Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘political correctness

Unwort des Jahres / Intellectually dishonest Leftist propaganda

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As the recurring reader knows, I am both very interested in language use and political questions. The latter notably as a frequent critic of Leftist propaganda and attempts to control debate or thought in an unethical, often even Orwellian, manner.

The attempts by a group of Leftist populists to push their own “Unwort des Jahres”* has annoyed me for years: It pretends to be a group of linguists** acting in a linguistic capacity, but in reality it works to further its own political and ideological ideas in an entirely non-linguistic manner. Not only are words chosen in a manner as to (backed by its faux credibility) paint political opponents in a negative light, there even seems to be a tendency to pick whatever area “The Cause” has received the most push-back during the past year and choose a word specifically to hit back in that area. This behavior is, obviously, grossly unscientific and intellectually dishonest.

*“Unword of the year”. Cf. e.g. other German expressions like “Untier” (“monster” or “beast” in a modern sense) to “Tier” (“animal” or “beast” in an older sense). Also see German Wikipedia and (with less content) English Wikipedia, as well as the official website of the group.

**And might well be—the point is that the members do not act as linguists or using linguistic (or other relevant) criteria, but political and ideological ones. Of course, if non-linguistic criteria, including those mentioned below, are to be used, linguists have no authority and are, in fact, inferior to those with a more relevant background.

Indeed, while the shallow-most* outward presentation is “linguists”, even the official criteria almost precludes a scientific approach and clearly demonstrate that it is not a matter of e.g. good or poor use of language. One of the official pages gives e.g. “gegen das Prinzip der Menschenwürde” (“contrary to the principle of human dignity”) as a criterion—but even these criteria are usually hard to reconcile with the actual choices. Looking at the motivations given, it is often clear that no attempts has been made to see the perspective of the users or to understand the use in context. I would even argue that the activities of the jury are contrary to its own alleged principles. Certainly, these principles are not applied in a politically neutral manner, but in a manner slanted very strongly, in U.S. terminology, pro-Democrat and anti-Republican.

*For instance, the video-text of ARD, a public German TV sender, speaks of “eine Jury aus Sprachwissenschaftlern” (“a jury of linguists”).

Consider e.g. this year’s choice: “Klimahysterie” (“climate hysteria”) While climate issues are very important, we do have a problem with excesses and misguided propaganda, that might well even justify the use of “hysteria”—and certainly, indisputably, there are many individuals who are hysterical on the issue. Note e.g. the ridiculous “Greta Thunberg” phenomenon or how the climate debate is increasingly dominated by emotional arguments and cheap rhetoric instead of reason and scientific arguments. Also note that exactly this type of behavior has strongly contributed to the current climate situation through prioritizing a reduction of nuclear power over a reduction of fossil fuels for decades. (Nuclear power once filling the same propaganda role as global warming does today—and with far less justification.)

Or consider the 2014 “Lügenpresse” (“liar press”): While it can be disputed to what degree the German press is actively lying,* there is no doubt that the average journalist is both incompetent and poorly informed. It is also well established that the average journalist is further to the Left than the non-journalist population; and there are plenty of examples of journalist and media at least deliberately filtering the facts in a manner that violates my suggestions for a new press ethics. Notably, the mentality that the facts need to be filtered, lest someone comes to the “wrong” conclusion (i.e. another conclusion than the journalist), seems to be extremely common. Also note that outright journalistic fraud is by no means unheard of (cf. e.g. [1], [2].)

*The expression, in my opinion, is to a large part based on misattribution of intention.

Particularly negative is that the frequency of use does not appear to play in. For instance, the 2012 “Opfer-Abo” (“victim subscription”) seems to refer to just several uses by a single person—the unjustly-accused-of-rape Jörg Kachelmann. While this phrase could be disputed as linguistically almost nonsensical, the underlying problem is a very real one: The fact is that, contrary to Feminist propaganda, false rape accusations are quite common. The narrow-minded jury, however, decries this use as being too accusatory of women—in a manner that exemplifies his claim that women can position themselves as victims even when they are the perpetrators. (See excursion for additional details.)

It is also notable that many true “unwords” have gone without attack, e.g. the atrocious “NGO”, an untranslated adoption of the already misleading and idiotic English abbreviation (and unabbreviated term), and the ever recurring “Rechtsruck”.

Something quite telling is that there is also a “word of the year” published by the (much better known and much more renowned) Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (roughly, “Society for German language”). When the unword was introduced in 1991 it was published by the same source—but two years later some row caused a splinter group to move away and publish the unword independently. Unfortunately, the lower credibility and disassociation rarely finds mention, leaving many with the impression that the unword is chosen by an entity of true noteworthiness, instead of reflecting the private political opinions of an ideologically motivated splinter group.

Excursion on “Opfer-Abo”: German Wikipedia describes the use with:*

*Here and below: Some minor typographic changes have been made. I leave “Opfer-Abo” untranslated. Some translation might be approximate due to differences in idiom and whatnot.

Im Herbst 2012 hatte Jörg Kachelmann in mehreren Interviews geäußert, dass Frauen ein “Opfer-Abo” hätten. Mit ihm könnten sie ihre Interessen gegenüber Männern zum Beispiel in Form von Falschbeschuldigungen durchsetzen. Die Wortschöpfung selbst stammt laut Aussage Jörg Kachelmanns von seiner Frau Miriam. In einem Interview der Zeitschrift Der Spiegel, bei dem er gemeinsam mit seiner Frau Miriam interviewt wurde, sagte Kachelmann: “Das ist das Opfer-Abo, das Frauen haben. Frauen sind immer Opfer, selbst wenn sie Täterinnen wurden. Menschen können aber auch genuin böse sein, auch wenn sie weiblich sind.”

Translation: In the Autumn 2012, Jörg Kachelmann declared in several interviews, that women had an “Opfer-Abo”. With it, they could enforce their interests against men, e.g. through false accusations. The word it self was, according to Kachelmann, created by his wife [sic!]. In an interview by the magazine Der Spiegel, which interviewed him together with his wife Miriam, Kachelmann said: “This is the Opfer-Abo that women have. Women are always victims, even when they turn into perpetrators. Humans, however, can be genuinely bad, even when they are female.”

This is by no means an unreasonable claim and well matches much of female behavior that I have seen myself and observations by others around e.g. rape accusations, divorces, and similar. Consider e.g. a great number of discussions on Minding the Campus. I note e.g. that I spent a considerable amount of time reading relationships forums some ten or fifteen years ago, and found a horrifying double standard, including instances where the exact same behavior from a man and a woman received opposite “advice”, often putting the blame on the man in all cases.* Much of Feminism amounts to finding a reason why someone or something other than the woman at hand, preferably a man or men in general, is to blame for everything negative that happens to her, with no thought of own responsibility.**

*E.g. that if a man hit a woman it was because he was an ass-hole and she should leave him immediately; while if a woman hit a man, it was because he (!) was an ass-hole, who drove her to violence, and he should forgive her and start behaving better.

**E.g. that if a woman does not get a promotion, it is not for lack of competence but discrimination; if a woman is insecure about her looks, it is not her weakness but brain-washing by “society”; etc.

Wikipedia further says:

Die Jury [member list omitted] begründete die Wahl damit, dass das Wort Frauen “pauschal und in inakzeptabler Weise” unter den Verdacht stelle, sexuelle Gewalt zu erfinden und damit selbst Täterinnen zu sein. Die Jury behauptet, dass nur fünf bis acht Prozent der von sexueller Gewalt betroffenen Frauen tatsächlich die Polizei einschalteten und dass es dabei in nur drei bis vier Prozent der Fälle zu einer Anzeige und einem Gerichtsverfahren komme. Der Begriff und die damit verbundene Aussage sei sachlich grob unangemessen. “Das Wort verstößt damit nicht zuletzt auch gegen die Menschenwürde der tatsächlichen Opfer.”

Translation: The jury [member list omitted] justified the choice by the claim that the word “in a blanket manner and unacceptably” would accuse women of inventing sexual violence and thereby become perpetrators. The jury claimed, that only five to eight percent of the female victims of sexual violence would notify the police and that only in three or four percent of the cases a charge and a judicial proceeding would follow. The term and the implied statement would be factually grossly inappropriate. “The word thereby also violates the human dignity of the actual victims.”

There is a lot wrong with the above, including that Kachelmann himself has been harder hit than the wast majority of rape victims and that it is quite clear that he, himself, has been falsely accused—years of anxiety, a ruined career, a (temporarily) ruined reputation. What is with his human dignity and whatnot as an actual victim? As for the numbers, I note that there is no* mention of the rate of false accusations, which is high, and that the low numbers given sound more like Feminist propaganda than true numbers. (Cf. e.g. an older text on rape statistics, including links, and the older text on Kachelmann linked to above.) Even had these numbers been true, however, they would be largely irrelevant, because they do not address the issue behind Kachelmann’s claim. (They could indeed be seen as support of his claim, because a low rate of true reports would increase the proportion of false reports, and give a strong argument that rape accusations should be scrutinized more closely than is often the case.) To claim that it would be unacceptable for the victim of a false accusation to complain about false accusation is it self unacceptable and in extremely poor taste. The claim that Kachelmann would raise a blanket (“pauschal”) suspicion is at best exaggerated and seems motivated by bad faith.

*There might have been in a larger context than what Wikipedia quotes, but it would be an odd thing to leave out. Moreover, the official Feminist “truth” is that a woman would never, ever lie about being raped, which reduces the probability that realistic numbers would have been given.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 14, 2020 at 2:26 pm

The loss of the grammatical number in the third person / Follow-up: Abuse of “they” as a generic singular

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Since publishing an older text on abuse of “they” ([1]), I have come to fear that the problem is far worse: the grammatical number and the feel for number is increasingly lost in the third person (possibly, elsewhere too). I suspect that the PC abuse is compounded by weak thinkers/writers simply ignoring questions of numbers and pronouns. Examples include an almost consistent use of “they” for multi-person and non-biological entities,* incongruencies that give the impression that the writer made decisions based on a coin-flip,** the extension of “they” to entities with a known grammatical gender and biological sex,*** a near consistent use of “they” with e.g. “everyone”, and the replacement of “one’s” with “their” as a companion to “one”.

*E.g. corporations or music groups. In the past, these have very often been referred to by “it”, which is also more logical in many cases. (Apparently, there used to be British vs. American divide here.) Notably, “they” might be defensible when it comes to e.g. a music group or a sports team in reference to a somewhat collective action or a situation where it is clear that we have a grouping of individuals, e.g. “Team X won. They mounted an irresistible offense.”; however, not when we have a more abstract entity or an action that is not the work of a similar grouping, e.g. “IBM increased its market share. It has had a great year.” or “Team [club] X is recruiting player Y to strengthen its defense.”.

**E.g. in that “they” is combined with singular or plural forms in a manner without an underlying logic, be it with regard to grammatical or physical number. The same author might then write “they were” (plural/plural) and “they was” (plural/singular) in two different sentences referencing the same entity or entities.

***E.g. “I met my cousin. They were happy.”. Note that this often happens when there is no sign of “non-binary identification” or similar. Certainly, the sheer number of instances is too large to be explained by such factors; certainly, it cannot explain the common use for animals.

A particular idiocy is the mixture of forms, as when a sentence or paragraph uses both “they” and phrases like “he or she”, e.g. “The white player moves first. He or she could move a pawn or they could move one of the knights.”.* (Also cf. “one” above.)

*While this example is fictional, I have seen at least a dozen similar examples since writing [1], most on Wikipedia. It also exemplifies the many, many instances where “they” is simply unnecessary and could have been avoided with a trivial change, without deviating from “gender-neutral” language, by using “[…] or one of the knights.” or similar.

If current trends continue (let us hope that they do not!), the third person will be reduced to “they” in just a few decades. Note: “the third person”—not “the third-person generic singular”. We will then have a system of “I”/“we”, “you”, and “they” for the first, second, respectively third persons. (Where the current calls for “he”/“she”/“it”/“they” in the third person.)

Where are the emergency brakes for language change?

Written by michaeleriksson

November 13, 2019 at 10:41 pm

Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and political correctness

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I have long been concerned with the infestation of Wikipedia by unencyclopedic PC propaganda, where it is clear that many see Wikipedia as yet another platform for furthering their private agendas—science and objectivity by damned. (Cf. e.g. parts of [1] and “young adult fiction” below.)

During the last few months, I have become a frequent visitor of Wiktionary, as a very valuable tool for the struggling author. To my distress, I found many cases of potential similar abuse even here, where it might seem implausible. While any individual case might be a coincidence, the proportion of the articles that contain odd examples and potential distortions is too large to allow coincidence to be the overall explanation. (For instance, any one of the below examples might be harmless or coincidental when taken alone. Possibly, the entire page discussed might be seen as a coincidence. However, when we look at the sum of all pages, this would stretch credulity.)

Consider e.g. Wiktionary on “sneer”. The English section currently contains three examples of use (given below). All three could have been chosen for their “PC value”; with one, it is outright likely. Moreover, two of them appear to be quite young, while the third goes back no further than 1963. This despite aspects like historical* use and somewhat stable** use being of great importance on a site like Wiktionary.

*While Wikipedia is silent on age, Etymonline gives estimations of 1550s (verb) and 1707 (noun). The examples, then, cover about a tenth of the life-time of the word.

**Examples from 2019 could reflect a temporary fashion, while older examples are more likely to represent a stable use and meaning. (A wish to demonstrate current use is still best met with examples that are, say, ten or twenty years old and still seen as “current” in meaning.)

Looking at these examples in detail, we have:*

*Note that some changes in typography and formatting might be present for technical reasons. Use of square brackets reflect the state on Wiktionary, and are not additions by me.

  1. 2019 July 24, David Austin Walsh, “Flirting With Fascism”, in Jewish Currents:

    During [Tucker] Carlson’s keynote, he wedged sneers at his critics for crying “racist!” in between racist remarks about [Ilhan] Omar, jeremiads against the media (“I know there’s a bunch of reporters here, so . . . screw you”), and an attack on Elizabeth Warren and her donors (“She’s a tragedy, because she’s now obsessed with racism, which is why the finance world supports her”)—all to gleeful applause.

    This example is months old, from a political/partisan source (and one with an apparent “anti-Fascist” take at that), and the quote at least represents someone as trying to criticize use of the word “racist” while actually being racist. Now, I am not aware of who Carlsson is or what his opinions are, but abuse of the word “racist” is a massive problem in today’s world, be it out of ignorance or in order to discredit opponents without having to address their arguments. (The same applies to e.g. “sexist”, “xenophobe”, “Fascist”.) I have discussed this repeatedly in the past, notably in [2].

    To boot, the structure of the example, with formatting, quotes-within-quotes, etc., makes it highly unsuitable as an example for other reasons.

  2. “Now here’s someone who should attend privilege workshops,” sneered she.

    There is no date or source given, but the reference to “privilege workshops” is a clear indication of a very recent origin, likely within the last few years, decades on the outside.

    The whole “privilege” bullshit is another staple of PC rhetoric, as I discuss e.g. in [3].

    A potential partial save of the example is the interpretation of the sneerer as evil, as with the above example and, possibly, the below. I am not much inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt these days, however.

  3. 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 8, in The China Governess[1]:

    It was a casual sneer, obviously one of a long line. There was hatred behind it, but of a quiet, chronic type, nothing new or unduly virulent, and he was taken aback by the flicker of amazed incredulity that passed over the younger man’s ravaged face.

    This is the example least likely by far to be an abuse, but combining the quote with the name of the source, there is at least a possibility that it too portrays or pretends to portray a scene of racism or other “ism”, e.g. something anti-Chinese. (I have not investigated this further.)

In a bigger picture, “collaborative” or “public contribution” sites like Wikipedia and Wiktionary are exceptionally sensitive to such distortions. Have just one high-school or college student out of one hundred spend an hour a week performing such deliberately abusive agenda pushing, and the legitimate editors would be flooded. (Even discounting the considerable risk that many of the legitimate editors have pro-PC or pro-Left biases that unconsciously distort their efforts.) That such deliberate distortive editing does take place is indisputable. A blatant example is the Wikipedia page on “young adult fiction”, which I encountered somewhat* recently. At the time, the page was dominated by the side-topic of “diversity”, another PC staple and one of a highly dubious justification—if nothing else, I did not even care if the heroes where human when I read this type of fiction… Currently, this sub-topic has been reduced to a shorter section—but at the cost of creating an entire new page on diversity in young adult fiction. This new page is almost as long as the main page…

*At some point in 2018. I intended to write a longer critical text at the time, but never got around to it.

Moreover, looking at the talk page, it appears that this is the work of a user Kaylac8215, who claims that “I will be working on this wiki for a class project. I will be doing basic copyediting and reformatting, as well as adding a section talking about Diversity in YA lit.”, which (together with other statements) shows both misguided intentions and an external motivation. (Entirely aside from the fact that the sometime abuse of Wikipedia editing as a pedagogical tool is inexcusable. The work produced is almost invariably well below the regular standard. Any teacher who pushes this should be summarily fired.) Her approach is later discussed negatively by others, but the result of this discussion was not the deletion of the major part of the text, just the move to a new page.

While I have not reviewed the current state of the text, I do recall that I found it highly one-sided and poorly written at the time of my original encounter.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 22, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Unorthodox thought and the ability to find refuge

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That diversity/freedom/tolerance of opinion is import to scientific and e.g. societal progress is hardly surprising—nor that the current trends towards the establishment of “official truths”, blanket* academic rejection of non-PC thought and limits on academic freedom** for its proponents, whatnot, are very dangerous.

*Because it is non-PC and irrespective of the state of evidence, arguments, etc. If a rejection took place on scientific grounds, it would be different.

**Limits on academic freedom are not in order, even when science points against an idea/theory/field/whatnot. This partly because early impressions can deceive, e.g. in that an implausible-seeming theory can be validated at a future time (as is fairly common); partly because once restrictions are allowed where they might seem acceptable, they can spread to areas where they are not acceptable. (Cf. e.g. opinion corridors and their current influence on politics and media.)

Compared to large stretches of Western history, this could involve a fatal change:

I am toying with the idea that the relative success of Western society between some point in the late middle ages and the 20th century was partially based on the ability of unorthodox thinkers or thought to escape oppression or to find an otherwise more nurturing environment. Comparing e.g. Europe and China, Europe had (a) a greater number of distinct groups with their own autonomous territory (e.g. the Italian, French, German, and Swedish areas), and (b) a much greater number of independent states (including the many German and Italian ones). This was not only a source of potentially greater diversity, of potentially a greater number of cultural and scientific centers, of potentially more literary traditions, whatnot,* but it also had the side-effect that someone with too unpopular ideas in one country or city could move on to the next, someone who woke the hostility of one ruler might make friends with another, etc. If all else failed, there was always the escape overseas, as with some unpopular religious groups. Of course, even if the individual thinker did not manage to escape, some of his books and ideas might still be available in other parts of Europe—Galileo might have been silenced, but his ideas lived on. In less dire cases, someone who failed to find sponsorship for an idea (or e.g. his art) in the one city might have better luck in another.

*On the down-side, also a risk e.g. of ideas traveling slower or never leaving the area of their origin.

A notable example is the Catholic–Protestant split: If the German emperor (or the Pope) had had the power and authority to just forbid Protestant thought, Catholicism would have remained dominant and without major competition, while the Protestant ideas might have lived on only in small and powerless under-ground movements. As is, many German rulers individually sided with the Protestant movement, there was a very major and prolonged turmoil, and both Germany and Western Europe ended up split roughly 50–50. Indeed, e.g. Sweden and England sided with the Protestant cause mostly because their respective king wanted to strengthen his own position vis-à-vis the Pope and the Church.

In contrast, Christianity once became the dominant religion in the Roman empire simply through having a Christian emperor. (And appears to later have aggressively lobbied the respective rulers when it moved into new territories.) Other attempts to reform the Christian faith or to split* from the Catholic church on a more local level might have had some temporary success, only to fail in the longer run, because there was no refuge available (as with e.g. the English Lollards).

*The East–West Schism had a very different character and very different circumstances.

Similarly, much of the great Greek progress took place in an environment of city states.

This idea is speculation, I have not gone through the (considerable) leg-work to see whether it checks out more in detail, and I have not even spent as much time mulling it over as most other topics. But: When we look at current developments, where scientists run an increasing risk of being globally condemned for having the “wrong” opinions or even researching the “wrong” topics, I feel forced to mention the possibility. What if even seemingly totalitarian, intolerant, whatnot societies still allowed progress through such escapes, while the modern, allegedly democratic, diversified, enlightened*, whatnot society will fail horribly? (This especially when combined with e.g. the strong current trends of anti- and pseudo-intellectualism in the softer sciences, an increased focus on feelings and subjectivity over facts and objectivity in public discourse, etc.)

*What passes for enlightenment today is often the exact opposite, the holding of a set of (often poorly supported) opinions and a pride in condemning everyone not sufficiently orthodox.

As an aside, the repeated use of religious examples above is not coincidental: not only are those among the most obvious—there is also a strong parallel in attitude with the current PC crowds. This includes many occurrences of a quasi-religious conviction of being right, belief without or even contrary to evidence, a wish to indoctrinate others “for their own good”, extreme condemnation of the “heretics”, and similar. Indeed, from what I have read about Galileo in the past, his treatment might originally have been met with more factual arguments and a fairer treatment than many heretics against the PC “truths”.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2019 at 4:34 pm

Some thoughts around a personal anecdote / suppression of information

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Looking over some old posts, I found a footnote dealing with suppression of information from a discussion:

As aside, there might be some PC-extremists that actually deliberately use such formulations, because they see every sign of sex (race, nationality, religion, …) as not only irrelevant in any context, but as outright harmful, because “it could strengthen stereotypes”, or similar. Not only would this be a fanaticism that goes beyond anything defensible, it also severely damages communications: Such information is important in very many contexts, because these characteristics do have an effect in these contexts. (And it is certainly not for one party do selectively decide which of these contexts are relevant and which not.) For instance, if someone cries, the typical implications for a male and a female (or a child and an adult) are very different. Ditto, if a catholic and a protestant marriage is terminated. Etc.

This brought to my mind an incident with a colleague* some years ago, which well illustrates the problems of such information suppression—and does so even in the face of the most stubborn PC objections**.

*And, yes, he was fairly strongly PC. In another incident, he tried to defend the throwing of eggs at immigration critics when we discussed free speech—he did not seem to see the contradiction with his alleged support of free speech…

**E.g. “that the implications of a male crying are different is just a result of societal brain-washing; ergo, it is even more important that we leave such information out, in order to reduce the brain-washing”.

Our discussion (paraphrased from memory and into English):

He: Huh! It says in the paper that a German killed his daughter over pre-marital sex.*

*Or something similar of the “honor” variety, e.g. having the “wrong” boy-friend.

I: Really?!? Was it a “German German” or a Turk* or something?

*Contextually taken to be someone of Turkish ethnicity living in Germany.

He: Yeah, well, um, yeah, I mean, it waaas a Turk, but I did not want to, um, say it like that…

Firstly, such attempts at censorship waste time, can cause unnecessary confusion, and can make something seem more “newsworthy” than it actually is. (Note the idea that “man bites dog” is news, while “dog bites man” is not. In this case: while honor killings are rare even among Turks, they are virtual unheard of among “German Germans”.)

Secondly, and more importantly: by not providing such information, limits on (in this case) the group of perpetrators are removed and a greater number of innocents are potentially implicated. It is true that those uninformed or weak in critical thinking might build an image of the typical Turk as an “honor murderer”, and I can at least understand the PC case for wanting to avoid this.* However, by not keeping the limiting information, aspersions are now cast on the group of men or the group of fathers: if there was a danger before, it remains and it is extended to a larger group—and the proportion of the innocent in this group is higher yet. This is particularly unfortunate in this specific case, because of the great amount of Feminist propaganda directed at painting a faulty** picture of men as abusers of women—to the point that “mäns våld mot kvinnor” (“men’s violence against women”) is one of the most common phrases in Swedish politics, bordering on being a slogan. To boot, this abuse is often implied to serve the deliberate purpose of oppressing women, for which the above killing would have been a splendid example.

*But I stress that I do not agree with it: Presuming to be a filter of information or an arbiter of what others are allowed to know is inherently dangerous. (If in doubt, because it rests on an assumption of knowledge and understanding on behalf of the presumptive arbiter that could be faulty—and, indeed, virtually always is faulty with the PC crowd.) Moreover, I very strongly disagree with denying knowledge (or e.g. self-determination) to those with a brain in order to protect those without one. (And if we try to separate people into groups by e.g. the ability to think, how can we be certain that the arbiter and the criteria are sufficiently good?) Then there is the issue of filtering out information that does apply to a very significant portion of the group. (E.g. through denying that crime rates in a certain group are far higher than in the rest of the population.)

**In reality, women are violent towards men slightly more often than vice versa, and men are far more likely to be victims of violence overall.

From another perspective, if he had been right in censoring the ethnicity of the father, why was he not obliged to leave out “father” (and the implied “man”)? Why not say “parent”? What makes the one piece of information acceptable/relevant/whatnot and the other not?

In some cases, information is sufficiently prima facie relevant or irrelevant that a decision is easy. For instance, that is was a parent (or other close relative) has an impact on the type of crime, and that it happened in (or in relation to) Germany made the incident more personally relevant* than had it happened in some random place in the world. On the other hand, the hair-color of the involved persons would almost** always be irrelevant, except in as far as it revealed*** something more significant. More generally, it can be tricky—especially, when different people have different priorities, interests, and “open questions”.

*At least for some people and/or for some types of news.

**I point to The Red-Headed League for a fictional counter-example, and note that there might, in real-life, e.g. be situations where violence involving people of rarer hair-colors might be more likely for personal reasons.

***For instance, if the hair-color is locally rare, it might point to a tourist or an immigrant, either of which has a considerably higher degree of prima facie relevance. (While this is unlikely to apply to Germany, it might very well apply to e.g. Nigeria and Japan.)

While I can see the case against providing too much information, I see a stronger case against providing too little and would prefer if e.g. journalists erred on the side of too much. Say that a man has beaten a woman: What is the effect of just saying “man” and what of saying “an uneducated, unemployed male alcoholic with a prior criminal record”?* Whether that much information will always be relevant, I leave unstated, but more information would help to build a more nuanced world-view and to foil attempted distortions of said world-view, e.g. by countering propaganda claims like** “all men are rapists” and attempts to hide negative information about certain groups***.

*When e.g. “college professor” applies, it is no less worthy of mention.

**Note that this works in the context of Turks too. For instance, the (hypothetical) knowledge that this was a first-generation immigrant would have lessened the risk of unfair suspicions against those with a longer familial history in Germany. An (equally hypothetical) knowledge of alcoholism would have lessened the risk even for many first generation Turks. Etc.

***For instance, hiding the ethnicity of criminals does not just protect the innocent members of that ethnicity from unfair suspicions—it also creates a too positive view of the group as a whole. Such a view can lead to poorer decision making, especially in politics. To boot, it can lead to unnecessary personal or group conflicts, e.g. when person A has access to information that person B lacks and B incorrectly assumes that A bases his opinion in the overall issue on bigotry/racism/sexism/xenophobia/… or lack of information. (Ditto, m.m., for groups A and B.) I note that both the Swedish and the German press appear to systematically suppress the ethnicity of perpetrators and suspects.

From yet another perspective, these tactics need not be very helpful. For instance, above, I immediately considered it more-likely-than-not that a non-Western immigrant was involved—even in the face of an explicit mention of “German”*. I asked; many others would have jumped to the conclusion and kept it to themselves. Moreover, even I might have asked the wrong question… Was ethnicity the core issue or might it have been religion (or yet some other factor)? Here I saw another case of a Turkish honor killing, where it might (or might not) have been better viewed as a Muslim or a Turkish Muslim honor killing. Having more information, e.g. not just whether the father was a Turk but also whether he was a Muslim, would, again, have given me a more nuanced world-view. This applies the more to those who jump to the conclusion, because even when their conclusions are correct (e.g. “was a Turk”), they need not hit what was actually important.

*While the use of “German” (or “Swede”) to refer to ethnicity is increasingly (and irrationally) frowned upon, the context made ethnicity more likely than nationality, because the clear majority of all people in Germany are German citizens, leaving ethnicity as the natural intention with cases within Germany. Similarly, I suspect, an “Italian-American” is more likely to spontaneously mention that he is Italian (even when not a citizen) than that he is a U.S. citizen (unless he is abroad).

As to what to do instead, if the PC fears are valid? Focus on developing critical-thinking skills, raise awareness of fallacies (e.g. “confirmation bias”), and further the understanding of some very basic ideas like “what applies to some group members do not necessarily apply to all group members”, “that most members of group A are also members of group B does not imply that most members of group B are also members of group A”, “individual variation very often trumps group membership”, “correlation does not imply causation”, and variations. A greater ability to discriminate would also be positive, notably in knowing what criteria are important and what unimportant—but also including ensuring that everyone knows some basic differentiations, e.g. that “Arab” and “Muslim” are not synonymous, that neither (ethnic) Turks nor (ethnic) Iranians/Persians are Arabs, and similar.

Excursion on information and identification:
One concern with being liberal with information is the increased risk of someone intended to be anonymous becoming identifiable. This is a legitimate reason why e.g. journalists should show some restraint, but they should do so on a case-by-case basis. (And I cannot recall ever having heard either the PC crowd or a journalist raise this concern as a reason to censor ethnicity.) For instance, the number of Swedes living in Wuppertal is unlikely to be very large, and just combining “Swede” with “Wuppertal” would limit the candidates correspondingly. Throw in just one or two additional facts and that might be enough to pin-point me—and if it does not, the number of candidates will be small enough that each of them could be considered the match by third parties. I point to the case of a physically assaulted innocent man as just one example of why this can be dangerous.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 6, 2019 at 1:23 pm

“Good Omens” / Follow-up: Undue alterations of fictional characters

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In the meantime, I have had the time to watch the remaining five episodes of “Good Omens” (cf. [1]).

The series does not quite reach my memory* of the book, but it comes close and is very good in its own right, bordering on a “must see”. Moreover, it remains unusually close to the source, with most of what I remember left in**, not that much added, and changes in other regards that were mostly non-distorting. This even for the too convoluted, unsatisfying, and overly convenient*** culmination/confrontation (which forms the “true” end of the book and series, the remainder being more of an epilogue)—something that leaves me with mixed feelings: on the one hand, I usually strongly dislike distortions of the original; on the other, this would have been a golden opportunity to remedy the book’s greatest weakness.

*But (here and elsewhere) remember that my last reading was years ago, which means that my memory could be off.

**If often shortened, which might be a necessary evil due to run-time. For instance, in the book, Adam and his gang had a greater exposure and more time to build sympathies and an image of their individual characters, and a rival gang was cut out entirely in the series.

***While neither a deus ex machina, nor a “and then I woke up” applies, we have the same type of convenience.

In a bigger picture, and with hindsight, [1] likely aimed at a too narrow target: While “Good Omens” does a good job (excepting PC issues), many other works have been exposed to changes that go beyond both the individual characters and the issue of (specifically) PC alterations. (The recurring reader will likely understand why I jumped the gun a little.) Super-hero movies based on comics tend to be particularly bad—to the point that it might be outright misleading to speak of an adaption of the comic (let alone an individual story) and that the movies simply cannot be considered canonical. Most often, they are something in the lines of an alternate-reality canon or a “based on characters”. Then we have issues like a movie version being made the one year and an incompatible movie reboot taking place a few years later (examples include the Fantastic Four and, twice!, Spiderman—even when just looking at live-action and a reasonably “modern” era). The several examples of gender-benders and “black-washing” that I gave with regard to Marvel movies are misleading, in as far as Marvel’s problem goes well beyond sex and race.

When switching mediums, I admit, some degree of compromise is hard to avoid. For instance, when going from book to movie, we have concerns like run-time, how to (and whether to) bring over inner monologue, how to handle narration when no explicit narrator was present, the addition of features not present in a book (notably, a score), the degree to which the actors chosen actually match the descriptions in the book, … With comics, the often decades long history of individual characters and usually highly troublesome canonicity situation in the comic, it self, makes the task of making a movie unusually hard. Changes and compromises can be a necessary evil in order to make a quality adaption possible. The problem is that far too many works are brought over in a manner that sees the original version as just a rough guide-line or even just an inspiration. (To boot, I do not see it as a given that a successful book/comic/whatnot should automatically be turned into a movie/TV-series/whatnot, or vice versa.)

Revisiting what I said about “Good Omens” in [1], problematic sex and color choices continued through-out, including handing the part of the archangel* Michael to an actress. Not only is this a male name (my own name, in fact), but this is the second Michael gender-bender in a comparatively short period of time. Prior to this, I had only ever heard of a single (real or fictional) woman carrying that name—actress Michael Learned, who was often billed with an explicit “miss” to avoid miss-, sorry, mis-understandings.

*In all fairness, angels have often been depicted in an asexual or ambiguous manner in art in the past, and I might have given the series a pass, had it not been for the God issue—as I did with the movie “Constantine” and the archangel Gabriel (played by Tilda Swinton). More generally, there is a gray area when it comes to such non-human entities, and whether they should be seen as men/women or somethings that has just taken male/female guises. (I do not recall whether Michael was ever referred to by a pronoun.)

A related distortion is how Pepper (a child) showed strong signs of blindly believing in Gender-Feminist nonsense like the “Patriarchy”—and even accusing another woman* of being sexist towards her… My recollections of the “book Pepper” are of someone with a head of her own, who would be unlikely to blindly spout what her mother** (?) had told her.

*Or entity-played-by-an-actress. (Specifically, War, who was actually a woman, or using a female guise, in the book too.)

**Who might have been in the hippie and/or mother-goddess crowds.

The use of God (irrespective of sex) as a narrator found yet another area of problems when the character Metatron appeared and presented himself as the “voice of the Almighty”… As stressed, this was to be seen more as a metaphor (implying spokesman or similar), leaving God with her own more physical voice; however, the result is still absurd. Here it would have made more sense to make Metatron the narrator or to cut the character entirely. (To my recollection, he was only in one brief scene of the series, and had a considerably greater impact on the book.)

In a twist, the series (and the book) contains several points of which typical members of the PC crowd (and Feminists, Leftists, whatnot) might take heed. Note e.g. the complications caused by assuming that someone is “good” or “evil” based on group membership, rather than on the individual and actual actions. (Examples include the division into angels vs. demons, witches vs. witch-finders, decent people vs. Jezebels, and possibly a few more. In the book, Adam’s gang vs. the rival gang is likely an example.) Or consider the destructiveness of attempting to force people into a set of behaviors or opinions against their own will, most notably Adam vs. his gang. In the overlap between these two areas, the day was saved because Crowley, Aziraphale, and Adam ignored what they were “supposed” to do.

The recurring reader might recall my various delivery issues earlier this year. The deliveries in both book and series had a very different pattern, including several deliveries ordered hundreds of years in advance that arrived at the correct place at the correct time, and a delivery man so dedicated to performing his deliveries that he was prepared to (and did) give up his own life to do so.

Excursion on exceptional switches of medium:
In some cases, a switch of medium can be associated with changes that clearly improve upon the original. If additionally, the original is not yet widely known, the changes might be acceptable as per Oscar Wilde’s tulip analogy. For instance, two of my favorite TV series are based on inferior predecessors: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was preceded by a movie that was nowhere near as good—a complete* re-vamp (pun intended) made for a much better product. “Dexter” was preceded** by a book series that was vastly inferior—at least partially because of changes made, including Dexter no longer (literally) being possessed by a demon…

*However, some events from the movie, set before the TV series, have been validated in canonicity through later references.

**In my understanding, the book and TV series ran parallel with a highly diverging continuity, but the first book or books preceded the TV series. I have read two of the books and am in no hurry to add to my tally.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 1, 2019 at 9:45 pm

Undue alterations of fictional characters

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I have long thought highly of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and have read their collaboration “Good Omens” at least four times (albeit not within the last ten or so years). Correspondingly, it was with great interest that I took note of the television version of this work.

While the first episode is promising, it repeated the deplorable PC-ification of characters that plagues much of today’s TV and movies: in the first few minutes, we have the introduction of a female* God, a black** Adam and Eve, and a potentially gay*** Aziraphale. The rest of the episode contains several choices that might not be outlandish but did not match my natural expectation, including an Indian looking “Pepper”—would a British girl by the real name “Pippin Galadriel Moonchild” be likely to have non-White parents? On the positive side, the character Dog was not turned into a cat… Other recent examples include a female Doctor (“Doctor Who”), a female Mar-Well and a black Nick Fury**** (“Captain Marvel”), and a black Buffy (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reboot, still on rumor stage). Marvel Comics is indeed a repeating sinner, with other alterations including a black Kingpin and a black Heimdal (movies) and a female Thor***** (comics). To boot, there are problems with characters being altered in other ways, even when uncalled for and unnecessary, and even when allowing for a switch of medium (cf. a discussion of changes to Blyton’s works, where there is not even a medium switch).

*While a case can be made for God being a woman, the book (I checked) uses formulations like “he” and “his” in the introductory monologue that the TV version has turned into “I” (and whatnot) by a female speaker. Worse, the way this is handled raises the suspicion that the show’s makers went for a (failed) shock value, expecting a lulled into “he”-ness audience to be moved out of its comfort zone. Seeing that the frequency of female Gods in fiction has been quite high, this borders on the hackneyed. (For two off-the-top-of-my-head examples, see the movie “Dogma” and Phil’s claims on “Modern Family”.) Moreover, there are risks involved with making God the narrator, regardless of sex, e.g. in that a too high burden on infallibility arises or in that parts of the narration becomes odd—both exemplified by how the narrator speaks of what might have happened to the surplus baby.

**This could be seen as the realistic outcome of trying to combine Biblical creation stories with what science says about human evolution. However, I would be highly surprised if the original authors and readers of the Bible did not assume a “Semitic” look. (Also note the Shem/Ham/Japheth split of humanity at at much later stage.) Moreover, looking at the evolutionary record and e.g. the first use of fire and clothes, the more ape-like look of e.g. a Homo Erectus would have been a more appropriate result of such a combination.

***In all fairness, this might be over-interpretation by me and is not entirely incompatible with my recollection of the book.

****Repeating an error from a number of earlier movies—the more so, because Samuel L. Jackson just seems wrong for the part, even color aside.

*****According to claims from a few years back. As I have not followed the comics for twenty-something years, I am uncertain what eventually happened. The mere idea, however, of replacing a well-established character, with a mythological background to boot, borders on the soap-opera level.

(This counting only examples of a pre-existing character being altered and only some that occur to me at the time of writing—the list would be much longer if I had kept record; and not to mention the definitely disproportionate number of homosexuals and various trans-this-and-that, and what subjectively feels like a disproportionate number of black characters and female leads. Indeed, I have reached the point where I am almost surprised when there is not at least one homosexual in a TV series and where even erotic interactions have ceased to surprise me.)

In many cases, these alterations (or, more generally, character choices) seem pointless, unless a politically correct agenda (or an attempt to cater to those with such an agenda) is assumed. The odd one here-or-there might be acceptable for reasons like a certain actor happening to be the best choice for a certain part in all regards except for e.g. skin-color or sex, or the wish to reduce the dramatis personae*. With the current amount of change, such explanations do not suffice. Often, they are entirely unnecessary or even silly (Viking god Heimdal being black, e.g.)—there is no benefit from the female God of “Good Omens” and if a TV show about a female Time Lord was wanted, why not just make a show about a female Time Lord?** Equally, for a show about a black vampire-slayer, just go with another slayer—not the already established-as-white Buffy. In an interesting contrast, any casting of white people into naturally non-white parts*** is met with cries of “white washing” or “appropriation”, and extremists go to the barricades even for e.g. casting an NT in an aspie part****.

*A border-line example is the Peter Jackson version of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, where the male character Glorfindel is removed and his part of the story is taken over by the (also present-in-the-books) female character Arwen. Better examples are bound to exist. (And, no, I was not enthusiastic about this or a number of other deviations by Jackson either—but I can at least see the point of the change.)

**Note that the Doctor is not the one and only Time Lord in existence, and that female Time Lords have a long history on the show. (If Susan is counted, going back to the very first episode.)

***A notable example is the somewhat recent “Gods of Egypt”. While I grant that the result was a little odd, we have to factor in the likely lack of sufficiently many Egyptian-looking and English-speaking quality casting choices, that the equally great error of using English went without criticism, and that no-one prevented the Egyptians from making the movie first—but that they did not. (To boot, I have the suspicion that a casting with Egyptian looking actors would have been similarly attacked by believers in the discredited black-Egyptians hypothesis.) With older productions, e.g. the “Jesus of Nazareth” mini-series, questions of demographics would have made a “truer” casting quite hard.

****Note e.g. criticism against the TV series “Atypical”. Being a likely aspie myself, I find the criticism idiotic.

TV and movie makers, authors, comic artists, whatnots: Please stop this pointless, annoying, or even outright destructive nonsense.

Excursion on skin color vs. hair color:
Why would a change of e.g. skin color be worse than e.g. a change of hair color? First off, I dislike any type of such change that is not hard to avoid*—and this extends to hair color. However: a change of hair color could be explained by a dye job; skin color is more noticeable; skin color often has great implications in terms of character background; and e.g. comic artists are very likely to vary other** aspects of the character but will typically*** not mess with skin color, making it a fix aspect.

*Getting all the details right when e.g. moving from a comic to a (live-action) movie is hard, because finding a sufficiently look-alike actor would usually involve great compromises in terms of acting ability . Hair color is easy, in as far as someone with the wrong hair can wear a wig, shave or dye the hair, or whatever is appropriate.

**Which, frankly, annoys me too. I understand that not every artist will make carbon copies of the style of others, but some take so large liberties that I have had problems with identifying known characters before they were explicitly named or I saw them in the right context (e.g. in the right super-hero costume).

***There is the incredible Hulk…

Excursion on “Doctor Who” and my viewing choices:
When the casting of a female Doctor was first reached my ears, I wrote about the possibility of ceasing to watch the show. For now, this has indeed been my choice, motivated by the combination of the politically correct miscasting*, the preceding drop in quality over several years, and the many other alternative uses of my time (including, but not limited to, many other TV shows). I reserve the right to revise this decision at a later date.

*A claim that should not seen as a statement about the actress or her abilities, which I cannot judge, but only about the distortion of the character caused and, most importantly, the motivations behind it.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 31, 2019 at 10:13 pm