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January 27, 2015

Liberal Jonathan Chait Pens Microgressive Triggering Attack on "Political Correctness"

Worth a read. I put "political correctness" in quotes in deference to Noah Rothman's observation that the militancy of what we're seeing now may transcend the notion of "political correctness" and simply become full-on Stalinist thought control or Orwellian newspeak.

Whatever term you use, it is bad and getting worse.

So much so that even liberals are getting angry about it -- and exhausted by it.

I'll pass over the long recapitulation of the various anti-speech sins the left is guilty of later, though they're worth reading about. I just assume you've read them or need little convincing on this point.

On to conclusions:



At a growing number of campuses, professors now attach “trigger warnings” to texts that may upset students, and there is a campaign to eradicate “microaggressions,” or small social slights that might cause searing trauma. These newly fashionable terms merely repackage a central tenet of the first p.c. movement: that people should be expected to treat even faintly unpleasant ideas or behaviors as full-scale offenses. Stanford recently canceled a performance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson after protests by Native American students. UCLA students staged a sit-in to protest microaggressions such as when a professor corrected a student’s decision to spell the word indigenous with an uppercase I — one example of many "perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies." A theater group at Mount Holyoke College recently announced it would no longer put on The Vagina Monologues in part because the material excludes women without vaginas. These sorts of episodes now hardly even qualify as exceptional.

...

But it would be a mistake to categorize today’s p.c. culture as only an academic phenomenon. Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today's political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.

...

In a short period of time, the p.c. movement has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular. "All over social media, there dwell armies of unpaid but widely read commentators, ready to launch hashtag campaigns and circulate Change.org petitions in response to the slightest of identity-politics missteps," Rebecca Traister wrote recently in The New Republic.

Two and a half years ago, Hanna Rosin, a liberal journalist and longtime friend, wrote a book called The End of Men, which argued that a confluence of social and economic changes left women in a better position going forward than men, who were struggling to adapt to a new postindustrial order. Rosin, a self-identified feminist, has found herself unexpectedly assailed by feminist critics, who found her message of long-term female empowerment complacent and insufficiently concerned with the continuing reality of sexism. One Twitter hashtag, “#RIPpatriarchy,” became a label for critics to lampoon her thesis. Every new continuing demonstration of gender discrimination --a survey showing Americans still prefer male bosses; a person noticing a man on the subway occupying a seat and a half — would be tweeted out along with a mocking #RIPpatriarchy.

Let me stop right here and offer Chait, and Rosin, some constructive criticism. It is as this point that the typical Political Correctness Mob Enforcer will object and say, "But we're just using Our Speech to mock Rosin; how can it be 'anti-free-speech' to employ our own speech? In fact, you're 'anti-free-speech' person here by attempting to de-legitimize my free speech vis a vis Rosin."

Chait doesn't address this; he just leaves this argument hanging for the PC Enforcement Goons to deploy. (And they will; they always do.)

They're wrong, but it needs to be said why they're wrong.

The reason is this: There is a difference between Rosin's rational argument and the coordinated attacks of a mob.

Mobs do not "argue." They intimidate or humiliate (or both). Mobs do not engage in an enlightened, reasonable dialogue. They shout ritualized chants. Mobs are not interested in persuading someone of their wrongness of their claims; they only care about shutting the speaker up, whether he's changed his mind or not.

An argument from a single author (or group acting together to write a single paper) is an instrument of reason; a mob which selects a target and then attacks that target with wolf-pack like tactics is an instrument of emotion.

Human beings are in fact hard-wired, as an evolutionary matter, to cringe before the baying mob; and they are further hard-wired to feel empowered by being part of an angry, screaming mob.

So it's not quite true that joining up with a mob is "speech" just like any other speech. The "speech" of a mob is emotionally abusive and personally intimidating -- and it is hardwired into our brains to find it such, when directed at we ourselves.

On the other hand, we're also hard-wired to really enjoy leading a mob against someone. It feels good. There is no denying that; I've felt damned good everytime I've joined up with a mob.

And it is precisely because it Feels So Good to engage in coordinated mob cruelty that thoughtful people must resist the lure and call out mobs where they see them.

Hannah Rosin was not dissuaded from making further public arguments along these lines because she was convinced she had been wrong in offering them originally. She was dissuaded from speaking further because of the threat of continuing group coordinated emotional attacks against her.

Thus, the frequent objection to PC Tactics: that they are "exhausting." Well yes, but why? Many arguments and claims are wrong, but we don't say they're exhausting too often. (Tedious, perhaps; exhausting, more rarely.)

We say things are "exhausting" when the speaker (or mob of shouters) decides to bypass the cool route of reason to advance the case and instead resorts to the emotional levers of group hazing, ritual chanting, coordinate ostracism and humiliation, and the inherent intimidation of a coordinated and angry mob acting, as mobs are want to do, without any reason or restraint.

And that is the difference.

Now, the PC Mob types will reject this distinction because -- and listen closely here-- most of them are Stupid and Inarticulate; most of them are in fact incapable, on a mental or emotional level, of making an academic or at least essay-like case.

They are in fact low-thinkers. It is no accident that they favor the brutish, the primate-like, the animal-level sorts of "persuasions" of group hooting and feces-throwing. They favor this because this is what they are capable of, and no other.

Thus, in a very real sense, to insist on the standards of rational discourse with such people does in fact predjudice them; it is the same as insisting a horse walk on two legs to enter a race. It is the same as disqualifying them outright.

They sense this, and so they reject these calls to employ the classic techniques of reason and analysis in making their case. They know such grounds do not favor their brains. They know yelling and coordinating Social Shaming is the most they're capable of.

Nonetheless, though such rules may in fact disqualify a number of base-thinkers from public argumentation, they must be insisted on all the same. They always were insisted on -- at least before the last round of democratization struck upon the idea that equality must now mean that a man's stupidity and ignorance should never be held against him -- and to continue ignoring them simply permits the hostile, seething emotional Coordinated Yelling of mob "argument" into a realm of enlightened exchange which, definitionally, must exclude such persons (or such tactics, at least).

If you don't understand the actual problem -- that the "speech" of the mobbers and shouter-downers is qualitatively different from the actual speech of those who deal in cooler, more lucid streams of communication -- then you cannot actually define what it is these PC Goons are doing wrong. On a surface level, of course, they are right-- they are just "using speech themselves."

But it's a toxic sort of speech, loaded with dark emotion and actual hatred which is entirely antithetical to dispassionate analysis.

In fact, the PC Goons seem to understand this more than the liberal critics of PC thuggery. Chait turns to discussing a women writer's forum called "Binders Full of Women Writers," in which minority women can't seem to help but play their PC Victim Cards on the non-minority women.

And they're very upfront at the Age of Enlightened Discourse had its chance already, and that the new Age of Screaming Hate At Everyone should be given its chance:


On July 10, for instance, one member in Los Angeles started a conversation urging all participants to practice higher levels of racial awareness. "Without calling anyone out specifically, I'm going to note that if you're discussing a contentious thread, and shooting the breeze … take a look at the faces in the user icons in that discussion," she wrote. "Binders is pretty diverse, but if you’re not seeing many WOC/non-binary POC in your discussion, it’s quite possible that there are problematic assumptions being stated without being challenged.” ('POC' stands for 'people of color.' 'WOC' means 'women of color.' 'Non-binary' describes people who are either transgender or identify as a gender other than traditionally male or female.)

Jesus Christ, that was already exhausting and he hasn't gotten to the exhausting part yet.



Two members responded lightly, one suggesting that such 'call-outs' be addressed in private conversation and another joking that she was a 'gluten free Jewish WWC' -- or Woman Without Color. This set off more jokes and a vicious backlash. 'It seems appropriate to hijack my suggestion with jokes. I see,' the Los Angeles member replied. 'Apparently whatever WOC have to say is good for snark and jokes,' wrote another. Others continued: 'The level of belittling, derailing, crappy jokes, and all around insensitivity here is astounding and also makes me feel very unsafe in this Big Binder.' 'It is literally fucking insane. I am appalled and embarrassed.'

The suggestion that a call-out be communicated privately met with even deeper rage. A poet in Texas: 'I'm not about to private message folks who have problematic racist, transphobic, anti-immigrant, and/or sexist language.' The L.A. member: 'Because when POC speak on these conversations with snark and upset, we get Tone Argumented at [these people fly off with rage when you suggest that They need to "police their tone," by which I mean frothing hatred, a little better themselves -- ace], and I don't really want to deal with the potential harm to me and mine." ...A white Toronto member, sensing the group had dramatically underreacted, moved to rectify the situation: “'ESUS FUCK, LIKE SERIOUSLY FUCK, I SEE MORE WHITE BINDERS POLICING WOC AND DEMANDING TO BE EDUCATED/UNEDUCATED AS IF IT’S A FUCKING NOBLE MISSION RATHER THAN I DUNNO SPEND TIME SHUTTING DOWN AND SHITTING ON RACIST DOUCHE CANOE BEHAVIOUR; WHAT ARE YOU GAINING BY THIS? WHAT ARE YOU DETRACTING? YOU NEED SCREENCAPS OF BURNING CROSSES TO BELIEVE RACIST SHIT IS HAPPENING? THIS THREAD IS PAINFUL. HUGS TO ALL THE WOC DURING THIS THREAD"

Chait notes, rather obliquely, that the PC system has created what is essentially a Speaker Caste System with some speakers' being in higher castes, and thus more privileged (and thus willing to churn out ALL CAPS RAGE without expecting to be called on it (and in fact getting even more ALL CAPS RAGEY if they are called on it)), and others being in lower castes, and thus quite disadvantaged, and only really permitted to apologize and beg forgiveness whenever someone in a Higher Speaker Caste demands they do.

It should be pointed out that the "exhausting" behavior that he documents is caused by this caste system. Good behavior is not in everyone's personal interest; rather, it is in the group's best interest, but, as in many cases, it is personally best for an individual if he is free to break the group's rules of decorum while everyone else in the group is required to follow them.

Privileging certain speakers -- the more female, the more black or minority, the more gay or trans or other sexual ethnicity -- thereby empowers them to break the normal rules of social interaction as they may please, resorting to personal attacks and ALL CAPS RAGE at the drop of the hat.

And then of course there are plenty of opportunistic and crude white people who will claim to be Honorary Minorities and thus entitled to use such tactics as well.

This is exhausting. All similar behaviors are exhausting. When people exhibit such exhausting behaviors, we generally exclude them from further participation, because we just won't put up with that crap.

But we have many people who now believe that they are Privileged to belong to a Higher Speaker Caste and may employ any number of emotionally-angry and abusive tactics in what should be rather light conversation (all academic conversation is "light;" compare it to talking to you doctor about a surgery) that are forbidden to everyone else, and in fact have been forbidden for 3000 years of intellectual history.

It's time to reinstate those rules -- for all comers. Even for those who claim some minority status which puts them above your White Man's "rules" of civilized debate.


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posted by Ace at 02:08 PM

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