Thursday, November 18, 2021

Song of the Month: November

The song of the month for November is Easy On Me by Adele

 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Song of the Month: October

The song of the month for October was Cold Heart by Elton John and Dua Lipa.

 

Song of the Month: September

The song of the month for September was Justified by Kacey Musgraves.

 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Song of the Month: August

The song of the month for August was Like My Father by Jax.

Song of the Month: July

I'm doing 'song of the month' retrospectively. This is Good For You by Olivia Rodrigo, for July.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Best Song of the Year So Far?

People have asked me what my favorite song of the year is so far. Surprisingly, it's a performance from American Idol. They should really do a studio recording of this:

 

Friday, July 9, 2021

On 'Socialists' and 'Conservatives' in the 21st Century West | TaraElla In-Depth

Today, I want to talk about why I don't identify as a 'socialist' or a 'conservative'. I will talk about what differences I have with those movements.

Firstly, words are, by definition, a social construct, and their meaning can vary in time and place. Therefore, I think it's only useful to use words, with their definition relevant to the particular context. And given that my context is the early 21st century English-speaking Western world, the reason why I do or do not identify with a certain word has to be based on what that word is associated with in this particular context. I mean, I know that the word 'liberal' in our current context is far from equivalent to the ideal version of liberalism, but still, I feel enough affinity for it to identify with it. The same cannot be said of 'socialist' or 'conservative'.

Let's start with 'socialist'. I have three main problems with this word, in the context of the early 21st century English-speaking Western world. Firstly, many people who call themselves socialists are sympathetic to identity politics, postmodernism, criticalism, or a mix of these things. I know that it's not what the word 'socialist' is supposed to mean in a definitional sense, but in our current context the association is clear. Secondly, many people who call themselves socialist in our current context are fundamentally antagonistic to any sort of market economy. It is even common for people to say that 'Bernie is not a real socialist' because he doesn't want to abolish the market economy. Again, I'm not saying these people are right about how they define socialism, I actually think the opposite, but it is clear that early 21st century Western socialism still has an anti-market orientation overall, and I don't want to be associated with this kind of outdated thinking. Finally, there are too many extremists, including so-called accelerationists, who want to tear everything down, identifying as socialists in our time and space. Again, I wouldn't want to be under the same umbrella as these people.

Now, let's look at 'conservative'. Again, I have three problems with this word, in our current context. Firstly, too many reactionary politicians identify themselves as 'conservative'. If you are against all change by default, I think you're actually a reactionary rather than a conservative. But given that reactionaries love to identify as conservatives, this gives me reason to avoid the label. Secondly, conservatism is sometimes associated with a hawkish worldview that has arisen as an extension to the 20th century Cold War mentality. It's why conservatives strongly supported the Iraq War in 2003. And I want to stay as far away from that as possible. Finally, many conservative politicians are hypocrites. They are for small government, except when they want to regulate others' behaviors. They are for free speech, except for speech they don't like. Again, I wouldn't want to be under the same umbrella as these people.

So there, I have explained my actual differences with 'socialists' and 'conservatives' in our context. I understand that these words may mean differently in other contexts, but it's not really relevant to me anyway. I also maintain that there is still plenty of common ground between myself and many socialists and many conservatives, and there are certainly things where we can work together on. Furthermore, I never judge others by the label they choose to identify as or not. After all, the word 'liberal' has been often used by people who are very illiberal too. I would definitely prefer a socialist or a conservative with liberal tendencies, rather than an illiberal person who calls themselves liberal.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Remembering the Lessons of the Iraq War | TaraElla In-Depth

Today, I want to talk about the 2003 Iraq War. The Iraq War was important to me, because it was like the start of my political consciousness. I was 16 and in college, and it was the first big political event to have truly influenced me. Back then, I believed the war was unjust, and the elites were both manufacturing consent for, and otherwise pressuring the people to, support an unjust war. From that, I saw that the so-called liberal democratic system that we were living in was neither liberal nor democratic, in the true sense of these words, if this was allowed to happen. Nearly two decades later, I still stand by my views.

The fact is, the establishment may call the West, as it stands, liberal and democratic, and they may even try to label themselves the guardians of the liberal and democratic order, but it doesn't mean that it is true. Real liberals must denounce this, if we want to keep our ideals free from their contamination. Let me say this: a truly liberal and democratic system would never have been able to launch the Iraq War. If America, Britain and Australia were truly liberal and democratic, the Iraq War would not have happened. Indeed, Western countries have been involved in most major international conflicts since 1945, the involvement had been generally decided by the establishment unilaterally, and I believe that none of it would have happened if the West was truly liberal and democratic.

As I like to say, if real liberalism and real democracy triumphed in the West, not only would the West be better for it, but the whole world would also be much more peaceful. Simply because things like the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and so on just won't happen anymore. Therefore, I believe it is our duty as Western citizens to make this happen. Uphold real liberalism, reject elite establishment control, and end all these unnecessary wars forever.

Back when the Cold War ended in the late 20th century, there was real hope that the endless wars would finally come to an end. But then, our ruling elites continued to have the Cold War mentality, that is, they divide the world into friends and enemies, they find threats where there are none, and they manufacture consent for conflict and war by encouraging a fearful us-vs-them mentality in the electorate. The so-called War On Terror was the first demonstration of how this model could be used beyond the Cold War. I'm worried that the elites will keep on using it, to keep manufacturing consent for more conflict and more war. This is bad news both from a world peace perspective, as well as from a domestic perspective in Western countries, because international conflict have usually meant severe restrictions on freedoms at home, as evidenced by the Dixie Chicks cancellation in 2003, events in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

We have limited ability to stop the elites from being pro-war, as it stands. In the longer run, we need to make things more liberal and democratic, as mentioned earlier, so that it would be much more difficult for the elites to start a conflict. In the meanwhile, calling out elite misuse of terms like 'freedom', 'liberal' and 'democratic' to justify international conflict, as well as rejecting pro-conflict propaganda from the elites, are good strategies. Too many people fell for the Bush administration's idea of 'spreading freedom' back then, and we must avoid this happening again. Perhaps a good strategy would be to just mind our own business. I don't understand enough about the world outside the West to make comments about them, and I don't comment on things outside the West. I also think this mind our own business strategy is a good strategy to prevent the elites from being able to manufacture consent for more international conflict. Besides, it would be unreasonable to expect the whole world to adopt Western systems and Western values, given the vast differences in cultural background. This is why, ideas like 'spreading freedom' are not only stupid, they are essentially meaningless excuses our elites use to manufacture consent for their wars.
 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

When I Say I'm A Feminist & Anti-Racist, I'm Serious. | TaraElla In-Depth #1

Justice and liberty aren't mutually exclusive. Indeed, free speech is required to lead us to the truth, where justice can be found.

Welcome to the first ever episode of TaraElla In-Depth. In this series, I want to do something a bit different. I want to talk about the really controversial stuff that comes with being a liberal these days, that deserves in-depth exploration.

I'm going to be blunt about why we need to do this. Firstly, many of the social justice causes that were long associated with liberalism have now been hijacked by criticalists, you know, the people practicing critical theory and postmodernism. They are largely responsible for the current cancel culture epidemic. Secondly, many commentators from the hardline part of the conservative side of the political spectrum have now taken up supporting free speech and opposing cancel culture, and in some cases, even exposing critical theory and postmodernism for the illogical and harmful things they are. However, they too often tie this with an inherently anti-social justice attitude, like they don't care enough about actual racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, or even worse, in some cases, actively perpetuate these attitudes. They are, at the same time, the loudest voices on opposing what I most fear right now, but they are also the people with the kind of politics I have opposed ever since my college days.

Let's start with this today. When I Say I'm A Feminist & Anti-Racist, I'm Serious. There's now this perception that, people who really care about free speech and really seriously oppose cancel culture, like myself, are somehow less serious about social justice. Well, not me, and I sometimes feel like I have to make this clear again and again. Indeed, it is because I care about social justice that I came to oppose criticalism in all its forms. I had decided that opposing criticalism should be a major priority, because criticalism is already causing harmful effects. It is causing LGBT acceptance to lose steam, LGBT rights to be potentially rolled back, and racial resentment to be mainstreamed. It's a shame that the cultural propaganda from criticalist activists have prevented many liberals from seeing the very real damage criticalism is doing to our causes, but because I see it very well, I can't pretend to not see it. Ultimately, I just can't not do everything I can about what I see as the forces most damaging to the causes I care about.

You know what? I'm against racism, sexism, homophobia, and any other form of discrimination. That's exactly why I can't support radical critical theory!

But with the Hardline Right also opposing criticalism at the same time, and them shouting much more loudly than us because they have more people and more money, opposing criticalism came to be confused with being hardline right-wing or at least sympathetic to them in recent years. As a result, it became harder and harder to be taken seriously as someone who was pro social justice and anti-criticalism. To be fair, the Right are doing the bulk of raising awareness about the harms of critical theory and postmodernism. I mean, there is currently a great podcast series on [how the Western criticalism we have now has been influenced by the thinking of] Gramsci, Marcuse, Crenshaw and more that is absolutely educational, that liberals would do well to listen to, as long as you ignore the parts that I would classify as Republican talking points (including, but not limited to, comments on various social justice movements, and foreign policy comments). Despite our political differences, I am a regular listener. The problem is that, not many of my fellow liberals are doing similar work, from a liberal perspective. I suspect it's because they were too invested with opposing Donald Trump in the past few years. I strongly dislike Trump too, but critical theory is clearly a bigger threat in the long run, because I think Trumpism is likely to die out in the not too distant future. Anyway, the problem with the Hardline Right being the dominant voice in anti-criticalism is that, some people reflexively associate any anti-criticalist person with Trump supporters, for example.
 

Forget about choosing the Left or the Right. Both sides are really echo chambers with questionable morals. We should all be independent thinkers.

So I started opposing criticalism because it was harming social justice, and I hated to see that happen, but then, because I oppose criticalism and the Right is also doing it, some people began to see me as not serious about social justice. It's especially bad because there are plenty of people out there who would only pay lip service to being against racism for the sake of 'plausible deniability'. So what can I do now?

I will describe my journey through this dilemma, in which I swung from one side to another and possibly back to the middle. Or maybe I should say my style or aesthetic swung from one side to another, because my actual views did not change during this period. My initial reaction to being potentially lumped in with the Hard Right was to push back as much as possible. Back in 2016 and 2017, I would often say how much I hated Trump, and almost deliberately use lots of progressive-coded vocabulary in my work, so that I could tell the world I disagreed with the Hardline Right. But then, all that only made my work less accessible, and more confusing. I mean, if my goal is to oppose criticalism, then I probably shouldn't be using words and phrases made by criticalists, just to make myself sound more 'progressive'. Besides, I was becoming concerned that all the anti-Trump attitude was creating an us-vs-them dynamic, which was just going to encourage more criticalism. And then, I was sure there were quite a few liberals who had moved to the Trumpist Right, because of their frustration with the criticalist left. I came to believe we needed to win them back. So around 2018, my style swung hard to the other side, I tried to be extra inclusive of Trump supporters, to the point that I deliberately muted some of my criticism of Trump, which I do regret. I regret not speaking out more about Trump's deportations and family separations, for example. I believe those were really grave sins against humanity. This new prioritization alienated me from some progressives, and I strongly felt that my opinions on social justice issues were now being taken less seriously by other people who cared about this stuff. So we really had come full circle.

I think the whole of the Western world, and all of the politically minded people in it, have gone through a roller coaster ride in the past several years, and we are still making sense of it all. And I'm certainly still making sense of some parts of my recent journey. The pandemic has also allowed some moments for quiet reflection. And out of that reflection, I found a few new principles. Firstly, it is always unhelpful to engage in virtue signalling to prove a point. If we live by our conscience, it will shine through, and we should not care about the judgement of others in the short term. Indeed, nobody can satisfy the twitter mobs forever. Secondly, there is a way to be inclusive of everyone, to reach out and speak to those who disagree with you, yet still be yourself and not compromise your principles. I guess the important point is to not be angry or judgemental at those who disagree with you, and try to communicate with an open mind. Trust me, it will be appreciated and reciprocated, at least some of the time. Finally, in the midst of all this tribalism, culture wars, fake news, manufactured outrage, and so on, what one most needs are three things: bravery, independent thinking, and a clear moral compass.

With all that in mind, I hope to rebuild liberalism, as it was always meant to be. Progressive in an individualistic way. Principled, positive and not reactionary at all. And above all, a strong faith in objectivity, logical empiricism, and free speech.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Single of the Month: Year 2000

Now available in both download and streaming formats on multiple platforms online.