Virtue signalling betrays shallowness, lack of integrity

There is a social media practice, recently unleashed into the real world, sometimes called virtue signalling, which is really just a re-branded bien pensantism.


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PC means Political cretinism

How a leisurely Sunday afternoon read two weeks ago confirmed that the bien pensant left is the biggest asset of the far right, and more destructive of Western ideals than anyone cares to admit.

The reading session started out with Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan’s scathing condemnation of the Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF).

I’ve not read Flanagan’s novels, but I am aware they have been well-received by critics, and he’s won awards for some of them.  His prose as a commentator certainly turned out to be smooth, and his arguments impeccable.

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Anonymity: death of democracy

Maoist Zuckerberg
What charlatans already say about Facebook fopr not endorsing nonsense.

The following is an edited excerpt from a letter in which I was putting forward my position on why social media deserve to be censored; an about face on my long-time opinion that censorship is always wrong.

Painful though I think it is, I don’t think Australia is really a liberal democratic society anymore.  I think we are closer to an oligarchy, moved in that direction since the 1990s, and still moving there.  Not as bad as the USA, but heading in the same direction.

Nor do I believe we have an environment anymore in which voices of reason and authority can effectively counter voices of hate, mischief, or mayhem.  The old argument about a marketplace of ideas is dead and ridiculous in the era of social media and anonymous user accounts.

What anonymity on social media platforms has done is enable the most scurrilous hate campaigns because there is no consequence.  The coarseness of such behaviour, over time, has begun to legitimise it even for people whose identity is known, like the current US president.  It is a devaluation of all that might have been considered liberal democratic, putting us back at the political chicanery of the mid-18th century.

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Jane Austen: petulance and partisanship

Jane Austen

The flash of ‘to the barricades’ anger I encountered recently, when I casually disparaged Jane Austen’s work as not great literature, in what I thought was not that serious a conversation, made me re-examine how I came to make my remark, and why the anger I encountered knocked me back on my cognitive haunches.

It is true that another impetus for delving into this subject is my recent preoccupation with literary critique more generally, but my focus here is Austen, my prejudices about her writing, and how they clash with orthodox views.

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Perfidia (2014)

Perfidia book cover

As with all of James Ellroy’s fiction since the 1990s, I am infatuated with the book.  With the prose and the characters.  Unlike Ellroy’s previous fiction, this one exposes something new, hinting at something that was never Ellroy before.  Or maybe it is a change in my perceptions, seeing something that isn’t there, or was always there.

What I think connects me with Ellroy’s fiction most of all is an old-fashioned idea of passion.  The kind that drives courtship and romance, but also anger and violence.  It is the id unleashed to dramatic effect, where the base expectation is of chaste and civilised containment in an orderly, ordered society.  Writing for The Telegraph, Chris Harvey relayed some of Ellroy’s thoughts on this powerful driver of life and dramatic tension:
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Ellroy bleeds for Hopkins

Book covers

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

– apocryphal, Ernest Hemingway

 

The Lloyd Hopkins trilogy is not Lee Earle ‘James’ Ellroy’s first work, nor his best.  But I can see that he sat his typewriter and bled to produce it.  Perhaps he just didn’t bleed quite enough.  It seems that Hopkins is Ellroy’s fictional alter ego: tall, energetic, nervy, intuitive.  A genius cop who breaks all the rules.  A womaniser who ruins his marriage that way.  A dark past that hovers over him.

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Censorship in the most censorious age

This essay is a reply to a comment by Michael H on an editorial I wrote in August about the Electronic Frontiers Foundation and the Tor Project defending the right for the American neo-Nazi online Daily Stormer to be granted hosting and DNS propagation.  It started as a reply to the reply, but grew longer than expected, and is therefore presented as an essay in its own right.

Fifteen, twenty years ago I would probably have agreed with all of Michael H’s points.  What happened since then included the personal experience of watching Western centre-left parties become conservative, and conservatives become openly, unashamedly corrupt lackeys of short-sighted plutocrats.  Short-sighted because they act nihilistically to destroy a consumer base they need to sustain their own profitability over the longer term, and to maintain stable societies in which consumption, not civil strife, is the leitmotif.

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Modern Classics of Science Fiction (1992)

Edited by Gardner Dozois, and originally published as The Legend Book of Science Fiction (1991), this weighty anthology reminded me why I stopped reading science fiction in the 1980s.

Gardner Dozois (pronounced doze-wah) was most famously the editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine between 1984 and 2004 (the publication was re-named Asimov’s Science Fiction in 1992).  He has also been editor of The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies since 1984.  As a writer he began in the late 1960s, sticking mainly to short-form pieces, and winning Nebula Awards in the early 1980s.
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Brian Aldiss, 18 August 1925 – 19 August 2017

Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Michael Kustow, and JG Ballard at the 1968 Brighton Arts Festival.

By an Aldissian cosmic coincidence, I missed notice of Aldiss’s death for several days, even as I was reading his ‘The Worm That Flies’ in Gardner Dozois’ 1991 Modern Classics of Science Fiction.

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Old friends: Clash by Night (1980) by Henry Kuttner and CL Moore

The spectacularly ugly cover of clashing colours and motifs.

If one of the domains of science fiction is to extrapolate a present phenomenon into an imagined future outcome, the anthology of stories by husband and wife writing team Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) and Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987), Clash by Night, is an exemplar of the genre that has weathered time more handsomely than most.

Published in 1980, but containing stories that were already decades older, I lost my copy to the Brisbane flood of 2010/2011, along with hundreds of other books.  To my knowledge the book has not been reprinted, and the authors are now largely forgotten in the Sturm und Drang attending the rapid, enforced obsolescence that is a hallmark of the internet-driven cult of the new.  Fortunately I was able to replace this one recently, and made it my bedside reading for a few nights earlier this month.

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