The zero-sum logic of rightwing culture wars.

Many years ago a sister-in-law of mine and I were debating about gay marriage. I have no issue with it but she did. When I asked her what the problem was, she said something to the effect that “giving gays the right to marry diminishes the sanctity of my (straight) marriage.” I found that logic to be very odd. Why would gay folk marrying in any way take away from or diminish straight marriage? If anything it would reinforce the normative preeminence of marriage as an institution over common law partnerships of any orientation, and would give additional legal protection to both the couple and any children that they raise (especially when it comes to travel and foreign residence because some States, among other things, require people to be married for spousal benefits, work permits and child visas. Singapore and several Latin American countries have such requirements).

Over the years my sister-in-law mellowed on gay rights because of exposure to gay people in her wider family, at work and amongst friends. Good on her. But the flaw in her earlier logic has stuck with me and been reemphasised in my mind by the current wave of cultural wars unleashed, Russian invasion-style (and with Russia’s actual involvement) by Western right-wingers. The premise remains the same: granting rights to gays, transgendered, intersexuals, historically oppressed communities, linguistic and religious minorities, schoolchildren (when it comes to what they can read and see in class), etc. comes at the direct expense of someone else, particularly straight white religious adults. Universalizing human rights is seen as usurping the rights of parents, business owners, religious authorities, and in fact, the “natural” patriarchical, racial, sexual and other social hierarchies of previous eras. The “natural” order is seen to be under existential threat and hence all-out war must be waged against those who, consciously or not, adopt Gramsci’s concept of a “war of position” in order to infiltrate “traditional” social, economic and political institutions with subversive intent.

Which makes me remember that foot-binding was once part of the “natural” order in China, and beating of wives and children permissible in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia–to say nothing of much of the Anglo-Saxon world. Bullying very much remains a cultural trait in Aotearoa. Not all tradition is worth preserving.

Much is written about the role of fear in rightwing perspectives. Fear of the “other” specifically. But fear needs to be analytically disaggregated as a concept and social construct. That is to say, fear has its own logic, sometimes rational and sometimes not. What is feared is less important than why it is feared. What fear is rests on two things: uncertainty and a particular perspective on how costs and benefits are distributed. This involves basic notions of loss and gain, particularly who gains and who losses in any social interaction. It is perversely transactional in nature. For example, cuddling an alligator may make him friendly, Or not. How one weighs the balance of odds in that interaction is what determines whether they fear the ‘gator or not. On the other hand, those who go to war know that death is a very likely fate. They know that, they internalize that (because of military socialization), and they get on with the job.

Civil society does (or at least should) not operate that way. It is about the limits of communal tolerance, not the requirements of war. This makes the cultural war references all the more disingenuous and destructive because, quite frankly, one (granting rights to previously marginalized groups) is not like the other.

The type of analytic logic where one rejects the extension of rights to others is known as “zero-sum:” one actor’s gain comes in inverse proportion to another actor’s loss. Expansion of rights for some is seen as a loss of rights for others. Coexistence is impossible under those circumstances because one group wins directly at the expense of another. This is the root perspective underlying prejudice among those who are not stupid (with the idiots more susceptible to the mean-spirited manipulation of non-stupid bigots and authoritarians).

Continuing the game-theoretic angle, the reality is that rather than zero-sum, the likely outcome of the culture wars is either (on the positive side), even–sum (both sides neither win or lose), positive-sum (both sides win) or (on the negative side) negative-sum (both sides lose). Either the bigots abandon the zero sum logic and the rights franchise is expanded to marginal communities without discernable loss of rights to historically dominant groups, with potential benefits accruing to binary and non-binary people resulting from the exchange, or both sides lose as the culture wars deepen, become more divisive, leading to broad scale violence and social rupture as all sides begin to see the conflict as existential. To be sure, I would prefer to see even-sum or positive-sum outcomes prevail but truth be told, many of the transphobes and their rightwing fellow travelers and enablers already see the “struggle” as existential–or an opportunity to stir up contrived controversy.

The last point is worth noting. Some of the arguments against the extension of rights to marginalized groups and individuals indicate that those making them know that they are specious. Claiming that drag queens and transgender people (transsexuals and Democrats!) are pedophiles and “groomers” betrays a moral and ethical dishonesty or gross ignorance. Claiming that transgender people using female bathrooms are a sexual assault threat to biological females (aka females at birth) is grotesque given the gender orientation and self-identity of the non-binary individuals. It may be true that heterosexual male sexual predators have sometimes dressed as women in order to gain access to female-only facilities with evil intent, but the instances of this have been extremely rare and, even rarer yet, are the instances of transgender women using their non-binary status to commit sexual assaults on heterosexual women. Plus, the root problem of such exceptionally rare assaults are different. A heterosexual male posing as a female in order to commit sexual assaults on biological females in female-only spaces is not the same problem as transgender females assaulting other females. The motivations–a question of the mind rather than simply driven by biology–are different even if violence and coercion are the method. As any specialist on transgender violence will explain, the more common issue is one of violence against rather than perpetrated by transgender folk.

Then there is this. Given the percentage of people world wide who are genuinely transgender, the odds of them constituting a significant number of sexual predators anywhere is mathematically low even if all of them were of evil disposition. Which is clearly not the case. When and where transgender initiated violence occurs is a product of personal and social circumstance given the specific context in which a person is situated. Again, the confluence of circumstances that lead to a transgender person lurking in bathrooms or grooming children is exceptional and the arguments that they are common occurrences is risible.

Pablo and his first son in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval, 1987. The poodle is a dude.

I am no expert on the subject, but believing that gender difference is defined purely by genitalia is reductio ad absurdem logic at its worse given the presence of non-gender type conforming (third sex) people throughout history. In fact, several non-Western cultures, including those in India and Polynesia, accept the existence of non-binary people and see them as a separate category rather than as either male or female. Their social roles are not those of males or females, and the culture accepts them for who they are. The history of these human beings has been largely non-violent. The trouble is that in Western societies issues of gender/sex have traditionally been treated as either/or rather than a socially acceptable inflection point on the continuum of human difference. The opprobrium historically assigned to transgender people in the West can therefore be seen as part of a larger pathology grounded in conservative Christian repression when it comes to sexuality and “proper” gender/sexual roles. That is weird. To put it vulgarly by paraphrasing the Tool song title, a “hooker with a penis” may be just that regardless of gender identification (thanks Maynard).

It seems to me that although transphobia is the prejudice d’jour, it follows a long history of bigotry that is marked by the zero-sum approach to social relations. It is simply an extension of earlier and repeated attempts to limit the rights of designated “others” who are seen, hypocritically or out of ignorance, as a threat to the “normal” way of life and social order.That this zero-sum perspective is shared and megaphoned by conservative churches, politicians, lobbying groups and media whose network connections cross international borders makes for a more dangerous and troubling future for those who believe in and have a preference for democracy, human rights and the benefits of egalitarian societies.

Then there is the issue of “wokeness.” In 25 years in academia and the subsequent years doing consulting, I have never once been bothered or infringed upon by “woke” anything. I say this even after having lost an academic job after false accusations of being racist by a foreign (female) student and her coterie of “progressive” supporters annoyed by my stance on some controversial international issues (like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict). Even after that, “wokeness” is simply not an impediment to me leading my life. Personal anecdote aside, I think I know the reason for this. I assume that being “woke” means being attentive to the needs and concerns of others, especially the traditionally oppressed, exploited, subordinated and marginalised. I assume that it means paying attention to one’s words and deeds so as to not cause psychological, emotional or physical harm to others. It means calling out and confronting dog whistling, gaslighting and overt racists, xenophobes, bullies and bigots. If I am correct about what it means to be “woke” then I have no reason to be concerned and instead can be counted in as a “woke” snowflake. And if it means pointing out the analytic flaws in the zero-sum logics of bigots (should the bigots try to be analytic rather than emotive in their reasoning), then I am waaaay woke. Shoot, I just might be a closet gay dude who has not consciously realised it yet! My wife sure is gonna be surprised when she finds out.

Also, if any side is behaving as (anti) woke snowflakes, it is the Right. If they watch their mouths and refrain from bleating hateful rhetoric, no one will “cancel” them. Instead, all they do is complain and whine about socialist/communist/liberal/progressive wokeness and cancel culture and the attack on (insert traditional values and “freedom” shibolleths here). They see everything as an assault on their social superiority, entitlements and privilege That includes the extension of rights to those they traditionally dominated. They are the ultimate “Karens.”

More on point, this is not about cancel culture and stifling free speech. People are merely denouncing hate-mongering and calling out arbitrary privileges assigned by class, race, birthplace or gender. Some of it may boisterous but much of it is justified and non-violent. More broadly, if one cannot understand that individual and collective rights come with responsibilities and that rights end when they infringe, deny or impede on those of others, then one is anything but democratic in social orientation, an ignoramus, or both. In fact, many of those pushing back at the extension of rights to previously excluded groups are outright authoritarian and socially hierarchical in perspective, be they racists, transphobes or Islamicists. Put it this way, if you believe that human society is akin to lobster society where the male with the largest claw gets the best feeding and mating grounds, then you need to go back to high school biology 101 and stop with the cross-species analogies. This is not about alpha and betas, predators and prey, hunters and gatherers and the “natural” social hierarchies. It is about fairness, equality and social justice.

The good news, if any, is that more and more of them are now out in the open, so they can be confronted more readily across many platforms and venues. The bad news is that they also have broad support, including from the institutions mentioned above.

In the end one either wants to see people treated equally so long as they obey basic and broadly shared social mores and principles, or you do not. As far as I can tell Drag Queens reading children’s stories in school and libraries is in line with the first view. Inciting and enabling hatred towards and threatening violence towards marginalized people is not.

This is not “just” about conforming to the gender identity and social roles that genitalia assigns us at birth. It is about much more. It is about who we are as human communities.

36 thoughts on “The zero-sum logic of rightwing culture wars.

  1. Given your background, that mix of atheism and South American leftism, combined with your American experience that gave you a special dose of hatred of Christians and the American Right, this must all sound solid to you. It’s part of your relentless war on the right, which comes across to me as almost autistic in its deep hatred.

    Unfortunately for you the Trans-Rights war that is growing is not being waged against the likes of me but against your erstwhile Left-Wing allies, such as sporting women, plus Lesbians and Homosexual men who feel they are being exterminated by a relentless ideology that sees all young teenage girls with feelings for girls as Trans-Men and same-age gay men as Trans-Woman. From my perspective I can see that Trans is actually as misogynistic as hell. For all the “gender-fluid” stuff these people sure seem to believe in there being just two sexes.

    So basically, this is a fight on your side of the ideological fence, and I think you’re about to find out how ugly those fights can be, beyond any Trotskyist-Stalinist stoush you may have experienced.

  2. Tom,

    You have to stop hitting the Kool Aid. Non male-hating TERFS may be sincere in their beliefs that gender is biologically determined, not socially constructed or a product of gender dysphoria. Lesbian separatist TERFs may simply hate men and not wish to include male-at-birth people in any definition of female/woman. I have known both sub-types. But in the end both subcategories of TERFs are about protecting their turf using the zero-sum logics I wrote about in this post. Sadly, that just makes them pawns rather than agents in the culture wars promoted by heterosexual males in the first instance (wth the likes of reactionary heterosexual women as distaff accomplices). In other words, for the reasons elaborated upon in the post, biological females who oppose transgender rights serve as useful fools, to borrow Lenin’s phrase (since I know you like that old Commie lexicon) of a larger retrograde project.

    PS: The notion that somehow transgender females control the narrative on gender and seek to indoctrinate children into gender fluid conceptualizations of self is unadulterated Tucker Carlson-esque rubbish. Think if it along the lines I mentioned in the post with regard to the mathematical probabilities of transgender people committing a significant number of sex crimes: how will a relatively small percentage of individuals come to dominate the narrative of a much wider feminist movement that includes TERFs that reject them? That notion is ludicrous and an example of the bad faith of the Right when it comes to discussing the subject. But then again, this has never been about reasonable debate, has it?

  3. Pingback: Sick Again | No Minister

  4. So much truth in your post Pablo.

    Whatever happened to live and let live? For those who come from the judgemental & right wing “Christian” faction they should just ask “What would Jesus do?”. I doubt it would be the hateful nonsense we’re seeing, if they truly were what they claim to be.

  5. Thanks Di,

    I agree with you about “live and let live” even though I am an atheist. So long as people do not do harm to others, be that via crime against individuals or groups or by grave disruptions to the social order (not peaceful protest), then people should be allowed to live their lives free from social or legal constraint. It strikes me that in recent years the major threats to NZ society are coming from an increasingly agitated-edging-into-violent Right supported by foreign extremists, not drag queens and trannies. Our intelligence services have pretty much said so in their annual reports since 2019. The culture wars are contrived by grifters, opportunists and radical ideologues. They are not real for the vast majority of us.

  6. I couldn’t agree more Pablo.

    Hope things are improving for you, your family and neighbours.

    Best wishes.

  7. Trans rights is such a trivial issue in the grand scheme of things, the number of people affected just isn’t that high. Especially when argued from the Left, as a total ban on transitioning seems so unlikely. That just leaves debates about edge cases, like sports, public bathrooms, and childhood transitions. Things that will only effect a minority of this minority.

    The people on the extreme right are never going to get their way, it’s not worth paying attention to what they have to say. Those on the extreme left having been getting their way recently but the tide is turning now and they are going to have to learn how to convince others with logic rather than just emotion as various issues with how free choice of gender actually does cause some problems for the wider society.

    It’s not as if liberalism has always got things right in the past. Sometimes the conservatives actually do get things right. Times liberals took things too far: the French Revolution, the Indian and Irish famines, communism. The Amerindians got the much worse end of the stick in the Columbian Exchange, but Europe did get syphilis. Prior to that sexual mores were much more open, it was the ravage of STIs that led to the buttoning up of society.

    Men who have sex with men spread diseases much faster than others (monkeypox is a recent example). Is it a coincidence that when modern medicine was finally able to treat AIDS well enough that is was no longer a death sentence that gay rights soon after had a break through? Hard to say, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

    Conservatives, as a general rule, are a far less articulate bunch than the liberals. They operate off gut instinct more than their heads (liberals act from their hearts rather than their brains, but tend to have more practice at writing and debate). So I don’t pay much attention to what they actually say but instead ponder more about why they might be opposed to something. Yes, generally conservatives will oppose all progress as a rule, but sometimes they oppose certain things in greater numbers than others. And just sometimes they have been right.

    It’s worth keeping that in mind: no sports team wins forever, even if they have been on a hot streak. And if you always bat for one team eventually you’ll end up on the losing side. Sometimes liberals get things right, sometimes conservatives do, often it is neither and moderation was, in retrospect, the best choice.

    So don’t spend all your fire on things that ultimately matter very little.

    Meanwhile dozens of wars are ongoing around the world right now. In the mainstream news we don’t hear about the language war of Cameroon, and very little of how Armenians exist under constant threat of genocide. Did you know ISIS captured another town yesterday? They control a bit of territory in northern Mali.

    War is a very bad thing. One of the worst things, I think you’d agree Pablo. And so often the solutions to these wars are not difficult, at least not for a major power to pull off, they are very difficult for those currently engaged in them to solve by themselves (finally there is a little bit of light there in Yemen though, but no thanks to the first world). We don’t have very many people talking about security issues in New Zealand, so every one we do have counts.

    If this blog does, hypothetically speaking, take a turn towards much greater coverage of social issues I can guarantee two things: one, you will get a higher readership; and two, I will no longer be among them.

    Kia kaha, Pablo.

  8. Not to worry James, the post was an infrequent foray into a social issue. As I stated, it was prompted by my reflection on the logic behind transphobia, etc., and moved to the broader question of how rights are perceived. I noted the transgender folk are a small minority but the larger point–which I hope you understood–is about how perception of rights can be distorted into hate-mongering by evil people. It is the logic behind the perception that was my focus, and I find that logic (zero-sum) to be flawed.

  9. Trans rights is such a trivial issue in the grand scheme of things,

    You may be right about that, certainly in relation to real war. However, one characteristic they share is that this culture war appears to be blowing up beyond anybody’s ability to limit it. And as I pointed to Pablo in my first comment, despite the Right – especially the Christian Right – undoubtedly fighting against abortion and gay marriage, this one’s on you folk here on the Left, hence my disagreement with the title of this post.

    For more evidence of this, here’s “Bomber” Bradbury over at The Daily Blog with more news from the frontlines, Why Dr Bryce Edwards vs Disinformation Project matters so much:

    The naked aggression that Dr Bryce Edwards is getting for daring to challenge woke dogma is extremely instructive to everyone else watching on how being woke is a belief system as opposed to an intellectual philosophy and its cult level vitriol is saved only for heretics.

    The tsunami of outrage from the middle class woke online against Dr Edwards critique of the Disinformation Projects attempt to grow the seeds of a culture war by labelling everyone who had a concern by the mob violence at the Posie Parker was a transphobic white supremacy extremist.

    Dr Edwards highly pointed out that this type of wide sweeping claims based on global social media only causes further alienation.

    For critiquing and labelling the tensions on the Left, the woke middle class faction are attempting to cancel Dr Edwards with complaints to his University and an online hate campaign that smells like a mob.

    Meanwhile me and my RWNJ pals are ordering more popcorn as we speak.

  10. Tom:

    I think the problem with Bryce is three-fold: 1) he holds to an old class line view of the Left (like I do) that sees that emphasis on identity politics detracts from the core (read: class) conflicts confronting working people in capitalist societies, and so is susceptible to the divide and conquer strategies of the Right when it comes to non-essential issues like trans rights (although it is existential for them and should be treated accordingly). My former colleague here at KP, Lew, is the most articulate defender of the identity shift in Left praxis that I know, but he has always recognised the core importance of the class line. The issue is that many “new” lefties are all about identity rather than the social division of labour in a capitalist society, so they do not like Bryce’s take on what the Left should prioritise; 2) for whatever reason, Bryce has turned and is siding with the likes of Sean Plunkett, Bomber, Trotter, Peter Williams, Damien Grant, Farrar and other stale white guys, some of whom appear to have major issues with women. I have time for Bomber but not the other guys and even then wonder why on earth he is thrashing “wokeness etc.” There is a belief in some feminist circles that most of these guys have been burnt by women at some point in their lives or have latent misogynist beliefs that can now be expressed out in the open. I do not know about that but there is another line that is political when it comes to why they seem to have turned Rightwards. The issue was well put by a (female) Twitter user who noted that the former Left guys appear to prefer neo-fascism to neoliberalism, perhaps because the State remains as the superordinate micromanager of the economy rather than a hollow shell beholden to and controlled by private interests. That perhaps is debatable but at least is about ideological predilections, not personal contradictions.

    The final criticism is about Bryce’s lack of scholarship. For years he has produced nothing more than his cut and paste commentary on other people’s commentary and the occasional op ed of his own. He has secured a sinecure at Victoria University and parlayed that into the impression of being a real political science scholar. He may have been while at Otago University but that was a long time ago. Genuine political scientists do not appreciate him posing as one just because he has a decades old Ph.D. in Political Science. In fact, his critique of the Disinformation Project’s methodology was risible given that he has no real training in quantitative, qualitative or mixed social science methods and does not appear to have even glanced at the data charts that the DP presented. One cannot be taken seriously under those circumstances, which is what has happened with his academic critics. Incidentally, I stand with the DP in this stoush. They are not political scientists and do not have any expertise in terrorism/counter-terrorism, but they stay in their lane and look at the rhetoric of violence on political and social means of communication. They may engage in some hyperbole but just like Nicky Hager, they have never been proven wrong (yet) and in fact their findings have been confirmed by the NZ intelligence community in their annual reports. They are not some Lefty sock puppet outfit with a Labour government globalist agenda even if they seek sources of funding from government and other sources because they live off of soft money, not hard dedicated funding lines.

    You and I will always disagree on matters of social import, but aside from some personal invective from time to time, I enjoy having you lurk around this part of the NZ blogosphere.

  11. This column takes some interesting convolutions.
    And for a while I thought TH (above) might be one of those little green men, that hangs out in that formless building next to the River, in Moscovy, churning out replies/comments/ and so on to every blogger and commentator on social media, national radio stations, etc, in the West …. trying to undermine our fragile democracies seemingly from within … They would have you on their radar, Pablo, given your past; and your presence.
    It is an interesting (intellectual) discussion, but behind it all is fear. The likes of Posie Parker et al ultimately suffer from fear – of the unknown, of what or who is different, of what threatens their sense of security in their world, however erroneous. I don’t know, I was brought up to tolerate all people. ‘Peace and love’. Even if you don’t understand them or where they come from. As Di says, ‘live and let live’. I don’t know where this hatred (for that is how their fear is expressed) of ‘other’ has come from – though I was very pleased we saw Ms Parker off in NZ and did not have to suffer any neo-nazi hocus pocus as they did in Oz. But the hatred she symbolizes does not agree with my core values at all. I blame social media; and perhaps changing education emphases (like, the reduced numbers studying humanities at university; and the cost of that education).
    I am interested in this ‘freedom of speech’ issue, again as highlighted in the Posie Parker case. At what point ‘freedom of speech’ needs to be defended (as did the Opp leaders here), before it morphs into ‘hate speech’ to be legislated against. And it occurred to me, as we bring in hate speech laws etc, are we beginning to see what is essentially a discussion on Ethics in our society. That seems such an old-fashioned thing, a ‘doctrine’, makes me think of Plato et al. Currently probably buried in Philosophy (if they still teach that!), or Law, at universities. But such an intriguing thought, that Western society might be beginning to consider much more widely principles, standards, ethics – things which were probably formerly contained and passed on within some kind of belief system perhaps (religion per se is so little practised now and has little real relevance in our society … now largely forgotten by the majority).

    It was said a long time ago that consumerism is the new religion, and that still holds more than ever. Consumption of everything, incl. travel, leisure. So shallow, superficial, really. (But I digress.)

    I would welcome a wider discussion of Ethics in our society. To understand where the Posie Parkers in this world come from. And put them in their place if needs be. So we maintain a tolerant society with freedoms for all.

    Kind regards.

  12. What is a simple definition of ethics?

    Ethics examines the rational justification for our moral judgments; it studies what is morally right or wrong, just or unjust. In a broader sense, ethics reflects on human beings and their interaction with nature and with other humans, on freedom, on responsibility and on justice.

  13. Thanks Barbara,

    For the considered responses. I agree that fear is a root cause of current fixations (as I mentioned in the post) and that fear is being manipulated by mean-spirited people for their own ends. If we think about it, since 9/11 the West has lived in a state of fear continuously promoted by conservative politicians and media. Everything that is not “traditional” or “natural” to a given society is seen as dangerous: immigrants, non-Christian religions, brown people, non-binary people, emerging great powers, different ideologies etc. Again, all of tis reduces, in terms of the logic underpinning these views, to a zero-sum approach to social difference. You and I clearly agree that is a flawed perspective.

    Tom and I have back-and-forthed over the years. He writes over at No Minister, the rightwing blog. We have a common connection to Chicago. Although we will pretty much disagree on everything, at least with me he is usually pretty civil unlike many of his fellow travellers. Cheers!

  14. I know one thing for certain. That change, revolution, such as we saw in 1960’s and 70’s (when I was a teenager/young adult) that ushered in an era of such freedom and progress – freedom to love (the Pill, contraception), to express oneself (protest – against politics, the Vietnam War, war in general, nuclear weapons and testing, technology), music, self-awareness, social awareness, the whole 9 yards … is like a wave. In terms of human consciousness, as in, awareness, on all fronts, social, political, personal, there is a huge leap forward; then it recedes, while it is embedded in.
    And so now we find ourselves in an almost retrogressive phase, I think. Meanwhile, our cohort (and I include you in that) matures and takes on positions of power. That phase is probably past now too. We are … old. Wise heads, yes, but the politicians making the laws are younger – they are the children of our generation (Jacinda Ardern must be the best example).
    The new wave of evolution, whether social, political, or personal will come again, and it will run higher up the beach. I am positive about that.
    (Russia will have to grow up. China ? Another story. A mysterious nation.)

    Look for the signposts.

  15. Last comment from me on this subject…
    That change, revolution, such as we saw in 1960’s and 70’s (when I was a teenager/young adult) that ushered in an era of such freedom and progress

    Funny you should say that Barbara because here is another woman of your vintage and ideology, Harry Potter author, J K Rowling, in a recent interview:

    In my lifetime, we’ve seen such a shift on the left, and I still would define myself as of the left, but I was born in the 60s when transgression really was the preserve of the left, when challenging authority, and when making the dark joke, and when breaking societal norms was very much the preserve of the left.

    And I worry very deeply that, as the left becomes increasingly puritanical and authoritarian and judgmental, we are pushing swathes of people towards not just the right, it’s pushing them to the Alt Right.

  16. Hello Tom,

    You assume too much when you presume JKR to be a woman of my vintage and ideology.
    I confess I had to look her up online as I know little about her, other than her books (which I have not read – they are for children) and her more recent ‘persuasions’.
    In fact she was born some time after me, some years in fact. When she was at what we call primary school, I was starting university. And I had had a gap year too.
    I would not say she was of my ideology at all. In fact I suspect her name now will be forever if not for a long time associated with the word ‘transphobia’.
    I do not understand her comments quoted in the interview.
    I am not aware of a shift on the left. I haven’t a clue what she is referring to when she talks about ‘making the dark joke’ (perhaps you can enlighten me?)
    ‘The left’ as puritanical, authoritarian and judgmental’? (I hope thats not a subtle dig at me or my writing! lol) ‘Pushing swathes of ppl to the right’? The ‘Alt Right’? That is not my experience at all, or my observation. It is almost laughable, but then scarily bordering on the delusional … Is she somehow trying to sow seeds of doubt, influencing? Then she has succeeded with you, ‘mein freund’.

    I think we should leave JKR to her knitting … in 3 words – ‘fantasy’, ‘fiction’, and ‘children’. Or perhaps ‘child’ would be better.

    Kindest regards.

  17. Hola Pablo

    Some well contemplated responses by all contributors.

    What gets me is how the trans movement has become so toxic so fast.

    Transvestites / cross dressers have been amongst NZ society for decades.
    Society showed civilian decency through a combination of polite indifference and keeping their comments to themselves.

    But now.. oh how things have changed !

    Social media has a lot to answer for as it allows every man and his dog to have a say about anything. So perhaps freedom of expression & thoughts should be looked at from a perspective of CAPACITY.

    We are all capable of expressing ourselves. If we can’t do so in a civilian matter
    perhaps we shouldn’t do so at all. We must learn the value of silence

  18. Hi Edward,

    Good to hear from you. The point of my post was simply to explicate the logic of prejudice. Because it is topical I used the trans issue as the stepping off point for the larger discussion, which involves fear and hatred of the unknown and “others.” I probably should have framed the discussion differently because my view is that arguments about transgender rights are making a mountain of a molehill given the very small percentage of the human population’s make-up that are trans people and how non-Western societies have accepted them over millennia.

    There are of course illogical reasons that people use to justify their hatreds but I have no time for idiocy so I was trying to focus on the analytic foundations of prejudice rather than the moronic rantings of uneducated bigots. Again, the bottom line for me is that prejudice stems from zero-sum conceptualisations of the social order and human interaction.

  19. Dear Readers.

    I have added a photo that is germane to the discussion. It is from a time when I lived in Rio de Janeiro, where toleration of difference is particularly high during the Carnaval season.

  20. Wow. Crazy photo, thanks :-)
    1987. Our son was about the same age….

    I agree about trans people in other cultures (your original post). They have been accepted and more importantly integrated for a long time, incl. in those societies near to us.
    Why can they not be now? What has changed.
    ‘Variety is the spice of life’. (Can I quote that without getting any kickback lol)

  21. Indeed Barbara, “live and let live” was one of my parents’ madras. Also, with regards to differences of opinion, “that is why we have horse races.”

    That little boy is now 38 and a special education teacher. I can safely say that he is not afraid of trans people or drag queens.

  22. The golden rule is something I live my life by and by and large it has served me well. What I really worry about is the “othering” that goes on and by extension cancel culture. Cancelling one’s right to speak regardless of whether you agree with it or not is deeply damaging to the demos IMHO with the result that it drives debates that need to be conducted in public underground.

  23. UD:

    I agree that it is best to confront unpleasant speech in the public square, but the question is where is the line drawn between hate speech and protected offensive speech? I would say that the former is speech than foments, incites, condones or otherwise encourages violence against individuals and groups. As such it should not be protected. Everything else, from racist jokes to transphobic ranting about pedos and groomers, is protected and therefore permissible. However, those who want to exercise their right to be offensive to others must be prepared for counter protests and the like. They key is for both sides in any argument/debate to do so peacefully. Chanting and singing is cool; pushing and shoving, throwing of objects and substances is not.

    My family lived near Speakers Corner in Hyde Park when they lived in London. We used to head over there to see the show on the weekends when everyone and his dog were having their say. Booing, snark, ridicule, laughing and jeering were common. There were bobbies standing around to keep order but the crowds was self-regulating in that regard. In other words, the back and forth was civil and often good natured. If someone got bolshy the cops just asked them to move along.

    I am not sure what the situation there is like today but I fear that be it there, in Washington, Melbourne or Auckland, the ability to disagree civility has been lost because of the corrosive, vulgarising and polarising impact of social media and pop culture on general discourse and public debate.

  24. A thought I’ve had for some time now (perhaps it will seem a bit paranoid) is that I believe a lot of the anti-trans rhetoric and division is quite likely being cleverly manipulated by foreign players. I don’t know how that can be moderated as the situation is a very heated one on both sides (I’d like to say debate but there’s not much chance of that), but given, say, Russia’s delight at meddling in western democracy’s affairs it seems to me it is a gift that keeps on giving at the present time.

  25. I am reading a new book at the moment, ‘Russia’s War on Everybody and what it means for you’, by Keir Giles, of the Chatham House (London) Russia and Eurasia Programme – published by Bloomsbury. In it he discusses all the ways in which Russia has acted globally like the naughty schoolkid, getting away with murder, quite literally. All footnoted and referenced. Another recent publication is by Luke Harding, former (he was kicked out) correspondent for the Guardian in Russia, ‘Shadow state : murder, mayhem, and Russia’s remaking of the West’, in which he discusses all the ways Russia seeks to influence and undermine the West, elections, referendums, and all. It was there that I read of the faceless building by the river in Moscow, where trolls are employed to continuously monitor and respond to, seek to influence online sites in the West. So now when one of our broadcasters says, ‘send me your texts’ I take the replies with a grain of salt. Often they are heavily weighted to rightwing thinking. Too much of a coincidence in this country I think.

    Btw I think I may owe your correspondent Tom, above, an apology. I had not read the replies properly and missed the discussion on the divisions in ‘the left’. But it is something I am not aware of, and in fact nothing would induce me to shift allegiances – it really is the best of a bad bunch with politics in NZ, anywhere really; the lesser of 2 (or 3, or 4, lol in NZ) evils. I am not really a politico, I came to this site because I liked the ‘intelligence’ (in more ways than one) and I am interested in international relations, geo-politics – Russia, China; and Ukraine.
    Its funny how a war has forced us to read, to learn, about areas of the world and their politics that were hitherto more at the back of our brains, our awareness.
    The new books that come out on the subject help too, of course.


  26. @Pablo. I think you are bang on re Bryce Edwards. My mate (a former teacher in journalism in a previous life), and I used to refer to him as ‘the aggregator’. At times, dangerously close to a plagiarist.

    Thankfully he (Bryce) seems to improved somewhat, at least offering some analysis. And I now find that the aggregator can sometimes be useful, saving me time where every man/person/dog/gorilla now professes membership to the 4th Estate. And of course, like the rest of them, they need to earn a crust to pay the mortgage and credit card debt, and prostitution is now legal.

    And like you, I have some time for the “opinionated and bombastic” Bomber Bradbury and indulge in the Daily Blog almost everyday. He worries me at times though.
    Midlife crisis is upon him and there doesn’t seem to be a lot in life he seems satisfied with, although it’s heartening to know he has the wrap-around services he probably needs in the form of Damien, that f-wit whose name eludes me – ahhh yes Plunket, and the likes of Bryce.

    The Daily Blog ALMOST, but never everyday, because I’ve never really been into Hero worship, and the repetitive talking points and spin lines are no more sophisticated than those in the worst of the MSM he is quick to criticise..
    He’s built quite a following, and most of his commenters – not all, are up for it all.

    As for:
    “The issue was well put by a (female) Twitter user who noted that the former Left guys appear to prefer neo-fascism to neoliberalism, perhaps because the State remains as the superordinate micromanager of the economy rather than a hollow shell beholden to and controlled by private interests. ”

    That’s scary but with a big element of truthiness.
    I was just as scared and amused when I put “always having to be right” in the google searchbar.

    I must be woke.

  27. Thanks for the book recommendations, Barbara. I’ll seek them out. From what you’ve been reading it seems it ties into what I’ve been reading about the subject. It’s incredibly alarming and seems to have taken us a long time to twig on to how much Russian (and Chinese) influence has been having on our way of life, here in the west. Perhaps intelligence agencies and analysts have been long aware of this. Can you shed any light here, Pablo?

  28. Di (and Barbara):

    Yes, Barbara’s readings are worth having a look at it. As for the intel community awareness of PRC/Russian hacking/social media disinformation/influence operations. It was known by the coal face analysts but ignored by their superiors because budget money only flowed to the anti-jihadist crusade (even if there were few jihadists to be found in most of the West after 2017). Politicians funded what fear-mongering media focused upon (jihadi brides!) when the real threat was PRC/Russian campaigns to support seditious groups that seek to undermine Western liberal democracies from within using freedom of speech and loose political financing and advertising laws as the main Achilles Heels to be exploited. We are now behind the curve on that and playing catch up, and yet the political class in NZ seems to be incapable of seeing the threat staring at them in the face.

  29. Thanks for that, Pablo. Makes absolute sense. It’s incredibly disappointing to say the very least. I somehow doubt we’ll be able to catch up and make up lost ground now. There are so many media streams of disinformation that are well established both here and of course in the US, Europe and the rest of the world. Serious resources are needed in order to combat the problem but I doubt there’d be a willingness to do so as there are so many people who really don’t believe there is any sort of threat at all – witness the letters to the editor sections in local newspapers for a start. There’d be howls of anger from certain sectors – and attempts to discredit those tasked to do the work as has been the case for Sanjana Hattotuwa and his colleagues at the Disinformation Project recently.

    Perhaps the verdict in the Fox News trial might give some in the disinformation space pause for thought, but I won’t be holding my breath.

  30. For those who are interested, and haven’t seen it, this is very much worth watching.
    Timothy Snyder on PBS. On Ukraine, Russia, and the US/the West.

    Brilliant interview, covers lots of areas, Russian psychology (towards the West), influence, Trump (a ‘gift’ to Russia), recent history in the run-up to the War in Ukraine.
    He explains it all in simple terms but also very compelling.
    He always says history does not repeat, but it teaches.

  31. I agree, Barbara – essential viewing. Like you I’ve watched Professor Snyder’s history of Ukraine lectures online and am presently reading his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler And Stalin. It’s incredibly grim, but well written and I’ve learned an awful lot. Much of which makes sense of what is happening at present in Ukraine given the historical perspectives, especially in combination with the Yale lecture series.

  32. Hi, sorry for the slightly spammy comment… I found this website from a (left leaning) political blog. I wonder if you might like to contribute to my website ( I’m seeking people with left and right views on this to help me collate perspectives and news on what the NZ govt is doing (but mostly left because my site is starting to look a little right leaning and I’m looking for balance). It’s a fledgling publication, but hopefully I’ll see you over there in the form of a subscription and some comments in the chat section and comments on my articles. ta!

    My website’s aim is basically to honestly and (hopefully) unbiasedly chronolog what the government do/have done since gaining power and add a little analysis so help people reflect upon a summarized view come election later in the year. It’s hard work for me to write because I have a full time job and hobbies, but I think it’s important.

    Hopefully I’ll see you over there.

  33. Thanks Di. I started to read Bloodlands also, but as you say its pretty depressing. And mine was a library book – somehow it just ended up on the bottom of the pile before it ultimately went back lol (I read for leisure as well – and this is def not a leisurely read!). Perhaps I should pick it up again. The reviews say overwhelmingly that it is an important book. The history he describes in such awful detail gives a different shape and shade to pre and post-World War 2 Europe I think, to the one we had been familiar with before Ukraine.
    Its actually quite an old book now, though still available if anyone is interested.

  34. Yes, it is a hard read, Barbara, but one I wanted to continue with as I’m fascinated by that era – possibly because I knew men & a few women who had different, but similar experiences of those times, especially WWII. I also realised I had very little knowledge of Ukraine as a country and in the early stages of the Russia/Ukraine war didn’t know what the truth was of the situation of Crimea – whether it truly did belong to Russia, or not. Thanks to great commentary & analysis by the likes of Pablo, then more recently Prof Snyder, Anne Applebaum, Julia Ioffe etc, I’ve learned the truth and the history of the country – but, as you know, the book has a much wider focus than just Ukraine. Probably the first person who piqued my interest in the history of the region was my father, who was taken as a POW in the Battle of Crete and imprisoned in Stalag 8b (Lamsdorf – now Łambinowice in south-west Poland) and another was my former husband, a Romanian man who ended up in Germany during the war after running away from home as a 12 year old. He was caught by the Germans and moved to various labour camps, ending up in Dachau as a labourer (he was much older than me when we met) then immigrated to Australia as a stateless person around 1949. He had recently moved to NZ to work on the Manapouri tunnel at Deep Cove. I met many of his contemporaries both here and in Oz (most from other Eastern European countries) many of whom had their own similar stories of living through the war.

    I have to say the next book I read will be some light relief!

  35. Thats really interesting Di. I cannot imagine living in Europe, eastern Europe, before, during and after the 2nd World War; the experiences these people must’ve had.
    I have heard of Anne Applebaum, but not seen a lot of her. Not heard of Julia Ioffe.
    I confess I do not go that wide on the net. Otherwise I would be here all day lol (its raining today, which helps!)
    I’ve put a hold on Bloodlands again since I replied above, and shall delve, dive into it again. Its good to know about these things, however grim. Its our history too, as you point out, and it shapes everyone’s futures.

    Thanks again for you insights and experiences.

  36. My pleasure, Barbara. I wasn’t sure if it is appropriate to post personal stuff here, but gives you an idea of what motivates me. Also; I enjoy your very insightful posts. You’re so right when you say these events shape everyone’s future.

    I have to take myself out to the garden, or for long walks on the beach and our lovely green spaces so that I don’t spend too long browsing the internet and generally recharging – and always feel much better for that, I admit. :)

    I read Bloodlands in short bursts and during the day mostly. Found I could cope better with the terrible written examples Timothy Snyder includes (not gratuitous, but necessary as part of the narrative as to the barbarity of the Russian and Nazi soldiers). I hope you feel you can finish this book, but a strong constitution is certainly necessary!

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