Sunday, 25 May 2014

Misogyny Kills

We live in a society that hates women.

Cards on the table before I get into this: I'm a white, middle class heterosexual man who attended what I'm obliged to refer to as an Elite University. I'm about as privileged as it gets without actually being rich. As such, there's plenty about women's experience of this world that I don't feel I'm equipped to speak to, or at least that I don't feel it's my place to do so. I don't want to talk over anyone, I don't want to prejudice my voice over others. I don't think my Real Important Words have an inherent right to be heard over other people's real, lived, day-to-day experience. But as I see it, unless men are coming to grips with this vale of tears we call the world and our own place and role within the generation of human misery, nothing's going to change. So.

In light of this:

We live in a society that hates women, and I take it as evidence of the very most compelling kind that when a young, privileged white man takes it upon himself to say: "I hate women, the women who have rejected me, who have not provided the sex and affection that the owe me, as a man, and that I will now make them pay - indeed, "bring them to their knees" - with horrific violence," and then acts upon it in a murderous rampage, that a lot of people react by trying to show sympathy with him - oh, he's so lonely! - or to ignore his own explanations for his own violence by resorting to store-brand justifications like nebulously defined mental illness, or, perhaps, violent movies, or in some other way reaching for an excuse or justification which does nothing to understand the root causes of why these things happen and has everything to do with trying to turn an atrocity into an argument for your own personal bugbear.

Misogyny is so much the flesh and bones of our society that we can't - won't - even acknowledge it when things like this happen.

Using the mental illness explanation is lazy, and, worse, it tars people who genuinely do suffer from mental illness and distress as violent and dangerous. Most people who become ill (and very many people will experience some mental illness in their life) are not violent and do not hurt anyone. But so long as words like psycho and the association with killings goes on, people will continue to be victimised and afraid of seeking help.

What is more, as far as I'm aware, this young man showed no signs of being disturbed as such. We know - we know - that people don't actually have to be mentally damaged, disturbed, or ill, to commit atrocities. We know this because of the evidence of the World Wars, among other sources. The Einsatzgruppen who lined up Eastern European Jews and shot them, band by small band, in their hundreds until they filled a mass grave, were not mentally ill. They simply did not believe that their victims were fully human, and so they were able to rationalise away their death. This young man did not believe that the women he killed were fully human. They were a kind of sub-species; a sub-species that owed him. We know this because he said as much, over and over again, in his video and on the forums where he shared his poisonous little ideology with the friends and supporters of that ideology.

And a lot of people - a lot of people - believe the sorts of things this young man did. Not just within the pathetic "Men's Rights" community, but in society at large. Masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity as its superior. A man is held to be reasonable, powerful, right, where a woman is judged to be irrational, weak, and not worth listening to. Our daily lives are full of actions and activities that are gendered and policed along gendered lines. You don't have to look very hard to find this dynamic playing out in every strata of our society. It manifests in the casual cruelties of catcalling and shaming to denial of work or workplace rights, and up to the most vile and inhumane of acts imaginable. It's everywhere to the extent that to  claim you can't see it is an active act of un-seeing - of refusing to acknowledge reality.

Misogyny is intrinsic to the society we live in; by which I mean that hatred and oppression of women is not merely an incidental part of our quasi-democratic capitalist society that could be safely and comfortably excised, but rather that it is crucial for our current social setup to continue. Consider the ways that domestic work has been - and still is - considered women's work; consider how crucial this unpaid, unheralded labour is to maintaining a capitalist workforce. Consider that acquisitiveness, ambition, ruthlessness, and all the wonderful entrepreneurial traits that "lean-in" feminism, which is not actually feminism, is asking women to adopt, are defined as male traits. Consider that Margaret Thatcher knew that power is a thing that is gendered male, and adjusted her behaviour and speech to be as masculine as possible. Consider how hard it is - still - to get authorities to believe a woman who has been abused. Consider the tone of all the arguments that are used against her.

If you're a man thinking: "I'm not like that! I'm a nice guy! I share domestic labour! I don't benefit from this!": well, good for you, but unfortunately, you do benefit from it, and you probably have more internalised misogyny than you realise. As a small example, how many times have people you know and love resorted to arguing that "women are crazy", even in jest? You may, however, also realise that the same systems which hurt, degrade and oppress women also have deleterious consequences for men; that the same gendered social roles are used to drive male behaviour and crush male dreams in other ways: in the prison-industrial complexes or the expectations of male violence. In which case, congratulations! You're on the first step to realising that our society, currently constituted, is the problem. You can do some reading on this; there's plenty of literature out there.

I call myself an anarchist these days because more than anything I believe that the only society truly worth living in is one founded on respect, equality, and above all, consent in all our relationships, whether at work, in love, wherever. There is no excuse for treating people as if they are not fully people. Furthermore I do not believe there are any excuses for justifying, explaining away or otherwise ignoring the systems and ideologies which cause us to hate and to hurt one another. Misogyny kills; misogyny oppresses; misogyny is a fact of our society as sure as racism, homophobia, and all the other systems and ideas that keep us from living as equals. Our world may be a vale of tears, but it doesn't have to be: we all have a duty to share our world peaceably with others, to accord everyone the respect and dignity they deserve, to see to it that everyone can live their life to the fullest, and to fight to stamp out injustice wherever we find it - especially if we are the beneficiaries, unwitting or otherwise, of that injustice.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Your Radical Voting Guide, 2014

Politically radical but unsure how to mark your ballot in this, the most stupendously amazing and important European Elections ever? Well, have no fear! I, your good pal, have taken it upon myself to prepare this, the Radical's Guide to Voting Radically, 2014 Edition. Read on, fair reader, and know just how, when, and wherefore to strike your Blow For Democracy!

Your exciting options include:

-Write-in vote for Full Communism! Do we even have write-in votes here? Isn't this just a longwinded and naïve form of spoiling your ballot? Might you not have bothered to vote at all for all the good it does? Suppress these, the voices of False Consciousness, comrade! All power to the Soviets!

-Dissatisfied with the major parties? Summon powers more fell than they can comprehend! Clad in your finest black robes, carrying only the most perfectly scented dribbly candles, conduct your very own black mass in the safety and security of the voting booth! Teach Westminster to fear your most secret of ballots! Rejoice in the knowledge that to die first in the hateful embrace of The Dread Powers From Below is an election promise that won't be reneged on - not like those Lib Dems!

-Suck it up and vote Green! I mean, they're not going to get within spitting distance of power, and there's still a few too many people who go on creepily about industrial society and our ancestors and the pure bloodlines of the ancient races, but they're good for a laugh, Caroline Lucas is a fine person, and helping them beat the Lib Dems would be slightly funny for almost a whole day!

-Don't vote! Maybe you've been hanging around with anarchists for a bit and you've cobbled together a justification in your own head; maybe you honestly can't be arsed - stick it to the man by not bothering to show up at all! I mean, it's only the European fucking Elections, and who gives a shit? You're not going to vote for a fascist, so why are you to blame? Why is everyone giving you crap for the failures of a broken, unrepresentative, and hopelessly corrupted political system? All you've done is eat Weetabix in your pants! You didn't campaign for the Reich! Bonus points for causing Liberals nationwide to froth at the mouth and inveigh tiresomely about civic duties and the martyrs of the suffrage movements of yesteryear, who would punch them in the face for doing so!

-Vote for one of three flavours of neoliberal tyranny or some actual fascists! In which case, I don't know why you're even here. Leave me alone.

So there you have it folks! I hope that makes your options clear. Now go out there, and get some democracy right up you!

Monday, 19 May 2014


Godzilla is the heartwarming tale of a taciturn Japanese scientist (Ra's Al Ghul) and his forlorn pursuit of the only woman he's ever loved, a hundred-foot tall lizard. At all turns he is foiled by the bumbling, unlikeable dude-bro dipshits of The World's Greatest Nation and their Blessed Armed Forces (themselves), who stomp about the place chest-bumping, high-fiving, and generally making up their own dialogue as they go along. They're given a grim approximation of a human face by Rear Admiral Brigadier Colonel Field Marshal Lt. Chip SpeedDial (Macklemore) who gurns his way through a succession of scenes, most of which are poorly lit and incoherent, because reasons. Chip is a man of action, clearly, but one of the good ones - you see, he's not in Real Army, the Army that kills people, but is instead in bomb disposal. That's okay then. He wants nothing more than to return home to the loving arms of his wholesome, Aryan wife (a plank of wood carved into the vague likeness of Amanda Seyfried) and his emotionless child (a brick with googly eyes and a wig). To call this Chip SpeedDial's motivation, however, would be to overdo it. He simply happens, like rain or the wind. He's there. Now he's over here.

Chip SpeedDial can't have the nice things he assumedly wants, though, because of Mothras, and also because his dad, Walter White (Hal from Malcolm in the Middle) had to kill his wife one day in the middle of the Fukushima Daichi disaster, because of Mothras. On his birthday. Walter is only in the movie for about half an hour, and he still manages to chew more scenery than Godzilla. He might just have pulled this whole thing together with sheer force of campy will, but then they zip up the body bag and we're left with the acting (?) talents (?) of Chip and friends.

Nothing happens for about an hour, then Mothra decides to show up. Mothra kills some people whose names and faces you don't know, destroys some buildings in Definitely Japan, then flies off. Eventually, Lady Mothra appears and destroys Las Vegas, to raucous cheers from the viewers. Mothra and Lady Mothra toddle off to try and do what couples do best. Godzilla shows up, is introduced with appropriate gravitas (none), and then swims to America, where all things need to happen because the American movie-going public still can't be trusted to give a shit about dead Japanese people. While making this journey he's apparently under escort. Does the US Navy have Godzillas now? Who knows! He's not really explained, which is actually nice in an era of over-explanation and relentless backstory-churn. His name's on the movie. You don't need to explain Godzilla.

Nothing proceeds to happen for a bit longer. The movie almost shows some fighting, then decides that'd be far too much like something you'd paid to see, and cuts away. When we do finally get the final confrontation, it follows the standard daikaiju formula. Godzilla almost gets beaten. Oh no! But there's a twist, as Chip SpeedDial resourcefully torches all of Lady Mothra's unborn kids, causing the giant monster genuine, visible anguish in the movie's one authentically emotional moment. Then Godzilla hits his Limit Break, vomits fire down her neck and tears off her head. Hooray! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Oh, yeah, there's something about a nuke with a charmingly old-timey clockwork detonator on there, because Mothras can cause electromagnetic pulses somehow. Which is ironic, because the one device in the movie that can definitely cause that sort of effect is... well, never mind. Eventually it goes off, despite the actually-not-really-trying-all-that-hard efforts of Chip SpeedDial and the Howling Commandos, so the US military establishment gets to achieve its long-dreamed-of goal of nuking 'Frisco.

The movie doesn't trust its monsters enough to have them carry the action, which is probably a safe bet, because although Godzilla himself is charmingly ropey, the Mothras look like they were sketched on the back of a napkin then idly coloured in with a grey marker. Small elements of design interest - like Lady Mothra's glowing, egg-filled womb - are too slight and too brief to add up to anything memorable. In place of the cool monsters you're here to see, you get more Chip SpeedDial, more identikit dude-bro soldiers and more execrable dialogue. Example: Ra's Al Ghul has been saying, to Col. Hap Happablap's face, that nuking the creatures won't work. It won't work, and it's monstrous. Look, here's my dad's watch from Hiroshima, says Ra's. Nukes are bad. Don't do it.

In the very next scene, Col. Hap says "I need to know two things from you - will this work?" I forget the other one.

Pacific Rim was great because it took all the daikaiju nonsense, admitted it was nonsense, and went hell-bent to be the best nonsense it could possibly be. It's a campy, silly monster movie made by people who really wanted to make a campy, silly monster movie. More than that, it's supported by good performances by real actors (and also Charlie Hunnam) playing characters you might actually give a single iota of a shit about. It's anti-militaristic. It's about personal connections, cooperation, and comradeship in the face of hopeless odds. It wasn't afraid to show its hand with the monsters and the robots - indeed, it positively revelled in them - and at no point did it take itself too seriously. Del Toro did everything Godzilla should be, but better, and he probably wasn't even really trying.

In the end, Godzilla himself walks into the welcoming embrace of the cold ocean, there to be swallowed by the vasty depths. Ra's Al Ghul, heartbroken, fires his agent.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Picket Piketty

Thomas Piketty hasn't read Das Kapital, because it was too hard for him, apparently. I've not read Piketty either, so here's what I think about his book.

It's a 700-page fart by exactly the kind of asshole who won't accept people's real, lived experience or the evidence of his own eyes as valid unless there's a page of charts and tables next to a dust-dry digression by some prick with a PhD. The condition of the poor isn't real unless we can display it in a chart! You may not be able to feed yourself, but is that really data? And what are your policy prescriptions? Where did you go to school? And so on.

What do all these meticulously-collected and displayed data amount to? Why, some truly staggering insights. Did you know that wealth accumulates and concentrates, and that the ensuing inequality produces deleterious political and social outcomes? How could we have known! Why did nobody say anything!? And - make sure you're sitting down for this - what can be done to alleviate this situation? Well, you can, uh, tax the rich a bit more, I guess, or something. But not too much! We don't want to go too far, here! Wouldn't want to be a radical!

It takes - and this is worth repeating - 700 fucking pages to get to this.

Everyone but everyone is talking about it, of course, because there's apparently nothing like a 700 page book by a French academic stating the blatantly fucking obvious to finally concentrate the self-appointed Vox Populi's minds on certain realities of our Piss Hell Garbage Nightmare world for five minutes. Piketty's only useful function is to allow the bullshit-left media to continue to position itself as the Voice of Respectable Leftism without actually saying or doing anything that might actually make the world a less grinding, less miserable place. In the current formulation of our cult of expertise, it's only people like Piketty who are allowed to say, in essence, that shit is fucked, that capitalism is bullshit, and failing in its own terms, and the world is actually horrible for a lot of people, because Piketty can be trusted not to go overboard. He can be trusted to coat this bitter pill in respectable language, and of course to supply lots of charts. A normal, actual person who tried to say some of these things would be laughed out of the newsroom - I mean, come on, what are you, some kinda fuckin' anarchist!? Meanwhile, because Piketty's analysis and proposals come pre-neutered, they can be safely ignored. The news cycle rolls on.

And that's the punchline: Piketty doesn't matter. Piketty is going to be ignored. He's saying nothing we didn't already know (but now with charts!) while proposing next-to-nothing as a response, and it's still going to achieve the square root of jack shit except to launch a million shitty blogposts. This is one of them. Do you see?

Summary: Too Long, Didn't Read.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Hollow Crown: Dark Souls 2

Full disclosure: I'd not played the first one (or the real first one, Demon's Souls, or the real first one, the King's Field series), although I've watched some playthroughs (some more bizarre than others), and enough people whose opinions I like and respect had raved about how good it was that I became excited for the sequel. That was odd, because it's not really the sort of game I play these days. Action-RPGs aren't my thing, as a rule. I like pause buttons. What got me hooked in, however, was the idea that the game would deliver some of the experiences that I most enjoyed about the games I played growing up: the fun of exploring a world full of secrets and wonders; learning new systems and persevering through new challenges to get through that world; and most of all, the extent to which this was a game which seemed designed to be enjoyed as a shared experience. It's meant to be talked about, in the way we used to as kids - have you found that secret area? Have you beaten that boss? Here's something you can do, let me show you - and it's in this sphere, in the rekindling of that joy of playing games and jabbering about them, that Dark Souls 2 shines.

Like everyone and their maiden aunt says, it's challenging, although the claims of the series' insane difficulty always seem overblown to me. I finished it in a par time, with a keyboard and mouse, and I'm not really very good at games. "Difficult" isn't really the right word. There's nothing you can't do, no information the game is holding back (even among the ludicrous lists of numbers that make up character stats). Instead, it's relentless. You work out how to kill one enemy, do so, pump your fist, and then run into the next one. You Died. Rinse and repeat. But the genius of Dark Souls 2 is that it embraces this process so fully, and executes it so well, that you're very rarely left feeling frustrated, even in the face of multiple, stupid failures. There are only two sections which annoyed me - these are, I think, becoming notorious among those who've played the game, involving a bumrush by multiple enemies - and normally, even when I was flailing wildly and unsuccessfully, I was happy to respawn and come back for another go. And when you do succeed, it's joyous. You did something. You worked it out. Well done! Then you misjudge a roll and fall down a hole. You Died. Fuck's sake.

That sense of challenge rather than grinding difficulty is helped by the online functions - if you're genuinely stuck, or can't be bothered trying a boss another ten times, you can usually find someone else online to help you with that section, although your mileage may vary with the amount of "help" some summoned players are providing.

The sense of exploration probably isn't as good as in the predecessor - it rarely feels like a truly open-world game (although Dark Souls was fudging it), more a system of broadly interconnected dungeons, and the ability to warp from bonfires from the off short-circuits one of Dark Souls' apparent joys: the inclusion of gruelling backtracking as a core experience. That said, these design choices do help make the game feel just that bit more welcoming, and I don't feel like it diminished the experience. Traversing many of the game's areas - most of which are well- and interestingly-designed, with one notable exception involving sand - is a challenge in itself, and there's plenty for the intrepid explorer to find, from hidden rooms to secret routes, to ways to cut out some of the game's more maddening bosses entirely.

And there's those bosses. I don't think the designs quite hold up to some of the previous game's more outré nonsense - no illusory butterflies, giant wolves clutching swords in their mouths, or Ceaseless Discharge (heh) here, but they do cohere more strongly along a theme of Nightmare Medieval Fantasy (viewed through a Japanese lens) than the predecessor's bosses do. There's plenty of variety among them, and most walk the line between tough as nails but doable and cheap, bullshit nonsense successfully. If I had a problem, it's that a couple of the fights actually felt way easier than I was expecting. Still, though, most of these fights are memorable, and the one or two which utilised area and exploration mechanics before or during the fight will stick with me for a while. Pay close attention to your surroundings, and always remember you have a torch for a reason, kids. You... do have a torch, right?

As well as the thrill of beating challenges, you're kept wanting to progress by the art and the storytelling, both of which combine wonderfully to create a compelling sense of mystery. Each new area uncovered and boss beaten leads you further down the rabbit-hole of just what the hell happened in the cursed realm of Drangleic. Although it's sparse, the way the game tells its story is itself a triumph. You're never bludgeoned on the head with it, and, indeed, so little is outright said that piecing together the narrative is an enjoyable task in itself. This nuance and subtlety, by which as much is said with imagery, symbolism and music as with dialogue, is refreshingly at odds with the way big-budget videogames often try and Do Story. Nobody in Dark Souls 2 is telling you "we gotta" do something. You're not catapulted from area to area in a storm of bad action clichés. Instead, the sun is gently setting over the clifftops of the ruined town of Majula, while a soft vocal wails over the wind-rustled grass. Seek the King, you're told. It's the only way.

Still no idea what the tiny evil pigs are doing there, mind.

Dark Souls 2 gave me everything I wanted: challenge, beautiful visuals, a real sense of achievement, and long conversations about what to do here, how to beat this, and what some of the game's mysteries actually meant. It's a bizarre, compelling adventure which keeps taunting and goading you on into one more go, just another try. You'll fail, over and over, but when you succeed, it's as thrilling as anything a videogame can deliver. It's my favourite game of recent years.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Call Off Duty

John Manshooter was pissed. He was needed for Warfare. Advanced Warfare. He knew this because the Commander in Chief had phoned him this morning.

"John," the Commander in Chief had said, "I've got some bad news. Retirement is over. There's Warfare. Advanced Warfare. We need you."

"Okay," John Manshooter said, wearily. He was tired of this endless Warfare. He put down the grenade launcher he'd been oiling. "What's the job, Chief."

"It's going to be tough this time, John." The Commander in Chief sounded worried. "This Warfare is Advanced. It's Advanced Warfare. The Foreigns have got their hands on killer robots, maybe. Or a genetically engineered dinosaur plague or something. It's not real clear."

John Manshooter swore. "Shit," he said, and then "fuck." Those ethnics had to be stopped. Stopped with bullets. Bullets from a gun.

John Manshooter was the best shooter of bullets from a gun in the business.

"It gets worse," said the Commander. "It's the Foreigns. They're led by... by Bad Americans."

John Manshooter swore again. This time he said "pisswizard." The Bad Americans were the most fearsome foes in the world. Almost as intelligent, driven and competent as real, Freedom-and-Justice loving Americans. They even looked like real people, and some of them had familiar voices and faces. But they were twisted by their love of Foreigns, and their incomprehensible hatred of America, which made them Bad. Foreigns were no trouble. Foreigns could be slaughtered in minutes, and nobody cared. But with Bad Americans leading them... well, that was a different story. That was Advanced.

"Alright, Chief," said John, stubbing out his cigar on his masculine, stubble-covered jaw. "I'm in. In for Advanced Warfare."

"Good," said the Chief, ringing off.

John Manshooter stared out the window. He'd show the Foreigns and the Bad Americans what for. He'd show them with bullets, bullets in their faces. It was the only language they understood, except for the languages they spoke.