Monday, January 16, 2017

How to Answer the Offense

There you are, giving a lecture. Perhaps you are talking about the difference between wages and earnings so as to explain why there is no such thing as a "wage gap" affecting women in the United States. Or perhaps you are talking about the Christian West as the source of ideals such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Or perhaps you are talking about the legal situation of gays in countries that are governed by strict adherence to sharia.

And then it happens. Someone starts screaming: "I find that really offensive!" "This is hate speech!"

Your mind boggles. (Okay, it boggles if you aren't Milo. He's used to this kind of response.)

You thought you were stating facts. How is it hateful, you think to yourself, to say that women in the freest countries in the world, when given the choice, choose certain kinds of careers over others and sometimes even prefer to stay home with their children when they are growing up? How can it be offensive to suggest that the ideals of our American culture have particular historical and religious roots? Why is it hurtful to note that, according to Islamic law, homosexuality is punishable by death, and in many Islamic countries, is?

"Lies lies lies!" you hear someone in the audience scream when you try to point these things out. "Take your hate speech off this campus! Take your hate speech off this campus!"

Your pulse racing, you try to think how best to respond. What should you do?

1. Fuck your feelings. More precisely, watch your feelings carefully, as the first thing you are likely to feel is alarmed, followed by a desire to go on the offensive. Breathe. Relax. You are not in danger from someone else's speech. They can yell and scream all they want, and it will not hurt you. More to the point, their yelling and screaming is not, in fact, about you. It is about them, their feelings, their emotions.

This is the most important rule in learning how to listen empathetically: paying attention to the way in which your own feelings interfere with your ability to hear what the other person is saying. Your first impulse will be to try to defend yourself against what you are feeling: that you have been unjustly attacked (which you have), that the other person is trying to shame you (which he or she is). It is critical at this point that you do not take the bait.

The person who is yelling at you is already in distress, for reasons that almost certainly have nothing to do with you. If you are giving a public lecture and the person is yelling at you, this is above all a failure of manners, which means the screamer is behaving like a child who wants attention. The whole reason for screaming is to get your attention, which for some reason or other, the screamer feels he or she must have.

This rule applies in less public conversations as well, when someone challenges you on something you have said and his or her voice (or written affect) takes on an aggrieved or hurt tone. He or she is hurting and wants you to hurt, too. The whole point of the attack is to make you respond, to go on the offensive yourself, so as to make the feelings of hurt seem justified. Again, you did not cause these feelings, they were already there. It is not your job to take them away.

Pro tip: It helps to keep yourself on a relatively low-carb diet. Attacks like these trigger our "fight or flight" response, which relies greatly on the availability of glucose. There is a reason the Desert Fathers fasted in order to be better able to control their emotions: it works. Plus, it keeps you fabulous and beautiful.

2. Be like water. As Bruce Lee put it: "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless--like water." Keep yourself fluid, not rigid, and don't get stuck in knee-jerk responses.

First, do not apologize. You are under an emotional attack, not a logical one. You have been talking about facts, but the person screaming at you does not care about facts, only emotions--the emotions he or she is feeling on hearing things that do not accord with his or her previous understanding of the world. Do not apologize, do not let them make it about you.

Second, be gentle, stay cheerful. The whole purpose of the attack is to justify the screamer's feelings of anxiety and hurt. He or she may have the body of an adult, but the child inside is terrified and wants to lash out at the world for being so hateful and cruel. "Darling!" you might say. "Pumpkin! You need to settle down."

Third, find something in what has been said that you can agree with, ideally something you can make a joke about. My favorite: "Milo sucks!" which the protestors at West Virginia wrote on one of their signs. As Milo said, "I do!" Alternately, give them a gift, a selfie, some form of attention. Their whole narrative for why they are hurting depends on believing that you are the source of their feelings of being hated. The more you resist, the more they are confirmed in their need to attack. The more you can be like water, giving way just enough, the less they have a reaction to build off of.

Fourth, be firm. You might make a joke about yourself or acknowledge in some other way that you have heard them, but do not apologize for what you have been saying or allow them to change the terms of the argument. If they persist in their accusations, simply say, gently but firmly, "No." Repeat as necessary without further elaboration. Remember Arlo Guthrie, sitting there on the Group W bench, not proud...or tired, just singing his song.

"You hate women!" "No, I hate people who lie to them about things like the wage gap and campus rape culture."

"You hate minorities!" "No, I hate people who lie to them about the problems that they face in American society."

"You hate Islam!" "As an ideology that oppresses women and gays, yes."

Special case: The screamer refuses to stop screaming, claiming that his or her free speech is being violated. At this point, you give a lesson in manners: "Wait your turn." If he or she does not understand this concept, it is time for the adults to intervene and take him or her for a time out.

3. "That's not a question." You think, in giving a lecture or sharing an article on Facebook, that you are giving information or suggesting an argument, but this is not necessarily what you will get in return.

"I find that offensive!" is not an argument. Nor is: "That's really shameful of you, Rachel. I can't believe you would say that." Nor is: "I suppose you support killing everyone who disagrees with you." Nor is: "I'll bet you are happy when people are discriminated against." (I am sure you can give other examples from your own experience.)

Here's the thing: none of these accusations deserves or requires your response. They are not requests for more information; they are emotional attacks designed to put you on the defensive and elicit a counterattack. You cannot counter them with facts because at this stage facts are irrelevant. You need to shift ground.

How you do so depends in large part on the relationship that you have with the person who claims to have been offended.

If you are speaking, like Milo, before a public audience and someone comes to the Q&A with such an accusation, simply be firm (as above), and reiterate: "That's not a question," until your accuser formulates an actual question or it becomes clear that he or she has none, at which point you say, "Next question."

If you are speaking with one of your friends, there is likely something somewhat different, albeit related, at stake: your accuser's sense of self in relation to you. Bluntly, at some level, your friend needs or wants your approval for his or her perspective on the issue--and you are refusing to give it.

In either case, at some point, you may find it works to ask your accuser: "Why is it so important to you what I think?" Turn their personalization of the issue back on them, not as an accusation (which is what they expect), but as a reflection of their own interest in shaming or silencing you.

In a more intimate context, this tactic may enable you to get them to talk about what is actually troubling them, which will help clarify the emotions that they are feeling and projecting onto you (see above, on feelings). In public, it will tend to reinforce your authority, which they themselves are acknowledging through their need to fight you: they are afraid of you because they fear you may be right, which challenges their sense of their own righteousness.

If they respond, "I'm not afraid of you," then you win as long as they continue to attack you--now, by their own account--for no reason.

4. Keep a record. The whole point of such attacks is to silence you as a speaker, preferably by making you censor yourself, thus in your accusers' minds acknowledging the righteousness of their original initial attack. Do the opposite: make everything that they say as public as possible, either by posting videos of the interaction or, if the exchange has been less public, for example on your own Facebook feed, by writing about it on your blog.

Here it is important to take the high ground: name only those who have gone public with their accusations themselves. Otherwise, leave your interlocutors anonymous, generically defined as "friends" or "people at my talk." Expose yourself fully, but protect those who have not named themselves.

They will howl and scream and vow to come after you. (Trust me on this; it is not just Milo who has attracted their attention.) They will insist that you should be denied a platform from which to speak. To which the only appropriate response is, speak louder. Talk more. If you do not have a platform of your own, for example, a news site, create your own, like, for example, this blog.

The only reason Milo has the platform that he does is that he built it by way of hard work and persistence. He thought of the idea of doing a campus tour; he wrote newspaper columns; he wrote a book. It is nonsense to claim that he has taken away someone else's freedom of speech through his speaking. Likewise, it is nonsense for them to claim that your speaking prevents theirs. They are simply jealous that you have attracted an audience--and they haven't.

5. Support others. You know what it is like to be standing alone before the crowd, how frightening it can be even when you know that their only real weapon (as long as they stick with speech) is their ability to turn others against you through their accusations.

There are many reasons that people choose not to get involved when they witness this kind of attack: fear of the crowd turning against them, fear that they will not be able to withstand the attack, sometimes even fear of losing their loved ones or livelihoods.

But you have taken the podium, published that blog post, shared that article on Facebook. You are out there now, taking the heat. Do not let others take it alone. Be there for them, whether by writing blog posts in their defense or commenting on their Facebook shares. Refuse to be silenced by the fear of what others might think.

Morale, as Vox Day has argued, is here key: "Be quick to come running when your allies call... Pay closer attention to them than usual if you know they're under attack and provide them with tactical advice if you've got any and moral support if you don't." (Milo, this blogpost's for you!)

Bear witness. In other words, accept your role as a martyr (Gk: witness). It is your responsibility to stand up for freedom of speech and support others because if you don't, no one else will either.

This is especially true, the dean of my college reminded me this past week, for those of us who are faculty in academia. If the faculty do not stand up for academic freedom, the culture of academic freedom dies.

And if academic freedom and freedom of speech die, we all suffer. Men, women, whites, blacks, straights, gays, Christians, Muslims, atheists, and Jews alike.

No offense, but it's true.

Friday, January 13, 2017

How to Spot a Heretic

Mary Magdalen
Painted by Frederick Sandys (1859)
I get it from starry-eyed prospective students all the time: they want to study...heresy.

Heresy, they have heard, is cool.

Heresy is hip.

Heresy is dissident, and being dissident is good. (At least, it is good again now that Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated as president.)

Heresy, of course, being hip, is nearly as fruitful a category as superheroes. But more often than not, the students have only one particular group of heretics in mind: the Albigenses or Cathars, famous because they were wiped out by a particularly vicious crusade.

That is, if they had existed they would have been wiped out. Apparently, some of my colleagues aren't so sure anymore. Maybe the Church just made them up so as to have somebody to send out inquisitors to talk to and, occasionally, torture. But if they had existed, they would have been cool. Because, you know, they were dissident.

It's rather like Social Justice Warriors today, who, I am reliably informed, do not exist except in the fevered imaginations of right-wing conservatives. But if they did exist, I am certain my students would want to study them. Because Social Justice Warriors are dissident. And being dissident is cool. Not to mention hip. And good.

That's what the Cathars, if they existed, called themselves: good men, good women. Just like Social Justice Warriors, if they existed, would call themselves good. Because they are! They want justice for society. They want everyone to be treated equally, with progress, tolerance, and diversity for all. Except they don't exist.

There are other ways in which the Cathars (who did not exist) resemble Social Justice Warriors (who don't exist either).

1. The Cathars (who did not exist) believed that the God described in the Old Testament was evil, while the God described in the New Testament was good. In their view, the evil God created the visible, material world, while the good God created the invisible, spiritual world. Accordingly, they rejected the Old Testament as the work of the evil God, who, in their view, was a liar and a murderer. They believed that all the patriarchs of the Old Testament were damned and that John the Baptist was a devil.

In similar fashion, Social Justice Warriors (who do not exist) believe that the Founders of the United States of America were evil because many of the Founders were slave owners and the Founders who weren't slave owners didn't refuse to sign the Constitution, while they, the Social Justice Warriors, have access to the good, living Constitution since discovered by their own leaders, if they had leaders, which they don't because they don't exist. They reject the history of the United States up to and including the present moment as utterly infected with evil (racism), wholly the creation of the evil (racist) Constitution of the Founders. Only they have access to the good, living Constitution, which the Founders did not write.

2. The Cathars (who did not exist) believed, as the Cistercian Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay explained, that "the Christ who was born in terrestrial and visible Bethlehem and crucified in Jerusalem was evil, and that Mary Magdalen was his concubine and the very woman taken in adultery [described in the Gospel of John]; for the good Christ, they said, never ate nor drank nor took on real flesh, and was never of this world, except in a spiritual sense in the body of Paul." Accordingly, they rejected all images of the crucified Christ as depictions of this evil Christ and called veneration of these images idolatry, which they demanded be removed from the churches.

Similarly, Social Justice Warriors (who do not exist) see the Founders as evil and call for the removal of all images of the Founders and other historic figures from campus buildings and other public spaces, saying that to allow these images is to condone the evils in which the Founders participated. They believe the Founders, most particularly Thomas Jefferson, had illicit relations with their slaves, which they, as Social Justice Warriors, would never do, if Social Justice Warriors had existed at the time of the country's founding.

3. The Cathars (who did not exist) believed all material existence was evil because matter had been created by the evil God. They, therefore, rejected the sacraments of the Church that involved material elements: baptism, for its use of water; and the eucharist, for its use of bread and wine. They also refused to eat flesh, eggs, and cheese, because these foods were the product of sexual reproduction. And they considered marriage an evil because it brought forth children, thus trapping more souls in the evil, material world.

Many Social Justice Warriors (if they existed) refuse to eat flesh, eggs, and cheese. They also think marriage is evil when it is for the sake of bringing forth children into the world, which is itself evil. ("I can't imagine bringing a child into a world with so much intolerance, pollution, overpopulation, and hate.") They hate fossil fuels because fossil fuels participate in the material world, unlike wind and solar power, which depend on the air and sun and don't make waste. They see the world of things as corrupt and despise those who make things for profit so as to make others' lives more comfortable and pleasurable.

4. The Cathars (who did not exist) rejected the hierarchy of the Church as utterly corrupt along with its sacraments. They rejected baptism as necessary for belonging to the Church, when all that was required was a laying on of hands by other good Christians. They believed that only their preachers cared about helping them, and they supported them with gifts and hospitality. They believed they could be saved only through these good men, whom they welcomed as teachers. But they also believed that if one of these good men fell into sin, for example, by eating even the smallest morsel of meat, all those consoled by his laying on of hands would fall back into sin, too.

Likewise, Social Justice Warriors (who do not exist) reject many of the institutions of the United States as utterly corrupt, most particularly, the idea of legally-enforced citizenship. They see no value in the teachings of the tradition, but only those teachings which they receive from their present leaders. They deny any legal requirements for entry into the United States (or any other country), which they insist should welcome all regardless of culture or willingness to assimilate to the values of the tradition. They believe that only their thought-leaders know the truth about salvation, but they also believe that even the slightest willingness to recognize any good in America (other than that which they identify) is cause for expulsion.

5. The Cathars (who did not exist) denied the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and insisted that souls, when they were saved, would be freed from the body. They believed all carnal sexual relations were "shameful, base, and odious, and thus damnable." They were, according to the Franciscan James Capelli, chaste and wrongfully accused of promiscuity. According to the Dominican Moneta of Cremona, they also denied the existence of free will. They refused to swear oaths or to kill for any reason. According to Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay, the Perfect or Good Men among the Cathars "sought to give them impression of never telling a lie, [but] they lied constantly, especially concerning God."

Social Justice Warriors (who do not exist) are often accused of being sexually promiscuous, but this, too, seems to be a slander, as sex for them is almost inevitably identified with rape. Whether women have the ability to protect themselves from rape seems to depend on the degree to which they are believed to possess free will. Social Justice Warriors say that they oppose killing, except babies in the womb, who don't exist either so long as they are only a clump of cells. And, according to Vox Day who says he has encountered many Social Justice Warriors, they always lie. Except they don't, because they do not exist.


Back in the thirteenth century, the Church expended a great deal of effort training preachers like the Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans to go out into the marketplaces of the villages and towns to instruct laypeople properly in the traditions of Christianity so as to counter the lies of the non-existent heretics. If only there were preachers willing to go to college campuses today to instruct the people in the history of our country and counter the lies of the Social Justice Warriors. If they existed.

Descriptions of the non-existent Cathars taken from Walter L. Wakefield and Austin P. Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages: Selected Sources Translated and Annotated (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969, 1991), pp. 235-41, 301-23.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Free Speech Fundamentals: Fame

I get it: lots of people don't like Milo. But here's the really fascinating thing: lots of people do. All you have to do is visit his Facebook page (go on, I'll wait) to see how many people love him.

And if you don't believe the five-star Facebook reviews, there are also the videos of the students and other fans who have spoken up at his campus talks to tell him how much he has encouraged them.*

The young black woman who stood up against the Black Lives Matter protestors in Chicago and said to her peers who were trying to shout Milo down (starting at 56:33), "I know who I am. I am Kati Danforth. I am a math major and a junior at Depaul University and I'm working my ass off to become something!" The army sergeant in Houston who gave Milo his dog tags for speaking on behalf of the military against political correctness. The young woman from Kuwait who thanked Milo for standing up for her experience as a woman fleeing from an arranged Muslim marriage. The young woman who talked about how Milo helped her become more truthful in her political views, when formerly she had thought of herself as feminist. The young men who thanked Milo for his fat-shaming because it inspired them to lose weight. The young woman who talked about how it was easier coming out as bi-sexual than as conservative. The older woman who declared herself a two-time cancer survivor and insisted, to the cheers of the audience: "I'd rather have cancer than feminism." The young gay man who championed Milo's stance on Islam and its treatment of gays. The young man from China who thanked Milo for standing up against cultural Marxism. The young woman from France who declared Milo right about everything that is happening in Europe. The young woman from Mexico who talked about how Milo's being gay and Catholic gave her courage as a minority not to give into the identity politics expected of her. The young woman from Singapore who talked about how she sees Milo defending the right of students to have an actual conversation about different issues, not just follow the liberal line. The young woman who talked about how Milo gives conservatives courage to speak up in class. Not to mention Tom Cicotta and Ariana Rowlands who, in their introduction to his speech for the Annie Taylor Award for Courage in Journalism, talked about how much he had inspired them in their own fights to sustain their Republican student organizations on campus.

These are the people who have been pre-ordering Milo's book and who have made him a star. These are the people whom Ruth Ben-Ghiat writing for CNN accuses of "making hate profitable." These are the people whom Constance Grady writing for Vox accuses of helping to mainstream "all the rage of the white supremacists and misogynists and bigots on the alt-right." These are the people whom Sady Doyle writing for Elle anticipates will send people's lives up in flames at Milo's command. These are the people whom Adam Morgan writing for The Guardian accuses Milo of encouraging "to think of entire groups of people as less than human."

Even worse, these are the people whom Ian Tuttle, writing for National Review and ostensibly fellow conservative, accuses of being duped. In Tuttle's words:
Milo Yiannopoulos is the sort of interloper by whom Americans have long been enamored: Part P.T. Barnum, wrangling the latest circus of novelties; part Sebastian Flyte, flaunting his heathenism in the face of bourgeois mores; and part Frank Abagnale, dashing from con to con... Yiannopoulos is one of that new, unfortunate species: the right-wing Internet celebrity. It used to be a requirement that those who aspired to weigh in on matters of public concern experienced the occasional advent of a thought in their heads. But after years of conflating sobriety and informed judgment with "elitism," such barriers to entry have disappeared, replaced by a system in which success is based on one's ability to--as Yiannopoulos himself has put it--get "LOLs." The same impulse that turned the patriarch of a family of duck hunters into a political sage needs news to be entertainment, too.
Jealous much? Milo, of course, responded on his Facebook page with his usual tact, correcting Tuttle's use of "LOLs" ("The preferred formulation for anyone under 35 is 'lulz.' You're welcome") and his claims that Milo stiffed contributors to The Kernel or left the UK ignominiously; he didn't, much as the media loves to suggest that he did ("Working for National Review in 2016 you will be familiar with magazines falling on hard times"; Milo paid all the late invoices out of his own pocket).

Most damning of all, however, as Milo himself pointed out, is what Tuttle said about Milo's fans:
Your analysis, Ian, of how left-wing anguish rules my popularity has merit, but the conclusion I draw from your snobbery is simply that you don't much like how fame or celebrity works, and therefore perhaps don't like ordinary people very much either. Perhaps that is why no one has heard of you. As clownish and unsophisticated as you find me, I find your smug fogeyishness just as dull--as, apparently, do readers, who continue to wisely abandon your magazine in the thousands.
Young fogey that he is, Tuttle (whose writing I have actually long enjoyed) should be reading more of that great conservative go-to, Alexis de Tocqueville, if he wants to understand his fellow Americans better. Milo certainly does.

The problem, as Tocqueville would put it, is that Tuttle wants conservatives to write for aristocrats, while Milo writes--and speaks--for the people. The question for conservatives in America is which better serves democracy--and freedom of speech.

"In an aristocratic people," Tocqueville observes,
among whom letters are cultivated...intellectual occupations, as well as the affairs of government, are concentrated in a ruling class.... When a small number of the same men are engaged at the same time upon the same objects, they easily concert with one another and agree upon certain leading rules that are to govern them each and all. If the object that attracts the attention of these men is literature, the productions of the mind will soon be subjected by them to precise canons, from which it will no longer be allowable to depart.  
Such aristocratic circles produce literature and art of a high quality, carefully crafted according to certain canons of style, refined, elegant, delicate, always in exquisite taste.
The slightest work will be carefully wrought in its least details; art and labor will be conspicuous in everything; each kind of writing will have rules of its own, from which it will not be allowed to swerve and which distinguish it from all others. Style will be thought of almost as much importance as thought, and the form will be no less considered than the matter; the diction will be polished, measured, and uniform. The tone of the mind will be always dignified, seldom very animated, and writers will care more to perfect what they produce than to multiply their productions. It will sometimes happen that the members of the literary class, always living among themselves and writing for themselves alone, will entirely lose sight of the rest of the work, which will infect them with a false sense and labored style... By dint of striving after a mode of parlance different from the popular, they will arrive at a sort of aristocratic jargon which is hardly less remote from pure language a than is the coarse dialect of the people. Such are the natural perils of literature among aristocracies. 
It is quite the reverse, Tocqueville goes on, among people living in a democracy like that in America. There, there are almost as many writers as readers, every man (or woman) encouraged to participate in the production of the arts. Nor is it to be expected that "all who cultivate literature have received a literary education; and most of those who have some tinge of belles-lettres are engaged either in politics or in a profession that only allows them to taste occasionally and by stealth the pleasures of the mind." Accordingly,
they prefer books which may be easily procured, quickly read, and which require no learned researches to be understood. They ask for beauties self-proferred and easily enjoyed; above all, they must have what is unexpected and new. Accustomed to the struggle, the crosses, the monotony of practical life, they require strong and rapid emotions, startling passages, truths or errors brilliant enough to rouse them up and to plunge them at once, as if by violence, into the midst of the subject.
Under such circumstances, authors will seek to achieve not perfection of detail and style, but a "rapidity of execution" marked by "rude vigor of thought.... The object of authors will be to astonish rather than to please, and to stir the passions more than to charm the taste." Even more importantly, they will have the opportunity as well as the compulsion actually to sell their books, not having a captive and leisured audience upon whom they can depend for fame, if not money.

Let's face it, Milo can at times be downright vulgar (L: vulgus, the crowd, mob, rabble, populace). He does not cultivate a particularly refined speaking style--quite the reverse. He gleefully encourages his audiences to be roused to emotions of patriotism and laughter. He likes startling them with provocative images and performing in costume. And he is a master at plunging them, by way of jokes and memes, into the midst of the difficult subjects on which he chooses to speak. Tuttle might prefer for Milo to be more refined in his speech, less flamboyant in his presentations, more aristocratic in his diction. But the audiences to which Milo is speaking are American--and Americans, being democratic, love a good show.

The Redneck and the Brit
This does not mean, as Tuttle implies with his snobbishness about Duck Dynasty, that they are not also interested in refined thought. (Milo was much more gentlemanly in his interview with Robertson.) What it does mean is that they like their literature to be practical, to speak to them directly, to address their everyday concerns. They don't want theories and abstractions, but real solutions to actual problems. Such as "Fuck your feelings" in answer to those who seek to silence them by being offended if they voice the wrong opinions about abortion or the minimum wage. Such as "America is the greatest country in the history of human civilization" in answer to those who would spend more time complaining about its imperfections than celebrating the liberties they enjoy. Such as "Feminism is cancer" in answer to those who would try to convince middle-class women and girls in America that they are somehow oppressed by the desire to have children and thus make their own choices about the balance between homelife and their careers. Such as "Build the wall" in answer to those who would insist that our nation should have no borders and no enforced legal restrictions on who gets to live here.

Tuttle, no great master of style himself, predicts that Milo's book will appeal to this lowest common denominator of literary production: "[It] will be forgettable by any reasonable standard of literary merit. It will not feature any passage of sparkling prose... It will not contain any particularly interesting ideas... It will be a between-two-covers repackaging of his on-going performance-art piece, which felt tired even on its opening night."

You can almost hear him yawning with boredom at the thought of yet another refined evening at the opera. Meanwhile, Milo's fans will be cheering for him as lustily as the French at a cabaret.


Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Volume 2, chapter XIII: "Literary Characteristics of Democratic Times." The Henry Reeve Text, ed. Phillips Bradley (New York: Vintage Classics, 1990), pp. 55-60.

*NOTE TO MILO READERS: Please let me know if you would like me to add your testimony, particularly if you did a video that I missed.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why Shaming Works

You've felt it, I know you have. Okay, maybe not if you're a sociopath like Milo or Sherlock claims to be. (I have my doubts, on both counts.) But if you are a normal person who cares about what other people think of you. You've felt it.

The dry mouth. The skin on your forehead tightening. The clenching of your whole body as if in anticipation of a blow. The blood rushing to your limbs as you prepare for flight. Your pulse quickening. Your thoughts racing. The urge to apologize, make yourself small, promise you will never do it again. The SHAME.

"Shame on you, Rachel," my friends on Facebook are wont to say when I post yet another of my reflections on Milo and his talks. "Don't you know what a monster he is? He's a racist. A sexist. A misogynist. A homophobe. A white nationalist. An anti-Semite. A member of the alt-right! How can you defend him? Don't you know what he did to Leslie Jones?"

It doesn't matter that I know he is none of these things and that it is Leslie Jones who has benefited most from his Twitter ban. I still feel the panic rising as the devil makes his move.

"They will think less of you. You are risking everything standing up for this man. What if the neighbors found out? What if your colleagues on campus found out? What if your students found out? How would you face them?" And the final threat: "You would be cast out."

"So what?," you try to reassure yourself. "I don't need their approval." But you know you do. You want them to like you, to smile at you, to make jokes with you, not about you. You want their respect. You want them to listen to you, look up to you, greet you warmly. You want them to approve of you not just because they like you, but because you are in the right.

In short, you want, as Adam Smith would put it, to be lovely. In Smith's words (III.I.8):
Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love. He naturally dreads, not only to be hated, but to be hateful; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of hatred. He desires, not only praise, but praiseworthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be praised by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of praise. He dreads, not only blame, but blame-worthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be blamed by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of blame.
It is not enough, Smith goes on, to find oneself the object of praise; one wants to be actually worthy of praise. Worse than being hated, in Smith's account, is to know oneself a proper object of hatred. This is shame, the feeling of being less than one knows in one's heart one ought to be, not only because one is not loved, but because he or she is not worthy of love. As Smith puts it (III.I.13-14):
Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original desire to please, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. She taught him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their unfavorable regard. She rendered their approbation most flattering and most agreeable to him for its own sake; and their disapprobation most mortifying and most offensive.
But this desire of the approbation, and this aversion to the disapprobation of his brethren, would not alone have rendered him fit for that society for which he was made. Nature, accordingly, has endowed him, not only with a desire of being approved of, but with a desire of being what ought to be approved of; or of being what he himself approves in other men.
We want, Smith says, not just to be loved, but to have the confidence that we are worthy of love; that we are the thing that should be loved and so are loved for our own sake, not just for what we appear.

Accordingly, we take no pleasure (if we are not sociopaths) in being loved for being something that we are not; for being able to fake loveliness, as it were, rather than ourselves being lovely. In Smith's view (which is a fairly sunny one, if you think about it), we do not like feeling ourselves hypocrites.

This, then, if we follow Smith's reasoning, is the source of the pain that one feels on losing one's friends' approval: the horrible suspicion that they may be right. That maybe one has done the thing that they say, stood up for a person or cause or idea that itself is shameful, thus losing one's own sense of being in the right.

Shame, in other words, is a species of doubt. Which is why Sherlock and Milo (purportedly) never feel it. Not (only) because they do not care what other people think, but because they know (or think they know) themselves to be in the right, whatever other people think of them.

Children and dogs feel much the same way, as do fools. And saints.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Free Speech Fundamentals: The Most Dangerous Game

The verdict is in. Simon & Schuster are wrong--courting danger!--to have offered Milo a book deal, even under their conservative Threshold Editions imprint.

"YUCK AND BOO AND GROSS," tweeted comedienne Sarah Silverman on the day the book was announced. "This guy has freedom of speech but to fund him & give him a platform tells me a LOT about @simonschuster."

"Simon & Schuster should be ashamed of giving vile Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos $250K to publish book," echoed Jeff Stein.

"Problem with just shrugging at Milo book as free speech is that not everyone has the same level of access to platforms for speech," tweeted Murtaza Hussain--who, like Silverman and Stein has a blue verification checkmark, which I think means he has a higher level of access on Twitter than say, I do, but never mind. Twitter is free.

Kyle Bella (no blue checkmark) commented: "Editors @simonschuster could have said, 'No, Milo [sic missing comma] we refuse to publish your book because you're racist and transphobic.' But they didn't."

And this was just the opening Tweets! (All citations courtesy of Milo's Facebook feed--yes, he knows what they're saying about him.)

That same day, The Chicago Review of Books vowed, again through a Tweet: "In response to this disgusting validation of hate, we will not cover a single @simonschuster book in 2017."

Perez Hilton opined: "Unfortunately, Simon & Schuster decided they'd rather take a chance on sizable profits opposed to human decency by providing Milo with a mainstream platform to spew his hate."

Meanwhile, pre-orders on Amazon shot the book to #1 the day after its announcement. Since then, things have gotten really interesting.

Simon & Schuster tweeted out a defense: "We do not and never have condoned discrimination or hate speech in any form. At Simon & Schuster we have always published books by a wide range of authors with greatly varying, and frequently controversial opinions, and appealing to many different audiences of readers. While we are cognizant that many may disagree vehemently with the books we publish we note that the opinions expressed therein belong to our authors, and do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees."

To little avail--but continued sales.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, argues that Milo himself "is a barometer for the far rightward shift and expansion of the conservative movement in America to elevate figures that traffic in violent speech"--despite the fact that Milo has never called for violence against anybody; quite the reverse, it is he who has been regularly threatened, including by self-defined members of the Alt-Right.

Constance Grady, writing for Vox, sees a similarly dire future for publishing: "Milo Yiannopoulos is a hateful person who has built a career on bigotry, but it is not hard to see why an editor at a right-wing publishing imprint might think it would be a good idea to sign him. He is loud, he has a loyal army of followers, and he knows how to get people's attention. He has that all-important built-in platform. All of that equals press attention--such as the flurry of articles the book deal prompted, including this one--and press attention usually means increased book sales. In Yiannopoulos's case, it seems to have worked. Dangerous is currently a best-seller on Amazon...  Having brought in one Milo Yiannopoulos, it will be increasingly easy to bring in another, and then another, until all of the hatred and all of the rage of the white supremacists and misogynists and bigots on the alt-right is considered a valid part of cultural discourse, and just another strain of thought, as legitimate as any other. It will become normal."

Sady Doyle, writing for Elle, concurs: "Milo Yiannopoulos has an army of trolls who will do whatever he asks, and presumably, 'buy this book' is not a hard command to obey. Then again, neither is 'dox this movie star.' The very thing that makes Yiannopoulos marketable makes it irresponsible to publish him. If there were ever a man whose book should to be treated as a weapon, it's Milo Yiannopoulos. The book will presumably name another target--or, more likely, several--and people's lives will go up in flames as the result. The harassment that follows a brush with Milo isn't light teasing; it's violent assault."

And Adam Morgan, as editor of The Chicago Review of Books, has reiterated his decision not to review any Simon & Schuster books thanks to their decision to publish Milo's: "I remain convinced that to protect the victims of discrimination from its traumatic and sometimes deadly consequences, the literary community must stand against anyone--author or publisher--who peddles hate speech for profit."

Who knew publishing a book could be so dangerous? Especially a book that, thus far, no one has read. What, exactly, is it that makes this book so dangerous before it is even in print?

To judge from the outrage: because it promises to make Simon & Schuster, the publishers, and most likely Milo himself, a profit.

Think about it. Milo is already famous, much much more famous than he would have been simply by publishing a book. (Trust me on this.) And how did he become so famous? For starters, although I wasn't paying attention then, it would seem through his Tweets--which he published for free. Then, when he was banned from Twitter for chivvying Leslie Jones about playing the victim over Ghostbusters' bad reviews, through his Facebook page, which at the time I joined in September 2016 had about 200,000 followers, but which now counts over 1,000,000--which, again, he publishes for free. But most of all through his writing for, which, again, readers can access for free. (Try the link, I'll wait.) And, of course, through his Dangerous Faggot Tour of college campuses, videos of which...wait for it...he posts on YouTube...for free. Nor does he charge the student audiences to whom he is speaking fees; the only fees they incur are those set by their schools for security, lest the protestors to Milo's talks get out of hand.

And now we are supposed to believe that a book deal with Simon & Schuster is going to make him more accessible to the audiences he already has? How, exactly? They can already get Milo 24/7 (with repeats) as long as they have an Internet connection. If Milo is dangerous--as his critics insist that he is--he is dangerous not because he has written a book--which, again, nobody has yet read--but because he knows how to use the Internet, through which, stop me if you'd heard this already, his fans can access all of his previous content for free. It is true: many of his fans were more than willing last Thursday as soon as he posted the announcement for his book to go buy it. But the reason they were so willing was because they have been reading his columns and watching his talks--do I need to say it again?--for free. This book, this book that Simon & Schuster has signed with him for, is quite literally the first thing he has ever asked them to pay for, other than the t-shirts and mugs that he sells through his store to help raise money for his college scholarship fund (now accepting applications). If Milo wanted to, he could publish his book on his website for free, and it would more than likely get just as many readers as it will through Simon & Schuster's edition. He could even publish it through his store and charge money for it. This is the age of the Internet, after all. And, as even his critics concede, Milo is a master at trolling the Internet for attention.

It is true, as Murtaza Hussain noted in his Tweet, "not everyone has the same level of access to platforms for speech." But--here's the irony--neither would Milo if he hadn't built them himself. Twitter and Facebook and Youtube and, yes, Blogger are just as accessible as platforms to me or you or Hussain as they are to Milo. With a camera and better make-up, I could be making videos. Sure, Milo is employed by, but started exactly the same way: through Andrew Breitbart's own ingenuity in harnessing the Internet. (Here's Breitbart's own book about it, if you want the full story.) And has millions upon millions of readers, far more than Milo has fans. If the fear, as Grady puts it, is that publishing Milo's book will normalize the kinds of things he says, I have news for her: they are already normal to a large portion of our population. Even if Simon & Schuster never publishes another book, the things that Milo says are already "considered a valid part of cultural discourse, and just another strain of thought, as legitimate as any other." Newsflash: That's why so many people voted for Trump. (Whether Grady has characterized Milo's speech accurately is another matter. In my view, she hasn't.)

Which leaves only the money. We all want to get paid for our writing. I would love to get paid for my writing, although, of course, indirectly as a professor I do. But I don't make money as such off my writing, certainly not $250,000, although I have made enough over the years to buy a few foils. But I would--and I know this is the case--if I knew how to build an audience as well as Milo has. So, in fact, it isn't really the money. It's the attention. And nobody gives their attention for free.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Logic 101: Category Error

They do it all the time.

You say something universal: "Women like floral patterns." They come back with: "Not all women like floral patterns, some of them quite like stripes." With the conclusion: "That's sexist!"

Conversely, you say something particular: "Lena Dunham has ugly tattoos." They say: "You hate all women. You hate tattoos." Followed quickly by: "That's misogynist!"

It does not matter that many women (myself included) quite like floral patterns. You have dared to make a generalization about women, thus suggesting that all women must have certain characteristics in order to be considered women.

It does not matter that you yourself have tattoos (I have four, three with floral patterns, all more beautiful than Dunham's). You have dared to judge any woman on aesthetic grounds, thus suggesting that the only thing that matters about a woman is her looks.

"All I meant to say," you sputter, "is that based on my experience most women quite like floral patterns. I didn't mean to suggest that they needed to like them in order to be women." Conversely, you rejoin: "I was only talking about her tattoos, which look ugly to me. Tattoos are a form of art; I was making an aesthetic judgment about the art she has chosen to wear on her skin."

But it's too late. For presuming to make a general statement about women, you have proven yourself incapable of seeing the differences between individual women, while for making a statement about an individual woman, you have illustrated the criteria by which you think all women should be judged.

Heads they win, tails you lose.

(My friends, I predict, will say I am exaggerating, but Milo fans will know that Milo gets this kind of pushback all the time, even from friendly interviewers like Joe Rogan. Milo says: "Women..." and Joe corrects him: "You mean 'most women'...")

You try again, thinking maybe this time to head off the accusations.

You say something more qualified: "Many women I know like floral patterns." They counter: "You cannot generalize from your own experience; just because the women you know like floral patterns doesn't mean other women do." (If this example doesn't seem charged enough, try substituting "Many black Americans I know..." and see how far you get before being called names.)

Conversely, you refine your particular: "The tattoo on her arm from The Story of Ferdinand is okay; I like the flowers." They don't care: "I find it really offensive that you would judge a woman for the art that she has on her own body."

By now, your head is spinning. What has just happened? How has a positive statement about what many women like (floral patterns, children, making sandwiches for their husbands) been turned into a prescription for what all women should be? Conversely, how has your response to a single woman's body art been turned into an attack on all women?

Answer: Logic. Or, rather, faulty logic disguised as reasoned argument, as every medieval schoolboy would have instantly recognized. ("That's sexist!" 'Cause, of course, reason is.)

Almost unknown today (contradict me, I dare you!), Logic is an ancient art, tricksy and dangerous for all those caught unawares, particularly those who do not understand her methods.

This, at least, is the way the fifth-century encyclopedist Martianus Capella described her in his Marriage of Philology and Mercury, in which Logic or Dialectic is one of the seven handmaidens whom Mercury, the god of eloquence, gives to his earth-born bride Philology as a wedding gift. (Note that the Arts are described as women, as is Philology or reason.)

In Martianus's telling, Dialectic's face is pale but she is keen-sighted, while her hair is "beautifully curled" and perfectly coifed (a clear sign that she is dangerous!). Grammar, who has been presented first, is afraid of her, particularly the snake that she carries in her left hand hidden under her cloak, while the god Bacchus claims she looks like a sorceress--or a charlatan. In her right hand, she holds a set of patterns (formulae) inscribed on wax tablets adorned with contrasting colors held on the inside with a hook. If, according to Martianus, anyone took a hold of one of the patterns, he would be caught by the hook and dragged toward the snake, who would bite him and capture him in its coils. (Milo fans, insert joke here.)

Dialectic is the one in the middle, with her snake.
Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève MS 1041, fols. 1v-2
Dangerous as she was, all of the other Arts depended upon her: "Without her," Dialectic insisted, "nothing follows, and likewise, nothing stands in opposition." It was through her that the other handmaidens learned the six canons on which they relied: terms, complete utterances, propositions, syllogisms, criticism, and style.

Dialectic was the one who taught them the five predicables (that is, things that can be predicated or said about a subject) on which all statements depend: genus, species, difference, accident, and property.

Dialectic was the one who taught them definitions, the relationship between the part and the whole, division and partition; the terms or instruments of predication; and the ten categories of predication: substance, quantity, relation, quality, action, emotion or passion, place, time, position, and state.

Dialectic was the one who taught them the difference between complete utterances (what we call sentences) and propositions or sentences that can be affirmed or denied.

And Dialectic was the one who taught them how to make syllogisms from propositions by which they might proceed from "two or more conceded positions to one not conceded"--with the caveat that both the propositions and the syllogism needed to be well-formed, otherwise a fallacy or fault of logic would ensue.

For example, the fallacy of equivocation, using the same term with two different meanings. Or the fallacy of begging the question, when the conclusion of the syllogism is assumed in the conceded premises. Or the fallacy of the undistributed middle, where the middle term in the premises of a categorical syllogism does not apply to all of the members of the categories to be linked.

Too technical? Here's a good test: if you feel like your head is spinning, you are more than likely in the presence of a fallacy, whereas if Dialectic's snake has captured you in its coils, logically speaking you will be powerless to resist. There is a difference.

The real problem, if you want to stay sane, is understanding which fallacies you are in the presence of.

Let's look at our examples. You say: "Women like floral patterns." They say: "That's sexist!" What just happened here? You have made a statement about "women" (substance) to which you have attributed a particular accident ("liking floral patterns"). They take the accident ("liking floral patterns") and conclude that you mean to apply it to "women" substantively, such that any women who do not like floral patterns may no longer be considered women. This is an error mistaking an accident for a substance, something said about a substance for the substance itself. Back in the dark ages, when I was in graduate school, this error was condemned as "essentialism": assuming that there were things that could be said about all women that would apply to them essentially, that is, substantively. Taken to extremes, it is a way of making generalizations about any members of a group (in technical terms, any species of a genus) impossible, because every statement about accidents belonging to some or most members of the group will be automatically inferred to apply to all members, whether the speaker intends it or not.

Conversely, you say: "Lena Dunham has ugly tattoos." They say: "That's misogynist!" Here, the fallacy is somewhat easier to detect. You have made a statement about an individual substance ("Lena Dunham") and its accidents ("tattoos") which has been taken as a statement about a species ("women").* If crying "essentialism" makes it impossible to make generalizations, this fallacy makes it impossible to make particular statements about any individuals whatsoever without their being taken as generalizations. For example, Milo's infamous last Tweet: "Rejected by yet another black dude," mocking Leslie Jones for her attempts to silence him and other critics of her movie, subsequently regularly taken as evidence that Milo hates all black people and all women. The fallacy here is the mirror image of "essentializing": assuming that every member of a group represents every other member of the group, such that a statement about one may be--must be--taken as a statement about all.

Both of these fallacies are species of a single genus: category error. The former, taking what is said about a species as a whole ("women") as being said about all of its parts (individual women), is a fallacy of division. The latter, taking what is said about an individual (Lena Dunham) as being said about the species as a whole ("women"), is a fallacy of composition. Note that it is the conclusions ("That's sexist!", "That's misogynist!") being drawn from the original premises ("Women like floral patterns," "Lena Dunham has ugly tattoos") that are the fallacies , not the original premises themselves. It may or may not be true that women like floral patterns or that Lena Dunham has ugly tattoos. These are statements of fact that may be tested empirically or aesthetically, by asking lots of women whether they like floral patterns or by looking at Lena Dunham's tattoos. The fallacy is in taking these statements of fact as proof of implied opinions held by the original speaker (you) either because you have dared to speak in generalizations or because you have offered a criticism of a particular individual.

"But," they may say, "you do this, too. You make statements about feminists being man-haters when not all feminists hate men. And you take what journalists say about Milo and assume that because they criticize him, they hate all conservatives or supporters of Trump." Again, however, these are statements that can be empirically tested: are there women who identify as feminists who do not say that they hate men? Are there journalists who dislike Milo who do not lump him together with all Trump supporters as members of the alt-Right? I, for one, am having a hard time thinking of examples, which is potentially another fallacy, that of anecdotal evidence. It would be a fallacy of division, however, for me to assume that because many feminists express things that could be taken as misandrist (#killallwhitemen), that means that in fact all feminists hate men. Likewise, it would be a fallacy of composition for me to assume that because a fellow academic writing an opinion piece argues that Milo's success arises from hate, it is because she sees hate everywhere in the GOP and among Trump's supporters--except when she says so. At which point, I am certain the fallacy is not mine, but hers.

*No, this does not mean women are a different biological species from men. "Species" here means they share enough common attributes to be called by the same noun.

[UPDATED January 3, 2017, with thanks to my Facebook friends for correcting the final syllogism.]

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Malachi 3:1

"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts."

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Naughty or Nice?

To date, 10,344 of my academic colleagues have added themselves to an open letter that they plan to send to Turning Point USA asking to be added to the "Professor Watchlist."

Their argument: 
You claim that by creating the watchlist you "fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish." But the creation of such a watchlist serves the opposite purpose. Such lists have been used since at least the 1930s to silence free speech, chill academic freedom, and harass faculty members.... The type of monitoring of professors in which you are engaged can only inhibit the process through which higher learning occurs and knowledge is advanced. We support and stand with our colleagues whose academic freedom your list threatens. Therefore, we, the undersigned, as that you add our names to the list.
Which is interesting, because my colleagues seem to spend a great deal of time adding themselves to other lists which could just as easily be used for precisely the purposes that they say the Professor Watchlist will be.

For example, this one, which almost 2000 colleagues and students at my own university have signed demanding that our University "be proactive in opposing President-elect Trump's proposed immigration policies and countering their potential effects on this campus community." Or this one, which over 100 colleagues have signed in support of the right of our graduate students to unionize. Or this one, which back in 2008 even I was foolish enough to sign along with over 100 colleagues protesting the foundation of the Milton Friedman Institute. Among other things my colleagues averred: "We are concerned that this endeavor could reinforce among the public a perception that the University’s faculty lacks intellectual and ideological diversity." (That's okay, I'll wait. I was young. At least younger--and much less well-read.)

To be sure, there is a difference between a list to which one adds oneself and a list compiled by someone else, say, a fat man in a red suit. But to judge from the letter accompanying the AAUP open letter, it seems that it is the mere fact of the list that is alarming my colleagues. They worry that anyone on the list will be subject to monitoring and harassment, thus their desire to confuse the list makers by swelling it beyond usability. To coin a phrase, "If everyone is special, then no one is." And yet, they have added themselves to the other lists, apparently unconcerned about the way in which those lists might be used to do the very things they say the Professor Watchlist will be: silence free speech, chill academic freedom, harass faculty members.

You think I'm kidding? What do you think will happen to me when enough of my colleagues realize I have not signed the more recent letters? Okay, I am probably exaggerating...but what would you do? What if a group of your colleagues sent round a letter like the one my colleagues circulated after the election because they were worried about the lists of our students that they expect the new presidential administration to compile? Not signing would potentially suggest you agreed with the worst possible outcome your colleagues imagine: our foreign national students rounded up and deported summarily whatever their immigrant status. But signing would potentially suggest that you agreed with breaking our immigration laws by establishing our university campus as a sanctuary. To sign or not to sign? With such a list, there is no middle ground. You are either on the list or off it. Naughty or nice.

One of my Facebook friends had an interesting reaction to the letter that I shared which was posted by Rod Dreher on his blog. "My fellow liberals, I'm tired of you," Dreher titled the letter one of his readers sent to him. In her words:
By all rights, I should be a member in good standing of [the secular liberal tribe], "liking" their Facebook posts and joining their candlelight vigils agains the evil Trump Administration. But November 8 and its aftermath revealed to me that I am just so tired of these people.... These are good people in a lot of ways. But there has got to be a better tribe.
Dreher's reader went on to describe how she found herself, much to her surprise, turning to the Christian Right: "It is no small feat, switching tribes. It feels stressful and weird to abandon your tribe for the Detested Other Side." To which my friend responded:
Well what I find sad about this is not someone changing their mind and looking elsewhere but the idea that there are only two options. Crazy liberal or righteous conservative. I wish the writer would have instead looked even deeper and discovered her own way instead of just switching tribes.
It is an appealing idea: why do we have to divide ourselves into binaries? Almost as if in answer, another of my friends was on another thread, protesting my use of the term "Social Justice Warrior" to describe the protestors at Milo's talks:
It is pretty shameful of you, Rachel, to adopt codes such as "SJW." If you begin raving about "The Frankfurt School" or "cultural Marxism", I will really know that you have lost it. It is quite easy to object to extremist and emotional expressions of *some forms of identity politics* without calling people "snowflakes" "SJWs" etc.... Nor does an extreme version of a position invalidate more central and moderate versions. (One can, to take a conservative example, believe in limiting the power of the state without being a Randian or treating Atlas Shrugged as scripture.)
Never mind that "Social Justice Warrior" is an almost affectionate appellation compared with some of the things his protestors call Milo ("fascist" is a favorite, followed closely by "white supremacist"), the root of the question remains: must there be only two tribes? Why can't there be a spectrum or, better, a polythetic set?

As an Ent, I should arguably agree. Just because I am not fully on your side does not mean I am fully on their side, nor am I sure that anyone (other than Milo) is fully on my side, although I am greatly encouraged by the response I have gotten from Milo's Facebook followers to my posts he has shared. Everyone is weary of having the most extreme positions on one or the other side of the political spectrum taken as representative of the whole. All liberals are not race activists. All conservatives are not white supremacists. Wouldn't it be better if we could all meet somewhere in the middle? All be on the same list? Why does there need to be a list at all?

It is not only Santa who puts people on lists. We put each other on lists all the time: "It is pretty shameful of you, Rachel..." (putting me on the list of the Shameful). "I wish the writer would have instead looked even deeper and discovered her own way..." (putting Dreher's reader on the list of the Unreflective). It is a primary function of language to create lists simply by naming names: "Social Justice Warriors." "Fascists." "Race activists." "White supremacists." "Liberals." "Conservatives." "Progressives." "Immigrants." "Americans." "My colleagues in academia." "Christians." Sometimes we agree with the names people give us, other times not so much. The third person pronouns "she" and "he" have become particularly contentious of late. One wonders whether the tension will spread to "I" and "you." "We" is already hopelessly compromised; "they" is almost unspeakable, implying an Other.

My colleagues in academia would prefer, it would seem, for there to be no "they," only "we." If we all sign the petitions, the "they" will go away. There will be only one list, the list of the Watched, the list of those wearing safety pins, the list of those opposing any change in the enforcement of our country's immigration laws. It is extremely important, their petitions would seem to imply, for all of us to share the same position, otherwise danger ensues. Free speech will be silenced, colleagues will be harassed, academic freedom will be lost. The country will be doomed if we do not all agree; there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth as the innocent are hauled away to be damned. Almost as if there were going to be a great judgment, dividing the good from the evil. The righteous from the unrighteous. The saved from the sinners. The sheep from the goats.

I wonder where on earth they could have gotten such an idea. Who would make such a list?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Social Justice Sophistries

The tenor is smug self-righteousness, the absolute certainty of being on the Right Side of History. Even some liberals are starting to find it a bit hard to take, the way in which their family and friends talk about Those People. The Deplorables. The Racists. The Misogynists. The Xenophobes. The People With the Wrong Opinions about Immigration, the Relation Between the Sexes, the Welfare State, and Islam. You know. The ones who read Breitbart, vote for Donald Trump, and listen to Milo.

It can get a bit wearing, even at a distance. It takes real stamina to be able to meet it head on, as Milo has done this past semester over the course of his Dangerous Faggot Tour. Quite frankly, I don't know how he does it. I get weary just watching the protests. The name-calling. The unwillingness to listen to what he actually says. On the other hand, the tactics rarely change, which makes them possible to list. And if we can list them, we can prepare for them. These are the weapons that our opponents will try to use against us if we are conservatives. As the Boy Scouts say: "Be prepared!" 

Here based on my observations of their responses to Milo's talks are the primary tactics the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) use: 

1. Take jokes literally. I have already written extensively about this tactic. Cathy Newman used it to withering effect in her Channel 4 interview with Milo. It is the weapon of first resort for SJWs: to see everything through the lens of offense and grievance, such that nothing can be funny any more. 

Counterattack: Laughter. As the SJWs come for you, stay cheerful at all times. Remember what Milo likes to say: "Nobody can resist the truth wrapped in a good joke." The thing the Devil hates most is laughter, and the thing that the Grievance Brigade cannot stand is not to be taken seriously.

2. Weaponize compassion. "I find that really offensive." "Don't you know how hurtful that sounds?" "You can only say that because you don't recognize your own privilege." If the accusation itself is not enough, there will be tears. A voice choked with emotion. Threats of self-harm and suicide for which you, the conservative, will be blamed. Every instinct that you have to care for the wounded and weak will be triggered. You will want, like Professor Nicholas Christakis, to apologize for having given offense. You didn't realize how hurtful others would find your words. You did not mean to cause anyone pain.

Counterattack: Do not apologize. Stay calm. Listen patiently. This will be hard, but any effort you make to defend yourself against the accusation or to apologize for your unintended offense will only add fuel to the fire. At this point Milo would most likely tell his opponents: "Fuck your feelings!" But not all of us can be Dangerous Faggots, nor do we all need to use the same counterattacks. The attack is intended (consciously or not) to make you feel as anxious as the speaker, much as a toddler having a temper tantrum is trying to get the adults to react. Remember: feelings are not arguments. The speaker almost certainly is feeling the feelings she or he is using to lash out at you, but you are not responsible for her or his feelings. You are responsible for staying calm and steering the argument back onto the facts.

3. Shift the meaning of terms in the course of the argument. For example, "feminism." If, like Jessica Valenti, you are a SJW who happily claims to bathe in male tears, when someone like Milo comes along and calls this kind of language misandrist, you will insist that feminism is not about hating men, but equality. (Cathy Newman used this move in her interview to try to get Milo to admit he is a feminist. Which he is, insofar as he believes in equality of opportunity for women and men, like any normal person in the West.) Conversely, "nationalism." Perhaps, innocently enough, you, the conservative, believe that "making America great again" means living up to the ideals on which this country was founded: equality of all persons before the law, property rights, free markets, respect for citizenship, representative democracy as described in the Constitution. Champion "nationalism," however, and a SJW will substitute "national socialism," and, viola!, you're a Nazi.

Counterattack: Define your terms. Repeat as necessary. Do not waver in your definitions. Repeat as necessary. Even if they do not know it, your opponents are using classic sophistical techniques. They are trying to trip you up by catching you in a contradiction by means of equivocation, using the same term to mean radically different things, and then forcing you to accept the changed definition. Do not accept their redefinitions. Define your terms. Repeat as necessary. Do not waver in your definitions. Repeat as necessary. Call them out when they try to substitute their definition. Repeat as necessary.

4. Insult the speaker. Here is where things get really nasty, but even more predictable. We all know where the insults go: more or less instantly, if you confront a SJW with facts and are firm in your definitions, the next move he or she makes is to call you a racist. Or a sexist. Or a homophobe. Or an Islamophobe. Or a Nazi. Or a Breitbart-reader, which is even worse. For those familiar with the classical fallacies, this is called an ad hominem attack. It is an attack on the character of the speaker, rather than on the structure or evidence of his or her argument. This fallacy may be extended to include guilt by association, as for example when the student at Miami University attempted to make Milo out to be a white supremacist solely on the basis that Milo supported Trump; the student couldn't quote anything actually racist or white supremacist that Milo has ever said, but it was enough, he tried to suggest, that Milo supported Trump. Cathy Newman and other reporters did the same thing with Milo and Steve Bannon, more often than not on the basis of Milo's satirical headlines (see Tactic #1, above).

Counterattack: "Prove it"--as Milo challenged the student at Miami--is a good first move. The chances are that your attackers have no idea what you have ever actually written or said. If they have resorted to insult, they have nothing on you but their sense of your reputation as a conservative, which in their minds is sufficient. When they can't prove their accusation, you have a number of options. Milo's response to James Cook in an interview for the BBC was particularly good. Cook asked him, apparently innocently, "Are you a white nationalist?" And Milo called him on it: "I'm talking about culture, not race, and it's typical of somewhere like the BBC to try to conflate the two." If they persist, well, there is only one response, which Milo finds easier to say than I do, but it is the only one that is actually appropriate: "Fuck you."

5. Project your feelings onto your opponent. By this point, you, the conservative (or libertarian) have stepped Through the Looking Glass into Wonderland. It doesn't matter what you say because your opponents will twist it to conform to their distorted vision of you. But--and this is important--the only reflection they can see in the Looking Glass is their own. They call you hateful--because they are. They worry about you putting their names on a list--because they want to put you on one. They claim that you will make students uncomfortable in your classes--because they do. They call you divisive--because they are. They are afraid of you--because they are certain that you will behave towards them exactly as they behave towards you. It is inconceivable to them that you might have motives different from their own.

Counterattack: Nothing. At this point, they cannot hear you. Even Jonathan Haidt, the great champion of heterodoxy, falls into this trap. He cannot see that his description of conservatives as endorsing "the group-focused moral concerns of ingroup loyalty, respect for authorities and traditions, and physical/spiritual purity more than liberals do," with liberals focusing more on "compassion and fairness" is already a Looking Glass projection. Liberals, that is, academic liberals are all about "ingroup loyalty," "respect for authorities," and "physical/spiritual purity." Just try being a tenured professor at a prestigious university and going against the group. You will learn very quickly how much your colleagues value compassion and fairness.

6. Shift the grounds of the argument. Once it is clear that you are not going to budge and cannot be shamed into apologizing for things you have never thought or said, do not expect your opponent to admit that maybe you have a point or that they have misunderstood your opinion. If you have been talking about the relationship between the sexes (and been called sexist), suddenly you will be accused of racism. If you have been talking about the rise in the murder rate in Chicago (and been called racist), suddenly you will be accused of intolerance. If you have been talking about the cultural differences between Christianity and Islam (and been called Islamophobic), suddenly you will be accused of mischaracterizing the conversation entirely, that it was never about sexism or racism or religious tolerance, but in fact about social justice and the minimum wage.

Counterattack: Do not take the bait. Call attention to the change of topic. Refuse the conflation of different forms of social interaction under the rubric "oppression" or "rights." Insist calmly but firmly on the original terms of the argument. Laugh.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Fighting Words

Conservatives are pussies. We know it, they know it, and they use it against us, especially come holiday time when our defenses are down and all we want to do is celebrate Christmas.

There you are, minding your own business, re-reading Hayek or swooning over Milo, thinking about how to explain why it is impossible for top-down centralized systems of social engineering ever to work, no matter how well-intentioned. They, on the other hand, having failed to convince the Electors to repudiate the results of the election, are gearing up to come after you, adamant in their belief that the only reason you could have opposed a lying, crony-capitalist career politician up to her pantsuits in influence peddling is that you are a misogynist, racist, xenophobe, possibly even a Christian.

The attack will come, perhaps over a glass of wine, perhaps during a long walk. It will start with an invitation to talk about what you have been reading, and you will be sucked in. Because you want to explain. After all, you have been reading for years and you think you understand the reasons that every socialist country ever has ended up, sooner or later, like Venezuela. But this isn't a conversation. It is a trap. It doesn't matter that these are people who have known you for years, maybe you grew up together, maybe you have been working together. They are not in it for knowledge, but to score points. And they have powerful weapons on their side.

It starts with a joke. Perhaps a joke Trump made. Perhaps a joke Milo made. You know it's a joke, but they want to read it literally. "Trump hates women, he called a beauty queen 'Miss Piggy.'" It doesn't matter that Trump has hired women to some of the top positions in his businesses or that it was a woman who led his campaign to its successful conclusion. He, a white man, made a joke about a woman, which makes him a misogynist pig.

At which the question comes: "How can you defend such a man?" There is literally no answer you can make at this point that will not dig you in deeper. "He was trying to help her," you say. "It was in her contract that she needed to look a certain way." "How would you like it if a powerful man, your boss, said something like that about you?," they counter. You say: "I would brush it off with a joke." They say: "You could only do that because you have privilege." And you're doomed.

You thought you were going to get to talk about how culture works from the ground up, how the multitude of individual interactions that go on every day are what create a culture, how it is impossible to legislate the way people behave, how it is the very effort to legislate that makes Milo's and Trump's jokes so funny because humor depends on the tension between the sayable and the mischievous. They want none of it. Their voice takes on a querulous tone.

"Jokes hurt," they say. "You are countenancing violence against women." You try again, taking your cue from Milo: "Women are constantly saying they want to be treated like men. Well, this is the way men treat each other. They make jokes about each other. Maybe Trump meant it affectionately." (Which, I have to confess, I think he probably did. Imagining the other side in this conversation is proving harder than I had expected. It takes a special skill to be able to think like a SJW!) They respond: "But she was a woman of color! He was exerting his power over her body, to make her look the way he thought she should look, as if he owned her, like a slave."

"But that was the whole point!," you venture. "She wasn't a slave! It was in her contract, it was a business deal based on her physical appearance to which she agreed." They shoot back: "That's the way the patriarchy works. Women can never be free agents as long as men are in control, and men have always been in control." At which, your mind boggles. You try to think of how to suggest that the only reason there even are such things as beauty queens is because men (and many women) like looking at beautiful women; that it is one of the great privileges of being a woman in the West to be able to show off one's beauty in public. But you know you've lost because you are no longer arguing facts. You are arguing mythologies. And mythologies always win.

We don't need another Hayek. We need a story-teller.