Week 18 — How to live and die well with others?

Second week of being obsessed with animal studies. To the level that it might mean re-thinking my whole dissertation idea. I had my first meeting with my supervisor on Friday, who encouraged me to choose something I’m excited by. The thought of reading about data right now is not exciting me. Animals tho.

Animals and humans. Animals and humans on this planet. How to live and die well with others?

Also, the state of the climate. How irrelevant will the internet be if we don’t have the infrastructure to run it. Our apocalyptic future is nigh.


It’s so hard to talk about these texts without discussing the lecture. There is no way to cram 2 hours of fast-paced lecture and discussion into an email, but I will summarise the reason we are looking at Singer.

Peter Singer is from the analytic tradition. Goldsmith generally is quite dismissive of analytic philosophy. However, Mariam thinks it’s a grave mistake to dismiss Singer because

  1. He is considered to be the founder of animal liberation in the West

  2. He made the term specism famous

  3. His take on animals is so problematic

This week we looked at Singer, both an introduction to his work and the wider philosophical framework he works from, and critiques particular from disability studies, some of which are covered below.

All Animals Are Equal
by Peter Singer

The thing about analytic philosophy is that it is extremely precise and technical, and emphasises conceptual clarity. Which means it’s easy to be persuaded by it and Singer is exemplary at this.

Singer argues for “equal consideration” for different beings, not based on ability but rather interests. In this text, he draws strongly on Jeremy Bentham’s work, esp the famous quote “Can they suffer” [full quote]

If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. … If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. So the limit of sentience (using the term as a convenient if not strictly accurate shorthand for the capacity to suffer and/or experience enjoyment) is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some other characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary manner. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?

Here is where specism comes in

The preference, in normal cases, for saving a human life over the life of an animal when a choice has to be made is a preference based on the characteristics that normal humans have, and not on the mere fact that they are members of our own species.

Ironically, despite saying that intelligence or rationality shouldn’t be the justification for treating some beings better than others, his argument still relies on cognitive ability and human exceptionalism.

There are many matters in which the superior mental powers of normal adult humans make a difference: anticipation, more detailed memory, greater knowledge of what is happening, and so on. Yet these differences do not all point to greater suffering on the part of the normal human being.

The problematic bit of his work isn’t really outlined explicitly in this paper (though it is in Animal Liberation). But it isn’t hard to follow the lines of his argument, not least with the phrase “normal adult humans”. Guess who he thinks isn’t ‘normal’?

Emoji summary: 🚷 🐀 🤨

Ch 12 “All animals are equal (but some are more equal than others)” in Beasts of burden
by Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura is a disability and animal rights activist, who also was born with arthrogryposis and uses a wheelchair. It’s pretty amazing how she engages with Singer’s work, considering that

he has argued that some disabled babies should be killed at birth and that some severely intellectually disabled people lacking specific cognitive capacities are not full persons.

She describes an encounter with him in the chapter and she is so generous.

Anyway, the chapter raises great critiques and I recommend you read it for those. But for me, the parts about disability were the most moving.

She talks about being disabled as being creative and positive

… see the sensuality, the unruliness, the beautiful potential of living alternative ways of moving through space and of being in time.

And challenges the ableist idea that being disabled is inherently bad.

...it's important to examine closely these issues of quality of life and suffering, because such ideas have a profound impact on the way people understand disability. As shocking and extreme Singer’s ideas may seem to some, they are rooted in widely held beliefs that disability is an inherently negative state that should be avoided.

It is a common sentiment that suggests the only positive potential of disability is as a teaching opportunity for able-bodied individuals on how to be more compassionate. What this narrative misses is that disability can help all of us ask bigger questions about culture, politics, independence, productivity, efficiency, vulnerability, and the possibility of empathy and solidarity against difference – including across species. Disability asks us to question our assumptions about who counts as a productive member of society and what sorts of activities are seen as valuable and worthwhile. Disability asks us to question the things we take for granted: our rationality, the way we move, the way we perceive the world. It can present new paradigms for understanding how and why we care for one another and what kinds of societies we want to live in.

It really highlighted how ableist so many of my views are. I want to come back to the whole book when I have more time because it is really beautiful and important.

Emoji summary: ♿️ 🖌 🌎

Learning from Temple Grandin, or, Animal Studies, Disability Studies, and Who Comes After the Subject
by Cary Wolfe

This paper also challenges ableist views and argues that there are many different ways of “being in and understanding” the world. It focuses on the case of Temple Grandin, an animal science Ph.D. with autism, and her work with animals. Particularly, how her disability enables a unique understanding of non-human animals.

She points out, for example, that because her mental life as an autistic is intensely visual, not verbal, she is acutely aware of how different a cow’s visual experience is from our own.

I am a little suspish about any assumption that we know what goes on in an animal’s brain. However, the challenge to neurotypicalism is welcome.

…the ‘normal’ human is doubly blind, blind to its blindness regarding the radical asymmetries and heterogeneities among all the different life forms who see - and for that very reason, do not see - in very specific ways.

It comes back to limitations of the ‘rights’ discourse

… what I am suggesting is that these pragmatic pursuits are forced to work within the purview of a liberal humanism in philosophy, politics, and law that is bound by a quite historically and ideologically specific set of coordinates that, because of that very boundedness, allow one to achieve certain pragmatic gains in the short run, but at the price of a radical foreshortening of a more ambitious and more profound ethical project: a new and more inclusive form of ethical pluralism that it is our charge, now, to frame.

Instead “Wouldn’t we do better…”

… to imagine this example as an irreducibly different and unique form of subjectivity - neither homo sapiens nor canis familiaris, neither ‘disabled’ nor ‘normal’, but something else altogether, a shared trans-species being-in-the-world constituted by complex relations of trust, respect, dependence, and communication…

Yes! Yes it would.

Emoji summary: 🐄 💭 🐕


Hag-Seed
by Margaret Atwood

Book club book. A modern-day take on The Tempest by Shakespeare. An entertaining read, albeit shallow (silly was a word used in book club). I haven’t read the original play so it was just a bit of a weird story to me, I think those who had a relationship with the Tempest enjoyed it more. One topic of discussion was Atwood’s lack of world-building. Aside from the main character, the rest weren’t fleshed out at all and the environment was pretty poorly defined. Enjoyed it, but doesn’t make the recommend list.

Emoji summary: 🧙🏼‍♂️ ⛵️ 🎭

The crucial difference between Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn
by Tom Whyman

I’m a bit allergic to the word ‘electability’. The last time I heard it in the wild, the person was talking about Jess Phillips. lol. But also…

People who hate the idea that socialism might win for reasons completely detached from electability, and would be loath to see it succeed even if it could.

I’m sure you’ve all seen various gifs and memes of Sanders being spicy. Whyman arguest that is why he cannot be compared to Corbyn

Sanders is irascible and sarcastic — he even seems capable of being genuinely mean. And this is good, because it means Sanders is willing to openly show up reporters as idiots.

Jon sent me this article and was telling me about the pointy/round thing and I foolishly asked “what am I?” Everyone just started laughing.

Pointies are whatever the opposite of self-contained is. … Pointies give a hard fuck about what literally everyone who was ever born thinks.

Unequivocally a pointy.

Side note, the hashtag #HotGirlsForBernie is truly blessing my timeline this week.

Emoji summary: 🌶 🔴 📌

Staring at Hell
by Kate Wagner

Reasons I liked this article, very clear and concise summary of aesthetics. Or at least certain traditions within.

Reasons I did not like this article.

  1. Using colonised as a metaphor when ACTUAL COLONISATION IS HAPPENING IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW.

  2. General lack of critical analysis.

  3. Referring to artist squatters in NYC as gentrifiers. Mate, squatting is not gentrification. Property developers capitalising on poor artists to upsell is gentrification. It’s similiar to the arguments about gentrification now. Middle-class “creatives” move to a cheap area, it becomes “desirable” for banker wankers and whoever else, landlords get greedy and prices go up. And yes, I know, gentrification is much more nuanced then I’m outlining and middle-class white people have a lot of answer for. But the fact that we primarily blame individuals and not property developers and landlords is like blaming plastic straws instead of commercial, large-scale manufacturing.

Emoji summary: 🏭 🏛 🌅

Also…

Looking at type at work this week, which has nicely aligned with some nerdy posts by Frank Chimero. The one about choosing a typeface was less relevant because that’s long been decided. The second about scales and hierarchies was useful. It’s stuff most graphic-design-background designers will know, but it’s fun to read. My favourite was the one about fonts. This is exactly the nerd content I’m here for. It’s made me deeply miss the conversations I used to have with Mark obsessing over this stuff.

Hope you had a good Burns night

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

Week 17 — down with human exceptionalism

Good morning,

I decided to write and send this before going to the gym and destroying myself instead of after, because all those typos were getting out of hand. Of course, when you read this, it could be any time of day but time is a construct so wahay.

Friday was the first week back at uni. I’m doing a module called Animals in Theory and in Practice: Philosophy, Agency, Ethics. It’s quite different to anything I’ve done before. The first week was pretty spectacular, so I’m very excited for the rest of the module.

It’s given me a massive rush. Not all modules do that. Last term largely didn’t even though it was very informative. I didn’t have that shift of the entire world changing a little bit. I’m addicted to that feeling. I’ve never done recreationals so untrustworthy take but who needs drugs when we have this?! Also, there’s a black Labrador named Monk who joins us. What a joy!


The lecture didn’t really cover the assigned reading in-depth, but rather gave a quick introduction to the field through Enlightenment philosophy (Kant, Aristotle and Descartes). Taken together, they create the discursive space for human exceptionalism.

Enlightenment legacy continues to shape discussions about animals and animal rights. The tutor suggests that most people don’t realise how much their views of the world and the Other are shaped by animals, despite often not having animals in their consciousness. After the lecture, I’m inclined to agree.

These texts are so rich, it’s impossible to summarise. Literally, I have pages of notes. So, I’ll mostly focus on that parts that are in conversation with said philosophers. The tl;dr on Aristotle is that he sucks. Ditto Descartes and Kant.

Ch 1 “The right to remain silent” in Animal Lessons
by Kelly Oliver

Oliver challenges the framework of rights discourse itself, both from identity politics

If we have learned anything from the civil rights and women's liberation movements, which are invoked by many animal rights or welfare activities and theorists, it is that identity politics has limits. Using the same terms of identity that were used to subordinate in order to liberate, has problems.

to the argument for extending human rights to animals

Given that the rights discourse has assumed the Cartesian subject and that the Cartesian subject has been constructed through the sacrifice of the animal, animality, and animals, it is imperative that we consider the social and historical conditions that made the discourse of human rights possible. It is significant that the discourse of rights developed in relation to owning animals and the land on which to keep them.

Extending moral obligation as long as they are “like us” is shaky ground, and the power relations remain intact.

This ahistorical approach risks reinscribing the subordination and denigration it hopes to eliminate by addressing the symptoms, but not the structures, of oppression, including material and economic structures, but particularly linguistic, conceptual, and cultural structures and institutions. Rights may be better than nothing, but they still leave oppressive power structures and values intact.

The chapter also raises a very interesting point of increased rights coming with increased surveillance and regulation, which is certainly not unique to animals. Something I hope to delve into more in future readings.

In addition, these protective rights bring with them regulation and surveillance, if not disciplinary institutions. The relationship between protective legislation and regulation, surveillance and discipline is even more obvious when it comes to animals.

The ending of the chapter is just beautiful.

Given that we are waging endless war, that species are disappearing from the earth at an astounding rate, and global warming threatens the health of the planet, perhaps it is time to think about our own limitations and the limits of the human and humanity. It is time to check our hubris and see what we can learn from the animal and animals, not to dissect them and examine their brains to learn something about our own. Not to unlock and master the secrets of life. Not to make them trophies to hang on the wall or to document in scientific journals. But rather to humble ourselves before fellow creatures that accompany us in life and through which we become human.
...
What if we go a step further and question what it means to belong – whether human or animal – not as property but as inhabitants of a shared planet?

Emoji summary: 🐒 👀 🌎

Ch 1 “Giving animals a hearing: rights discourse and animal representation in animal ethics” in The Speaking Animal
by Alison Suen

Suen takes on logos/language.

In The Politics, Aristotle posits humans as the only animals endowed with speech, with logos. Aristotle’s definition of the human proliferates throughout the history of Western philosophy, where the human is often defined against other animals by virtue of this capacity to speak. This linguistic divide has been translated into an ontological hierarchy whereby the human is privileged over the animal—an ontological hierarchy that, many animal advocates contend, informs our treatment of animals.

Rights discourse is often about “giving voice” to the voiceless, though feminists have highlighted the potential violence of “behalf-ism”. However, the notion of “giving voice” still privileges logocentrism.

…animal rights discourse remains logocentric by privileging language and those who can speak. … the rhetoric of “giving a voice to the voiceless” in animal advocacy, wherein the advocates and the animals are dichotomously split between the speaking and the voiceless. Given that the task of an animal advocate involves speaking for the animal, it is important to consider the power dynamic between the advocate and the animal.

The problem is not just that humans have to speak on behalf of the animal, but that it re-establishes the value of speech, the foundation of human exceptionalism.

…we need to reconceptualize language so that it allows us to stand together with the animal other. We need an account of language that acknowledges our connections with the animal without obscuring our differences. Instead of linking language to reason, we should think of language as a relational capacity: our capacity to speak and our capacity to relate are constitutive of each other.

Emoji summary: 🔤 🗣 🐕

Ch 2 “Universal basic rights for animals” in Zoopolis
by Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka

This one is very different to the previous two in that it argues within the framework of animal rights theory but posits that it doesn’t go far enough. They call for inviolable rights to be extended to animals

The idea of inviolable rights implies that an individual's most basic interests cannot be sacrificed for the greater good of others.

The principle of inviolability says that people's right to life is independent of their relative contribution to the overall good, and is not violable in the service of the greater good.

They critique the Kantian view that reasoning defines humanity and it is such that gives them moral superiority, the “Humanity Formula

Kantian moral agency is, at best, a fragile achievement that humans have to varying degrees at varying points in their lives. None of us possesses it when we are very young, and we all face periods of shorter or longer duration when it is temporarily or permanently threatened by illness, disability, and aging, or by lack of adequate socialization and education and other forms of social support and nurturance.

and so where do we draw the line at sentience/self-hood and who is deserving of inviolable rights?

It’s a pretty provocative idea, but the chapter addresses many of the arguments that you might imagine and then some more besides. They are too long to go into here but do read it. I’m here for these debates.

Donaldson and Kymlicka are deeply steeped in the liberalism tradition, and so there is certainly much to critique on individualism, etc. But still, I like to imagine a world where inviolability is extended to animals. It’s pretty mindblowing.

Emoji summary: ⚖ 👩‍🔬 🐾


There’re Made out of Meat
by Terry Bisson

Somehow, this little story has escaped my notice since 1991. UNTIL NOW. I was laughing so hard I was wheezing a little. That might just be because I’m immature but it’s a very good read after the texts above. Is this… satire?

“No brain?”
“Oh, there is a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat!”
“So... what does the thinking?”
“You're not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat.”
“Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!”
“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?”

Emoji summary: 😂 🥩 🤣

The Xenofeminist Manifesto
by Laboria Cuboniks

Lovely, short, little book with that snappy writing that makes manifestos so manifesto-y. Gorgeous design too, though I am torn. The designer in me delighted, the reader in me struggled. My eyeballs are too old for that tiny text.

Here’s a snippet to get you going.

Why is there so little explicit, organized effort to repurpose technologies for progressive gender political ends? XF seeks to strategically deploy existing technologies to re-engineer the world. Serious risks are built into these tools; they are prone to imbalance, abuse, and exploitation of the weak. Rather than pretending to risk nothing, XF advocates the necessary assembly of techno-political interfaces responsive to these risks. Technology isn’t inherently progressive. Its uses are fused with culture in a positive feedback loop that makes linear sequencing, prediction, and absolute caution impossible. Technoscientific innovation must be linked to a collective theoretical and political thinking in which women, queers, and the gender non-conforming play an unparalleled role.

Turns out you can read it all online. PDF option seems the most legible but maybe you like a challenge.

Emoji summary: 🤳 ➿ 👭

⠀⠀

The Center Blows Itself Up: Care and Spite in the ‘Brexit Election’
by David Graeber

A pretty detailed analysis of political things from 2015 to now, including nuts and bolts of parliamentary politics. A lot of which, esp early Corbyn days, I did not know. My party-political awareness was certainly in its infancy in 2015, most of my energy going to non-electoral politics and staying alive.

Anyway, this article slaps.

Suddenly, they found themselves saddled with a scruffy teetotaling vegan who said exactly what he really thought, and inspired a new generation of activists to dream of changing the world. If those activists were not naive, if this man was not unelectable, the centrists’ entire lives had been a lie. They hadn’t really accepted reality at all. They really were just sellouts.

One could even go further: the most passionate opposition to Corbynism came from men and women in their forties, fifties, and sixties. They represented the last generation in which any significant number of young radicals even had the option of selling out, in the sense of becoming secure property-owning bastions of the status quo. Not only had that door closed behind them; they were the ones largely responsible for having closed it.

It’s weird to me when people refer to Momentum as some kind of hardcore, cultish group. It makes sense in this context.

If the Corbynistas were right, and none of this had really been necessary, were these politicians not guilty of historic crimes? It’s hard to understand the bizarre obsession with the idea that left Labour youth groups like Momentum—about the most mild-mannered batch of revolutionaries one could imagine—would somehow end up marching them all off to the gulag, without the possibility that in the back of their minds, many secretly suspected that show trials might not be entirely inappropriate.

Emoji summary: 🗳 🏛 🔪

⠀⠀

Also…

Persian Letters by Nilo Tabrizy. Absolutely heartbreaking, I don’t have the words.

It’s as if we’re dead.

The internet crackdown and horror are terrible.

We don’t matter to the world. We don’t matter to anyone.

I feel like I can’t breathe.

I’ve never experienced this kind of censorship.

Write these down if you care about us.

Then please delete these chats.

Meet The Feminist Academics Championing Trans Rights by Patrick Strudwick. The UK really needs to get a grip with the terf thing. It’s so gross and really dumb. Intellectual gymnastics by anyone who uses those dumb arguments which all contradict each other. “Let a hundred sexes bloom!

How to Be a Better White Person in 2020 by Michael Harriot. This really should be common knowledge for us whiteys by now but even so, never hurts to be reminded.

Even after you implement these suggestions, you may find yourself at a crossroads, wondering which path to take. So, here is a rule of thumb to use whenever you have to make a difficult decision: … For a brief second, assume you were one of the billions of idle, ambivalent or apathetic white people who objected to slavery, Jim Crow, inequality and injustice but didn’t do a goddamn thing. In your moment of deliberation, think long and hard about what those white people would do.

Then, just do the opposite.

Week 16 — knives in your heart

I have just (barely) started reading uni stuff but I’m going to save it for next week and bundle them together. Get ready for some new content on the philosophy of animal sciences. Gonna be wild.

I forgot to say in my last newsletter because I was a bit scrambled (sorry about all the typos) but I set a new reading challenge for 2020. 52 isn’t a challenge anymore. Will I one day build up to 100? When I’m 80-something and retired, perhaps yes. If you have goodreads, add me.

Btw, if a book is in my goodreads bookshelf “my books”, I’m happy to lend/book swap etc. Not an exhaustive list of my books because I add them as I read them, but poke around and lmk. Both this week’s books are mine.


The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future
by David Wallace-Wells

The first section of the book Elements of Chaos outlines a bunch of outcomes as a result of climate change, floods, fires, war, etc etc etc. It makes for pretty depressing reading, which the author acknowledges

If you have made it this far, you are a brave reader. Any one of these twelve chapters contains, by rights, enough horror to induce a panic attack in even the most optimistic of those considering it. But you are not merely considering it; you are about to embark on living it. In many cases, in many places, we already are.

The section after that is a little less coherent, touches on what could be done and what is sorta kinda being done now. The whole time I was reading it, I had this post-it stuck to my bookmark. Too real.

Fortunately for my mental health, this week I also went to my first Friends of the Earth meeting and I’m now involved in helping prepare for an event called “Speak Up for the Climate”. If you are south of the river, get tickets. I will buy you a drink if you come.

Emoji summary: 🌍 🔥 🥵

Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life
by Adam Greenfield

This book is good. Each chapter stands on its own, so you can dip in and just read about whatever technology you are interested in. I read it the normative book way. Found the first two chapters a bit boring. After that though, phew.

It’s well researched with fair, measured analyses and critical perspectives. His chapters on crypotocurrency and the blockchain are some of the best explained and examined I’ve come across, and I’ve read most of the original Satoshi Nakamoto paper. He doesn’t just discount things off the bat but really digs into how and why they might be useful or harmful, and in what contexts. And he seems to have good politics.

I usually find tech/design books quite boring. I basically live for the humanities. This one though, I have to stan.

Emoji summary: 📱 🔗 🤖

Bad Infinity
by James Duesterberg

Quite long article about liberalism that is hard to summarise and organise my thoughts on. Here are some quotes that stood out for me, perhaps they will make you clickity click the link. Perhaps not.

On desire. Desire, philosophically, has been swirling around in my brain for a while now. It keeps cropping up in places that just make sense to me. I need some to do some research in this space. It feels like an itch that I need to scratch. Down the rabbit hole of desire. Lol what a sentence, I’m sorry I’m sorry.

Why do we continue to create an economic system that we know is bad for us? We might ask the same of liberalism. How do we explain, not to mention justify, the persistence of an ideology that so few seem willing to defend? The critiques of liberalism that have emerged in recent years, so effective at exposing the empty procedures and hypocrisies of an apparently reasonable ideology, raise this question but have trouble answering it. Holloway’s essay suggests another approach, one that directs our attention away from the rational justifications for or against liberalism, and instead toward the desires that liberalism both enables and reflects.

But liberalism is not a technology, and politics is not a science: it makes not things, but a way of life. We live it. The persistence of our political system is not simply something that is happening, but something we are doing.

It also talks about Kafka’s story in the Trial. I went back and re-read the passage “Before The Law”. Its like knives in your heart. I last read Kafka in 2015, I forgot how moving it is.

Why does the man continue to wait? This “bleak” persistence without hope is, Anderson argues, no cipher for the law’s eventual transcendence. The man wants “access” to the law because he wants to be free: to be part of politics, at once shaping his world and being shaped by it. This promise of politics keeps him waiting his whole life; shut out of the law, his life is dedicated to it. The story, Anderson suggests, is about how people remain committed to liberal principles because they go unrealized.

Emoji summary: 💁‍♂ 💔 ⚖

The Atmosphere of the Clyde
by Jean McNicol

Another long one, but a very engaging and interesting article about Glasgow/Scotland around the first war. Full of brilliant stories, but I’ll leave you with this one as a taster.

In the spring of 1915 a rent strike was organised in Govan by Mary Barbour of the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association … Soon at least 25,000 households were taking part. Threatened evictions were thwarted by Mrs Barbour’s Army: a woman would sit on the stairs outside a flat and ring a bell if an eviction was attempted. ‘The women came from all parts of the building,’ according to the suffragette Helen Crawfurd, one of the strike leaders. ‘Some with flour, if baking, wet clothes, if washing, and other missiles. Usually the bailiff made off for his life, chased by a mob of angry women.’

Emoji summary: 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 👷‍♀ 🔴

Also…

In these bleak times, imagine a world where you can thrive by Gary Younge. Short and sweet and hopeful and beautiful.

With racism, cynicism and intolerance on the rise, wages stagnant and faith that progressive change is possible declining even as resistance grows. Things look bleak. The propensity to despair is strong, but should not be indulged. Sing yourself up. Imagine a world in which you might thrive, for which there is no evidence. And then fight for it.

One Year in Washington by David Freedlander. Kind of interesting article about AOC and some of the inner workings of American politics. One can’t help but watch the primaries play out. Ya girl is a Bernie stan, likely a surprise to no one ever.

Presented without comment. To Win We Must Unite All of Labour’s Heartlands by Rebecca Long-Bailey. Also, purely informational, no partiality… if you are interested in voting in the Labour leadership election, deadline to sign up as a member is Jan 20th. Just saying.

Reading some things for my day job. Of course, there is much more I always forget to save them though and they are mostly informational. On Design Systems, tl;dr share mistakes and failures. And one about accessibility testing. I’ve nearly finished a massive WCAG audit at Citizens Advice. If I linked to all the articles this email would be a book, but here is what is hopefully my last one for a bit.

Week 15 — reading books while the world burns

Happy new year and new decade! 2020 is not fucking around.

I’ve just been obsessively reading twitter stuff about the fires in Australia. Seeing pictures of the animals burnt to a crisp is heartbreaking. There was one with a baby kangaroo stuck on a barbed wire fence, clearly trying to escape but trapped. We made this happen while stopping animals from escaping. The unimaginable unfolding.

An important theme I keep seeing is the way that indigenous peoples tend the land and the contrast to the way that “we” (white / western / heirs of colonialism) exploit it. And how these fires and other natural disasters are made worse by the difference. Tending the Wild (tv show / book) talks about this in California, but I’ve seen indigenous Australian people say similar things. There can be no climate justice without decolonialising and anti-imperialism.

On to what feels q unimportant this week, what I’ve read. Still thematically erratic but the new term is starting soon so that will start to change.


Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
by Caroline Criado-Pérez

I think I have an unpopular opinion about this book. I didn’t rate it. Several reasons. First, none of it was really groundbreaking for me. While some stories were new, none of the themes were like “omg I had no idea”. Also, the writing style. Maybe I’m too used to academic texts now, but I found her rhetorical style a bit too much. I was expecting and hoping for something that would point me in the direction of academic data+identity literature, and it definitely didn’t do that.

I think if you aren’t a woman and don’t know the many ways women experience bias, definitely read it. If you aren’t super plugged into the digital world or feminist ideology, you probably will get something from it. Otherwise, it’s a bit entry-level and overly rhetorical.

Emoji summary: 👩‍💼 📊 ⚖

The Dark is Rising
by Susan Cooper

I started this on winter solstice, which is the first day in the book. Part of a big annual online reading of it. I tried to stick a the chapter a day, which follows the time in the book, but I finished it before NYE because it was good fun.

It’s a fun fantasy book that’s easy to read and well written. I can imagine doing it again next year. Something nice about reading it along with the days. Light a candle and feel witchy.

Emoji summary: 🧙‍♀ 🌑 🌨

Pattern Recognition
by William Gibson

I really enjoyed this. The main character Cayce Pollard, wears plain, mostly black clothes with no trademarks on them. Which is close enough to me that I could identify with her character a lot. She’s badass and it’s fun to identify with someone badass lol.

Apparently this is some kind of nerd book because shortly after I finished it, there was some blog post cum job ad everyone was criticising that referenced it. If you aren’t around digital government and have no idea what I mean, sorry. I’m not linking it though because it’s dumb and I don’t link dumb shit from here. Anyway, the timing of it all was uncanny and weird.

Emoji summary: ⚫ 📽 ™

Fledgling
by Octavia E. Butler

Last of my “reading for pleasure” books for the holiday break. I hoovered this up. I thought I had grown out of the days of staying up late until I finished a book, but apparently not. I finished this one at nearly 2am because I couldn’t put it down.

I got it from the library because I’ve been wanting to read Butler for a long time. I didn’t read the back and thought it was sci-fi, what she’s known for. It was a vampire novel lol. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “trashy” but on the edge. Anyway, turns out I still love a “trashy” novel.

One thing made me insanely uncomfortable though. The main vampire character is 53 years old, but has a child’s body. She sleeps with fully adult humans. It’s too close to paedo which was gross.

Emoji summary: 🧒🏿 🔥 🧛‍♂

Also…

The Age of Last Chances by Umair Haque. More on how fucked we are ecologically, economically and politically. Not particularly happy reading.

Our worlds fall apart, in all these many ways. Quickly. Slowly. Suddenly. Lingeringly. One day at a time. Nightmare by nightmare. Catastrophe roars at us. Catastrophe caresses us. Dystopia grins at us. The apocalypse screams at us. The wind howls and gathers. The floodwaters lap. The sun shines, while the fascists march. A world can end in many different ways, my friends.

How British Feminism Became Anti-Trans by Sophie Lewis. Super interesting about the difference between American and British terfs. Bring on the pummelling, please.

In other parts of the world, including America, mass movements in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s around the effects of globalization and police brutality have produced long overdue dialogue on race, gender and class, and how they all interact. In Britain, however, the space for this sort of dialogue has been much more limited. As a result, middle- and upper-class white feminists have not received the pummeling from black and indigenous feminists that their American counterparts have, and thus, their perspectives retain a credibility and a level of influence in Britain

Trying to understand a bit more about what’s happening in India…

Introdution to the citizenship thing and how it impacts certain communities. Both these are from India news outlets. The second one uses Indian numbers, but I googled it for you. Lahk is 100,000 and crore is 10 million.

Anything by Arundhati Roy is probably going to be good. This one is about the rise of Modi and the Hindu far right. I shared an article by her a few weeks ago, this is quite similiar but longer and more detail.

India isn’t by any means the worst, or most dangerous, place in the world—at least not yet—but perhaps the divergence between what it could have been and what it has become makes it the most tragic.

And one closer to home India’s student diaspora rises up against Modi crackdown by Siddarth Shrikanth

Week 14 — the revolution will not be televised

Hello friends and comrades. I am assuming you fall into one of those categories based on 1) you are here 2) my content. Anyway, I hope you’ve been having a good holiday.

I was volunteering at Crisis for Christmas, which was a pretty good way to wrap off this trashfire year. I’m also gearing up for more organising and volunteering in 2020, including getting involved with my nearest chapter of Friends of the Earth and other local things. Finding regular time to volunteer is hard, what with a job and a degree etc. But I’m trying to participate in small ways where I can. What are you doing? What else could I do?

In terms of reading, it’s been quite a political week and my job contract makes sharing my opinions on them a little hard.

However, I thought I’d start today’s email with an alternative media roundup. In the last few weeks, I have had 2 people ask me about alternative news/media channels. Establishment press is obv not going to work to upend the establishment.

Side note: Can I just say that the left has so much better design than the rw. Like, some of these websites are just beaut and the print copies I have seen are also :chefs-kiss:.

Finally, I made a little playlist about 2 weeks ago, to make myself feel better about some things. Recommended listening while you read this. I’m playing it while writing.


Novara Media
UK based. I started reading it after seeing some extremely good Ash Sakar memes and following her on Twitter.

Commune
US based. They do have writers from all over though and cover internationally. It’s q interesting to read takes on what’s happening here from people over there. Found this through Natasha Lennard of the excellent Being Numerous.

The New Republic
US based. I found this one via Melissa Gira Grant, whom I highly recommend you follow. Melissa writes about gender and racial justice and is also the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. She is rather good.

The Outline
US based. I think I found this just through reading links others have shared and starting recognising the masthead. I have a feeling I might like some of their journalists more than their editorial strategy but tbc

Double Down News
UK based. New on the radar. I’m more of a reader than a watcher, but if you prefer your news in video form, this might be good for you.

New Left Review (UK based), Tribune (UK based) and The Baffler (US based)
My flatmate who is well-read, smart, and has good politics reads these, so tossing them in for good measure.

Glaring omission of non-UK/US based. Please send english lang alternative press from elsewhere.


The UK chose barbarism. Now what?
by Tom Whyman

I’m inclined to appreciate anything that quotes my heroes D&G. Throw in some psychoanalysis of desire and stir. Political partiality aside, I agree with his call for more activism and community organizing.

We need to find a way to be the better world we want to see. The task ahead is huge — I barely know where to start (though I’m interested in talking to whoever thinks they might!). … For those who still have faith in the possibility of a better world: the work of hope goes on. We cannot afford to waste this moment.

Emoji summary: 🗳 🌐 🌹

No Way Out but Through
by Commune

You will find that community and comradeship is a common theme amongst the articles that are speaking to me.

We cannot find our unity, we cannot become a we, in the projects of the state. That must be built solidarity by solidarity, neighborhood by neighborhood, workplace by workplace, in struggles that directly interlink our material well-being. There will be no common plan before it’s far too late to devise one, no charismatic leader, no single Yes in the place of the grand No on which we can all agree. But in forcing ourselves forward without knowing the way in advance, without delegating our power to the bobbleheads of our tottering world, pointed at adequate ends rather than the battlefield of foreclosed means, we give ourselves a chance to find a way. We’re smarter than any of them are because there are millions of us. And we’re stronger because they can’t kill us all. No borders can stop us.

Emoji summary: 🙅‍♀ ✊ 💨

Dear Designer: The Road Back
by Mike Monteiro

I tried to ignore this but 2 people sent it to me so I gave in and read it. Monteiro annoys me. This article is kind of a good example why. Like, I agree with his assessment that designers and tech workers need to think critically and act accordingly

Yes, design is political. Because design is labor, and your labor is political. Where you choose to expend your labor is a political act. Whom you choose to expend it for is a political act. Whom we omit from those solutions is a political act. Finally, how we choose to leverage our collective power is the biggest political act we can take.

But man, the hubris is just outstanding. This idea he seems to have that design/tech is the whole, big problem to why the world is broken is so short-sighted.

The world was broken on our watch. … We were given the responsibility to use our labor and our expertise to make the world a better place, and we failed. We have, in fact, made it worse.

Yes, there is lots to critique about the Internet and technology, but capitalism and fascism and lots of bad things flourished before. The idea that “we” (whoever that is) are responsible to “fix” the world is so arrogant and self-important. Also, he operates fully within the capitalist paradigm and so his sweary critiques are so shallow. Miss me with this guy.

Emoji summary: 🙄 👨‍💻 🖍

⠀⠀

Also…

Femme as in Fuck You by McKenzie Wark. Very good article hiding under the guise of a movie review.

Let’s risk the idea that the changing valence of the pretty has an historical connection to the rise to dominance of a commodity economy: Before, a pretty man might be tricky, but need not be diminished by that association. It’s an active quality, for one thing. But when the commodity displaces chivalrous codes of honor, the commodity itself becomes what is pretty, and it is not so much tricky as a trick, or a trap. Its pretty form hides its calculating essence. It lies in wait, in the market, in all apparent passivity, to hook the buyer with its charms. The pretty commodity is feminine; the pretty becomes feminine, and exchangeable—and suspicious.

The Art of Dying by Peter Schjeldahl is a very long article about lots of things and nothing really. It’s reading just for the joy of it because it’s so beautifully written.

Life doesn’t go on. It goes nowhere except away. Death goes on. Going on is what death does for a living. The secret to surviving in the universe is to be dead.

We may be accidents of matter and energy, but we can’t help circling back to the sense of a meaning that is unaccountable by the application of what we know. If God is a human invention, good for us! We had to come up with something.

Take death for a walk in your minds, folks. Either you’ll be glad you did or, keeling over suddenly, you won’t be out anything.


And that’s it for the year folks. If you made it this far down, well, I’m impressed. I’m half convinced that no one really reads these. It makes for more fun writing them.

Have a wonderful New Years, whether you are partying or reflecting or hiding or whatever. See you in 2020.

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