“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

The hegemonic doctrine of micro-aggressions becomes particularly problematic, I think, when it appears on social media. The internet’s celebration of the individual, combined with the gladiatorial nature of online debate, forms a toxic brew when mixed up with this creed, expressed most commonly in the aphorism, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

I’m sure this slogan began as an attempt to form alliances with those nice, liberal, heterosexual white kids who support your cause, but don’t feel it’s their place to get involved. It is reaching out to them, saying, “Please do get involved. We can’t do without you. We are all members of the same community: we need to act together.”

Unfortunately, everything soon becomes a means of persecution, or of wounding, on the internet. 

Using an internet-enabled device is still a solitary activity. We are each shut up in our own little cell. In every moment of fellow-feeling, there is a pang of loneliness. knowing that your comrade is miles away and cannot reach you, that you are still alone. 

Evolving from this comes a sense that even mass actions online are profoundly atomistic. We add our individual voices to those of others in movements called “Me Too” and “Not in My Name”[1], as if our importance lay in our unique self, and our power lay in sheer numbers, the arithmetic of crowds, rather than in consensus and co-operation. 

The celebration of individuality makes the internet a fundamentalist meritocracy. Users believe they have complete existential autonomy and self-authorship. You create yourself spontaneously, and can take absolute, personal ownership of your successes. 

The flip side of this is the belief that it is your own fault if you fail to be enlightened. If you’re not woke, you must be actively resisting the movement: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” The emphasis has quickly changed from asking people to help solve a problem, to accusing them of causing it. Rather than making yourself and others aware of the conditioning forces that operate on all of us, you can blame them, individually, for being reactionary oppressors, and use their “micro-aggressions” as evidence[2]. They are complicit.


[1] not “We” or “our”

[2] Confusingly, this seems self-contradictory, at odds with the very theories of false-consciousness that underpin the thinking. If everyone could enlighten themselves, on a whim, hegemonies would be unable to function. 

Qui Bono?

The ideas of Hegemony, False-Consciousness reinforced by the culture it generates: these are wonderful analytical tools. They allow us to explore and explain our world more perceptively and more articulately. 

Theories are useful models of thinking, but they aren’t real things. They are prefaced by an assumed “it’s as if…” They draw us in certain directions; they favour coming to certain sorts of value-derived conclusions, so they must be approached critically. All thought processes should be constantly monitored: there are alternatives. 

Once we have arrived at a successful way of thinking, though, we start to use it all the time and see evidence for it everywhere. This is confirmation bias. We are bedding in and reinforcing particular neural pathways, so that our brain can jump to those conclusions without wasting time. 

Then the theory has become a habit of thought: an assumption: a truth[1].

But truths are undeniable laws, strictures. Only the most specific and verifiable facts should fit these criteria. When a complex, totalising theory about society begins to be regarded, uncritically, as a given, it becomes a hegemony itself, at least within the realm where it holds sway. It restricts and channels thinking towards one way of structuring the world, and therefore one hierarchy and power system; it becomes a source of authority. 

When such orthodoxies start to be imposed on our debates, we ought to ask ourselves (as we should ask of all assertions) Qui Bono? Who benefits from this interpretation? Why are they so keen on it?


[1] Babies enter the realms of thought with little other than an innate capacity to theorise from first-hand experience. That’s how they learn to differentiate between the phenomena they encounter, between people, day and night, waking and sleeping, predict what might happen next and thus learn to navigate the world independently. They are amazing at it, superhuman geniuses. Unfortunately, by the time they are ready to theorise about society and human nature, more abstract notions, they are approaching adulthood, when their brains are beginning to atrophy, get set in their ways, take shortcuts. It happens to us all.

Hegemonies, False-Consciousness, Micro-aggressions: Discuss

By and large, protest marchers seem to be having a good time, despite their determination. They seem flushed and happy, buoyed up by a sense purpose and community, fed by the endorphins that are released by physical exercise and excitement. Perhaps the human body retains an atavistic need to merge physical and meaningful activity. It is more satisfying to help dig a well than to input data on the spreadsheets of a well-digging organisation. It’s probably more fun to chuck a statue in the docks than to call for more debate on Britain’s historical links to slavery. 

It is the commentators, online and in print, who seem the most hard-line and embittered. Partly, of course, because words need to be forceful to have impact; possibly because they are sitting at computers all day and aren’t getting out into the sunshine. 

Historians research historical racisms and other discriminations and suggest how these might feed into modern assumptions and complicity in structural inequality. Social scientists diagnose societies’ deep-structures and coin terms to describe them. They are demonstrating that, despite much superficial progress on equality and social inclusion, toxic assumptions still form the basis of some thinking in our communities. 

To this discussion, social commentators’ contribute their own experiences of being dismissed and belittled due to their race, gender or identity (or identity choices). The theory behind their position is a quasi-Marxist belief that society’s hierarchies are maintained by hegemonies[1]: mind-sets or cultural assumptions. These, in turn, are maintained by a constant drip-feed of reinforcements, trivial value-judgements that seem too small to challenge in themselves, yet build up to an absolute acceptance of the status quo, the belief that inequalities and oppression are “simply how the world is.” Marxists call this “false consciousness”. 

For this reason, even the smallest expression of prevailing hegemonies, now termed “micro-aggressions”, should be challenged and rebutted. 

So the theory goes.


[1] This term was coined by Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937), I think, in his Prison Notebooks.

A Disclaimer (“A denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial…”

If you’d been following this blog[1], you’d have realised what I’ve been coyly approaching. I’ve been working up to discussing, perhaps challenging, the most vigorous forms of online activism[2] of the moment: those that have flourished since the death of George Floyd[3].  

I’m nervous of this, because of the (understandable) strength of feeling coursing through these debates. I wholeheartedly support those trying to create a world of social justice and equality. I am on their side; I want to put that on record. The Black Lives Matter campaigns, in the USA, seem absolutely necessary. American society seems to contain a catastrophic schism between perceived ethnic groups. Black people face prejudice, discrimination, persecution and even death because of the pigmentation of their skin. This situation is intolerable, but the campaigns that have sprung up to challenge it have largely been carried out with dignity, grace and courage. They are reaching out and communicating their experience of prejudice. 

The situation is a little different in Britain, with its markedly different history of discrimination and, I think, markedly higher levels of integration. Here, as online in America, some people seem kind of intemperate in the way they deliver their messages.

I guess this isn’t surprising. They’ve endured a relentless stream of low-grade bullshit and assumptions about who they are, in daily life, and open abuse and hostility online. But I don’t think it’s helpful.  The Right seek out tribal conflict. It justifies their claims that we are too different to live together and that “foreigners” should “go home”. We must try not to give them what they need. 

So, I’m not expressing right-wing opinions in what I’m about to say. I just think we should agree on what we believe and what we’re about to say before we say it. We need to get our messages straight. And, for Christ’s sake, stop attacking each other!

I feel a sense of shame expressing these opinions. I feel I must be wrong. Or racist (a condition our society abhors in theory) that I’m revealing my squalid inner worthlessness. I guess this comes partly from the conditioning of my social faction (Guardian-reading lefties) and from my low-self-esteem. 

However, I also think the Far-Right have claimed a monopoly on questioning the pieties of the social justice movement. If anyone expresses reservations about the way self-defining Black or LGBTQ+ Activists are acting, the Far-Right gleefully claims them as their own.

The problem is that the rest of us collude in that definition. Anytime a person stands up and suggests the smallest recalibration in the way a Human rights campaign is being run, even if it is eminently reasonable, everyone roundly condemns it as reactionary propaganda. I am as bad, and as conflicted, as anyone. I’ll read an article by some fair-minded professor of ethics, and think, “he is absolutely right!”, followed, rapidly, by “but maybe he’s just a closet racist and ultra-conservative”, followed just as swiftly by, “so does that mean I am, too?”[4]

Thus we struggle to cleanse our own thoughts, to keep them orthodox and conventionally unconventional.

And some Social Justice activists collude in this[5], because they insist you must accept their ideas in their entirety or be labelled a fascist. They are in cahoots with the Right, because they are deciding together which parts of the population they can each have as their constituencies in order to mutually cement their importance as leaders of their movements (I suspect.)


[1] And I’m pretty certain you haven’t, dear reader!

[2] The “mainstream media” pick up on online trends and amplify them by reporting on them. Journalistic research, nowadays, seems to consist of trawling social media sites to see what’s trending.

[3] The previous dominant voice, The LGBTQ+ lobby, has had to take a back seat for the moment. 

[4] This train of thought is not discouraged by Jordan Petersen, who said some very wise and sensible things and then turned out to have some very suspect views on race (apparently.)

[5] Not you, dear reader, of course!

Micro-aggressions

One thing that makes modern internet campaigning so intense is the widely held belief in “micro-aggressions”. According to Wikipedia, this term was coined by a Harvard psychiatry professor, Chester M Pierce, way back in 1970, but it has really flourished in popular discourse over the last few years. My 2003 print edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for it. However, Oxford now defines Micro-aggressions as “indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group.” I’ve just found a download from a private Christian University in Pennsylvania, called Messiah University (so one would imagine it would be quite conservative in its attitudes). The document is called “Examples of Micro-aggressions in the Classroom”. It quotes a Dr Derald Wing Sue’s (PhD) definition of 

“Microaggressions: everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

It then goes on to list over 30 examples, including “using heteronormative metaphors or examples in class” and “failing to pronounce or continuing to mispronounce the names of students after they have corrected you” It’s enough to make any anxious teaching student weep! How can they possibly remember all these things?!

In fact, Messiah.edu’s list is perfectly reasonable. All the activities it highlights are best avoided.  A single occurrence would do no harm – we all have to put up with being slighted[1].However, a constant experience of slights would become degrading – not excruciatingly humiliating, just subtly undermining of somebody’s security and sense of self-worth.

Micro-aggressions are a subject for discussion, a critique of The System, and the types of behaviour it fosters: something to be wary of. They are problematic when they become personal accusations, levelled by one individual at another to win an argument, to dismiss and condemn somebody, and thus to dominate and crush them. 

If micro-aggressions can be unintentional, the use of the term is entirely at the discretion of the person who is feeling sensitive. If they are feeling happy with you, you’ll get away with it, if not, they’ll fuck you up. If they’re arguing with you, it becomes another weapon in their arsenal. You are at the mercy of their whim. Which is a definition of tyranny. 


[1] Although, understandably, minority or marginalised people would be more vulnerable to feeling excluded.

Let’s Storm the Capitol and then, I Don’t Know, Mill Around for a Bit?

Online-life, whatever its capacity to connect people and foster positive relationships, is characterised by tribal hostility and conflict. Campaigns seem to rise up out of the collective unconscious, then spread through the online communities like viruses (or memes) before being replaced by the next. Almost all of these projects are seen as struggles against an enemy. 

Since the killing of George Floyd, the most vigorous campaigning has clustered around the issue of racial equality, but before that, trans rights were in the ascendant. By contrast, old-school feminism, and traditional Marxist class-struggle, are in decline, presumably because they pre-date the internet and nobody wants to support the same causes as their dear old mum. Meanwhile, down in the sewers, the id-monsters of the far-right seem to be cultivating some truly crazy shit (and then smoking it.[1])

Activism associated with Black Lives Matter seems particularly energised. Its aims seem entirely in line with the core principles of most internet users and so its campaigners feed on the energy of mass support. They sense victory. They can feel the old order weakening; one last push, and they’ll break through: they’ll have achieved Utopia (or at least substantive, positive change): Hurrah!

All of society, for them, is underpinned by egalitarian principles, which have been hijacked and subverted by a sort of corrupting white establishment. If they can dismantle this system, they’ll return to a state of humanist virtue, inherent in human consciousness, but smothered by White Capitalism. It’s typical, Classical Liberalism, seasoned with a bit of Marxist, class-consciousness stuff. 

This seems naïve to me, and I wonder if it is a mind-set that has been fostered by the internet, where all programmes are founded on basic computer operation protocols. We never think about them, but we rely on them to function, so that it’s actually pretty difficult, these days, to crash the whole system and lose everything. There’s always back up on the cloud or somewhere. 

But what if society is more fragile, has no back up, can’t be rebooted or off-and-on-again-ed? We should proceed with caution, I think. It’s not enough just to protest and destroy things, then wait for someone else to clear up: “move fast and break things”. You must come up with robust working alternatives and be ready to implement them.  Nation or world-wide structural change can’t be done by grassroots organisation. It must, by necessity, be top-down. It would need to be created and administered by people with expertise and experience of government and social administration, not clueless, amateur vanguard-party ideologues. And that suggests incremental change and no revolution. Sorry, folks. I know all that score-settling would’ve been fun (and justifiable), but…


[1] I’m not going to discuss the far-right because I don’t go down there, and once you’ve said their ideas are completely irrational and baseless, there’s nothing more to say.

So, Are We Going to Burn it Down, or What?

Online-life, whatever its capacity to connect people and foster positive relationships, is characterised by tribal hostility and conflict. A succession of campaigns seem to rise up out of the collective unconscious resentments of some of its users, then spread through the online communities like a virus (or meme). Since the killing of George Floyd, the most vigorous campaigning has clustered around the issue of racial equality, but before that trans rights were in the ascendant. By contrast, old-school feminism, and traditional Marxist class-struggle are in decline, presumably because they pre-date the internet and nobody wants to support the same campaigns as their old mum. 

Online activists, especially those associated with Black Lives Matter, seem particularly energised, at the moment. They feed on the energy of mass support. They think they can see the old order weakening; they hope they’re about to break through: one last push, then they will have achieved Utopia. 

Society, for them, seem to be underpinned by egalitarian principles, which have been hijacked and subverted by a sort of corrupting white establishment. If they can dismantle this system, they hope to return to a state of natural humanist virtue, inherent in human consciousness, but smothered by White capitalist society. It’s typical, Classical Liberalism, blended with a bit of classical, Marxist, class-consciousness stuff. 

This seems naïve to me, and I wonder if it is a mind-set that has been fostered by the internet, where all programmes are founded on basic computer operation protocols: it’s actually pretty difficult, these days, to crash the whole system and lose everything. There’s always back up on the cloud or somewhere. But what if society is more fragile, has no back up, can’t be rebooted or off-and-on-again-ed? We should proceed with caution, I think. It’s not enough just to protest and destroy things. You must come up with robust working alternatives and be ready to implement them.  These would need to be created and administered by people with expertise and experience of government and social administration, not clueless ideologues. And that suggests incremental change and no revolution. Sorry, folks. I know all that score-settling would’ve been fun, but…

We’re not in it for the money (we’re in it for the validation)

Angry condemnation seems empowering; addictively so. The most articulate members of the Social Justice movements can gain (inter)national prominence. Their anger and hurt is validating. They gain respect for their courage and moral strength and their insights on The State of Nation. Their opinions are sought by news outlets. There are reputations and livings to be made, books to be published to acclaim. Of course, the activists themselves are passionately sincere and have genuine grievances to air, but disadvantage, skin-colour and anger is being monetised, is being leveraged, and not just by the far-right. It is in some people’s interest to emphasise conflict, rather than boring old reconciliation, discrimination rather than attempts to be friends, social dysfunction rather than community.

Karen Carney, the Trolls and the Three Woke Billy Goats

Karen Carney has deleted her Twitter account. She became the target of trolls after Leeds fans took exception to her analysis of their team’s performance.  Their comments included “silly bitch”, “get back in the kitchen”, “put your mic down and get yourself home there’s dishes to wash and clothes to iron” and “women’s lives matter but come on, women and football? Get kettle on love!”[1]

No doubt the trolls’ desire to slap her down is driven by threatened masculinity and inherent sexism, but they can’t possibly think that a former England player, who appeared 144 times for her country, is more suited to housework than football analysis. Instead, they have made comments calculated to wound her, because they suspect she is vulnerable to them. They did this in defence of their team, which they felt had been insulted. These are not statements of sincere belief; they are weapons: you say what hurts. 

As I KEEP SAYING, the purpose of language isn’t the stating of scientific facts, it is how self communicates to self, and influences them, has an impact on them. 

The rise in Black activism online seems to have provoked a similar, racist reaction from some people. I don’t think it has revealed a widespread and sincerely held belief in the inferiority of BAME people. In fact, I think the British establishment has made quite a good attempt at making “Racist” a bad word. But they’ve obviously been less good at tackling the root causes of racism, or educating people as to what it really is. 

When black activists have pointed out what appear to be racial inequalities, therefore, and labelled these “racist” (as they are) some members of the majority group have been deeply insulted by what has become a highly charged word. They feel they are being attacked and so they reach for the weapons to hand: words. And the Activists have told them exactly which words will be most effective. In Lord of the Flies, when Piggy tells Ralph he doesn’t mind what people call him, “so long as they don’t call me what they used to call me at school”[2], he guarantees that he’ll be called “Piggy” for the rest of the book.

This mutual offended-ness has exacerbated and widened tribal, rather than purely racial, divisions. Perhaps these are the necessary birth-pangs of a new, fairer society, but I don’t think there is any guarantee that it will be better or permanently fairer if it grows out of antagonism and confrontation. 


[1] The Guardian, 02/01/21

[2] William Golding, 1954 (1996) Lord of The Flies, London: Faber and Faber, p16

Is “Intersectionality” a Thing?

Of course, it’s natural for the outraged and oppressed to be fierce in their accusations. Of course, they are going to be angry and use strong language. 

On the internet, dissidents from oppressive regimes can be outspoken with a greater chance of avoiding persecution, and we, in quieter countries, can copy their style, recast our vitriol as courage, our abuse as “speaking truth to power”, thus demonstrating our pious loyalty to the liberal principles that underpin the platforms we use. Sincerity is the only truth, online, and is defined by articulacy and passion, by strength of expression.

Unfortunately, online words, cast adrift from referents, are highly weaponised. So much so that gangs of irresponsible little gremlins, often boy-band fandoms, have adopted the language of the culture wars, and are roaming the internet firing scurrilous and wholly unfounded accusations at each other, of racism, white privilege, cultural appropriation, homophobia, transphobia. They are like bands of leaderless child soldiers in a war zone who’ve scavenged weapons from the battlefield and are blazing away at anything that moves, and at each other, just for fun[1]

Perhaps these war-bands recognise an infantile quality to even the most serious of online disagreements. There’s a childish glee to the roastings that has nothing to do with subject under debate. Discussions of putative “intersectionality” are often little more than games of playground one-upmanship (“You think you’ve got it bad? Well, I’m not only a woman, I’m a BLACK woman!”) – a sort of Under-Privilege Top-Trumps.


[1] Jo’s cousin was kidnapped, while working for the UN in East Africa, by a group of leaderless child soldiers who had taken against people on bicycles and white pigs. Literally pigs, Sus scrofa domesticus, not a derogatory term for policemen or people of European descent. I guess it was just an excuse for shooting at something. Luckily, the cousin was neither of these things and was released.