Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Gender, data and information. Judith Butler on the culture wars

On the principle of using this blog to store stuff of interest, and since I've written on gender in the past (and so have a label for it!), I'm sharing this article:

Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times” 
Alona Ferber, New Statesman 22 September 2020

which I found to be a particularly clear presentation on the current arguments between trans-exclusionary feminists and trans rights activists. 

A possible framing might posit gender as an informational concept and (biological) sex as a physical concept. Or biology as data and gender as information. That might serve some purposes but won't really survive interrogation: biological sex is informational too.





Friday, 11 March 2022

Not guilty

Further to my previous post Accusation of antisemitism: rebuttal I have finally received a decision: No Further Action. Over 21 months after the complaint was made. See the letter below. (I might get in trouble for sharing the letter, but so be it.)

Notice that there is no apology for putting me through it. Also, it is only "on this occasion" that they conclude that I have not breached the rules, so I suppose they are reserving the right to trawl through my history and find an instance where I have done wrong. I dare say if they try hard enough they will succeed. After all, in the words of Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis:

If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

I am expected to consider that this matter is now "behind me". It is not that easy. Of course I'm pleased about the outcome, but I remain bitter that it was ever taken seriously and at the length of time it has taken to be resolved. Moreover, whilst I have been exonerated ("on this occasion"), I heard this week that a hard-working Labour Councillor in Milton Keynes, an honest person of the utmost integrity, has been expelled from the Party for contributing to a Facebook group of an organisation which has since been proscribed - but was not proscribed at the time she contributed to it. I know this individual well, and her only crime is to be on the left of the Party and to have supported Jeremy Corbyn.

Letter from the Party:

Dear Mr Chapman,
 
Notice of Outcome of Investigation: No Further Action
 
We are writing to inform you that the Labour Party (the Party) has concluded its investigation into the allegation that you had breached Chapter 2, Clause I.8 of the Party’s Rule Book (the Rules).
 
A panel of the National Executive Committee (the NEC Panel) met on 28 January 2022 and considered all of the evidence that the Party put to you and any evidence submitted by you in response.
 
The NEC Panel found that your conduct on this occasion did not amount to a breach of the Rules and the Party will be taking no further action in relation to this matter.
 
Consequently, any restrictions that the Party may have imposed on your membership rights pending the outcome of this investigation have now ended. This includes any administrative suspension of your membership that may have been in place.
 
The Party would like to thank you for your cooperation with the investigation and we hope that this matter is now behind you.
 
Yours sincerely,
Disputes Team
Governance and Legal Unit
The Labour Party

Thursday, 30 December 2021

Accusation of antisemitism: rebuttal.

This post is prompted by the fact that I was issued with a 'Notice of Investigation' (NoI) by the British Labour Party Complaints Team, arising from something I put on Facebook but which I also put in a post on this blog. The Complaints Team have told me they received a complaint about my Facebook post in May 2020, and they issued the NoI in August 2021. I responded within 7 days as required but they are unable to say when it will be resolved.

The charge from the Labour Party

“Dr Chapman (the Respondent) has engaged in conduct prejudicial and / or grossly detrimental to the Party in breach of Chapter 2, Clause I.8 of the Labour Party Rule Book by engaging in conduct which

A - may reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on race;

B - may reasonably be seen to involve racist stereotypes and sentiments;

C - undermines the Party’s ability to campaign against racism:

i. On 25 May 2020, a complaint was raised against Dr Chapman after he shared a post to Facebook that contained an antisemitic meme with the Star of David, referring* to it as a conspiracy theory.”

*This is factually incorrect in that I didn’t refer to it as a conspiracy theory, the diagram was labelled “conspiracy theory” in the original source.

The ‘Philosophy Matters’ image

The post in question shared the image below, which was taken from a post on the ‘Philosophy Matters’ Facebook page.

 

Anyone who has been reading this blog will immediately see the similarity of this diagrams to the ‘dots and lines’ that I have been using to help understand the nature of information. (See, for example, Facts, data and information. But above all, the narrative.)

The series of images (without the final frame) in the Philosophy Matters diagram is a graphical representation of the “DIKW” hierarchy (data-information-knowledge-wisdom – with ‘insight’ added in this case – see Section 2.1 of Chapman and Ramage 2021).

The idea is that data are linked by a narrative to become information. Dots on the diagrams are the data (“facts”), and the lines joining the dots represent the narrative. Information is defined as meaningful data, so the narrative gives meaning to the data to turn them into information. (Alternatively, the ‘information’ is the process of giving meaning to the data.) The Philosophy Matters image presents similar ideas but also attempts to illustrate knowledge, insight and wisdom within the narrative by colouring the dots and lines.

An important insight from the work of the 'Difference That Makes a Difference (DTMD) project led by Dr Magnus Ramage and me, together with other members of the Critical Information Studies Research Group, is that information is never ethically neutral and is always shaped by power, authority and hierarchy (see Chapman and Ramage 2021).

To a naïve (uncritical) reductionist the data (facts) are incontestable and with any set of data there is one unique true narrative. But reality is not like that. There is the choice of which data to include in narrative (which points to display) and then more than one narrative will fit any set of data, leaving plenty of space for things like ideology and politics.

But it is not that ‘anything goes’. Data have to be true to be information (the veridicality thesis of information - see Luciano Floridi, “The Philosophy of Information”, OUP 2011, chapter 4) and the data constrain the narrative. Some narratives fit the data and some don’t.

The final frame of the Philosophy Matters image illustrates this idea by drawing a Star of David to represent a conspiracy-theorist imposing an antisemitic conspiracy [1] narrative on the data, even though it simply does not fit the data.

Conspiracy theorists do this because their ideology is antisemitic.

[1] Antisemitic conspiracy theories: 

“The claims that “the Jews” or “Zionists” are in possession of considerable wealth, power and influence, and are using it to control democratic governments, financial institutions, media corporations, and cultural establishments...” 

Will Yarokberg, Section 6.6 of “Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present.” FutureLearn online, which I studied in March/April 2019. Accessed 13 August 2021.

Comment

It should be clear from the discussion above that, far from being antisemitic, the Philosophy Matters diagram is anti-antisemitism. It is mocking conspiracy theorists. To reiterate: the point is that the Star of David is not a legitimate interpretation of the data (that is why it is labelled 'conspiracy theory'). I struggle to understand how my sharing of this post can be deemed to be conduct prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the Party. The only way that I can make sense of it is that the complainant knows that I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, believes Jeremy Corbyn to be antisemitic, saw the Star of David, and drew a false and damaging conclusion without either thinking it through or asking me about it. The fact that that the complaint referred to my Facebook post which was only supposed to be visible to my (approximately 200) Facebook 'friends' is disturbing.