don’t respect pronouns, you’re a bigot”.
Nar. Try again. That doesn’t work on me. Why are you using it? Is it because you genuinely care about trans issues? Then why aren’t you listening to many who say this has the opposite effect? Why are you forcing LGBT out of the closet? Why are you enforcing a policy that half your employees disagree with?Why don’t you tell everyone what’s actually going on, what you real motivations are, and answer my actual questions: do you think women have the right to say no? Do you think that young girls should be in changerooms with an intact adult male?
Why won’t you answer? Oh, looks like you’ve blocked me and are telling others to harass me.
And get off the fucking roof. You’re going to get hurt.