It’s all gone bad hasn’t it

The internet has never been so broken.

Where are the good conversations at? That was the core currency of the internet: newsgroups and bulletin boards, then blogs and forums, then social media and comment sections. And now it’s all gone.

Facebook is an unworkable mess, burying the things your friends say beneath piles of engagement-bait posts from groups you don’t follow or care about. Twitter is a collapsing building full of grifters and fascists. TikTok is linear TV for the algorithmic era. Comment sections are feral or gone because moderation cost too much (not to mention most of the good sites that hosted them have been stripped for parts, pour one out for the AVClub). Blogs are dead because outbound links are buried by every algorithm and RSS has been systematically strangled. There are a few dark-forest forums on discord and slack, and of course group chats, hidden spaces that only work well if participants are limited, and that’s about it.

Substack isn’t going to do it, either. We spent ten years getting all that stuff out of our email inbox, that pendulum isn’t going to swing back that far.

It didn’t have to be like this. But at least some awful people got very rich along the way.

The problem with men

This has been an unpleasant week; by which I mean I have been reminded many times that for women, every week is an unpleasant week. All this came across my screen.

The dark side of Guardian comments
“New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.”

The women abandoned to their online abusers
On the internet, if I ever complain and say; ‘This has happened, I’m sick of it’, people say; ‘You’re on the internet, what do you expect?’
“There’s no support for women at all, from the police or anyone else.”

This horrifying and newly trendy online harasment tactic is ruining careers
“Both 8chan and Kotaku in Action regularly crowdsource research into the histories of private individuals who’ve done little more than post about feminism on social media.”

I will come forward
How a prominent New Zealand music identity conducted a troubling series of relationships with young women, including girls as young as 12.

Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem
“I know that if I speak out against the abuses myself and my friends have suffered as a result of our participation in the “friendly gaming community” I can expect to be silenced with extreme prejudice.”

But at least there was also, in response to that last one:

For good men to see nothing
I have a list of things you can do.

Safety & exclusion at the Dowse

The Dowse Art Museum here in controversial Lower Hutt is hosting an exhibition with a video component that only women will be allowed to view. The video shows Muslim women getting ready for a wedding. Limiting views to women is a condition of display, in accordance with the wishes of the subjects.

This has got people talking, unsurprisingly, but most of what is being said is dumb.*

As far as I can tell, sitting under this issue are two contrary positions, and I don’t think they’re self-evident. Here’s my take on them:

“A public gallery must not share an artwork if some people will be excluded from seeing it.”
“A public gallery can share an artwork even if some people must be excluded from seeing it in order for the subjects to feel safe.”

Now, the way I’ve written that second position is important. I think most people who align with the first position think they’re arguing against something different, namely this: “A public gallery can share an artwork even if some people must be excluded from seeing it because another culture says so.”

This is a spectacularly unhelpful framing, for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because it treats culture difference as the final word. Their culture is just different to ours, and in this case, it’s offensively different! But culture isn’t the end of the story, it’s just the beginning. Look under the hood, and you find that cultural differences are almost always just different expressions of values that are shared across cultures. Here, it’s about safety, and about how people in different cultures feel safe. In the culture shown in this video display, safety is heavily gendered in a way it isn’t here.

If you accept my framing that talks about safety, then you have a discussion on your hands, a proper ethical conundrum. Does safety justify exclusion? Can exclusion ever be justified? It would be nice to have that discussion. I see no signs of it so far, though.

My personal view right now? I have to say it doesn’t bother me. Here’s why:

I want New Zealand to be a multicultural society, and that means one that accepts cultural practice that is not consonant with our own expectations. If we want to welcome people from other cultures, then we have to give them space on our turf to do things their way. It’s that simple.

(What’s not simple is figuring out exactly how far that goes. FGM is not to be blithely welcomed in my multicultural NZ, for example. Where to draw a line has to be carefully, probably painfully, argued out over generations; but the starting point and the principle is nonetheless clear.)

So I’m totally cool with an art gallery following an other-culture’s ideas, including a public-funded gallery as a small part of its ongoing work. Violating my cultural norms for a short time seems like a small price to pay to give space for, and access to, another culture.

And yes, the norm here is involves gendered discrimination. The idea of gender equality is awesome when it’s used to attack the concentration of social power in men. But that just doesn’t apply here; this is about protecting the social power of women. I think I support this inequality for the exact same reasons I support equality in the vast majority of contexts.

Also: there’s an idea that allowing this exclusion weakens the general principle of equality in our society. I don’t buy it. Maybe someone could convince me, but I just don’t see how you can get there from here.

Also 2: yes, there might be legal issues – if this is non-compliant with Human Rights legislation, then it’s gotta go, because that’s the law. But it’ll seem to me like an exercise of law that isn’t warranted, a false positive on the spirit of the legislation.

That’s where I’m sitting right now. Totally open to being pushed or pulled around on this, should a sober exploration of this ethical situation ever eventuate. Ha ha.

* Really dumb. There’s a lot of talk about political correctness, obscenity, Sharia law, thin edges of wedges, and numerous tangential comments on Maoris and playdough. The complainant getting media is a perfect example of this type, and I think it’s obvious his opposition is bound up with some unpleasant stereotypes and fears.

White Man’s Akira

Don’t worry folks, even though lots of really big things in the world are going wrong, there’s still room for some very small things to go completely wrong too.

The script for the Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures live action adaptation of anime artist Katsuhiro Otomo’s 6-volume graphic novel Akira has been sent to a short list of actors… I’m told that for Tetsuo, Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy have been given the new script. For the role of Kaneda, the script has been given to Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake and Joaquin Phoenix. The two leads are expected to come from that group of actors.

[They’re not actually going to have Robert Pattinson playing a character called Tetsuo. The Deadline link says the action has been moved from Neo-Tokyo to New Manhattan. He’ll be Theodore. Justin Timberlake will be Kevin. I guess they won’t be teenagers any more either.]

Jim Liu on global consciousness

I’ve been meaning to blog this for a while. In late September, my friend, colleague and occasional mentor Jim Liu gave his Professorial lecture. I was forced to miss the event, but was able to watch the whole thing online. I recommend you do as well – it’s a great talk. It’s called Towards a Psychology of Global Consciousness, and brings together a bunch of Jim’s research interests to reach a conclusion that’s challenging, even shocking.

First, he goes through some fascinating research into how we perceive history, using a huge international survey where people in different countries listed events and people from history in order of importance. This stuff is fascinating in its own right, and Jim uses it to draw some conclusions about the basis of what he calls a global consciousness.

Then he connects this to the NZ situation, and looks at how NZ history is conceived and how Maori and Pakeha relations are complicated by our views of history. (“Historical negation” emerges as an incredibly powerful method to preserve the status quo.) But it’s also clear that Maori culture is much better suited than Pakeha culture to make sense of the collectivist/high-power-distance societies that are rapidly increasing in global power.

Finally he turns to one of those rising societies, China, and looks at the basis of societal relations in Chinese culture. Their model of benevolent authority, Jim suggests, is the way the world is going. In fact, given the failure of democracies to cope with the signal challenge of this era, climate change, perhaps a benevolent authoritarian society is the ideal way forward.

It’s an extremely challenging conclusion, and you really need to hear Jim tell the whole story before dismissing it. Fortunately, you can do exactly that, and read all his slides, right here. It’s a bit under an hour (don’t be fooled by the duration on the video, they just left the camera running in the room after everyone had gone) and worth every minute, particularly for fellow Kiwis.


What I’m doing this week

Part of my life is being manager of the Centre for Applied Cross-cultural Research. Every week the researchers get together and there’s a presentation of some sort or another.
This week, I’m doing one. I’m not a cross-cultural researcher, but I am a giant geek. So:

Playing culture: Dungeons & Dragons, fantastic ethnicity, and the undisciplined mimetic imagination

For several decades, intercultural education has made productive use of interactive exercises, role-plays and simulations. These “infinite games” offer a way to explore and practise cultural interaction in a way that is immersive, memorable and supportive of exploration. Such engagements are carefully managed with inductions and post-experience briefings to contextualise what has taken place.

However, there exists a vibrant strain of parallel activity that is purely informal. For forty years, small groups of people have gathered together and imagined intercultural experiences without any inductions, briefings, or contextual guides. Tabletop role-playing games use an infinite game structure for the shared creation of character-based narrative fiction, and intercultural engagements often feature. In this presentation, I’ll describe how these games have presented and explored culture, and how innovative techniques are opening new possibilities for playing culture. To explore some of these ideas, a prototype for a new game based directly on cross-cultural research will be presented for discussion and feedback.

Happening Thursday. Should be fun.

Frank Sidebottom RIP

I didn’t know what the hell to make of this when I was a kid reading Oink! comic. One of those inexplicable British things that, as a Kiwi kid, you encountered from time to time in the UK’s pop-culture output.

Frank Sidebottom was the creation of Chris Sievey, and it was somewhere between comic genius and outsider art. Sievey died last week, only 54 years old.

Frank Sidebottom was punk. He was, he really was.

Lew Stringer discusses Sievey’s Oink! work.

Google also turned up this lovely story.

Of Tax Rates and Bob

This post would be much better if I actually had the numbers it needs. But I’m posting it anyway, because I’m not afraid to look like an idiot on the internets.

This story from Radio NZ was mentioned on the radio news as I was waking up this morning. It included a quote from Roger Douglas, from the economic-uberliberal ACT party. I can’t recall the numbers he cited (can anyone find ’em? I just listened to another news broadcast and they didn’t repeat this story) but it was along the lines of “the top (small)% of earners pay (much bigger)% of the tax”.

Keep that in mind and review this graph from No Right Turn, that shows almost half the wealth of NZ is concentrated in just 10% of the population:

This makes clear that Douglas is keeping the other half of the equation covered. With such great wealth concentration, it doesn’t seem nearly so problematic that there’s tax concentration. In fact, isn’t tax concentration exactly what we should expect from a well-functioning system?

And as a complete aside, I love the saga of Bob, the limited-English Chinese youth who ran away from home and slept rough in Otara – the roughest, toughest, scariest-to-us-white-folks place in NZ – where he was befriended by a Samoan youth and taken in by that family. And they decided to call him Bob.

Faleto’a, who already has seven sons, welcomed him into her family. “This is my beloved son Bob,” she told Campbell Live. “I love him just the same as my boys.”

This, when tensions between Asian and Pasifika ethnic groups in Auckland are rising. It’s just a good reminder that people are basically awesome.

Teen girls: unlike teen boys

World-famous Twitter trending topic, Justin Bieber, arrived in NZ for a one-day visit and lots of girls screamed. The frenzy was much like that welcoming the Beatles when they arrived here in 1964


I wonder, about the screaming and the hyperventilating etc etc. It’s clearly a social game, a kind of ritualistic process to achieve a heightened state of arousal (Justin Bieber as narcotic influence). But is this behaviour present in all cultures? How far back in history does it go?

Anyone know anything?