Archive for March, 2017

…a national budget.

It’s a frequent meme of right-wing economics1 that the reason we must cut costs for social services is because we must treat our national finances like our household finances, and Responsibly Pay Off our debts.

This is of course complete garbage. Not only is the specific analogy flawed, really, the only thing the two concepts even hold in common is that they’re both budgets.

Let’s try the metaphor in reverse to see how well it works. Say I treated my household’s budget like a national budget. I live with three other people, and none of us have joint finances. Firstly, if I could act like this were a national budget, I would be visiting the neighbours and using my good credit record to borrow a bunch of money, and there’d be nothing other than the pressure from my neighbours to compel me to ever pay it back, and not only that, if I borrowed enough cash from them, (a commonplace occurrence in national budgets) I would have a sort of perverse control over them where they could be bullied into doing things that are in my best interests even though they don’t want to, like say, letting me put some sort of experimental composting system in their backyard.

And of course, if my household budget were like a national budget, I would be under no compulsion to spend money on what it’s actually intended for- the US is most famous for this trick, robbing its social security fund to pay for deficit spending and then turning around to complain that the fund doesn’t have the cash it needs to actually pay people benefits they’ve earned, because they’ve stuffed the piggybank full of IOUs. That would be like me taking all the power money my flatmates pool with me and blowing it on smashed avocado toast or 26 lattes a day, and whatever else millenials are supposed to spend money on irresponsibly.

So, you’re beginning to see some of the holes, right?

The other interesting thing is that ironically, national debts are actually a lot more like the notion of a “gift economy” than they are like the notion of modern consumer debt that you’re chased down if you can’t pay back. In a gift economy, it’s difficult to truly quantify how much a favour is worth, because nobody uses currency. So you and your neighbours keep doing each other favours backwards and forwards, and often nobody’s sure of who’s ahead and behind, but suddenly everyone’s success is tied together and you’ve formed a community. In foreign relations, some deals work a lot like the gift economy. This isn’t exactly the case with sovereign debt, but there is the similar effect I described earlier, where a foreign nation who has bought up a lot of your debt can become a de-facto economic ally because they are dependent on your ability to service that debt. China currently has that type of relationship to the USA.

Now, is it important to pay off our debts? Yes and no. It’s important that internationally, everyone try to even out their budgets so they’re not heavily in debt and they’re not heavily in surplus, both of which create inefficiencies and inequalities in our increasingly interconnected financial system. (Keynes proposed a system to solve a problem similar to this with the balance of trade, called the International Clearing Union, and it’s kinda surprising the concept was never extended to national debt and sovereign wealth)

But it actually doesn’t precisely matter if we go into deficit or debt from time to time, so long as we have sound fiscal management that can get us out of debt from time to time, and no government gets us into so much debt that the interest payments become burdensome. In fact, completely counter-intuitively, it’s actually good for the economy during a recession for the government to be running a deficit, if it’s doing so to buy a lot of goods or services from its own economy, or to directly employ a lot of people who didn’t have jobs. Why? Because sometimes the economy slows down too much due to events in the private sector. During those times, the best thing the government can do is actually step in to employ people, to pay their expenses while they re-train, or to contract a lot of goods it might need later. These programs are very effecient during a recession, because the money is highly likely to be recirculated multiple times, heating the economy back up from a cold start.

In contrast, when the economy is already doing well, it makes a lot of sense to start being efficient with government spending, to cut back on programs that may be wasteful or no longer needed, and to reign in the stimulus to the economy of government spending, and to use that freed-up tax revenue to pay down debt, or even put a little sovereign wealth aside for a rainy day in the future. Why? Because often you can overheat the economy, causing it to sell goods or services that aren’t really needed, and to cause a huge over-correction when the realisation hits the market that all the economic activity was overvalued. (like the dotcom crash when people thought practically any website would be raking in money hand over fist… until actually they discovered they weren’t) By pulling on the reigns, the government can often prolong a period of growth, and save on a lot of inefficiencies in constantly expanding and closing businesses that is caused when the economy frequently goes into boom and into recession. There’s more to cover on this, but it belongs in the notes2.

Household budgets have no similar social incentive to go into debt or to make savings at any particular time based on market conditions. It’s all about what provides the most utility for the household. (ie. do we invest in a car so we can move items and people around more efficiently, or do we save that money to maybe afford a property for our grandkids assuming we can save at more than the inflation rate of house prices?)

Like people who complain about things being a “slap in the face” deserve at least one face-slap to provide comparative context of why their statement is wrong, people who claim a national budget is like a household budget should really try to modulate the speed of the economy by going into debt during a recession and see how that bloody works out for them.



Or maybe there are?

If you’re on New Zealand Twitter, you’ve probably already been following this story. If not, a bunch of Auckland University students have decided to form a “European Students Association,” which they are currently saying is open to people of all backgrounds to celebrate european culture and cuisine, and they plan to host “historical re-enactments” and “european feasts.” I won’t link them directly for reasons hopefully obvious, but Newshub has some surprisingly nuanced coverage on this.

You may have noted I said “currently saying.” Until recently, their online presence on Facebook was a full-blown example of cryptofascism. It featured subtly altered Nazi quotes, a Celtic logo complete with swords and a quasi-nazi slogan which also fits the cryptofascist profile, and pictures glorifying the idea of German empire. Since they caught media attention, they have scrubbed their facebook presence and now only sport a Celtic logo without swords. One, or maybe two of these things could reasonably be a mistake. (or you know, a genuine interest in Celtic art or German history) Four of these things together implies that someone in this organisation either thinks Nazism isn’t something to be taken seriously, (in which case they’re in trouble with actual fascists as well as with everyone else) or is actually a secret supporter of white nationalism or some other flavour of eliminationism, and perhaps was trying to signal to others that the organisation would be a front for white nationalism.

The Herald identifies one of their spokespeople as Adam Holland, and the group has contested that he is not a member, (as you would expect from a former “mayoral candidate,” being generous to Adam) but have not denied he was an authorised spokesperson for them, and have not required any corrections to be published. Adam is a known troll, which suggests it’s possible that this group started off as some sort of joke. Evasions from their spokespeople on key issues that would upset a genuine club seem to indicate that the group is intending to troll people, either as some sort of joke, or because they think they can stir up some threats against themselves and use that as some sort of propaganda win.

However the group being agitators wouldn’t mean there’s no reason to take it seriously, as even disorganised groups that are out to troll the public can still give serious fascists a chance to meet up and organise, and feel normal, and there are a surprising number of people supporting these idiots. Letting this sort of thing go on and protecting people’s right to preach eliminationism using private resources to build themselves a platform is irresponsible and unjust, and the prevalence of such underground groups organising through secret or just obscure means and fringe websites are precisely what led to Breitbart news, and Steve Bannon, and ultimately the white nationalist support for Donald Trump, and his support in return for white nationalism. You can still support freedom of thought and freedom of ideas while requiring all student groups to have a non-discriminatory purpose, to have no links to hate groups, and not to use known imagery of hate groups. That is a standard exception clause to free speech rights in private institutions, and it’s basically the least you can do to prevent a white nationalist movement taking over.

There is not as mature an organisation of white nationalism in New Zealand, but the attitudes and thoughts that led to it are still here, (colonialism is just another flavour of white supremacy, sadly, and we’re still working on getting to a post-colonial society that values Māori as the indigenous people of New Zealand, and any other recent immigrants as just as valuable as Pakeha. And we have a mature nationalist political party already, so all we need is that nationalism and that white supremacy to mix, and suddenly you have neo nazis in the Pacific) and we need to take the possibility of it being normalised seriously, even when it’s disorganised people who may or may not be trying to have a bit of a joke.

Auckland University has defended itself partly by saying it had recently changed its policy to allow groups to recruit during orientation week before going through their formal process and submitting member lists, which is a reasonable excuse for why this group was allowed to openly recruit during orientation. But that’s the past, what are they saying about the future?

Well, they have stepped into a classic trap of saying they have “no proof” that this group is racist. A confluence of circumstantial evidence is all you ever get when you’re dealing with cryptofascists. Their entire strategy is to play a game of piggy-in-the-middle with accusations against them, where they can maintain plausible deniability if anyone decodes their references to eliminationism or white supremacy, because they try to keep it low-key enough that there is never any substantial proof, which means you have to overreact at least slightly to catch them, and you need to require people to have a good explanation for circumstantial evidence, something that’s counter-intuitive to liberal sensibilities, but is a prerequisite to being an effective liberal in a society with proto-fascist movements. It needs to be very clear that any white supremacy on private property or in public spaces will result in an over-reaction. Nobody will admit to being a Nazi until the Nazis have already reached a critical threshold, a fact that University lecturers surely know, and it’s surprising that the relevant decision-makers haven’t listened to them. In contrast, their Students Association has actually been really good on this issue, and deserves a lot of credit for understanding the nuance correctly.

It is possible, of course, that some people involved in this group really believed the cover story. But at least one person was either joking in a thoroughly inappropriate way about Nazi content, or was serious about it but knew enough to try not to be completely obvious. If the group wants to continue without this stigma, all they need to do is remove the people who made that mistake from the group, and notify the University authorities who they were so that they can be watched to prevent other inappropriate behaviour in the future without risking  any retaliatory action from overenthusiastic anti-fascists.

It’s bad enough that we have an anglo-centric nationalist party in Parliament, but we cannot have that kind of pop patriotism that buoys New Zealand First and similar social conservative movements turning to the dark side on us in New Zealand. Everyone, right, left, centre, or otherwise, needs to be clear that there’s no place for fascists in New Zealand.

As to whether it’s appropriate to celebrate European culture, of course it is, with the caveat that it has to be legitimately about the culture of all of europe, not just the white parts. (Most white nationalists are interested chiefly in British, Germanic, or Russian cultures. If they branch out into Iberian culture, France, and eastern europe as well, that’s a good sign) If that was legitimately their aim, firstly, they picked a stupid name, and secondly, they should have approached lecturers on various european culture courses to advise them, who would have then been able to substantiate their claims that they were legitimate. Tertiary culture courses do a very good job of digging deep into culture, far deeper than most cultural clubs or associations have a chance to get in their public events, so anyone serious about that goal should have been thinking about using their resources better.

It’s also worth noting that “European culture” is a group culture, the same way “African culture” is. It’s really dozens of different cultures. New Zealand has about four prominent European feeder cultures to our own modern hybrid euro-polynesian melting pot culture, so the first thing to know is that most kiwis already live European culture to some degree, as our culture is largely pieced together from English settler traditions and elements of Māori language and tikanga that have been assimilated, but still notably contains elements of Irish and Scottish culture, especially in the South Island, and even some Germanic influences in certain places and institutions. There is amazing art, (performance or otherwise) literature, and film from all of those cultures.

It’s perfectly reasonable to be proud of those things, but that’s very different from glorifying past empires who committed atrocities and whose time is over, and it’s also different from trying to exclude or hate other groups, which is often what “white pride” or “European pride” is a code word for, and a precursor step to calling for forced migration, at which point we’ve then arrived at eliminationism. Even now, some people reacting to the news are mentioning several of these code words, and this is precisely the point of cryptofascism: nobody can tell if their supporters are actual fascists, or just people who are legitimately proud of their European descent, and that confusion is why we have to push back so hard against this sort of behaviour.

Update: So, despite writing this last night and scheduling it for this morning in case sleep elucidated anything, it looks like there’s already a resolution. The Herald reports that the AUESA is going to disband. Good. This reinforces my perception that they were trolls who picked a culture battle they didn’t know they weren’t going to win, because people were ready for them.

They claim to have been threatened with violence: if that’s true, (and I admit to some skepticism that it is, given that fearing for your own safety is a great excuse to back down from failure anonymously, and we still only have rumours about who the people behind this group were) please don’t threaten violence on fascists unnecessarily. These were not powerful fascists who were putting people in imminent risk who arguably justified symbolic resistance or an actual life-or-death struggle like actual Nazis did. These were not influential media figures who need to be stood up to. They were just as likely to have been defeated with criticism, mockery, and general social disapproval, as they were a bunch of disorganised jokers. If every cryptofascist were this easy to stop, we wouldn’t be bothering to debate about the ethics of punching nazis, and it wouldn’t be as serious an issue as it is. Peaceful resistance is an effective tool and it should always be the first resort.

That said, this will no doubt be the point at which some troll says “liberals are as bad as what they claim to be against, they’re racist against Europeans, and they want to take away our freedom to speak about fascism.” Anyone who seriously thinks that needs to crack a book. You can’t be racist against white people, or “Europeans,” because racism requires bigotry and institutional power set against you. Most institutional power is set up to support people like me. And you’ll notice, all anyone was calling for was the university not to register a simple club. Nobody’s actually gagging fascists, but you better believe there will be real consequences to free speech, because free speech only protects you from the government, and most private institutions don’t want any white nationalism getting on them if they can help it, especially not when ordinary people notice it and call it out.

This does reinforce my belief that the old advice to “not feed the trolls” is at best outdated, if it did ever work outside a particularly narrow context of certain types of attention-seekers in small, tight-nit communities back when most internet was dialup. Oh look, we stirred up a lot of media attention… and the trolls couldn’t withstand its withering gaze. It’s almost as if the threat of being held accountable in real life for their behaviour actually discourages them, right?

The people behind this group are continuing to pretend they did not engage in unacceptably cryptofascist behaviour, and/or fail to bring it to account. They’re asking us not to believe our “lying eyes.” They provided no credible explanation for the content they posted, took no responsibility for excluding the responsible party or safely reporting them to the university, issued no apology, and evaded or dodged every criticism they could in engaging with the public or media on the issue, never having a substantive discussion about how four separate pieces of cryptofascist imagery ended up on their page by “misunderstanding,” when there have been claims from people that they know the artist for their logo, who is, surprise surprise, connected to Adam Holland. I have little doubt they are simply playing for sympathy either to make this die down or try and build momentum for another group later. Please have your scorn ready for anything these idiots try in the future.

So, I found out recently that someone I used to follow for commentary on politics, a man who aggressively claimed to be a feminist, and a good guy engaged in progressive activism, has in fact been behaving in an emotionally abusive way to women for a long time, including his former employee, who worked for him at a time when I was doing some minor volunteer stuff for his community of activists. (His ex-wife still hosts the podcast they were involved in, Citizen Radio)

His ex-wife has come out publicly and talked about the fact that she’s going to have to cut professional ties with him, and has at least managed to convince him into therapy. I genuinely hope it helps him, and that he can start acting on those principles he claims to have, and make up for some of the harm he’s caused.

Now, obviously it’s not news that sometimes guys who have been terrible to women end up in left-wing circles. There have been abusers of all stripes or degrees in a lot of left-wing activist groups.

I’m glad to say that this person hasn’t been an idol or even someone I’ve really been listening to in years. But I feel extremely bad about this whole situation.

Why? Because I noticed he was behaving in a way that worried me. I felt that he was being overly aggressive in talking about supporting women, something that is a classic covering tactic for abusive behaviour. That he seemed to want validation for being a feminist rather than really care about treating everyone as equals. That things were a little too much about What Reflected Well On Jamie. Men who are genuine about supporting women don’t need to be praised for it, it’s not about them, it’s about doing the right thing and being a decent human being, and feminism is something ordinary that they only get loud about if nobody else is doing it yet and someone needs to step up. If they want a cookie they’ll bake it themselves, because baking is men’s work too. 😉

Jamie is someone who never handled criticism well. Who joked about having an eating disorder but really did need help around an unhealthy relationship with food that he wasn’t handling well, and had a hard time getting help for. Who admitted to manipulative behaviour publicly on smaller issues. It hurt me a lot to realise that I wasn’t even surprised at this news, it all clicked into place immediately and made sense with all of these smaller hints, and immediately horrified me. I can only imagine how Allison feels, having been married to him and having relied on him as her business partner. It was no surprise to me that he has declined to make any public statement or apology, and asked that it not be mentioned on what is now her podcast.

I hope he brings up those issues I mentioned in the therapy, and I really hope he gets the help he needs for everything, because if he doesn’t, then he’s gonna hurt people close to him one way or another, even if the word is out there on the internet now, it won’t get to all his casual acquaintances so easily, and he needs help to get some self-security so that he can avoid this sort of behaviour pattern in the future.

But that’s not an excuse to behave in an unsafe way, and not to listen when someone sets boundaries in place with you. There is no excuse for harassment when someone has told you to stop. I have had my own problems that I’ve needed to go to therapy for, as I allude to from time to time, and those are still no excuse for not reading the signs that you’re behaving unacceptably, especially when they’re made clear to you multiple times by different people.

I have a minor part in this play, and that’s the thing that’s worst about hearing this news. If you really want to know what’s going on, you should go read the personal accounts that some very brave women have put out in public about this, as it’s really their story. But even knowing that unjustified self-recrimination is part of the cycle of this sort of manipulation and harassment, I find myself wondering if I couldn’t have done something to stop this.

The incident that convinced me that I needed time away from that community was when a key volunteer who was a friend of mine had a jokey but slightly inappropriate discussion about what donor money was being spent on, that veered into some pretty invasive speculation about Jamie and Allison’s personal lives. As you may not be surprised to learn, Jamie had an immediate and pretty explosive reaction, didn’t even discuss the matter at all, and completely replaced him with no explanation, and installed me in his place with little to no transparency.

I felt horrible, this volunteer was a good guy who still supported me and also the community even after the incident. I was left trying to pick up a lot of pieces after an over-reaction about a stupid discussion that admittedly was out of line, but could have been handled so much better. It was easily fixable with an open letter to the community setting up some acceptable boundaries. I didn’t trust myself to handle the situation well, I simply got panicky whenever I thought about it, and in true fashion for someone with social anxiety, I simply faded away from the community.

I tried to hold it together for a while first, but I felt really bad about the whole thing no matter what I did, and I wasn’t yet entirely well in dealing with my own social anxieties at the time.

That wasn’t the right thing to do, obviously, but I did correctly recognise I needed to “put my own seatbelt on first,” and look after myself. I should have maybe outlined what went on and simply told everyone why I was bowing out. In hindsight I should have at least passed my concerns on to his then-wife and told her I trusted her to handle the situation if there was anything that needed to be done, so that maybe it would have clued her into things sooner. And I’m really sorry if my lack of action on this enabled this guy, who I thought shared my opinions and outlook, to get away with anything, because if I had had even a sniff of the allegations about abuse when this happened, I wouldn’t have faded away. I would have been with everyone trying to shout about this issue until it had been solved.

And now I’m left wondering: Did I help him get away with this behaviour by never talking about my worries? That’s the most frequent thought I’m hearing expressed by everyone who’s had a story to tell about this guy, that they’ve all been apologizing for not coming forward earlier, not talking enough, not believing in themselves, but they all have the excuse that he was directly manipulating them. I won’t absolve myself, (if anyone wants to tell me I should have said something, that’s probably a fair call, as he never harassed or manipulated me directly, and if anyone wants a personal apology, I will send you a genuine one in private, I promise) but I think all the women who’ve actually survived this behaviour deserve a pass. Please don’t attack anyone for not being able to bear bringing their story into the public. It’s hard enough having to deal with the situation in the first place, I hope everyone can understand why many people stayed anonymous.

This isn’t something that’s easy to come to terms with, and even though nobody is currently talking about physical or sexual abuse, (I really hope it never got that far, but if it did happen to anyone, please be brave and come forward, we’ll support you!) successful harassers have a lot of strategies to make you doubt yourself, and Jamie is actually a charismatic guy despite his issues, and his response made me consider that maybe I was being unreasonable, and that I should give him a chance, and let the hurt feelings cool down. I regret listening to those impulses that seemed reasonable at the time. I wish word of this had gotten to me, I would have happily acted as a go-between to keep people anonymous while still getting their stories out. It’s ridiculous that this makes me feel powerless and angry even though I had only the smallest chance to help. But that’s what situations like this do to everyone, and it’s part of why this whole situation is so wrong and enraging, and people who know me know I’m not quick to anger. (any longer, another lesson learnt in adolescence, fortunately)

So, there are lessons to be learned here:

Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t already, believe women when they make allegations. (I think there is #believewomen on twitter if you want to follow general conversation about this point, assuming you are comfortable reading twitter) This doesn’t mean someone who’s accused is guilty until proven innocent, it just means the allegations are serious and you need to hear out everyone’s story, and support people who make allegations and take them seriously so that this sort of stuff comes out into the open. It takes real leadership to admit to something like this and put it right, so kudos to Allison, who deserves a lot of support for doing the exact right things as soon as she got a story she could substantiate.

Secondly, not every guy who says feminist things is okay. You know that whole “every man is a rapist” quote that MRAs love to harp on about with regards to feminists? What it’s actually talking about is that, as far as any woman can tell, any man could be a rapist. It’s referring to “Schrödinger’s rapist,” if you will: that even the most aggressively feminist of guys can be manipulative, or harrassing, or compensate for their insecurity by being praise-dependent and manipulating women for that praise because they feel threatened by men, and the emotional abuse this guy commited is on the same spectrum as full-blown rape or rapey behaviour. Jamie hasn’t proven MRAs right, he’s proven feminists right: that it’s really difficult to tell who the “bad sorts” are, because those ideas that normalise harassing behaviour sneak into everyone’s psyche at some point, and even guys who are aggressively on the side of women’s rights can still do things that are hugely hurtful to women. Schrödinger’s rapist (or harasser) is real, and he’s often in a superposition of “good guy” and “bad guy,” where he’s making excuses that actually he’s good and didn’t do anything wrong, honest, why won’t you understand? And sadly even for some guys that have been virtue-signalling super hard, when you give them a chance, that waveform collapses and it turns out you’re stuck alone with a guy who will blow up on you if you criticise him, or won’t respect your boundaries, or will outright commit abuse. There is no excuse for that, and it’s a problem for everyone who dates men, and sometimes even for women who don’t have any interest in the idea.

Thirdly, not every guy who supports women is going to have Jamie’s sorts of issues or respond to similar issues the way he did, but it’s okay if you’re not feeling up to trusting any particular guy or even all guys after this sort of incident, in fact, please do whatever you feel you need to to stay safe, whoever you are. Some guys who have a lot of female friends and are emotionally dependent on their good opinion of them aren’t very good at respecting boundaries and need clear communication and possibly someone to threaten them into doing the right thing. Some men don’t fall into that situation. Others, like me, have had issues judging social situations correctly in the past, but will actually respond well to feedback. One of my friends in college deserves a big thankyou for having been really nice about having a boundary discussion with me once and setting me right, because I was getting a little obsessive about our friendship and it made her feel uncomfortable. Thanks for being classy, and you’ll know who you are if you ever read this, because you’re the only person that ever had to do that for me.

It’s okay that people won’t know which kind of guy they’re handling until they’re in a situation like this. Women or anyone else being harassed should trust their guts around this sort of thing, if someone disturbs you it’s okay to set up boundaries or get away in any way you need to. They might be a good guy who’ll react well and respect their friend, or who will be a little taken aback but will get over it and be better in the future, in which case, no harm done. They might be a good guy who’s totally offended, or they might genuinely be a bad guy who’ll flip out, in which case, they didn’t deserve to be your friend in the first place, and it’s good to know you can ditch them, because everyone deserves better than that. If someone won’t respect your boundaries or you don’t feel comfortable having the talk to set them, talk to your friends, people you trust, people in authority, and find people who’ll help you sort it out. It’s okay to need help to get through it, especially if the person harassing you is your boss.

The good thing that has come about because of this is that there’s been a large discussion of this issue that’s almost exclusively positive. The closest I saw to anyone being a troll was one guy asking very aggressively for details of the story so he could “know what’s going on.”

It’s okay to be skeptical, that guy, but please have some sensitivity while you do it. If you’re going to ask questions, be super polite and accept “I don’t want to tell you” or “please follow this/these links” for an answer with grace. You don’t need to weigh in about what that says about someone’s credibility, you can be judgemental in your head rather than on social media if it doesn’t impact you personally. Please don’t imply that it’s not reasonable to default to believing people who bring up these allegations and then be skeptical if things don’t actually check out. Not every woman is going to be okay sharing every detail of their story in public. Some are, and they’re courageous and deserve praise. But not everyone can do that, okay?

Overall, every angle of this story sucks. Now we’re going to have MRA trolls arguing that every feminist guy is some sort of “beta male,” (haha sure, some of the strongest guys I know respect women, you assholes. Ironically I’ve never met someone who I would think of as anything near an “alpha male” who is actually concerned about who is “alpha” and who is “beta,” because they’ve all been way too cool for that insecure bullshit) that all guys are predators of women and that’s natural and okay, and there will be many women who will feel even more like they can’t trust men. (which okay, may be a reasonable starting point in some cases…) All I can say to everyone who disagrees with them, or who has survived this type of harassment, is that you have as much of my support as you’d like, and as much space as you want, too, at your own discretion.