Blasphemy and Cynical Plays for Power

I really shouldn’t let the weekend start without jotting a few notes about the ongoing unrest in the Middle East, provoked by the YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims” and fuelled by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The protests have sparked another round of analysis of the the Muslim faith, with the predictable indictment of Islam as uniquely intolerant. The Onion published a very funny NSFW cartoon, blasphemous to all religions except Islam, with the headline ‘No-one Murdered Because of This Image’. Funny, yes, but not actually accurate as satire. The fundamentalist Hindus of India are not above threats and riots when their sacred images are appropriated. The internationally acclaimed artist MF Hussain spent his twilight years in exile because of threats made by his own countrymen, such was their dislike of his Mother India paintings. And Richard Gere’s effigy was burned by an angry mob after he kissed Shilpa Shetty.

The fact that Hindus riot too is instructive. When they do, it is at the encouragement of nationalists groups like Shiv Sena, who seek political power through demonisation and division. When Muslims riot, it is similarly due to local leaders seeking to win political support. Even the Salman Rushdie fatwā (also in the news this week due to the publication of Rushdie’s autobiography, Joseph Anton) was raised by Ayatollah Khomeini as part of a power-play. The old Ayatollah had been losing political support in the months leading up to Valentine’s Day 1989, when the infamous decree was issued. Continue reading “Blasphemy and Cynical Plays for Power”

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting

The Winklevoss Twins
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, as played by Armie Hammer in The Social Network. I'm well aware that these two are even more priviledged than your average Straight White Male, but they are the perfect illustration. I'm also aware of the hyper-realistic implications of choosing to illustrate the point with a picture from a stylised film, rather than a picture of the actual Winklevoss twins. Umberto Eco has written whole books on this subject.

Via Kottke, a fantastic explanation of white male ‘privilege’ using the metaphor of role-playing games. If ity hasn’t already become a meme, then it should be.

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

It’s essentially a pop-culture way of thinking about John Rawl’s ‘veil of ignorance‘ from as described in his Theory of Justice. I think this will be useful for debates around political correctness, like the Diane Abbott palaver a few months ago.

Formerly, the meta-data for this blog was simply “white middle class heterosexual English man” which was my attempt to make a similar point. See also, this piece of juvenalia where I spoke of the British as “privileged, Platinum-Plus humans”, a line I now realised I subconsciously ripped off from The Onion. Indeed, The Onion followed up on the theme with the fantastic ‘Judge Rules White Girl To Be Tried As Black Adult‘ sketch.

Update

At the New Statesman, a report on a growing “men’s rights” movement.