Thursday, October 6, 2011

“Understand Your Opponents” (white guys, Marcotte, and a final C-SPAN2 irony)

As perhaps my most right-wing friend, Jim Kalb, once said, in words that have stuck with me for years, “There are a lot of damaged people out there.”  Let’s gawk at a few, sympathetically (and not just the loonier Occupy Wall Street participants, whose ranks have been augmented by Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum and labor unions in the past two days).

•Today, the anniversary of the taping of that C-SPAN2 book panel, might be a good time to note one final irony about the whole thing. 

I could go into gory detail about just how apt, just, and necessary the whole thing was, but instead, before leaving it all behind in all its manifestations (and beginning some other revamps to website and life partly inspired by the Occupy Wall Street/Tea Party contrast), let’s just note something I’d completely forgotten: One of the very first blog entries that my C-SPAN2 sparring partner ever posted (see “August 16, 2003,” years before I began blogging and years before we met) was one in which she gloated about someone (a Fox News personality) being sadistically and protractedly described in unflattering terms while he was on a C-SPAN2 book panel. 

Wheel, karma, etc., etc. – though, of course, I was never the one motivated by sadism.  If you didn’t intuit that element of it all, you understood nothing of the whole affair.  But now, regardless: to the high road, forevermore.

•The philosophy buff in me wishes politics could somehow be conducted without any reference to the psyches of the debaters at all, objective and abstract without personality entering into it.  But then, even the arbiters of dry objectivity have to keep doing things like publishing this study showing climate change skeptics are disproportionately white males, which nowadays is a lot like saying “Zis relativity, it ees someting zee Jews haf theorized, ja?” 

One interviewee in the article helpfully points out that the most vocal climate alarmists are also white males.  Another says the study might at least be helpful if you want to “understand your opponents.”  But then, as climate debates often show, you can have mountains of data without much understanding. (h/t David Harsanyi)

•I expect people like my friend Ace of Spades to spar with feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte (who wrote a very brief item about the C-SPAN2 battle herself a year ago, by the way), but it was a solidly feminist writer friend of mine who first suggested to me the hypothesis that Marcotte might simply be a rape victim, something Marcotte recently confirmed during her Twitter-sparring with Ace (if I understand the flurry of tweets).  Even as Marcotte manages to tie all sorts of political topics back to a vast rape-o-cratic, patriarchal conspiracy to render violence against women socially acceptable, one remains reluctant to attribute all of her views and her seeming-anger to her personal experiences. 

But (perhaps tragically for all involved) she is a natural troll, whether consciously or not, continually making outrageous, sweeping accusations – and routinely condemning white males for their supposedly vicious love of their power and entitlement – and then stepping back to express surprise and even (yes, sadistic) amusement at how all those ridiculous white males respond with (inexplicable!) anger to her assertions.  This, even as she claims, for example, that seasteading – basically just living on boats – is a plot to rape mail-order brides (it’s the only way libertarian nerds could get women, she implies while she’s at it, proving that she hasn’t risen much above junior high taunts even as she pretends to be the defender of enlightenment and civility). 

Add to this her continual willful misunderstanding of her philosophical opponents’ motives: It is never enough for her to say that right-wing policies might cause poverty instead of alleviating it.  She must argue that all forms of fiscal conservatism are rooted in right-wingers’ cruel love of indulging in rights that others cannot exercise, even their longing to own the poor as quasi-slaves, as if we prefer a world of rich conservatives and poor socialists to a world in which everyone prospers.  As she put it recently: “Part of being conservative is relishing things (like rights) other people don’t have, and so of course they object to letting gay people have the things that straight people have always had.”

•Marcotte recently asserted that Glenn Reynolds can’t
possibly think taxation is immoral across the board and thus (long story short) must only be selectively implying that he does when it helps him undergird a tasteless rape analogy.  The greatest irony here is that the most hardcore libertarianism is usually not only opposed to all taxation (“Taxation is theft”) but is described as springing from “the non-aggression principle” – the idea that no one has a right to use anyone else’s body or property in any way without permission – making ours an almost pacifistic creed that is arguably the least-rapey (to put it bluntly) on the planet. 

But Marcotte will never seek to learn more about that, any more than she will try to take a sympathetic view of Glenn Reynolds’ thinking.  Easier to hate – and pretend not to.

It’s hard to decide whether saying her worldview seems largely a product of that rape experience is (A) cruelly dismissive or (B) compassionate and psychoanalytical, but it’s a safe bet we know how she’d respond to the suggestion (at least, if it were being made by white males who disagree with her).  And so, sadly, most people (lacking my mania for the truth) will simply keep mum and look away, with a bit of pity in their hearts.  

Sidenote: empathy-lacking leftists like Marcotte apparently love the insult “wingnuts” for people on the right – which I think is just bad comedic terminology, given that right and left are both “wings.”  It’s like referring only to Albanians by a pejorative such as “countrymen.”

•Marcotte also hates evolutionary psychology – misrepresenting its claims just enough to make it sound laughable when she was a speaker at a recent Story Collider event – and prefers feminist social-constructivist explanations for differences in behavior between the two sexes.  There are times, though, when one discovers differences so strange that it’s hard to imagine that any discernible culture-signals alone produced them. 

I’m not ruling it out – and my evolutionary psychologist friend Diana Fleischman would be the first to acknowledge that e.p. researchers must take care to avoid mere narratively-pleasing just-so stories (that’s how myths happen) – but I’m inclined to think something darker and weirder and deeper than culture alone is happening when, for instance, (male) murderers in prison are routinely showered with love letters (from females).  We cannot truly know, but might this have something more to do with ancient chimp-like instincts that tell us violent badasses are the most intensely-male members of the population?  It’s hard to believe that even years of Schwarzenegger-viewing would produce this odd – and primal – an outcome (and one among countless others that does not occur in gender-reversed fashion). 

Likewise, I think the common pattern seen in male serial killers (and other psychos) of having been witness at too-young an age to maternal sex, angry outbursts, and substance abuse hints at neurological tripwires deeper than the superficial cultural nuances resting atop them.  I honestly don’t know, but I don’t think Marcotte’s description of Psychology Today as a right-wing rag (for printing e.p. stories) is the way to conduct an impartial investigation.

•People who assume the worst about their intellectual foes often reveal a great deal about themselves, of course.  People with “trust issues” may well have been victims at some point – more so than they usually acknowledge – but they may also be untrustworthy themselves and extrapolate accordingly when they think about the rest of the population. 

I know how immodest it sounds, but I’m struck sometimes by how nice a guy I must be (Marcotte, by contrast, frequently uses the phrase “Nice Guy” as a sarcastic insult) – and how that influences my expectations about others’ behavior – compared to at least some members of the population. 

I remember noting in a column back at Brown – not in a self-congratulatory way but merely a matter-of-fact way – that I couldn’t really imagine being a rapist because it was difficult to see how one could experience joy (or even function, if you’ll forgive me for getting technical) while being such a close witness to someone else’s suffering.  Interestingly, several male and female liberals on campus responded by saying they found it hard to believe someone would find the idea of rape horrible and off-putting – and what does that say about how their minds work?

•Luckily for us all, violence has been gradually decreasing throughout human history, as noted in the new book on that topic by Steven Pinker (who, as it happens, knows the aforementioned Diana Fleischman – and once met me and the C-SPAN2 ex at a party, where she thought it horribly tasteless of me to ask a small question about linguistics, since it might make him feel like he was at the office – if only all our conflicts had been that minuscule and ridiculous).

•The sexist and/or female-empowering elements of last month’s DC Comics reboot have been much debated, but this much is clear: The Huntress is getting her own miniseries.  Me, I’ll just read my trade paperback of Grant Morrison’s acclaimed All Star Superman and then try to leave the genre talk behind for now (but do check out my recent Reason article about Morrison if you haven’t already). 

It’s a good time for turning the page on several of my favorite topics:

(1) Comics have been given a bit of new energy by the DC Comics reboot but also rendered more internally-confused than ever by DC’s ambiguous claim that all of their big “Crisis” events have been removed from history (so I give up).

(2) R.E.M. broke up one year after that “Conservatism for Punks” essay I wrote (in the book that was being discussed on that C-SPAN2 panel, Proud to Be Right), a reminder that some of my music references are a tad obsolete. 

(3) A likely-mistaken claim that neutrinos can move faster than light was a reminder how easily even the most basic laws of science can get tossed aside by an overeager press – and my fellow skeptics will have learned nothing until they admit that it is scientists themselves, not anti-science people or even pseudo-scientists, who generate this sort of hype, albeit far more frequently in medicine, climatology, psychology, and toxicology than in physics.  Trust no one.

(4) The spectacle of Drudge...linking to Alex Jones’s site...criticizing Occupy Wall Street...and claiming the “elites” run that movement...while countering with a Ron Paul-style call for protesting the a reminder we are at a kooky and confusing yet potentially educational (or utterly disastrous) juncture in political history. 

And I’m not going to take the easy (and perhaps correct) route of mocking Occupy Wall Street.  I’ve seen too many interesting cases of them wanting to talk to Ron Paul-style conservatives and vice versa to think this has to be just one more round in the faux-eternal right-left fight.  About a year ago, stuck in a café on a rainy day as my most trad phase neared its end, I said that despite how it might appear, I really would take more pride in helping people transcend right-left squabbles than in being an attack dog for one side.  Remember, “Conservatism for Punks” may have appeared in a conservative anthology (and I’m suitably proud of it), but its very title hints at the dialectical synthesis – the grand fusionism – I’d really like to see. 

And with people on both right and left getting more comfortable talking about anarchism (and even questioning the President’s authority to kill terrorists, as some of my an-cap associates were doing last night over my neocon-like objections), it may be time to take my whole fusionism project up a notch and see how many oddballs I can get on the same page.

Setting up those Brooklyn Forum events – and streamlining this blog – should help a bit.  Expect fewer posts (here as well as on Facebook and Twitter) – and fewer e-mails, for those of you unfortunate enough to suffer those on a near-daily basis in the past – during the transition, followed, no doubt, by a new golden age of harmony and understanding, even among jerks. 

•P.S. On a less-personal note, this Tuesday, Oct. 11, will be the next GOP presidential candidates debate (feel free to suggest viewing locations), and with Perry sinking and Cain rising, I just have two observations:

1. If we end up with a Romney/Cain ticket, not only will we have two businessmen on the ticket but the GOP might pick up more New England and black votes than usual, which could be a very good thing long-term.

2. As a bonus, we no doubt get to hear from some interesting racist Mormon conspiracy theorists, since the Mormons at least used to believe (A) that a Mormon president would one day rescue the Constitution and (B) that blackness is a sign of God’s disfavor. 

Indeed, you’d think religious nuts of all kinds would be freaking out about the prospect of a guy named Cain getting into office – and one who’s pushing a plan to influence all commercial activity with his “999” plan.  As a Baptist minister, he’s presumably smart enough not to suggest that this number appear on all traded items...upside down...well, you get the idea.  (Let me remind you I am an atheist and assure you I am joking – and mocking religion is something even Marcotte and I could agree on.)


Anonymous said...

Why don't you pull out the old leather/V for Vendetta superhero outfit and crash the Occupy Wall Street protests?

It would make great comedy and serve your cause.


Todd Seavey said...

I do still have the mask -- supplied by a TimeWarner employee, as it happens -- that I used in that anarcho-capitalist protest several years ago. It's tempting -- and some of my Ron Paul-fan friends are down there, tirelessly educating and bridge-building (and learning the hard way that being an anarchist among socialists doesn't necessarily go over well even if you haven't gotten around yet to saying you're a capitalist).

I'm busy with other stuff and, fittingly, will probably only survey OWS in person if someone pays me to do it (the same noble reason I went to Woodstock '94 in my youth), but I will avoid dismissing the whole phenomenon as readily as some of my more mainstream-conservative acquaintances do -- and I even tweeted a joke slogan Herman Cain can use if he changes tack and goes the fusionist route of trying to appeal to both his fervent (and of course horribly racist) Tea Party following and the Occupy Wall Street people: "We are the 999%!"

There is yet anarchist common ground (as the anarchists at Common Ground might say) to be found. Edmund Burke arguably wrote the first anarchist tract, remember...even if he was joking...but sometimes we joke when we're onto something...