Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Public Square and Little Else

Plexico Gingrich:

Certainly, Liberal Puritans understand on some level that things like mass incarceration are bigger problems for African Americans than the way Ted Rall draws Obama’s nose. Rather than simply making that point, I want to discover why we have so many people who know and care far more about a faux pas on race by public figures than they know or care about the war on drugs. What is so appealing about combing through the public sphere, looking for something to be offended by? What I’m trying to identify is a kind of false morality. A morality which is driven by heavily adolescent impulses, like the desire to elevate oneself by tearing down others and setting parameters for a kind of coolness that allows you to be “in,” while excluding others.

...But what the Puritan really desires of their target is capitulation. For the witch to confess to having sex with the devil. For the racist witch to issue a maudlin apology. Jesus Christ, do we love apologies these days. There’s always a great emphasis on forcing the target to speak certain words, because this is a power trip. The target must allow the Puritans to control them. Even if only for a moment, the target must be their puppet. This is an even greater power rush for them than it might seem, because Puritans have faith in a world where saying is more important than doing. So to force a person to speak their words is a huge power boner.

...And what exactly is the fear, here? It seems like the Atlantic argument, which is the most reasonable of the anti-Rall stuff, begins and ends with, “these drawings superficially resemble racist drawings from 1930 and someone might conceivably find that unpleasant.” There’s no “and…” there. What is the bad thing that this is going to lead to, other than offending people who want to be offended?

Well, I guess the implied consequence is that Rall might accidentally revive the depiction of blacks as subhuman. Then a large number of people might revert to the views that those old caricatures represented. We might see a return to slavery.

But seriously…

Well, our mission is to understand here. And no, the Liberal Puritan doesn’t think slavery will return any more than they think we might see a bunch of holocaust denying history professors at universities. However, we should understand that they live in the world of saying, not in the world of doing. They don’t really care about the prison industrial complex all that much. They’re passionate about whether or not Katy Perry conforms to their rules. These are people who live in and for the public square. They’re much less concerned about what happens in the home, the town hall or the battlefield.

All of this is multiplied on the internet, where what is said pretty much is all of reality. The prison industrial complex doesn’t really exist on the internet. Its victims are nowhere to be found. Katy Perry is all over the place. Also, remember that the underlying motivation for all of this is to feel powerful and important and to do so easily. Thinking about the prison industrial complex is depressing and makes you feel impotent and marginalized. Because even if you elect a black Democrat who rides a wave of populist liberalism, that sort of thing won’t change a bit.

So all of this stuff seems to be greatly magnified online.

Yeah, the internet is paradise for Puritans, liberal or otherwise. Some of the reasons we’ve already touched on.

It’s a world where all that exists, is what is said. It’s a town with a public square and little else.

Right, and this is the preferred mode of existence for the Puritan anyway. Gossip, accusations, naked assertions of their own moral superiority. Rules. Narratives about who is breaking the rules and who is obeying the rules. Stories about who is a hero (them) and who is a villain (whoever they say). Identifying and persecuting, or at least harassing people who defy the rules and refuse to accept the power of the Puritan group. Sitting in judgement as part of that group and feeling powerful and superior.

These activities can comprise the bulk of the existence of an online persona. If you want to, you can do nothing but accuse people of being racist witches without ever having to face them and rarely, if ever, facing any repercussions when you’re wrong. Which is great, since right and wrong aren’t the point.

Mobile ice sheds, piranhas, Puritans, combinations of all three — I haven't seen such a Frankenstein's monster of metaphors since this memorable instance. Nonetheless, I appreciate the points about implied consequences and the game show-like unreality of the twitosphere, where people sit around all day with their hand above a buzzer, ready to shout out Racist! or Misogynist! to earn useless Internet virtue points. Whoa, now my metaphors are running wild.

...Meant to say earlier: seeing the picture of Rall wearing a hammer-and-sickle t-shirt makes me think yeah, I see your point.