How extremists cope with widespread dissent

July 28, 2011 at 3:41 am (Humans, Politics)

How do extremists continue believing what they believe? The recent attack in Norway, I think, has brought up this question in many people’s minds (helped by the fact that the perpetuator is white and blonde and thus ought to be perfectly normal). The usual response is that they must be either unintelligent or mentally disturbed. Neither, from my observations, is true. In fact, those who take a definite political position have on average a higher intelligence than the “moderates” and the politically unaffiliated, and political extremists are well-represented in the academia and in prominent professions.

The most common trait among extremists, I would say, is the ability to rationalize why others disagree with you, a trait that is usually seen by others as a form of cynicism – for example, a central tenet of Marxism is the fundamental role of ideology, or that what people believe tend to be a result of their socio-economical circumstances. A second and related trait is the belief that their beliefs are misrepresented by others to be something related and wrong, but that they themselves are in fact different. For example, Marxists are notorious for their many ideological streams, each of which criticizes and fights against the others; while the neo-Nazis take great pains to distinguish themselves from the Nazis.

For a practical demonstration, here are two excellent examples of how extremists deal with ideological insecurity, one from the Marxists and one from the neo-Nazis:

1. Badiou: On Different Streams Within French Maoism (an interview with Alain Badiou, a prominent French “philosopher” and probably the most famous Maoist in Europe)

2. Do you ever lose faith in your racist beliefs? (a thread on Stormfront, the largest neo-Nazi forum on the Internet)

I do not imply by this post that extremism itself is a bad thing. In fact, I have plenty of extreme beliefs, such as my atheism and my belief that family as a social institution ought to be abolished; and I am sure we can find in history countless examples in which an extreme minority turned out to be correct (by beliefs, I mean only falsifiable beliefs, not opinions relating to moral values, although these two are often confused with each other).

However, most beliefs held by an extreme minority are probably false, and this is especially true for those that have been out of favor for years – in the above two cases, the Maoist beliefs about class struggle and the viability of central planning; and the fascist belief that race is a fundamental determinant of personality.


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Efficient arguments

July 16, 2011 at 1:08 am (Humans)

I. How ordinary people argue over issues:

A: Intellectual property protection is such a ridiculous thing. How do you justify charging $10 for a music album that costs next to nothing to produce*?

B: Wow, I can’t believe you said this. So you want to STEAL from honest artists*? Would you like others to steal from you too*? I think I might defriend you on Facebook.

A: Well, YOU don’t have to worry about buying stuff because you’re rich*. Not everybody is as privileged as you*. And record companies are too rich anyway. If they were honest, they could pay more of their profits to the real artists*!

B: Not stealing from others is not a choice, it is a moral duty*! “Thou shall not steal”*. You only think intellectual property is bad because you don’t want to pay for what you purchase**! You know who else forcibly took the property of others? Adolf Hitler.*

II. How economists[1] argue :

A: I detest intellectual property rights, for they limit the spread of innovation.

B: I support intellectual property rights, for they provide an incentive to innovate.

A: That is a good point. Let’s find some way of quantifying the benefits from providing incentives to innovate and the costs of limited innovation and compare their magnitude, then we shall know which of our opinions is more valid.

III. How sociologists argue:

A: Over the last few years there has been significant debate about whether intellectual property rights are desirable or even justifiable. Certain economists have argued that intellectual property rights may have some merit, based on their so-called “cost-benefit” mathematical model. But such mathematical models with their reliance on complicated equations and statistical jargon grossly simplify the realities which underlie intellectual property, in the context of an increasingly deregularized and privatized society which operates under the neoliberal doctrine of “free market” capitalism. (Althusser, 1965)  Indeed, seen properly in the context of the late-capitalist épisteme, intellectual property is no more than a metaphysical form of social coercion designed to benefit the upper middle-classes by protecting the status quo – hence the eerie resemblance of the ideology’s name to the classical belief of “property rights”, which had always been more concerned with protecting the physical property of the privileged rather than the mental property of the poor, thus justifying drastic cuts in education, arts and culture, even as the tax system is made to disproportionately favor the wealthy bourgeoisie.

1. Except for Steven Levitt. Here’s the Levitt argument: Is intellectual property protection a good thing? Well, how would my daughter feel about it?

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London artist shows off to struggling foreign workers how much money he can afford to waste

July 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm (Arts and languages)

Link: The Art of the Factory

“I asked them to make me one of their products, but to make it with an error…Whatever this worker chose to do, I would accept and pay for.”

“[Err is] about creating deliberate miscommunication,” continues Hutchison, “forging a moment of poetry within a hyper-efficient system of digital exchange. It’s about an invisible global workforce, and their connection to the relentless regurgitation of stuff. It’s about Duchamp and the readymade, but updated to exist within the context of today’s globalised economy. It’s about the rub between art and design, the mass-produced and unique, the functional and the dysfunctional.”

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American media and oppressor narratives

July 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm (Mass media, Politics)

About six weeks ago, a few days after the Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) allegations surfaced, I received my latest subscription of TIME Magazine (Asia). The cover read “Sex. Lies. Arrogance. What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs”. Knowing fully well what the content is about, I put it on my shelf fully wrapped and decided that I would only read it after DSK is vindicated (or proven guilty – but I thought that would be extremely unlikely).

Today, as DSK’s accuser is expected to be charged with perjury after admitting to lying under oath, I finally unwrapped the magazine and read the cover article. There is not much that I can say, besides my sincere and unrealistic hope that the author loses her job; frankly there is not much that I was surprised by. Here are a few quotations from the article:

“How can it be, in this ostensibly enlightened age…that anyone with so little judgment, so little honor, could rise to such heights?”

“And so he sat in a cell at Rikers Island, a short flight but a long fall from his $4 million Georgetown home…” (emphasis mine)

“Paris lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat recalls a young woman who told him of a violent encounter with Strauss-Kahn. “She wanted to know whether I thought what I heard would form the basis for a solid legal case,” Pierrat says. “I told her I did.” In the end she decided to drop the complaint, fearing the media circus, the very good chance she’d be accused of being a liar or worse.(emphasis mine)

“the political challenge facing DSK was less his lechery than his lifestyle; it’s hard to be a Socialist icon living the life of a plutocrat. Photographs of him climbing into a friend’s $142,000 Porsche caused a furor…”

“conspiracy theorists were quick to suspect a setup…they argued…Admirers were more likely to throw themselves at him…”

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July 1st in Hong Kong

July 2, 2011 at 8:19 am (History, Personal experiences, Politics)

July 1st is an important date in Hong Kong for two main reasons: it is the day when the sovereignty of Hong Kong was transferred from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, thus leading to the creation of the Hong Kong SAR government; and it also happens to be the day when the the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921.

During July 1st, the pan-democracy camp in Hong Kong organizes a march to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong; while the pro-Beijing camp celebrates the anniversary of the CPC. Every year on this date an interesting sign of social division occurs: the sons and daughters of every family leave to march on the streets, while their grandparents stay in their homes humming along with the red anthems on TV.

Yesterday, I joined half a dozen of my ex-schoolmates in the annual march, which turned out to be one of the largest that Hong Kong has ever seen. According to the organizers, around 218,000 people turned out at Victoria Park in the afternoon; the police claim that the number is closer to 54,000. At any rate, this is the largest march Hong Kong has seen since 2003-2004, during the last two years of the extremely unpopular Tung Chee Hwa administration.

The 2011 July 1st march in Hong Kong, at the front

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