All posts by Jerry Barnett

Vote Civil Liberties!

Almost everyone in politics says they support civil liberties, but for most, this is mere lip service. There are tragically few civil libertarians in Parliament (most of those that were there previously were Liberal Democrats, who were largely wiped out in 2010). Neither of the large parties have strong records in this area. Labour’s last flirtation with civil liberty was under the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins in the 1960s, and he abandoned the party in the 1980s. The left and right wings of politics are almost indistinguishable on this measure. They’re distinguished by economic views, not by a belief in civil liberties.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
Install a VPN

Today we face new and fundamental attacks on our civil liberties. And yet, as the political spectrum has polarised to left and right, liberalism is at a low ebb. Just as a vigorous defence of civil liberties has become essential, so the political class – and political activists – have lost interest in civil liberties.

Theresa May, an authoritarian Home Secretary turned authoritarian Prime Minister, has overseen deep attacks on civil liberties. Of greatest concern are two new laws:

The Digital Economy Act (2017)

The Digital Economy Act, under the guise of “protecting children from online porn”, has introduced the most powerful system of censorship in the democratic world, which will kick into action in 2018. As often predicted on this blog, no sooner had the law been passed than Theresa May was licking her lips at the prospect of extending further and further. With almost no coverage in the press, we are about to lose access to the Internet as we knew it.

The Investigatory Powers Act (2016)

The IPA (aka the Snoopers’ Charter) effectively removes our right to online privacy. Theresa May’s early attempts to introduce this law were blocked by the Liberal Democrats while in coalition (we should thank the Lib Dems for this act, and many others, but the endless obsession with tuition fees eclipses their many successes in power). It is a draconian piece of legislation that has no place in a democracy. As the US whistle-blower and liberty campaigner Edward Snowden tweeted:

Brexit

The coming Brexit only compounds these problems, removing us from EU law that protects our online rights. It is likely that both of these laws could be challenged, if we Remained. But the British people, in their infinite wisdom, have opted to Leave. And the likely economic decline inherent in Brexit will only distract further from civil liberties: freedom is a luxury for the secure and the well-fed.

Where is the Opposition?

The good news is that there is a surge of political interest among the young. The bad news is that this enthusiasm has been thrown behind a conservative-left clique with no great interest in civil liberties. As a result, the election debate has been dominated by the usual economic arguments, and civil liberties have been swept aside. We end up in the strange situation where both main parties have swung leftward. Economically, the Tories have snatched the centre-ground abandoned by the Corbynites, while Labour, lacking a coherent analysis of economic problems or solutions, has become obsessed with nationalising stuff (an old fascination of the left which which is unlikely to resolve any problems).

But both party leaders are authoritarian by nature. Corbyn may (correctly) attack the British love-in with Saudi Arabia, but he has less to say about other regimes. Indeed, he has expressed strong support for the socialist regime in Venezuela (and has nothing to say about the suspension of democracy, the shootings of protesters, or the steep rise in poverty there). He is also muted in his criticism of Iran (and has pocketed money from a state-owned TV company). In short, we’ve returned to cold war politics, where both left and right are comfortable with state repression and murder. They agree that repression is OK – they just differ in who the bad guys are.

Corbyn, mistakenly viewed by many of his followers as a progressive, has put up no opposition whatsoever to May’s anti-liberty putsch. The Digital Economy Act was passed with Labour support. Shamefully, Corbyn’s Labour chose to abstain on the Snoopers Charter vote, rather than join the Liberal Democrats in voting against. They allowed it to be passed into law without challenge. Furthermore, Labour’s manifesto makes no mention to any changes to these laws. They will remain, whoever wins this election.

And as for Brexit: Jeremy Corbyn comes from the anti-EU wing of Labour politics, and has never hidden his euroscepticism (or at least, didn’t hide it until 2015, when it would have hampered his election as leader). Of all the party leaders, he is second only to UKIP’s Paul Nuttall in his enthusiasm for Brexit. And yet, many of his followers are pro-EU, and apparently unaware of his views on the matter, or of the role he played in quietly helping the Leave campaign to victory. Like the Tories, Labour has committed to ending free movement in the EU: Corbynites think this attitude is racist in Theresa May, but ignore it in their Chosen One.

There appear to be two Jeremy Corbyns: the europhobic 1970s throwback I’ve followed since he was elected in 1983 (I was a teenage leftie at the time), and the imaginary one his supporters believe in. Just as in the Monty Python classic, the Life of Brian, Jeremy Corbyn is their Messiah, and they won’t let the real person cloud their enthusiasm for the saviour they imagine him to be.

Vote Civil Liberties!

There is a clear choice in this election, but it’s not between Labour and the Tories. The line is between statist, pro-Brexit parties (Labour and the Conservatives) and internationalist, civil liberties parties (the Liberal Democrats and the Greens). The SNP appear to lie somewhere in the middle. The Liberal Democrats have followed up their opposition to the Snoopers Charter with a commitment to repeal it (you won’t find such a commitment in the Labour Manifesto). And only the Lib Dems tried to oppose the introduction of the “porn censor” within the Digital Economy Act.

On Europe, the Lib Dems have also committed to fight for free movement in the EU (LabCon have committed to end it), and have promised a second referendum on the Brexit deal, including an option to Remain.

There is, of course, no chance of them winning this election. But, whether the election is won by authoritarian bullies of left or right, we desperately need more civil libertarians in Parliament, and there are almost none in the main parties. The Lib Dems and the Greens deserve support for flying the civil liberties, pro-EU flag. Please consider lending them your support.

Am I Being Hacked?

Last night, I saw evidence that my devices were hacked.

I’ve been an Internet user since 1988, a while before the web became popular (it wasn’t even invented until 1990). Back then, we had email of course, and some other services. Before the days of forums, Twitter or Facebook, the most popular way to chat in groups was Usenet, which hosted threaded “newsgroups” under a wide variety of classifications. The Internet was a more intelligent, better-informed place in those days, largely because one needed a fair degree of technical knowledge in order to play. Sure, there were conspiracy theories, but they were never anywhere near as dumb as those in circulation today.

Many of the theories of the day related to hacking and spying activity by the state. Given that the world’s most technically astute people were Internet users, many of these rumours could be treated seriously. One rumour went that an agency (I forget whether the CIA or NSA) had purchased four Crays (the world’s fastest computers at the time) to analyse all the world’s Internet traffic. Given that the traffic was tiny by today’s standards, and the Internet’s structure pretty simple, this was believable. The response on Usenet was for people to write “Kill the President” in their sig, in order to jam up the spies’ systems.

In hindsight, especially following the 2014 leaks by Edward Snowden, these rumours are very believable. I’ve always operated online on the following assumptions:

  • Everything I write/send/receive is accessible by someone
  • Everything I write/send/receive is being stored somewhere, forever
  • If this all isn’t legal now, it’ll be legal one day
  • In other words, every digital communication you’ve ever made might well be sitting in a database somewhere, and may come back to haunt you

So paranoia is justified. However: ignorant paranoia isn’t useful. Everybody is paranoid these days, about everything. This only helps state intrusion: uninformed scaremongering is worse than simple ignorance. But sadly, everyone has decided that they, or someone they know on Facebook, has exclusive access to the inner workings of the state. And so everyone is following false Messiahs and is hence confused-as-fuck. The David Ickes and Alex Joneses of this world aren’t waking people up: they’re simply distracting the masses from reality.

So anyway, last night I was pretty clearly being hacked by someone. I’ve suspected as much previously: it’s hardly an unusual occurrence these days. Most of these hacks aren’t targeted – people just click the wrong link or download the wrong software all the time. But aside from the standard paranoia, I’m a civil liberties campaigner who tries to make people aware of state censorship, and so I have a tiny reason for genuine paranoia. I don’t kid myself that I’m particularly important, but I’m certainly in the top couple of percent of likely targets, having managed repeatedly to personally annoy representatives of the censorship state.

Theresa May is Watching You
Install a Secure VPN

Yesterday evening, multiple devices of mine did strange things simultaneously. These run different operating systems and connect via different networks. The only common thread is that I own them all. I’m technically literate and thus pretty well protected (though I know of some things I haven’t done, but should). I won’t reveal what happened, except for one particular oddity that worried me: following some weird occurrences on multiple devices, my (Android) phone’s time and date suddenly updated to incorrect values. This has never happened before, and nor should it ever. I flag it because it raises concerns as to why someone might want to do that.

I’m logging this publicly as insurance, just in case. Paranoia generally isn’t useful, and much of it is based on nonsense. I try to avoid it. But – as the old saying goes – just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

How not to be hacked (or at least, make it harder)

Here are some basic things you should be doing to protect yourself. It won’t stop the most determined and skilled hackers and spies, but it will ensure you’re not a soft target.

  1. Ensure you’re using up-to-date software. Did you notice the recent WannaCry attack that hurt the NHS and various other organisations? They were hacked because they used a very old version of Windows. Update your operating systems and apps promptly. Note that this exploit was first discovered by the US intelligence services, who kept it secret for some time while (presumably) using it to spy on people.
  2. Use anti-virus software – goes without saying, right? And obviously, keep it up to date.
  3. Use a VPN – this hides all your Internet activity from nosey types like your ISP, hackers and the state. It will also get around blocks and filters, which are becoming increasingly commonplace. You can get started with a VPN here. But you can’t trust your VPN provider to keep your surfing private, so also…
  4. Get used to using the Tor browser – this hides your web surfing from everyone including your VPN provider. It’s slower than a regular browser, but far more secure. If you use Tor without a VPN, spies can see you’re doing so (but not what you’re doing): so use it in conjunction with your VPN. Tor is available on all platforms, and it’s free.
  5. Don’t click links in suspicious messages. Unless you expected the message, don’t click the link. This especially includes links from (hacked) friends. Does your friend normally send messages about cheap iPhones? No? Then don’t click.
  6. Make phone calls and send SMS messages as little as possible – these are logged by the state. Apps like WhatsApp are better, because they’re encrypted. Even better is Signal, which replaces your standard SMS app, and encrypts your communications if both ends of the conversation are using Signal. It’s free – install it now, and advise your friends to do the same.

There’s plenty more, but that’s a starting point. Be careful out there!

Jerry Barnett, Lianne Young, Vikki Dark and Gail Dines in Porn Debate on Tell Vanessa TV Show

So here’s me, squished in between two ex pornstars, Lianne Young and Vikki Dark (now an anti-porn campaigner), to debate the new Digital Economy Bill (now passed into law as the Digital Economy Act). This is one of the perks of my campaigning work. The venue was the west London TV studios of Tell Vanessa, a current affairs discussion programme. The debate is the first thing in the programme. It’s followed at about 9:30 (if you can stomach it) by a Skype interview with anti-porn zealot – or should that be impartial academic porn researcher? – Gail Dines.

Support Sex & Censorship:
Buy Porn Panic! - The Book

Lianne and I both take an anti-censorship position. Vikki and Gail take a pro-censorship one. You can also listen to my podcast interview with Vikki Dark here.

Trans Activism, Language Policing and Identity Politics

In a recent Facebook thread, a trans woman was attacked for declaring herself instead to be a “transwoman”. The missing space was deemed to be crucial; and to me this demonstrated, yet again, the intellectual abyss into which much of left-wing politics has fallen. It began when self-declared transwoman/trans woman Erin Palette shared a blog post she’d written titled Being a Concealed Carrier Made Me a Better Transwoman (note – I’m not endorsing the gun politics here – let’s stay focused).

A comment swiftly appeared:

 

 

To which Erin sensibly responded:

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve spent some time over the past few years observing and documenting the bizarre cult of identity politics, as well as trying to explain the phenomenon. There are a number of overlapping explanations as to why the left has been subsumed by this pedantic nonsense.

But in reality, identity politics seems to be best explained by one thing: bullies have found a new language with which to justify bullying. Once upon a time, political activism took effort, required people attend meetings, understand history, and read books. Now, all one has to do is Like a few Facebook pages and learn a few slogans (“neoliberal patriarchal oppression is bad, m’kay?”) and – hey presto – you’re a Marxist, a feminist, or an intersectional person-of-colour LGBTQ+ warrior!

This nonsense invariably surfaces during (attempts at) political discussion. Identity politics means that people can completely ignore the subject under discussion and instead focus on – yes – identity. Thus, any discussion can be “won” (at least, in the feeble mind of the identity warrior) by responding to any point with “Ah yes, but you’re cis/white/male/all three”. Under these politics-for-kids rules, one need never lose an argument. One wins simply by being female/brown/queer/whatever. On this basis, the ciswhitemale must simply admit defeat and exit. “I’m a ciswhitemale and I’ll still be one at the end of this discussion, so there’s no point continuing, is there?”

The  new religion of “intersectionality” takes all this to new heights: for example, oppressed white feminists can tell privileged white men to shut up, but in turn can be told to shut up by black feminists who claim to be even more oppressed than they are. This would all be top-class entertainment if these halfwits weren’t slowly infiltrating the machinery of education, media and politics, and establishing their neo-theology as “fact”.

As well as playing the identity card, the identitarian has a second fallback gambit to avoid engaging in actual reasoned discussion: language policing. This is beautifully demonstrated by the reply to Erin:

 

 

 

So we discover that:

a) Men aren’t allowed to join this discussion, on account of them being men n all, and
b) There is a “recognised standard” for good and bad words – thus implying an elite that gets to decide which words other people are allowed to use. Who elects this elite? Don’t be silly, elites are self-appointed, not elected.

In this brave new world, meanings no longer matter. Only words matter. Trying to phrase a political point in the language of Identity is like tip-toeing through a minefield. Your entire argument will be declared null and void if you place a foot wrong. And since the rules keep changing, and only the most dedicated identitarian can be bothered to keep up, you’ll never get it right.

“DON’T SAY BLACK SAY PERSON OF COLOUR!” “DON’T SAY GAY SAY LGBTQ+!” “DON’T SAY PROSTITUTE, SAY SEX WORKER!” etc… (of course, this being nothing more than a childish game, the moment you master the words, they’ll change; see “coloured person – negro – afro-american – african american – person of colour” for a particularly circular example).

Erin concluded:

 

 

But of course – it’s simple courtesy to refer to people using their preferred words, if they have preferred words. But identity politics isn’t about courtesy – it’s about control. We’ve entered a back-to-front world in which people claim “oppression” simply in order to control and bully other people.

If feminists and race activists are good at this game, trans activists often take it to a surreal new level. A perfectly non-bigoted friend was recently screamed at (by a non-trans woman) for daring to ask genuine questions about trans people but phrasing the question wrongly. You can’t be told the answers, because you don’t know how to phrase the questions. It’s as if playground bullying and grown-up politics have suddenly merged – and perhaps they have.

It should be pointed that identity activists rarely represent their supposed constituency. Most women aren’t feminists, most black people choose not to be categorised as perpetual victims, and most trans people are perfectly OK with being asked questions about themselves, even if the language used is clumsy. And it’s been a long time since I met a real-life homosexual who felt represented by the “gay rights movement” (or whichever words it uses to describe itself these days).

Whatever the identity bullies might tell you, you have every right to use any word of your choosing. It’s preferable that you don’t use words in order just to hurt people’s feelings. But this policing of language is censorship, both in reality and intent.

The Far-Right, “Muslim Rape” Hoaxes, and Feminism

Currently circulating on social media: a video purporting to show a woman being attacked by a “Muslim rape gang”, somewhere in Europe. This video pops up repeatedly, often claimed to be in different locations. Its spread is orchestrated by far-right blogs, which may in turn be creations of the Russian state as part of Putin’s war on the EU and European stability. The claim is a hoax – the video in fact shows an attack on a woman by a Czech drug gang last May. The protagonist was jailed in December.

There is no accusation more potent than a rape allegation against “foreigners”. This taps deep into our primitive, evolved instincts; as I’ve written previously, the most valuable asset in any human society is its fertile women. Much of what is called “racism” actually stems from anger amongst men that “their women” may cross tribal lines to mate with outsiders. The loss of female mates from the tribe is the greatest loss of all. Thus, a stereotypical complaint about immigration is that “they come over here, take our women…”. When an accusation of rape is made against outsiders – whether true or false – the lynch mob is more than happy to spring into action. The idea that “our women” might voluntarily mate with foreigners is difficult to accept – far easier to believe that force was used.

Rape claims were a driving force behind the lynchings of black men in the US South in the early 20th century. Nobody knows how many of these claims were fabricated. But one can suspect that the proportion is high – after all, with lynch mobs on the loose, and no effective protection by the law, how many Southern black men would be likely to risk raping white women? This was demonstrated only recently, when a woman – Caroline Bryant Donham – admitted she had fabricated a rape allegation against a 14 year old black boy in 1955. The accused, Emmett Till, was lynched.

Foreigner rape claims are so powerful that they can even be utilised as a tool of war. During the 2003 Iraq War, a US soldier, Jessica Lynch, was famously captured by Iraqi forces. Rape claims abounded. It shows something about the human psyche (and the relative value put on male and female lives) that claims of rape against one woman aroused more anti-Arab emotion in America than dozens of male deaths in battle. The rape claims turned out to be false, but the propaganda helped rally American support for Bush’s war. As if to demonstrate the link between rape accusations and racism, two other female soldiers had also been captured: one black, and one native American. Unlike Lynch, neither became household names.

So it is unsurprising that, of all the accusations made against Muslim men in Europe by the far-right, rape allegations are the most popular. This formula has been reused and refined for a number of years. The English Defence League often focused on accusations against Pakistani men, while ignoring similar claims against white men. Their attitude seemed to be: rapes are OK, so long as “our tribe” is perpetrating them.

As racial tension rises in Europe, we must be extremely sceptical of rape allegations against “Muslim mobs”. A few days ago, the German newspaper Bild apologised for reporting an Arab “rape mob” in Frankfurt. The claims were entirely unfounded, and were the work of two people – probably far-right sympathisers.

The feminist movement has been culpable of aiding and abetting the far-right by also making false or exaggerated rape claims, though typically against all men as a group rather than immigrants. In recent years, some feminist commentators have deliberately stoked up fear of sexual violence, using fake statistics and unrepresentative anecdotes. The prevalence of sexual violence in the western world has, in fact, been falling for decades, rather than rising. This is inconvenient for a movement that claims ‘rape culture’ is a dangerous force and is turning men everywhere into dangerous brutes. The “campus rape” hoax has been a recent example – the media happily reported a fake epidemic of sexual violence on university campuses.

These claims are used to empower an increasingly intolerant feminist movement, which requires male evil for its continued existence. Further, there is good money for “women’s rights” organisations in false rape claims. Canadian columnist Margaret Wente has exposed the rape culture myth, and accused its proponents of being a ‘grievance industry’:

“The evidence is overwhelming. We are more enlightened now, and men – most men, anyway – behave much better. That is bad news for the grievance industry, which must stretch its definitions of assault and abuse to ridiculous extremes to keep its numbers up.”

The far-right has increasingly adopted feminist language and propaganda in its attempts to demonise Europe’s Muslim population. The fascists of the 1930s had a traditional view of women as mothers and home-makers. Today’s fascists stress how liberal they are, and use their supposed liberalism against Muslim migrants, accusing Muslims (mostly falsely) of not accepting European values such as women’s rights. This ignores, of course, the fact that women’s rights are almost as recent an innovation in the West as they are in the rest of the world.

We must demand proof rather than blindly accept far-right accusations of “Muslim rape”, or feminist rape-culture accusations against men in general. Among the strongest of our western values is the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In the specific case of rape, this value is under attack by fascists and feminists alike.

Podcast 15: Dr Eddie Fernandes on Swinging, Porn and Politics

A discussion with Dr Eddie Fernandes, a social psychologist at Barton College, North Carolina. We discuss his specialism, swinging, as well as our mutual horror at anti-sex feminism and the new-left attitudes towards race and racism.

Artefact | The death of kink?

I was interviewed by Nana Akua-Baah for Arfefact Magazine…

Jerry Barnett, free speech activist and author of Porn Panic! believes that the bill is only the beginning of other things to come: “There’s more to it than sex. Politics isn’t in a healthy direction at the moment and porn is a good excuse to introduce censorship by the back door without calling it censorship,” he said.

Source: Artefact | The death of kink?

Milo, Berkeley, and the Death of the Spirit of the Sixties

This week’s protests to prevent a controversial speaker – Milo Yiannopolis – from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley, are a sad indictment of the of the state of progressive politics. The location of the incident, once the birthplace of a great liberal movement, makes for a sad comparison with the great radical era of the 1960s.

Those of us who were teenage activists in the 1980s felt we’d missed out on something. Our parents’ generation (at least, in our imaginations) had the civil rights movement, the great anti-Vietnam war protests, the hippy movement, Black Power and psychedelia.  Their soundtrack was Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Joan Baez, Motown, Simon and Garfunkel. We had Reagan and Thatcher, mass unemployment, power ballads, and yuppies. They had great progressive victories, we got used to experiencing defeats.

We, children of a grey London that was run down and depressed after half a century of economic decline, dreamed of the California of the 1960s. I read Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics, and knew all about San Francisco’s famous Haight-Ashbury district, the centre of counterculture, although in reality, my entire experience of travelling outside Britain was limited to a couple of short trips to France.

And I read about the university campus at Berkeley, near San Francisco, the heartland of 1960s American radicalism; a radicalism which, already by the 80s, was ebbing away. In response to repression, Berkeley had been birthplace to the Free Speech Movement of 1964-65, which aimed to ensure that everybody on campus was given their right to speak. It was, in today’s terms, the mirror image of the current student obsession with “no platforming” (i.e. censoring) ideas considered unacceptable. While the movement was left wing, it is important to realise that it created a space for all political speech. As the Wiki page notes: “This applied to the entire student political spectrum, not just the liberal elements that drove the Free Speech Movement”.

Contrast this anti-censorship attitude with what happened this week. Milo Yiannopolis, a provocative speaker of the right, was due to talk about “cultural appropriation” – a bizarre, illiberal idea, now popular on the left, that access to culture should be segregated by race. “Cultural appropriation” popularises on the left an idea that the 1960s left stood firmly against: that people should be treated differently based on nothing but their skin colour or racial origin. It is a bullying and authoritarian ideology, and has resulted in racist incidents like a famous attack on a white man for the “crime” of wearing dreadlocks, and the cancellation of a reggae festival because too many white people were involved.

Milo is a well known shit-stirrer, and enjoys winding up easily-offended illiberal types. He’s annoying, often (but not always) wrong, and I’ve done my best to avoid him. Unfortunately, some on the left have decided instead to promote him, by protesting against him, having him no-platformed, or calling him a “Nazi” for no good reason. Thanks to these intolerant arseholes, we’ve had to put up with Milo being everywhere, and getting a lucrative book deal. Thinking about it, this is pretty much the same way that “liberals” helped Donald Trump reach power. Thanks guys.

Fans of George Orwell will enjoy what happened next. Milo (a gay, Jewish man), due to speak out against a racist, pro-segregationist ideology, faced protest by people calling him a “Nazi”. The talk was cancelled, and riots ensued. And (did I mention?) all this happened at Berkeley, once the home of the Free Speech Movement. Oh, and then Donald J Trump, perhaps the closest thing to a fascist ever elected in America, tweeted to defend free speech against attacks from left-wing Berkeley students. We live in the age of irony. Or perhaps the era of facepalm.

Western liberalism is facing its greatest threat since the 1940s, if ever. The far-right may soon seize control in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. And if you’re expecting a defence of liberalism from the left, it seems you’ll be disappointed.

Free speech must be defended as a universal human right. Human rights cannot be stripped from people on the basis that they’re Muslims or Communists. Nor can they be stripped from people on the basis that they offend other people. The left will not defeat the fascist right by being more fascist than the right. That way lies tyranny.