‘Collateral Murder’, Brendan Eich and the refusal of elites

It was on this day in 2010 that Wikileaks released the video, obtained via Chelsea Manning, which brought them both to public attention and made Western war crimes in Iraq unavoidable. Or so you would think. It’s entirely anecdotal but while most folk I know have heard of Wikileaks and Manning, the words ‘Collateral Murder video’ still largely draw a blank. Instead, as has happened with the revelations stemming from Snowden, the issues became focused around whistle-blowing and the treatment of the individuals whose bravery had allegedly enlightened the world. Still, if people generally still don’t seem to focus on the more shadowy actions of their governments (much easier to focus on the shadowy actions of the approved baddies) the actions of Manning and Wikileaks undoubtedly contributed to the broad suspicion which has so far stopped an outright ‘intervention’ in Syria (though our governments have continued to provide financial aid and arms to ‘Syrian rebels’). The cold ‘beauty’ of the ‘Collateral Murder’ video was that it pierced through the usual blather about how foreign policy and war are far too complicated for you or I to understand and simply presented an amoral act. The military voices in the video sound sociopathic, completely divorced from any notions of right and wrong. To paraphrase Ballard, it rubbed our face in our own vomit and forced us to look in the mirror. This is the reality of war, of ‘humanitarian intervention’. Yet if it seemed for a brief moment to offer a utilitarian lucidity in our approach to government, that hope has since faded.

There was, of course, a substantial anti-war movement across the Western world regarding Iraq. Perhaps the perceived failure of that movement has something to do with why so much of our political action has become neutered, ensnared in trite petitions and finger-pointing at others. This was an awful act committed by our governments, in our names even as we marched en masse against it. Where does that leave democracy? Sure, Blair has become a pariah in many circles now but none of our leaders or parties have really paid any price for what they did. Alistair Campbell still regularly pops up as a media commentator. Supposed leftists eagerly await the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who has continually defended her support for the war and repeatedly supported extra-judicial assassination via drone warfare. The Snowden revelations have been met with a collective shrug from the majority of the population. This is politics stripped of all thought, all meaning, all hope. It’s about being seen to support the ‘goodies’ and oppose the ‘baddies’. The brutally simple message of ‘Collateral Murder’ has sank back into the fog of misinformation and ignorance. We once again think that this stuff is just too complicated.

This apathy and aversion to critical thought has, of course, been apparent in the LGBT movement and I’ve written about its abandonment of Chelsea Manning many times (almost entirely prior to her identification as Chelsea, so apologies for the references to Bradley). Our LGBT leaders and media face almost no opprobrium for allying with arms dealers, tax avoiders, the military and companies like Goldman Sachs, PWC or Barclays which have horrendous records on human rights and progressive politics. Yet, in a further example of just how beyond fucked our LGBT politics is, this week the LGBT internet flew into a rage over the fact that the new CEO of some fucking internet browser company had donated in support of Proposition 8. Apparently using Mozilla was fine when he was merely Chief Technical Officer of Mozilla was fine. And there was no question of boycotting Javascript, which he helped to create, cos that would be a bit of a hassle. Let’s also ignore that countless employees of firms like Apple, Google and Microsoft also donated to support Prop 8 or that President Obama was himself opposed to gay marriage in 2008. Hillary Clinton only came out for gay marriage last year. But heck, this is 2014 and YOU WILL LIKE US GODDAMNIT!

Few would defend Eich’s donation but the perversity of a political movement which will happily align itself with companies dealing arms to brutal despots while hounding someone for opposing gay marriage 6 years ago is clear. Do we hound prominent LGBT journalists like Dan Savage, Andrew Sullivan or Johann Hari for their vocal support for the Iraq war (amongst many other sins)? Indeed, can you imagine any CEO being faced with a fire storm like this because they oppose trade unions, strong rights for workers, avoid tax and fleece taxpayers via ineffectual monopolies? Of course not – in fact someone like Richard Branson, who does all of these things, is one of the most prominent and admired businessmen in the world. Similarly Steve Jobs, who built Apple on the back of horrendous labour practices and who sent a solitary smiley face in response to news that he’d gotten a lowly Google employee fired, is near canonised.

Why don’t we care about this stuff? I suspect it’s the same infantilisation which so characterises our approach to government: we think this stuff is just too complicated and best left to the serious white folk in suits who know what they’re talking about. Once you’ve abandoned that critical space, you’re wide open to the absurd, trite marketing which assures you that companies DO LIKE YOU! If Brendan Eich had a history of using child labour or campaigning against welfare, dissemination would have ruled the day and he would still be in his post. His views on gay people, though – those we think we can parse.

It’s reductive and insulting. Chelsea Manning is someone who exemplifies for us that we can pay attention to the things that matter. We can educate ourselves about what our governments and corporations do. More than that, we must, because it’s largely being done in our names and with our money. We should be wary of rushing to quick judgements or actions (so typical of the clicktivism movement) but we should also never accept that these issues are too difficult for us and best left to the ‘experts’. That path leads to unchecked power and tyranny.  ’Collateral Murder’ did not distort or misinform – it merely demanded that we pay attention. Doing so honours not only Manning’s bravery and those we see murdered in the video but the countless, nameless others who are harmed in our names on a daily basis.

 

The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index – Because Awful Companies Like Gays Too

Another year brings with it another edition of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which professes to detail “Britain’s top gay-friendly employers”. According to Ben Summerskill’s foreward:

Research shows that lesbian, gay and bisexual employees are more productive, creative, loyal and successful when they have the confidence, support and security to truly be themselves at work.

I’m sure that’s true but unfortunately my commie leanings don’t tend to go down too well with my boss. ‘Being yourself’ at work is a rather broad philosophical point, particularly in the age of emotional labour where you’re actively encouraged to “‘be yourself’ at work”(albeit an apolitical, idyllically submissive version of yourself). This fits right in with how Stonewall frame their Index as a service to capital and exclude all considerations other than “efforts to create inclusive workplaces for lesbian, gay and bisexual employees” (sucks to be you, transsexual people!) The section on LGB Community Engagement notes that “LGB people are also consumers and service users, representing a market estimated to be worth £70–81 billion per year in Britain alone.” There’s money in them hills! So the Home Office may, for example, have an utterly dire record on immigration re: gay people and Barclays may be the biggest UK investors in the arms trade which provides weapons to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Russia, but they are nice to their LGB employees! Whoo! Hilariously, we’re told that “Stonewall set additional criteria for global employers, to recognise support for LGB employees worldwide.” We can widen the scope a little but only to folk sitting in your offices.

Apparently you also get points for promoting ”commitment to LGB equality to the wider community” and “working with your suppliers on sexual orientation equality.” This ‘equality’, clearly, is very narrowly defined. The examples above just focus on the wider implications for LGB people of certain organisations – if we extend this to human rights and social justice generally the list becomes even more problematic. Goldman Sachs may be commonly described as “the most evil corporation in the world” and a “great vampire squid” but as a gay person I’m encouraged to view it through one prism only: what’s in it for me? An insidious pragmatism is present, pushing the pervasive myth that morality and politics are not located within the workplace. Stonewall’s Index, then, serves much the same purpose as Corporate Social Responsibility programmes: it elides politics, discourages a wider critical engagement with organisations and presents an essentialist view of sexuality which is both pre- and apart from politics. From this perspective there is no contradiction in Stonewall praising a Home Office which pushes racist and homophobic immigration policies or a Barclays which invests in companies that sell arms to Uganda (and indeed operates there). We’re actively discouraged from even beginning to make those links and so instead we push on with our single-issue e-petitions.

This is what happens when liberation movements become parochial and self-absorbed. As they lose any analysis of where power lies in society and how it operates, battles around areas like sexuality, gender, race, geopolitics and economic justice come to be seen as disparate and unconnected. Once this is the case it’s very easy for the movements to be co-opted by those in power and end up providing a useful service to societies which remain patriarchal, racist and capitalist. Thus we end up with the LGB demand to be ‘allowed’ to be part of the military machine or to be granted ‘equal’ access to socially destructive companies like Goldman Sachs.

This is particularly egregious as the Index is so self-serving and ultimately pointless, even on its own terms. Companies have to apply to enter it. This is free but, we’re told, “The majority of entrants are members of Stonewall’s best practice employers’ programme, Diversity Champions”. Membership of this programme costs £2,500 or £4000 for global organisations. Every single member of Stonewall’s ‘directory of gay-friendly employers’ is a member of this. This tells us absolutely nothing about how the vast majority of people work (I work in an organisation of about 13 people and none of them give a toss about my sexuality). It does, however, provide a steady stream of income for Stonewall. My friend works for a global organisation who has applied to the Index every year for a few consecutive years. Despite being LGB-friendly to the point of having networks, social groups and regular events specifically for LGB staff, it’s never made the list. Instead, Stonewall keep coming up with recommendations for training and seminars – all of which cost money. While this goes on my gay friend merrily goes about his working life…and we continue to shrink ourselves to one-dimensional beings while allowing egregious organisations to benefit from it.