Sunday, February 07, 2016

These People Talk Too Much, Need to Shut 'em Up

Allum Bokhari:

This is another chapter in the left’s long-running war on comments sections, which we have previously covered at Breitbart Tech. Once upon a time, comments sections were welcomed by the left as the a huge leap forward for democracy and free speech.

...The left’s embrace of comments sections lasted only as long as commenters agreed with them. Once the masses started challenging the elites above the comment line, it was only a matter of time before the innate authoritarianism of the regressive left showed itself.

If your Internet persona was born yesterday, you, like Bokhari, might find this to be an occasion for smug self-back-patting. Lefty writers have indeed become boring, predictable, and particularly intolerant of dissent. I attribute this to the old maxim "power makes stupid". Our political discourse these days is dominated by a left-wing obsession with intersectionality, and most prominent writers have committed themselves to circling the wagons and defending the party line. There is nothing surprising about this. People in control of a narrative have no interest in promoting free-thinking which might undermine it. Opponents who are seeking a way back into power can afford to be more heterodox. This is just a structural factor, you might say, not a partisan one.

Which brings us to our time machine, in which we travel back to the days of 2001-2006 when Republicans were in charge of the White House and Congress, and the Iraq war, rather than the taxonomy of gender, was the burning political topic on everyone's mind. If you were in the blogosphere back then, you likely remember, as I do, that right-wing websites were notorious for censoring comments from dissenters, if they even allowed comments at all, which they frequently didn't. Not only that, many prominent right-wing bloggers engaged in what we now know as doxxing, i.e. ferreting out and publishing personal information about hitherto anonymous people. Why, it's almost like there's nothing inherent in partisan identity that makes one side reliably more virtuous than the other. Power makes stupid, and self-serving rationalization is a tool we all reach for when our territory is threatened. Stick around, and you'll surely see the whole charade reverse itself again and again.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Wanna See a Monkey and a Clown Do Semaphore

I've recently read two very interesting pieces about signaling. First, Ryan Murphy:

Second — and it's impossible for any brief excerpt to do it justice — David Chapman:

At the beginning of this page, I asked: “What is ‘Buddhist ethics’ for?” My answer has been that it’s a strategy for advertising yourself as a “good” person—good to work with, hang out with, or have children with. I’ve explained why this strategy worked. I say “worked,” because it no longer does. Various trends I described have progressively lowered Western Buddhism’s signaling value. “Buddhist ethics” isn’t fooling anyone anymore; everyone understands, implicitly, that there’s no such thing. Buddhism isn’t daring and sexy and hip anymore; it’s your batty aunt’s quaint, harmless, old-fashioned hobby. And it has gone from an upper middle class religion to a middle-middle one, and now probably a lower middle one.

Lower middle class people are not losers! There is nothing wrong with lower middle class Buddhism. In fact, the Aro gTér lineage, which I practice, was almost entirely working class in the 1980s, and is still mainly working and lower middle class. I myself am working class by some criteria, and lower middle by some others.

There is nothing wrong with comfortable, simplified, status-quo Buddhism, either! The Consensus impulse to create that was well-motivated and useful. I would like to see different Buddhisms available for all sorts of different people.

By “Buddhism is for losers” I mean that, at this point, saying you are a Buddhist is likely to signal that you are loser in the eyes of many people who, a couple decades ago, would have been impressed. For them, “Buddhist” now means “well-intentioned but ineffectual”; someone who can’t get their stuff together enough to do anything significant or interesting.

What’s dysfunctional is using Buddhism to signal high status if that doesn’t work. That is definitely a loser’s strategy. It was bad enough that Consensus Buddhism was mostly empty posturing. Empty posturing that doesn’t fool anyone is totally pointless.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Chinaman Is Not the Issue Here

Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature...

I asked the Coens to respond to criticisms that there aren’t more minority characters in the film. In other words, why is #HailCaesarSoWhite?

“Why would there be?” countered Joel Coen. “I don’t understand the question. No—I understand that you’re asking the question, I don’t understand where the question comes from.

“Not why people want more diversity—why they would single out a particular movie and say, ‘Why aren’t there black or Chinese or Martians in this movie? What’s going on?’ That’s the question I don’t understand. The person who asks that question has to come in the room and explain it to me.”

As filmmakers, is it important or not important to consciously factor in concerns like diversity, I asked.

“Not in the least!” Ethan answered. “It’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity—or it might not.”

“It’s an absolute, absurd misunderstanding of how things get made to single out any particular story and say, ‘Why aren’t there this, that, or the other thing?’” added Joel. “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how stories are written. So you have to start there and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

He continued: “You don’t sit down and write a story and say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog,’—right? That’s not how stories get written. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything about how stories get written and you don’t realize that the question you’re asking is idiotic."

I already loved the Coens' films anyway. Hearing them tell the philistines in the Aesthetic Affirmative Action Brigade to go fuck themselves without consent is just a sweet, sweet bonus.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Good That We Would, We Do Not


My argument here, of course, is subject to the same critique: by indicting the people who so conspicuously acknowledge their white privilege, I’m setting myself on a higher plane than they are, and thus guilty of the same kind of jockeying for rank on the righteousness hierarchy I’m critiquing. But this merely serves to underscore the problem: anti-racism as mental hygiene is a road that has no ending. The question is whether our goal is to be good or to do good.

The question of what he would have us do about privilege and racism is answered a couple paragraphs earlier, and it's as predictable as you might expect: more affirmative action, more cosmetic diversity in high-status areas. Conservatives, as well as liberals with integrity, have long observed that progressives only care about superficial diversity while demanding ideological conformity. The same people who can't congratulate themselves enough for managing to enjoy the company of people who look different than them will break out into hives if the objects of their patronizing attention should have the unmitigated gall to hold different political opinions from them. If you need to see proof of this in action, just watch how progressives feel perfectly free to use outright racist language toward black conservatives.

Speaking of that endangered species, Shelby Steele has reiterated in several books his conviction that affirmative action is primarily a scheme for restoring white moral authority. By that, he means that such programs have never come close to accomplishing their ostensible goals, but, as always when policies are rooted in emotional need rather than practical results, the failure is ours, not theirs. We didn't try hard enough, we didn't clap loud enough, we need to do it again, this time with feeling. Steele's insightful approach owes much more to psychology than political science — as he describes it, "Whites and American institutions live by a simple formula: lessening moral responsibility for minorities equals moral authority; increasing it equals racism." But, he adds, "White guilt wants no obligation to minority development. It needs only the display of social justice to win moral authority. It gets no credit when blacks independently develop themselves."

In other words, white progressives are primarily concerned with being seen to make amends for the sins of their race in order to regain the authority they always enjoyed, whether they actually make anything better or not. Doing so keeps them in charge of proceedings. Again, note the way in which "diversity" among, say, Supreme Court justices is only a good thing as long as it can be taken for granted that the minority representatives will act in accordance with the political values of the white progressives who make such a false show of stepping aside and renouncing their control. Let someone like Clarence Thomas step into the gap, though, and see how they react. As Steele bitterly summarizes the mentality, "We'll throw you a bone like affirmative action if you'll just let us reduce to to your race so we can take moral authority for 'helping' you. When they called you a nigger back in the days of segregation, at least they didn't ask you to be grateful." Blacks who refuse to agree that white progressives always know best are further humiliated by the indignity of having their opinions belittled, stripped from them, and credited to the racist white conservatives who have supposedly brainwashed them or bought them off. Clearly, if they didn't come to the correct conclusions, they must not know how to think at all. If you're not with us, you can only be an idiot or a whore.

How amusingly ironic, then, that by offering those same old ersatz solutions, Freddie thinks he's escaping the spectacle of white progressives competing to see who can take more responsibility for black uplift. At least the conspicuous anti-racism he's criticizing is safely contained in a social media playpen where its effects on the real world are limited.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Is Our Children Learning?

Sam Kriss:

In general, the hard left tends to be a slow learner; that's why there are still thousands of people who think selling newspapers on university campuses is a productive revolutionary activity.

A return to nice postwar social democracy would be far harder to achieve than the total revolutionary reconstruction of the state. If we're serious about making a better world, the last year should teach us to be not against austerity, but for communism.

In general, the hard left tends to be a slow learner...

If we're serious about making a better world, the last year should teach us to be not against austerity, but for communism.

...the hard left tends to be a slow learner...

...for communism.

A return to nice postwar social democracy would be far harder to achieve than the total revolutionary reconstruction of the state. If we're serious about making a better world, the last year should teach us to be not against austerity, but for communism.

Looking to the Left to See the Right

Cathy Young:

There is a word for ideologies, religious or secular, that seek to politicize and control every aspect of human life: totalitarian. Unlike most such ideologies, SocJus has no fixed doctrine or clear utopian vision. But in a way, its amorphousness makes it more tyrannical. While all revolutions are prone to devouring their children, the SocJus movement may be especially vulnerable to self-immolation: its creed of “intersectionality”—multiple overlapping oppressions—means that the oppressed are always one misstep away from becoming the oppressor. Your cool feminist T-shirt can become a racist atrocity in a mouse-click. And, since new “marginalized” identities can always emerge, no one can tell what currently acceptable words or ideas may be excommunicated tomorrow.

...The social justice movement has many well-meaning followers who want to make the world a better place. But most of its “activism” is little more than a self-centered quest for moral purity.

Irving Howe wrote a viral post identifying the key characteristics of the social justice movement. It was not based on a "politics of common action", because that would require them to make common cause with "saints, sinners and ordinary folk"; rather, it was a "gesture of moral rectitude" designed to set them apart from this fallen world. But none of them actually believe in the possibility of Marxist-style revolution, Howe wrote, and combined with their unrealistic standards and demands, there's nothing left for these would-be radicals to do but maintain "a distinct personal style". Howe noted how strikingly often these fundamentalist preachers of privilege-checking were themselves the privileged offspring of the white middle-class, and fretted over their radical zeal to jettison everything valuable in their Western heritage in the process of striving for "a mode of personal differentiation" in which style becomes "the very substance of revolt".

Now, alert readers, having clicked through the link already, will have noticed that I was funnin' with them a bit. Irving Howe was actually an anti-Stalinist leftist critic, and his essay "New Styles in 'Leftism'" was written in 1965. To go ahead and put a fine point on it, nothing significant has changed about these people in over fifty years. They're still using the same counter-productive tactics that their parents (or even grandparents) were using, still trying to extract ore from the same exhausted vein of narcissistic identity politics. Envisioning themselves in the moral vanguard, they're blind to the ways they're bound by thoughtless tradition. Believing themselves too clever to learn from history, they're oblivious to how their radicalism follows the cyclical whims of fashion. Desiring a world filled with culture wars of liberation, they find themselves within shrinking horizons, isolated and constrained by atavistic tribal enmity.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Moon Yields to a Sober Sun

It was a long night for everyone
The moon yields to a sober sun
And her virgin light

Can't unsee the things I saw
Fallen devils, false gods
In the violet light

Was it always this magnificent?
'Cause it feels so different
In the morning light

Wasn't ready for what I'd find
Whatever it is has turned the knife
It was a long, long night

— Guster, "Long Night"

Nick Cohen:

In the past, people would head to the exits saying, ‘Better the centre right than the far left.’ Now they can say ‘better the centre right than the far right’. The shift of left-wing thought towards movements it would once have denounced as racist, imperialist and fascistic has been building for years. I come from a left-wing family, marched against Margaret Thatcher and was one of the first journalists to denounce New Labour’s embrace of corporate capitalism — and I don’t regret any of it. But slowly, too slowly I am ashamed to say, I began to notice that left-wing politics had turned rancid.

...In the years since What’s Left was published, I have argued that the likes of Corbyn do not represent the true left; that there are other worthier traditions opposed to oppression whether the oppressors are pro-western or anti-western. I can’t be bothered any more. Cries of ‘I’m the real left!’, ‘No I’m the real left!’ are always silly. And in any case, there is no doubt which ‘real left’ has won.

Laetitia Strauch-Bonart:

Encompassing all those thinkers under the umbrella of the New Left is inevitably limiting and doesn’t capture all the nuances of their thoughts. Some are Marxists, others Structuralists or Keynesians, still others sui generis. But they have many features in common, the first being that they represent everything that a conservative like Scruton dislikes. They have inherited from the Old Left an enduring quest for liberty and equality, without any acceptance of the possible contradictions between them. They interpret all institutions as features of domination and oppression, and their purpose is always to change everything. They see the state as the main instrument for the new order “that will rectify the ancient grievance of the oppressed”. For them, politics is everything while civil society or the rule of law doesn’t interest them much. They are utterly negative: they are often filled with resentment.

...It explains also why the New Left still manages to attract people despite the lessons of experience. It is because its ideal is not supposed to be realised: it is here to be dreamed about, and so never to be questioned. These thinkers will never describe anything practical that they wish to achieve.

...I don’t see how the New Left faithful can answer all the arguments deployed in these pages. But they are rarely asked to defend any of their views, as their prose has often been taken for granted, at least in the intellectual arena. Conservatives are always asked to justify their conception of life, to defend what already exists. The Left is rarely asked to do so, even though it wants to disrupt many things — including things that are cherished by ordinary people. Scruton has struggled with this paradox his whole life, but it is also what gives his work its exceptional character: he argues when others have left the battlefield or don’t see the point of entering it. To argue, he has to engage with the texts of his opponents, and to recognise where he agrees and disagrees with them. He argues in favour of conservative answers to the claims of the New Left, and not everyone will agree. But at least he has read his opponents, and I don’t think the contrary is true.

Ever since I read Russell Jacoby's book The End of Utopia a few years ago, I've been fascinated with the ontology of leftism. What's it all about? How has it changed over the centuries? What does it actually mean to call yourself a liberal or leftist anymore?

As always, the answer is, "It depends." I think there are certain bedrock positions that can be identified, but that's not the sort of discussion suited for this environment. At any rate, from my perspective as an American in the early 21st century, the distinctions are now more cultural than political. Most partisans are uninterested in logical quibbles over the finer points of philosophy; they're only concerned with signaling their membership in the tribe of right-thinking people. But as Cohen remarked in a different piece, it's simply untrue that you can differentiate between the righteous and the wicked based on their positions in the culture wars. Many conservatives are good, reasonable people. Many liberals and leftists are dogmatic fanatics. Both sides have been right and wrong about major issues. Political philosophy doesn't translate neatly into modern-day partisan politics in a two-party system. People are complex; t'was always thus. If these truisms sound odd to you, it's only because you've spent too long locked inside your media silo.

Of course, the condition of ''not being affected by issue [x]'' is in fact a lubricant fluid like oil in an engine: often beneath notice until the day it makes its absence known

The thing is, to see the truth of what people like Cohen and Bonart/Scruton are saying here, it's not necessary to monogamously embrace something called "conservatism"; it's enough to simply get over what Christina Hoff Sommers accurately called "the liberal fear of looking conservative". Of all the counterfeit pieces of intellectual currency being passed around online, one of the most common is the idea that liberals, throughout history, have always been in favor of whatever is good and beneficial, and conservatives have uniformly resisted changing anything, no matter how obviously broken or corrupt it is. If you don't agree with us as to the nature and severity of this problem, if you aren't willing to give us a blank check to "fix" it as we see fit, and if you are starting to suspect that we'll never be content with anything less than an unreal perfection, well, you must be one of them. Like a lot of people, I've merely encountered this fanatical attitude often enough to immunize me against its manipulative tactics.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Nothing Actual

Clement Knox:

Far from being a Vernichtungskrieg waged without mercy upon the hallowed figures of the left-wing intellectual canon, this is a remarkably evenhanded hatchet job, with Scruton staying true to the promise made in the foreword “to explain what is good in the authors I review as well as what is bad.” This commendable sense of fairness might leave some readers who came expecting blood somewhat peeved.

...Whatever one’s politics, one cannot help but admire Scruton’s willingness to subject himself to tome after tome of New Left verbiage. Some of the passages he quotes from Lacan and Deleuze are astonishingly abstruse. However, he does not excerpt them merely in order to hold them up to ridicule, but so that he can translate them, consider their merits, and then deliver his verdict. Many conservative critics would skip the first two stages; most, I imagine, would not even bother to read Lacan in the first place.

I read Scruton's book last week, and I concur. Not only was it impressively informative, the man has such a delightfully poetic way with a simile, a metaphor, a flowing paragraph. Here's my favorite examples:

"The promise of full communism is a noumenal promise, a ghostly beckoning from the Kingdom of Ends."

"(Habermas) has continued to receive accolades for books that have achieved a rare prestige in Germany, and which are printed in luxury editions for the better class of living room. Few people have read these books from cover to cover; few of those who have read them remember what they say. Nevertheless, with somewhat greater frequency than the lines of Shakespeare that fall from the monkey's typewriter, interesting ideas surface in the great waste-paper basket of Habermas's prose..."

"It is true that the metaphysical idiom of 'subject' and 'object' revitalized the rhetoric of socialism — to such an extent that 'reification' became an important cult word during May 1968 in Paris. But the subsequent discussions of the term in the New Left Review added nothing to the rhetoric except pseudo-theory: a morose prowling of the intellect around an inexplicable shrine."

"Lukács here displays the Stalinist method in its essential vacuity. With the stupid allusion to de Sade he is able to dismiss all Western political institutions in a single gesture, and to return to his favored terrain of brutalizing dichotomies: capitalism versus socialism, reaction versus revolution, bourgeois versus proletarian, Lukács versus the enemy. Safe behind such tangled barbed wire, Lukács continued to ruminate..."

"At this point a certain liturgical quality enters the writings of the Frankfurters. Incantations are uttered against the 'bourgeois' order and the thinking that stems from it, but in a changed tone of voice, indicating the proximity of mystery. Language changes character from the voice of critical theory to the exorcist's spell."

"Tedium is the vehicle of an abstract authority, and the reader waits in the corridors of Habermas's prose like a petitioner to whom truth has been promised, albeit only abstractly, on a document that is perhaps already out of date."

"As is surely apparent from that instance, the scientific idiom is no more than a twitch: a new rubber stamp which Habermas has not quite got the hang of and which he applies upside down."

"The ritual deference to Marxism is not a conclusion of the argument, which has no real conclusion, although it wheezes at a certain point to a halt."

"The axioms of Marxist theory appear in Althusser's prose like blinding flashes of total darkness, within clouds of grey on grey. This 'darkness visible' is like a photographic negative, and Althusser intimates that there is a process that will reverse it, changing light into dark and nonsense into sense. Read Capital, he insists, look on this text, look intently at it, hold it upside down, sideways, high in the air, but don't let your eyes stray from it. Then, and only then, will the great reversal occur."

"This passage indicates the ponderous, suspicion-laden circularity of Althusser's prose, which goes round and round monotonously on its own heels, like a lunatic trapped in an imaginary cage."

"It is a well-known difficulty for the materialist theory of history that, taken seriously, it seems to deny the efficacy of intellectual labor, to dismiss it as a mere epiphenomenon, a nebulous offshoot of processes over which it asserts no real influence. It is of the first importance, therefore, to give a role to 'intellectual labor' in the 'material conditions' of existence, so making it a genuine 'motive force' in history, unlike the mere 'ideology' of the bourgeois enemy. Hence the distinction between science and ideology: my thought is science, yours is ideology; my thought is Marxist (since only Marxism penetrates the veil of ideology), yours is 'idealist'; my thought is proletarian (Lukács), yours is bourgeois; my thought belongs to the 'material conditions' of production, and can be called 'theoretical praxis', your thought belongs to the false consciousness that arises like a cloud above the place where history is made. My thought is at work in the factory; yours is puffed from the chimney and dissolves into air."

"For Althusser the enemies of theoretical practice are all 'empiricists', characterized by their belief in 'abstraction'. This accusation is fired at the rationalist Descartes, the absolute idealist Hegel, and Kant, the greatest critic of empiricism. All are gathered in a common grave."

"Within Althusser's linguistic redoubt the opponent does not exist except as the darkly defined enemy, whose identity can be guessed by the boundaries from which Althusser's thought recoils into itself, undefeated, because untried in combat."

"Deleuze sometimes comes down a notch or two, in order to explain himself to the ordinary reader. But he does so in an endless stream of abstractions, from which all reference to concrete reality and the flow of human life has been removed. He does not argue, but encloses his key words in fortified boxes, which he firmly locks against all questioning before throwing the key away."

"The reader is being granted brief glimpses of a store of hidden knowledge, to which the authors have the only key. The exultant tone, which one might read as a sign of a mental disorder, shows total confidence in the revelation, displayed like a tantalizing ankle beneath a burqa."

"The monsters of unmeaning that loom in this prose attract our attention because they are built from forgotten theories, forged together in weird and ghoulish shapes, like gargoyles made from the debris of a battlefield. And always the gargoyles are sticking out their tongues at the bourgeoisie."

"But (fascism and communism) resemble each other in all other aspects, and not least in their public art, which displays the same kind of bombast and kitsch — the same attempt to change reality by shouting at the top of the voice."

"Thus to the realist who asks how, in this society of the future, conflicts are to be accommodated or resolved, Gramsci has no reply. The communist shares with the fascist an overriding contempt for opposition. The purpose of politics is not to live with opposition, but to remove it — to achieve the condition in which opposition no longer exists. The question of opposition is, though, the single most important issue in politics. Conflicts between individuals lead, by free association, to conflicts between groups to rivalries and factions that will inevitably express themselves in competitions for power. How is that competition to be managed? In particular, how is the Communist Party to respond to opposition to its rule? The Leninist prediction is that there will be no opposition, and in a sense that prediction was verified when the opposition disappeared. What else was the Cheka for?"

"The jargon here is that of a writer who has imprisoned his thought in language over which he exerts no intellectual control. While we can all guess what follows from this — that the categories of 'art' and 'the aesthetic' belong integrally to capitalist modes of production, and that they come into prominence with the manufacture of commodities for exchange — it follows with the logic of ritual, and not with the logic of argument. Only the emotional tension of the prose reminds us of the writer, shaking his fist on a dwindling horizon, as the boat of history sails out to sea."

"To rewrite bourgeois history in Marxese, as Anderson has done, is like rewriting a Haydn sonata movement with a continuous drum-roll on the dominant, so that all is infected by a premonition of catastrophe and nothing quite resolves."

"If Thompson proved occasionally so disturbing to the New Left, it is partly because of his ability to clear away the ideological junk that had been piled against the doors where such facts might enter."

"The curious thing, however, is that this woolly-minded subjectivism goes with a vigorous censorship. Those who put consensus in the place of truth quickly find themselves distinguishing the true from the false consensus. And inevitably the consensus is 'on the left'. Just why that should be so is a question that I am trying in this book to answer."

"For a while it seemed as though the whole revolutionary program was at an end...But it was just at this moment, at the turn of the twenty-first century, that the monster began to stir in the depths. And when it rose from the sea of our complacency, it spoke as Marx and Sartre had spoken, in the language of metaphysics. It pushed aside the tinsel of the consumer culture, to appear in its primordial guise, intruding into the world of phenomena like Erda in Das Rheingold, as the voice of Being itself." (Thus begins the chapter on Badiou and Zizek.)

"They suck the being from whatever they latch upon, leaving only the withered forms of destroyed reality, as they rise on vulture wings toward their next assignment. At one point Badiou, having picked up the music of Dutilleux and dropped it writhing to the ground, refers to the 'terror of the matheme'. Maybe that is what he has in mind."

"Indeed, if there were no greater reason to regret the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the release of Zizek onto the world of Western scholarship would perhaps already be a sufficient one."

And here's the first page of the final chapter:

Question-Beggars Can't Be Choosers

Anil Dash:

How do we fix it? Simple: Hold platforms accountable. Whether it’s a big news publisher or a large social network, if we’re sharing information or ideas on a platform and are immediately overrun by abuse that threatens to silence smart conversation or the potential for meaningful connections to be made, put the burden on the platform. Instead of “Never read the comments”, we can simply say the name of the publisher, owner or CEO of the site in question, and then mention that they don’t want to invest in solving abuse on their site. If we’re being charitable, we can say they simply haven’t invested enough in preventing abuse.

But either way, the solution is about sharing the pain of online harassment with those who have the resources and the power to prevent it before it starts. Right now our tendency is to treat it like a joke, so there’s no wonder why those in charge, who don’t face the abuse dished out from the communities they host, treat online abuse like a joke too.

Well, it may be simple to invent a new slogan, but despite Dash's false advertising, it's far from clear what, exactly, tech CEOs are supposed to do to prevent people from behaving badly online. No, wait, let me amend that. The obvious implication is that commenting online should require one to provide all sorts of verifiable real-life information up front, while agreeing that anything you say can and most certainly will be used against you in the kangaroo court of public opinion. The fact that Dash avoids spelling this out explicitly is probably just due to the unpalatable optics of doing so.

I thought it was bizarre last year when Choire Sicha, in a review of Jon Ronson's book about public shaming, whined that the real problem was that tech companies aren't doing enough to protect women from being harassed online. Now, I'm seeing this as a symptom of what Jonathan Haidt described as a transition between moral cultures — our default option now is to authorize powerful overseers to protect us from all the bad people. And what will we do about the predictable, inevitable abuses of that system? I'm sure there will be a "simple" fix there as well.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

In Conversation No One Ever Remembers, I Start Thinkin' About Life on the Outside

Sean Blanda:

But this holier-than-thou social media behavior is counterproductive, it’s self-aggrandizement at the cost of actual nuanced discourse and if we want to consider online discourse productive, we need to move past this.

The post is fine, as far as it goes. Nothing in it is inaccurate. It would be better if we could all strive to live up to Spinoza's ideal and seek to understand rather than laugh, cry, or hate when confronted by people who disagree with us. But I have become increasingly convinced that the structural factors of social media make it impossible for this to happen. What I mean is, social media, by design, facilitates the absolute worst habits of communication. It's not that any misanthropic villain intended it that way; it's just the cumulative effect of all the individual elements that define the platform. Rapid-fire conversation, between groups of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people, about contentious topics, is bound to end badly. Complaining as if people just need to be disciplined enough to behave themselves online is like wandering into a crowded bar and getting frustrated that you can't start a Socratic dialogue. Nobody is there for that purpose, and even if they were, all the distractions and raucous din make it too difficult. You're misunderstanding the very nature of the social environment. If it's high-minded camaraderie you want, why do you keep hanging out in bars talking to belligerent drunks? And if it's nuanced conversation you want, why do you look for it in an environment populated by people who think within the linguistic limits of text messages?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bourgeois Buffoon

Calvin and Hobbes

Bill Watterson was such a genius, he was satirizing stunningly stupid articles twenty-four years before they even appeared.

A Familiar Motif

In what now has become a familiar motif
Nothing is good enough
For people like you
Who have to have someone take the fall
And something to sabotage
Determined to lose it all
Ladies and gentlemen,
Here's exhibit A... 

Aimee Mann

Kathleen Geier:

For all his political virtues, Sanders has had difficulty connecting his message of economic populism to the other major social justice concerns of the modern left, such race, gender, and sexuality. And unless he overcomes these problems, he will be unable to achieve his goal of expanding beyond his base and sparking a popular mass movement.

His treatment of the reparations issue, on the other hand, is a political cock-up of the first order. Bernie’s first mistake was his failure to engage the reparations issue in any depth. He dismissed reparations as “divisive” and impractical (“its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil”). Though opposing reparations is a defensible position, discussing the issue in such thoughtless and insensitive way is distasteful.

However, politics is not only about walking the walk, it’s also about talking the talk. Unfortunately, when it comes to race and gender issues, Bernie sometimes sounds like who he is: an occasionally clueless 74-year old white guy (witness his language about paid leave as a program that would allow “mothers”—as opposed to parents—to stay home with their kids).

Sanders’s Achilles heel is that because he focuses so singlemindedly on economic inequality, he is not always able to speak to the needs and desires of the modern left, a left that is passionate not only about economic injustice but also about injustices tied to race, gender, and sexual identity and orientation. Today the left urgently needs leaders who are fully comfortable with and fluent in the politics of intersectionality...

Lucubratio (XX)

Phillip Lopate, “Hazlitt on Hating”, To Show and to Tell:

Nature seems (the more we look into it) made up of antipathies: without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions of men. The white streak in our own fortunes is brightened (or just rendered visible) by making all round it as dark as possible, so the rainbow paints its form upon the cloud. Is it pride? Is it envy? Is it force of contrast? Is it weakness or malice? But so it is, that there is a secret affinity, a hankering after evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of satisfaction. Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit. Pain is a bitter-sweet which never surfeits. Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference and disgust: hatred alone is immortal.

We can interpret this passage as representing both Hazlitt’s underlying psychology of human behavior and his aesthetics. From the psychological standpoint, he seems to be saying that the happiness we seek is not arrived at through a cessation in tension but through the proper amount of stimulation, which must be endlessly recalibrated. We go through life like an electromagnetic needle nervously agitating between the undesirable poles of alpha-flat zombie and tortured suffering, trying to find the right voltage of bracingly vivifying pleasure/pain in the middle.