Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dead Air Church: How we've changed, continued

Blast from the past: Counter-demonstrators at the Democratic Convention in New York in 1980, were given this handy-dandy "non-delegates handbook"--which looked a lot like the official delegate-guide issued to Democratic delegates. (Us scroungy types didn't have to pay the $5; that was for the press, tourists, curious-onlookers and other nosy people who looked like they could afford it.)


I have been arguing with somebody online about Ayn Rand. Why? Good question. I like banging my head against the wall, obviously.

But as one who has spent most of his life reading about politics and not actually DOING, he hasn't actually met too many Objectivists (Ayn Rand followers) in person. A lot of what I know about them, I realize, has been from arguing with them, up close and personal. For example, I remembered an argument with such a person outside the aforementioned Democratic convention. (It is remarkable how their arguments have NOT changed.)

Thus, when my online-opponent accusingly demands CITATIONS!!!???? --I don't have them. I am reporting what "I have heard Randians say" since it IS what I have heard them SAY. In person. Not write. And not online, since (like Ayn Rand herself) these conversations predate the internet. (Thus, to a great many people of ALL political persuasions, this means my account is disqualified from consideration. Pre-internet history is UNRELIABLE!)

And I heard the Randians say all manner of things, including endorsing euthanasia for old and disabled people. They didn't back down from this position or display any shame. Why should they? They would proudly tally up the savings on their pocket calculators and show you the figures. The more horrified you were, the more GLEE they would take in shocking you. Your shock at their selfishness was just more proof of what a bleeding-heart girlie-girl and/or brainwashed sheep you were. (Slight interruption for amusing link: I Was a Teenage Objectivist.)

In remembering this period of history, I sadly realized, its over. The internet has put an end to it. People just don't blurt out world-class wacko things as often as they used to. It's dangerous; they might get quoted and Tweeted on the spot, or find their rants surreptitiously recorded and saved to YouTube for posterity. This is doubly true for writing: A blog post or forum comment can be copied and circulated by the time you visit the restroom and come back and decide to delete it. Google cache strikes again! Screen shots uber alles!

And so, you just don't get that kind of extreme insanity any more, except from the internet trolls, and they don't count. They don't MEAN IT. (Or maybe they DO, but there is simply no way to know for sure.)

I have been perusing Steven Pinker's recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. I haven't exactly been READING it, since I tend to doze off during heavy-science discussions, peppered with data, footnotes and suchlike. But I do perk up when he talks about how animal torture is no longer acceptable (for example), relating a harrowing anecdote about how he once tortured a poor rat to death by accident during a lab experiment. And how that situation simply would not happen now, in the same circumstances.

Pinker's overall concept is that violence is declining. I am skeptical. However, my recent inability to find wacko quotes from Randians (that I KNOW existed back in the day), is a telling testament to his thesis. Hmm. It seems he has a point, and I now have a real-life example of my own: there is less verbal violence and extremism than there used to be. Why? People are held accountable now. You will end up on YouTube! You will end up on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus; your name will be mud. Your boss and your mom and your boyfriend will SEE IT and you will be HELD ACCOUNTABLE in ways your wacko self could never be held accountable back in the day, before the internet, when you could easily dismiss and deny it all.

That's a real, measurable change in our discourse.

Even the existence of anonymous troll-comments means something: it demarcates the limits of what is acceptable, what people WILL take responsibility for saying and signing their names to.

As the Old Testament, well-known for not messing around, warned us: Be sure your sins will find you out!

That verse now seems oddly prophetic, not merely descriptive.


D. said...

There are libertarians/Objectivists on line and some of them have said astoundingly insensitive things. Much of this trove of evidence is on Usenet (now Google Groups) and is difficult to find because searching there requires counterintuitive search terms (a couple of years back I requested a subject I knew existed and Google denied all knowledge; I had to go at it sideways to find it) and lucky guesses.

Sevesteen said...

I'm admittedly not an expert, but it appears that euthanasia would be completely incompatible with Rand's 'no initiation of physical force', one of the major tenets of Objectivism. I'm not doubting that someone claiming to be an objectivist made that statement, but it is rather like Greek Anarchists protesting reduction of government benefits.

Your driver said...

Many years ago I had two different Rand worshippers develop crushes on me. We had mutual friends. One of them was an outright racist who also performed with a blues band. She couldn't understand why I wouldn't "lighten up".
The other one tried to impress me by saying that I was a weak willed collectivist who was capable of nothing greater than working in a steel mill while she was a clearly superior type because she worked at a cheesy chain jewelers at the mall. It seems that people who buy crappy jewelry on credit are superior people because they aspire to greater things and they are not afraid to express their individuality by adorning themselves with "beautiful things".
I have to say that I have intensely, personally disliked almost every Ayn Rand fan I've ever come across. They just seem to be dreadful people.

High Arka said...

Readers glossing over Pinker's use of statistics is what he counts on, Daisy. When you actually check his numbers and methodology, you see that he's doing a cover-up. The essential idea is that if proportionately fewer manly soldiers die in War B, then one doesn't need to bother adding up how many women and children were bombed and starved in determining if War B was worse than War A.

It's interesting to find you suggesting that people are being more careful about their words--you're completely right, of course. But they're essentially saying the same thing. For example, what is the meaningful policy difference between these two political statements:

1) "We must slaughter a certain community to protect the fatherland from harm."

2) "Regrettably, we must keep all options open in dealing with a certain community in order to safeguard our liberties."

They are, of course, the same statement, but dressed up to appeal to two different audiences. The latter audience is more educated in modern political lingo, and while it would be aghast to hear its politicians bluntly suggest slaughter, it pragmatically applauds the updated verbiage.

Internet commentators have learned from their politicians, now, about how to speak more deceptively, and make the same horrific acts sound nicer and cleaner.

For example:

Old Objectivist: "We must starve the weak children to ensure that they do not keep us great people from reaching new heights of glory."

New Objectivist: "Unfortunately, the budget cannot bear the burden of the Complicated Provisional Law Concerning Food Stamps For Poor Children. We'll make the cuts as small as possible."

DaisyDeadhead said...

High Arka: Old Objectivist: "We must starve the weak children to ensure that they do not keep us great people from reaching new heights of glory."

New Objectivist: "Unfortunately, the budget cannot bear the burden of the Complicated Provisional Law Concerning Food Stamps For Poor Children. We'll make the cuts as small as possible."

Quite so... and it is the task of radicals to continually point this out. A thankless task, too... nobody really wants to hear it.

One of the things the Randian, in our discussions, says: repeal the 1964 Civil Rights Act, we are ALL GROWN UP NOW and in post-racist America, we don't need it. Businesses should have the right and the "liberty" to hire who they want and serve who they want. Being branded as racist would be bad for their business, so it will all work out for the best.

When I call this a "return to Jim Crow" and racist, he says I am name-calling and dishonest. But that's how I read that comment, since that would be the end result of such actions. I referred him to THIS POST, about how whites shut down public swimming pools rather than integrate them. Segregating swimming going "private" has been the result. If the Civil Rights act was repealed, I can easily foresee a mass opening-up of segregated PUBLIC swimming pools again, since that is some major profit waiting to happen.

And the case of Maurice's BBQ down near Columbia, proves that racism can indeed be profitable. Small business-owner Maurice put up confederate flag billboards and was taken to task on various national news programs... as a result his business EXPLODED with supporters and sales NATIONWIDE. Of course racism can be profitable. What is he TALKING ABOUT?

But of course, as you say, it SOUNDS reasonable when he says it. All that "liberty" talk plays well in Peoria, as the expression goes. But then when I translate his words as "a return to Jim Crow"--then people recoil, and rightly so.

It is our unpleasant task to translate this stuff.

Thanks for your insightful comment... and thanks to everyone else too!!

Anonymous said...

thought u might enjoy this review of the pinker book, d.