Steve Bannon and no-platforming

Steve Bannon was invited to speak at the New Yorker Festival, then promptly disinvited after Kathryn Schulz (author of Being Wrong, which I can recommend as an accessible, yet very thoughtful, account of some basic errors in inductive reasoning), Judd Apatow, Jim Carrey, Ally Fogg and others indicated that they were opposed to his presence there, and (in some cases) that they would not appear at the festival if he did.

Continue reading “Steve Bannon and no-platforming”

Kevin Anderson: who gets to be South African?

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson, a South African citizen, defeated John Isner 26-24 in the final set of the Wimbledon Men’s semi-final yesterday, in what ended up being the second-longest ever match at Wimbledon. (Isner won the longest match, back in 2010, when he beat Nicholas Mahut 70-68 in the final set.)

Does Anderson’s victory make him the first South African to reach the singles finals at Wimbledon? No, it doesn’t, regardless of how you classify Kevin Curren, defeated by Boris Becker in the 1985 final. Does Anderson’s victory beg(gar) the question of who gets to be called “South African”? No, it doesn’t – but it does perhaps raise the question. Continue reading “Kevin Anderson: who gets to be South African?”

Free speech and the problem of binary responses

Nazi free speech pug

Leaving character judgments aside, videos such the one made by Mark Meechan, of his dog responding to the phrase ‘gas the Jews’ with a Nazi salute, should be legally permissible.

Legal questions don’t answer ethical questions. I think that this joke’s concept is grossly insensitive, and I do think that people need to spend more time worrying about what they find funny, and why. Continue reading “Free speech and the problem of binary responses”

Goree Island

Since South African Airways dropped Dakar as their regular refueling stop, getting to Goree Island (a fifteen-minute ferry ride off Dakar’s coast) can be quite a journey. It took around 24 hours for me, flying from CPT to JNB-NBO-ABJ, then DKR.

Eighteen bloggers from Uganda, Zimbabwe, DRC, South Africa and elsewhere have gathered for an annual workshop, thanks to the generosity of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, who brought us together as AfricaBlogging around three years ago. Continue reading “Goree Island”

Noakes: eat pandas, not plants

sad panda

I haven’t been inclined to write anything about Professor Noakes for a good long while. In fact, even as he carried on encouraging vaccine scepticism on Twitter, or being dogmatic about sugar ‘addiction’, or citing the likes of Mercola and the Weston A. Price Foundation as if they were credible, I thought I’d said enough, and kept quiet.

Hell, I even ignored it when he told Daryl Ilbury some lies about me in a recent book, figuring I’d write about that once Noakes and his publicist Marika Sboros publish their book later this year, in which I fully expect the lies to reach legally-actionable levels (not that I’d pursue such a course). Continue reading “Noakes: eat pandas, not plants”

Signs and significance, Vol. I: the UCT Library

In what will probably not ever become a series, consider this sign, displayed in the library of the University of Cape Town. The casual observer might simply pass it by, given that the casual observer is typically not that observant.

The slightly less casual observer might pause to reflect on the irony inherent in the fact that a university library approved, printed and now displays a sign that contains two spelling errors. Or, they might reflect on this a little later, shaking their heads while sipping their cognac. Continue reading “Signs and significance, Vol. I: the UCT Library”

Helen Zille and “valuable aspects of colonial heritage”.

Readers will know that I’m not partial to shaming others, and that I try to avoid polarised viewpoints. I also try to apply the principle of charity – in other words, try to understand what someone was trying to say, rather than simply judging their statements based on surface-level meaning.

And while it’s fairly easy to imagine what Helen Zille thought we should take from her tweets yesterday, it’s very difficult to comprehend how someone with so much experience and knowledge of South African politics could be so naive – or ignorant – as to tweet what she did. Continue reading “Helen Zille and “valuable aspects of colonial heritage”.”

Sugar, the SAIRR and conflicts of interest

The South African Institute for Race Relations (IRR) identifies itself as a liberal think-tank, focusing on research and ideas that might conduce to investment and economic growth.

As you’d know, the term “liberal” means many different things to different people. On my terms, the IRR has often been empathy-light, in that its idealistic vision of what the data tells us we should do can sometimes appear blind to important social and political contexts. Continue reading “Sugar, the SAIRR and conflicts of interest”

What does Trump say about us?

On June 16 of 2015, a friend and I found ourselves in a New York hotel, feeling somewhat compromised after a late night and much revelry. Thanks to our throbbing heads, the spectacle of Donald Trump’s glass elevator arrival – in order to give the first of many bombastic and often fact-free speeches in support of his Presidential ambitions – invoked many sighs and “oh my god”‘s, but not much discussion.

When we did talk of it later, and in conversations that took place in subsequent months with him and others, it was oftentimes with a tone of incredulity, in that the chances of a Trump victory – or even nomination – seemed vanishingly small, and his attempt to seek the nomination therefore a simple manifestation of an ego the size of a planet (hello Marvin!).

We all know better now, of course. By which I don’t mean that the ego stuff is false – he certainly has it, and is flaunting it like only a narcissist can. But when I arrive back in NYC on June 16 this year, Trump will have been the confirmed Republican nominee for nearly two months already, with Hillary Clinton the only remaining potential “loser” for him to defeat (once Bernie Sanders gets out of the way, that is).

And one year on, the thing I want to briefly touch on is the narrative that Trump’s ascendancy has provoked in some quarters, whereby voters are being described as “irrational” or “stupid”. Some surely are either or both of these things, but there’s no reason to think – and no plausible mechanism whereby – voters suddenly become more irrational and/or stupid, en masse, in the period since the last election, or even over a generation or two.

Describing your opponents or “enemies” via abusive terms helps us to keep “our” tribe together, and helps “them” to do the same, but it involves no attempt to explain why people might make ostensibly irrational choices, nor to help us figure out how to minimise the chances of their doing so in the future.

One part of this Trump campaign (including the behaviour of his supporters at rallies) that needs explanation is not only how you can get away with talking nonsense so much of the time, but more crucially how it can be that you can get away with blatant racism and sexism while campaigning as a Presidential candidate.

And on that aspect of things, I’d encourage you to read this piece by Thomas B. Edsall, about which a friend remarked:

Edsall here gives what I think is a crucial part of the diagnosis of Trump’s success. Decades of shaming racists, nativists, sexists, and homophobes into concealment, instead of arguing with them, has been unwise but strongly institutionalized politics and now the bill has arrived.

It’s been said before, but “call-out culture” and mob shaming on the Internet might satisfy our tribal lusts, but if you’re looking to change thinking and behaviour, you might want to consider a different tactic.