From Brexit to feminism: Why are complex issues distilled to a binary decision?

Everyday we are posed with challenging dilemmas such as; do you agree with trident, as a man are you a feminist, do you support Brexit, amongst many others. Admittedly some decisions are easier to make than others, but often we are given two choices to a multi-faceted issue. Quite often there is a consensus of opinion that drives debate. The problem that arises is if you are not fully on board with the sway of public opinion, then you are cast to the margins as there appears no room for nuanced debate anymore. Many of these opinions are formed by strong social justice bodies, government departments and corporate lobbyist. The major issues are not the topics per se, but the fact that the answers are required in absolute terms (yes/no), when morality rarely works in such a way. As individuals our complex thoughts and feelings, which have been developed over time from our genetics, environment, education, personal experiences, family background and so forth are clumsily distilled into a binary decision. More often than not this an over simplification, it often doesn’t work to the benefit of society and is deeply dissatisfying.

As a lefty there will be aspects of a socialists worldview that resonate with me more than others. In my opinion to critically think your way through each issue as it arises is healthy, as opposed to taking the entire medicine given with no questions asked. Sadly in a world that has become increasingly polarised, nuance has been replaced by a blind belief. That’s not to say I’m a centrist, nothing of the sort, but within my left (more than) leaning ideas there are an array of complex and sometimes contradictory thoughts, that with compelling evidence may be subject to change. If we stop asking questions regarding our own ideas, then who are we to challenge people with differing views. We could quite easily find ourselves on the road to following a belief system rather than something that is anchored in research and moral rigour. If after an internal inquiry our political ideas are incongruent with our core moral beliefs then I suggest we are in trouble.

So lets look at an extremely emotive and controversial topic for a variety of reasons and that is feminism. There are some subjects that I think maybe I possibly shouldn’t write about on this blog, however, I am equally happy to be provoked and to provoke. Firstly I will begin by suggesting feminism is used by politicians as a political football, in as much as they support the rights of women, who support them. This is hugely conditional but nevertheless is how it generally works, for example lets take Hillary Clinton…………as far away as humanly possible hopefully. In all seriousness, Hillary has used feminism and feminists to the nth degree. She has been more than happy for her wealthy backers and showbiz celebrities to project her as this beacon of feminism, all the while supporting military campaigns in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria.

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These incidentally are countries where many women and children have been murdered and obliterated by years of bombing. Which begs the question; how down with the sisters is she really? Another disturbingly memorable moment occurred in New York during her failed Presidential bid, when fellow war-hawk and ex Secretary of State Madeleine Albright threatened a rally crowd yelling “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other”. Which is interesting as I don’t remember her helping out Serbian women whilst they were being bombed back to another millennia. I guess like I alluded to earlier, life isn’t straight forward. Maybe you can be a feminist whilst condoning mass murder of thousand of civilians in Kosovo, many of whom were women. Although that distinctly sounds like Orwellian doublethink to me.

Quite possibly the question some might want answering is; am I a feminist? I would have to answer with a wry smile on my face and declare that it’s not that simple. However, do I believe women and men should get paid equally for the same job requiring the same experience and skills, without question. To complicate matters, do I believe there is systemic wage gap as suggested by Obama, Trudeau and any other relatively liberal leader? Well yes and no, evidence suggest it exists but not at 79 cents a dollar as Obama hinted, it’s more like 1.6%. The reason is most studies crudely take the mean pay of women and divide it by the mean pay of men. This elementary arithmetic does little to explore a true gender pay gap. For example if a male police sergeant with 15 years experience gets paid more than his female colleague of equal experience, then that is an issue and needs to be corrected.  Most of the studies unfortunately do not compare ‘apples with apples’ and instead fall back on the use of means or medians for their methodology. At this point in people’s minds I may be considered by some who are reading this as a misogynist for not buying into the gender wage gap theory, but as I did concede earlier life can be particularly challenging. Obviously I wouldn’t suggest such a controversial opinion without a chance for you to read the data. The study I refer to has been described by some in NZ as American in an attempt to delegitimise it, however, the study utilised data from 33 different countries. To add a further layer of complexity to this debate in an attempt to dispel binary thinking, it is without doubt that there is a problem with gender and employment in as much as there is a dearth of women at the top end of the employment chain. Men dominate in high paid roles and boardroom position, which is why the crude version of the ‘gender pay gap’ looks more like a chasm. The term gender pay gap is actually a misnomer, the main problem is getting women into the upper echelons of the employment chain, for those who wish to do so. It’s the politicians who like to peddle catchy slpay gap crapogans such as ’79 cents on the dollar’ for women to rally around and often get angry at men who question it. When the reality is there is a difficulty getting to the top, where you will find the very politicians and corporate leaders trumpeting ‘the gender pay gap’. The good news is there is an excellent reason for companies to increase the amount of women employed at the top end, that is, corporations and organisations alike gain substantially. Greater gender diversity is associated with an innovative work culture and from a bottom line perspective, woman in the boardroom is linked to a 15% profit increase. Reading further down the previously mentioned article it also suggests how to recruit, develop, promote, reward and retain women in the workplace. I hope I’ve started to demonstrate that life is much more than ‘either or’. We don’t have to accept the entire stack of an ideology if we don’t agree with what is being presented, we can pick and choose, especially if there is compelling evidence on the contrary.

Unfortunately it would appear that in the 21st century if you are not in the club 100% then without question you are banished from the village and cast as one of life’s Dr Evil’s. This ensures that no dissenting voice or indeed debate is heard in the confines of the tribe. This cultivates a cosy echo chamber of which can be found within all political parties, social justice groups, religious groups and race orientated organisations. Sadly the echo chamber insulates you from uncomfortable opinions, opposing theories, straight forward general enquiry and even truths. Within this bubble the belief system strengthens and positions harden as they are rarely allowed to be challenged from the out group. One such environment that is a regular feature in liberal colleges and used by the likes of feminists are ‘safe spaces’. Contrary to being a helpful environment, it’s suggested that these safe spaces shut women away from public life and back to the metaphorical kitchen. Suggesting women are incapable of looking after themselves or their emotions is frankly ludicrous. This whole problem of an ideological retreat is disturbing, in so far as; how do we know what we are opposing if we are not prepared to listen to the respective points of view. On many occasions we have already decided what our opponents are espousing before we’ve really heard them. To listen doesn’t mean you have to agree, at times it can strengthen your current position in a healthy way, by analysing your views through discussion. In fact recently it appears if we don’t hear what we expect, quite often we create a ‘strawman’ to justify our attack, this style of engagement is a regular occurrence on social media.

Brexit Direction Sign

It would seem as there is no direct physical threat on social media, we feel less need to negotiate with our foes, thus we often adopt polarised views. There is nothing more evident of this than Brexit, where our opposing views are entrenched, our detractors are vilified and finally dehumanised with nicknames such as ‘remoaner’. Personally, I haven’t got a side, because it is my view that this was a neoliberal construct to further unpick the last remaining stitches of society. However, each side proclaims that the rival faction is stupid, uneducated and easily led by the media, without them even listening to one another. For example ‘brexiteers’ are often described as racist, although I suspect it’s highly unlikely that nearly half the voting nation is racist or/and xenophobic. Unfortunately we now inhabit a world of black and white thinking rather than shades of grey, where all people who voted to leave will be lumped together along with UKIP and Britain First supporters in a nice neat parcel with a purple bow on it. This is regardless of any individual underlying reasons that may have contributed to their decision-making processes and this of course works on both sides of the Brexit divide. The pro-Brexit clan are as equally dismissive as the pro-Europe contingent and this behaviour pushes the two parties back into their respective corners.

So, do we have to agree with every view we encounter? Of course not, we are not obligated to shift from our initial ideas one inch. Equally we don’t have to subscribe to the full catalogue of ideas that make up, feminism, the Labour Party, socialism, libertarianism, religion, immigration, Brexit or any other stance or ideology. It doesn’t have to be a meal deal, we can look at the information presented and choose what we want to consume. Maybe watch Fox News, for Kiwis read Mike Hosking’s column or Brits browse the Daily Mail at some point and rather than dismissing it, look at it with a critical eye. Critique what you are witnessing in the moment, not what your pre-conceived ideas are telling you. You may draw the same conclusions, but at least you will have done this consciously rather than using a ready made mental script. If I look for example at ideas such as the theory of the ‘patriarchy’, I think this view is littered with flaws and is essentially highly simplistic, as it ignores individuality. So when I dig down and weigh the information regarding the ‘patriarchy’ I often side with the right leaning media. This for me as a lefty who reads Bakunin and the like is incredibly annoying and perplexing. All of which confirms that indeed life is complicated, nuanced and eternally confusing. More importantly we are wonderfully unique, we are politically made of complex shapes that don’t fit in to neat little boxes and that’s a good thing.

 

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