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Mon, 9 Mar 2009

Alex calls for the end of "call for"

In the midst of a splendid takedown of David Hare's onemanshow on Berlin, Alex Harrowell articulates his disdain of the phrase "to call for":

There is a broader issue here; the phrase “to call for” repels me more and more. Its function is to get you out of responsibility for your opinions. I didn’t want war - I merely called for solidarity with the US in fighting terrorism. It also acts as a way of escaping the healthy discipline of detail. It is telling that it is fashionable with the neoconservatives, the Decents, and the hard left all at once - all the retailers of the goods dream-hungry youth demand, according to Leszek Kolakowski.

I call for action on Darfur! But I say nothing of the mountainous problems of projecting force into the roadless and railless interior of western Sudan, nothing of whose infantry are to actually go and get killed there, nothing of who exactly they are meant to kill or threaten effectively to kill, or for what aims. I just called for. Let’s decommission this phrase, like a worn-out nuclear power station - switch it off gracefully, sever the lines and fill the damn thing with concrete, and watch it carefully for a hundred years to see nothing leaks out.

One minor quibble is that by and large the socalled "hard left" (which in any case usually sems to mean whomever is to the left of the speaker) isn't the main offender in this. Socialists, anarchists, communists all have a healthy, historically validated distrust of relying on the state to further their projects. Social democrats and liberals on the other hand have a history of enthusiasitc support for state intervention. If Iraq and Afghanistan are too obvious, take a look at who the main cheerleaders for intervention in Yugoslavia were.

UPDATE: Interesting discussion of Alex's post over at Aaronovitch Watch in which ejh takes exception to Alex's thesis:

The problem comes not when people without power express principle, provided they don't do so ungenerously: it's when people do have power and piss about. This is why it's problematic (though not necesarily entirely wrong) to suggest that Macmillan should have called for an uprising against the bulding of a Berlin Wall, because it would quite likely have been writing a cheque he couldn't cash*. Geroge Bush Sr wrote a cheque in Iraq 1991 that he probably could have cashed, but then didn't: that was worse still. But to be honest, in just saying "Stop Apartheid Now" ("Now"? What does that mean, "now?") more than half my life ago, I wasn't writing any cheques or taking any risks.

Except the risk of becoming Andrew Anthony. Well, yeah, I've met a few. But there's an opposite but equal risk, that many have also fallen victim to, that people who want to concentrate on practicals to the exclusion of ideals turn into New Labour. That's what that particular movement in politics was and is all about. Lots of the Anti-Apartheid people ended up like that - and I don't think I'd err in detecting a large crossover between the people who were most keen to follow the ANC line in toto in the Eighties, and those who were the keenest Blairites ten and twenty years later. I think there are as many ill consequences in going one way as in another.

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Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.



Oh No Greg Egan No!

As you may have encountered if you're follwoing online science fiction fandom, for months now there has been an increasingly poisonous but important discussion about race, cultural appropriation and science fction going on in various sf blogs, mostly on Livejournal. Science fiction/fandom prides itself on being open and inclusive, but in reality has huge blindspots when it comes to matters of race, culture and gender. Which in itself is not a new conclusion of course, but which Racefail 2009 --as this increasingly acrimonious discussion has been dubbed by cynics -- makes clear is still a sore spot for the genre. Even well intentioned writers have been shown to be --how to say-- less than tactful in their handling of these matters.

Greg Egan's throwaway remark that the use of words like "geek" or "nerd" is as bad as certain racial slurs could therefore not come at a worse time:

These days there's often some ranting about “nerds” and “geeks” — words that belong in the same rubbish pile as “niggers” and “gooks” — though I have to admit there's something gloriously awful, in a Love And Death on Long Island kind of way, when would-be sophisticates who spend half their time discussing Joyce or Sophocles switch to a vocabulary whose current usage was largely forged in the supremely inane universe of American high school cliques. It's also quite handy to have a word or two around whose use swiftly identifies a proud scientific illiterate just as effectively as the words that mark a proud racist. Of course, there are a handful of scientifically literate people who have decided to self-identify with the same vocabulary, but when it comes to using n-words the example of Fifty Cent is a great deal less appealing to me than that of Barack Obama.

But you have to admit that there is no better proof than this that yes, science fiction is clueless about race. Nerds and geeks may be bullied in high school sometimes, but it's all a far cry from being forced to use separate water coolers and such, now is it, or being stopped "randomly"for wearing pocket protectors... Especially considering the context in which Egan makes these remarks, his attempted putdown of a negative Adam Roberts review of Egan's latest novel, this show an astounding level of entitlement and cluelessness.

If you want to read more about Racefail 2009, Torque Control has a good overview post up. I myself have been reading, but not writing about the discussion as I have little to add and there are enough half assed opinions being slung around in it already...

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Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.



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