Sunday, March 02, 2008

Antisemitism, Antiamericanism, Antiwallachianism, Antizoroastrianism and the importance of Marketing

The fundamental problem of Islam, is a marketing one, post the planes crashing into the world trade center and killing lots of people. Because it has become synonamous with Terrorism, and furthermore the highest profile Islamic personalities in the world are 'the bad guys' they get the most media attention, their faces are most recognisable and they in general come across as nutbags.
So one could hypothesise that a testable rule might come along that follows this gist 'all muslims are terrorists' in arguementative terms, the simplicity of this hypothesis would make it a bad one to adopt. In expiremental terms it would probably make for a quick experiment. I personally know two or three muslims that aren't terrorists. And furthermore I know muslims from the middle-east that aren't terrorists, the same muslims infact. SO I don't even have to refine my hypothesis. But a possible hypothesis that could work for arguements sake is 'all muslims are potentially terrorists' arguementatively this would be hard to defeat, because its a question of intended behaviour and it doesn't matter which way they choose, it isn't a very definitive statement, as a rule infact it is useless. As useless as suggesting 'all New-zealanders are potentially terrorists' because as you see its true, Kiwi's have the means at their disposal to be highly effective terrorists and we could only ever guess at which of them may 'turn bad' at any time.
But New Zealand's problem today isn't a marketing one, because largely speaking their is no association between a Kiwi and a successful act of terrorism. The most famous Kiwi is Edmund Hilary, and after him, several sheep and those two guys from flight of the concords.
And rest assured many technical experts are performing psychological and economic and statistical tests to try and determine a 'terrorist' profile, and it probably does have race and religious weightings, but it is also likely to not provide any hard fast and simple rule useable to identify terrorists quickly in a way that is generally useful to the population. No I doubt we'll ever see 'People with blue eyes that have a tendancy to walk on their hands are definately terrorists'
And I imagine that one hard thing the experts will come across in profiling is that in some way, foreign policy of the state of the typical victim of terrorism is one causal factor or indicator of a strong potential terrorist. And counter terrorist measures may also prove to contribute to the production of more terrorists.
So in looking to cut through the marketing to get to the truth, the truth is constantly shifting like a moving target in the old Nintendo duck hunting games.
Yes the problem for Islam is that a few guys who flew planes full of innocent air-travellers into buildings full of innocent working types and killed a lot of them and agrieved many more, is that it got them attention and what people noticed they had in common and sighted often as motivation was a fundamentalist belief in Islam.
And certainly there is some significant correlation between violent protest and a belief in Islam because the Tibetans living in occupied terratories don't seem to have half the image of being 'violent' or the other negative branding in Tibetan buddhism that Islam does.
The Dalai Lama may be a good example of someone who successfully gets attention without generating a negative brand image around his belief system, people will flock to see him in relatively secular countries like Australia and common words to be associated with Buddhism are 'wisdom', 'meditation' and 'happyness' because these are all carefully branded exercises by the Dalai Lama Inc.
If one was to test a hypothesis 'all buddhists are peaceful' one may be wrong, proved wrong quite easily, I'm sure one kind find plenty of people in south east asia that profess to be buddhists and then happily step into a Muay Thai ring and beat the shit out of somebody, or pick up a rifle and execute their royal family members and such and such.
But marketing is a game of perceptions, and its the fastest largest association you can get into the mind that generally wins out for the rest of people's lifetime as consumers. They cant be told 'Reebok is the bets shoe' because they know 'Nike is the best shoe' even though forensically there may be very little performance wise to prove it either way. If you could shift and dislodge perceptions easily then Reebok would just come out with a campaign saying 'we are better' and conversion to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam would be very easy, you'd just walk up and say 'What are you?' and somebody would say 'I'm Jewish' and then you say 'Buddhism is better' and they say 'Oh okay, if that's the case then I'm switching to Buddhism' a scenario that never happens. Conversion only happens after numerous hours and effort is spent thinking about the pro's and cons the merits of all the various little pieces and so fourth until I hope the easiest conversion anyone ever makes is from being religious to being atheist, because it is the only one I can see arguementatively trumping any given component of any belief system on the general advantage that atheism is beholden to reason and empirical testing.
That said here's another fucken tired controversy.
and I have to admit, that having read the article I am kind of sympathetic to the view that it doesn't seem to make much of a statement apart from 'hey I want to be like Hitler' the artist claims his intent was to make a 'banality of evil' like statement, and I can sympathise with intent but I'm not sure if that's the message I get from the actual work.
In fact I'm not sure what it says at all.
But by the same token, neither am I sure what 'The Son of Man' is saying, I suspect it doesnt say much at all. Needless to say if you follow the link you will find some explanation as to the paintings meaning, but the fact is that as a communication exercise, it really doesn't convey the explanation itself. Yes both of these paintings would require a little plaque next them in the gallery that would contain 200 words briefly explaining what message the painting is supposed to communicate to you, because without it you just see 'a man in a nazi uniform' and 'a man with an apple over his face' and anyone who pretends they can read more than that is so far up their own arse that they would be hard to converse with anyway.
They might, having the benifit of reading what its supposed to mean before hand be able to look at a picture and say 'Here Magritte is commenting on the Abrahamic creation story...'
Anyway back to the controversy of painting a self portrait in Nazi Uniform, or wearing a nazi uniform to a costume party like hilarious Prince Harry, or apointing a former hitler youth as Pope.
There is a body of critics of anything that seems to suggest that any of these things are ever acceptable that exert a powerful marketing technique.
The same type of critic can be like the people who universally condemn Australia signing a security pact with Japan on account of them trying to conquer Australia back when they were a military power.
And there are the same type of critic that think it should be illegal for an American citizen to burn their own flag in protest, or a political candidates wife can't say 'for the first time I'm proud of my country'.
And all these just say 'you cant believe what you want to believe' and 'you cant paint what you want to paint' and you cant 'express yourself'. It expresses a belief in hard and fast rules. Rules that are practically non-existent, or riddled with so many exceptions that they are practically useless to enforce.
For example, being banned from burning the flag is to say 'you have to love your own country' and this may be pretty reasonable, but would be more reasonable to say 'if you don't like your own country, please move to another one' except what is a country, what if your beef isn't with a country but something far more temporary, say a current administration, who seem to be able to employ a flag for their purposes and beliefs but would deny you the right to use the same flag for your purposes and beliefs.
Well the supposed exceptions we can quash easily with the following Catch-22 logic -

'You are either with us, or against them'

Yes its a simple technique of bundling, if you love your country, you love all of it, every aspect of it and you don't want anything to change. If you want anything to change, you hate the entire country.
Or as Arundhati Roy puts it in my fondest of all her quotes

The term "anti-American" is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely - but shall we say inaccurately - define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they are heard, and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

But what does the term "anti-American" mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to freedom of speech? That you don't delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

And same thing Anthony Lowenstein argues for the term Anti-semitism. He argues that being Anti-zionist is now equatable with antisemitism, and on the amazon review it is notable that of all the tags his book 'My Isreal Question' has recieved such as 'anti-american', 'anti-semitic' and so fourth, 'anti-zion' isn't one of them.
And there's probably a goood marketing reason for this.
To simply be a critic of a small part or component of something isn't as politically expedient as being a hater of a whole body of components because then your chance of making enemies and discrediting yourself is much higher.
To take's definition which seems reasonable antisemitism unlike antiamericanism does mean something 'discrimination against or prejudice or hostility toward Jews.' I would certainly not be antisemetic because I don't discriminate against people based on being Jewish, I do however descriminate between people who hold rational beliefs (beliefs supported by evidence) against irrational beliefs (beliefs supported by faith alone, or self supported beliefs) and since I do discriminate or prejudice my allocated conversation, perhaps not being hostile though debates between athiests and theists can get quite firey I would have to call myself anti-irrational, which english tells me is a double negative so in marketing terms I would have the plus of adopting the moniker of being 'pro-reason' or 'pro-rational'.
And this finally is a good simple rule for determining the directions of my prejudice in how I choose to behave. Because I will always side with the rational point of view (unless I'm trying to be funny) so this would apply all the time.
So while my knowledge may be imperfect, when somebody rational like Noam Chomsky comments on Isreal kidnapping two Lebanese citizenes just before Hezbollah and Hamas broke the treaty I might favour the suggestion that Isreal doesn't have a good foreign policy based on his reasonable explanation sighting evidence. As opposed to say someone who says 'Isreal has a right to exist because the Jews are god's chosen people its in the holy book' whom sighting evidence drawn from religious beliefs that have no evidenciary base apart from they have been around and written by people who thought the sun revolved around the earth.
However to criticise foreing policy of Isreal (a component) is to invite condemnation of being antisemitic (a bag of components) but for me an athiest, you may believe you are Jewish in genealogical terms and I admit, this certainly is an appropriate rational label, since there is evidence of purely 'Jewish' family trees, but if you believe you are Jewish because an omnipotent entity shared the secrets of goodness with you and not me, then you are just a plain human being to me.
Same same for me to read the works of Sam Harris, who points out the disparity between Islam's general reaction to blasphemy and shit as in the protests and death threats to the Danish cartoonists and the use of suicide bombing and martyrdom in general and I give credence to evidence that suggest there is some causal relation between Institutionalised Islam and violent protest.
This isn't enough though to make me hope over the line and be pro or anti anything but pro-reason.
However in the interest of destroying misused terminology, I am happy to take this brave step and say, if you don't want to call me pro-reason which I am and which scientifically is the best predictor of my behaviour, and the best communicator of my behaviour to uninformed people. And you feel it politically expedient to have me judged before I have a chance to voice any opinions or get my objections, questions or admirations down to the smallest relevant component level, then go ahead, call me Antisemitic, Antiamerican, Antiwallachian, Antizoroastrian.
But I will know in my head that if I don't like the new Jordan XX3 that doesn't mean I am 'anti-Michael Jordan' and I would encourage oyther people to be brave and not instantly retreat like a monkey is hurling shit at you when you get called antiamerican, antisemetic, unaustralian*, anti-islamic. Because at the end of the day, reason is what has imporved our lives far more than any other idealogy and criticism is valid and welcome, criticism and questions should never be unwelcome.
I would like to see 'proreason' get bagged up inside 'antisemitism' and 'antiamericanism' until these misused terms lose all their power.

*its funny how unaustralian gets used much more than antiaustralian, it describes a lack of something rather than an opposition to something.

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