Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jonathan Chait is right, sorry

Jonathan Chait's much-discussed New York magazine piece titled Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say created such a spectacle throughout the lefty-internet last month, I momentarily believed there might be a real live discussion about it. SALON appeared to be collectively in shock, and printed Chait-hate pieces every hour for awhile, it seemed. There was a lively hashtag-debate that said it all: #Chaitgate. There are still periodic Two-Minute Hates being blasted at Chait for daring to express this opinion; it was a scandal.


Free speech, free inquiry, demanding the Left explain the disgusting, ineffectual witch-hunting and open provocateur behavior of the past few years... is now regarded as a SCANDAL. Sit down and suck it up, obedient left-leaning androids, or go join the Right. (And you know, I think lots of disgruntled free-speech-purists indeed might choose to do that, but now I am getting ahead of myself.)

Most of the response to Chait was the same response I got when I mentioned Engels in an old Tumblr discussion: White hetero privileged guy! Bleat, bleat, bleat, WHITE HETERO PRIVILEGED GUY!

That's the response.

That's their WHOLE REPLY. That's IT.

None of these self-appointed "social justice activists" [1] (aka SJWs) actually explain WHY or HOW Chait's piece radiates or replicates whiteness or maleness, as (for example) James Baldwin or Kate Millett did in their social criticism. That requires actually engaging with the text. To some of the SJWs, the words of certain genders or races are automatically inferior and do not even rate direct replies. (And what does THAT remind me of? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.) In a recent discussion, I deliberately centered old people in my responses [2] and asked what SJWs thought when a certain historic event occurred (I was fully aware most hadn't even been born yet) and they instantly became furious. Thus, we see, some groups are worthy of being "centered"--and some are clearly not. [3]

In other words, if I just mindlessly bleated "you're young! you're young!" to END a discussion, in this same fashion? I'd be laughed at. It doesn't work for everybody, only for those with properly-trendy identities. (PS: Many young Jews are learning that in social justice circles, they do not have a trendy identity, as Christians also do not.)

From Chait's piece:
After political correctness burst onto the academic scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it went into a long remission. Now it has returned. Some of its expressions have a familiar tint, like the protesting of even mildly controversial speakers on college campuses. You may remember when 6,000 people at the University of California–Berkeley signed a petition last year to stop a commencement address by Bill Maher, who has criticized Islam (along with nearly all the other major world religions). Or when protesters at Smith College demanded the cancellation of a commencement address by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, blaming the organization for “imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.” Also last year, Rutgers protesters scared away Condoleezza Rice; others at Brandeis blocked Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s-rights champion who is also a staunch critic of Islam; and those at Haverford successfully protested ­former Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who was disqualified by an episode in which the school’s police used force against Occupy protesters.

At a growing number of campuses, professors now attach “trigger warnings” to texts that may upset students, and there is a campaign to eradicate “microaggressions,” or small social slights that might cause searing trauma. These newly fashionable terms merely repackage a central tenet of the first p.c. movement: that people should be expected to treat even faintly unpleasant ideas or behaviors as full-scale offenses. Stanford recently canceled a performance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson after protests by Native American students. UCLA students staged a sit-in to protest microaggressions such as when a professor corrected a student’s decision to spell the word indigenous with an uppercase I — one example of many “perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies.” A theater group at Mount Holyoke College recently announced it would no longer put on The Vagina Monologues in part because the material excludes women without vaginas. These sorts of episodes now hardly even qualify as exceptional.

Trigger warnings aren’t much help in actually overcoming trauma — an analysis by the Institute of Medicine has found that the best approach is controlled exposure to it, and experts say avoidance can reinforce suffering. Indeed, one professor at a prestigious university told me that, just in the last few years, she has noticed a dramatic upsurge in her students’ sensitivity toward even the mildest social or ideological slights; she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma — or, more consequentially, violating her school’s new sexual-harassment policy — merely by carrying out the traditional academic work of intellectual exploration. “This is an environment of fear, believe it or not,” she told me by way of explaining her request for anonymity. It reminds her of the previous outbreak of political correctness — “Every other day I say to my friends, ‘How did we get back to 1991?’ ”

But it would be a mistake to categorize today’s p.c. culture as only an academic phenomenon. Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.

It also makes money. Every media company knows that stories about race and gender bias draw huge audiences, making identity politics a reliable profit center in a media industry beset by insecurity. A year ago, for instance, a photographer compiled images of Fordham students displaying signs recounting “an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” The stories ranged from uncomfortable (“No, where are you really from?”) to relatively innocuous (“ ‘Can you read this?’ He showed me a Japanese character on his phone”). BuzzFeed published part of her project, and it has since received more than 2 million views. This is not an anomaly.

In a short period of time, the p.c. movement has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular. “All over social media, there dwell armies of unpaid but widely read commentators, ready to launch hashtag campaigns and circulate Change.org petitions in response to the slightest of identity-politics missteps,” Rebecca Traister wrote recently in The New Republic.
For sure, let's not forget the wages of sin: blogswarms, mass defriendings, social isolation, flaming, the spreading of inaccurate rumors, doxxing, streams of sicko emails, etc etc. This shit has real-life consequences. (I once got this treatment over ONE QUESTION--not even a statement!-- in a post.) It is disgusting, evil, bullying behavior, and there is NO DEFENSE from anyone who imagines themselves about social justice. Social justice is not about threatening to torture people, in case you didn't know.

Chait continues:
Social media, where swarms of jeering critics can materialize in an instant, paradoxically creates this feeling of isolation. [Hanna Rosin commented] “You do immediately get the sense that it’s one against millions, even though it’s not.” Subjects of these massed attacks often describe an impulse to withdraw.

Political correctness is a term whose meaning has been gradually diluted since it became a flashpoint 25 years ago. People use the phrase to describe politeness (perhaps to excess), or evasion of hard truths, or (as a term of abuse by conservatives) liberalism in general. The confusion has made it more attractive to liberals, who share the goal of combating race and gender bias.

But political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.
And this is a major reason why its wrong--this demand for perfection is never directed at the enemy. It is always directed at other leftists and allies.

In this way, it is counter-productive and makes the Right stronger. As Chait says,
Under p.c. culture, the same idea can be expressed identically by two people but received differently depending on the race and sex of the individuals doing the expressing. This has led to elaborate norms and terminology within certain communities on the left. For instance, “mansplaining,” a concept popularized in 2008 by Rebecca Solnit, who described the tendency of men to patronizingly hold forth to women on subjects the woman knows better — in Solnit’s case, the man in question mansplained her own book to her. The fast popularization of the term speaks to how exasperating the phenomenon can be, and mansplaining has, at times, proved useful in identifying discrimination embedded in everyday rudeness. But it has now grown into an all-purpose term of abuse that can be used to discredit any argument by any man. (MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry once disdainfully called White House press secretary Jay Carney’s defense of the relative pay of men and women in the administration “man­splaining,” even though the question he responded to was posed by a male.) Mansplaining has since given rise to “whitesplaining” and “straightsplaining.” The phrase “solidarity is for white women,” used in a popular hashtag, broadly signifies any criticism of white feminists by nonwhite ones.

If a person who is accused of bias attempts to defend his intentions, he merely compounds his own guilt. (Here one might find oneself accused of man/white/straightsplaining.) It is likewise taboo to request that the accusation be rendered in a less hostile manner. This is called “tone policing.” If you are accused of bias, or “called out,” reflection and apology are the only acceptable response — to dispute a call-out only makes it worse. There is no allowance in p.c. culture for the possibility that the accusation may be erroneous. A white person or a man can achieve the status of “ally,” however, if he follows the rules of p.c. dialogue. A community, virtual or real, that adheres to the rules is deemed “safe.” The extensive terminology plays a crucial role, locking in shared ideological assumptions that make meaningful disagreement impossible.
Read the comments, boys and girls. There is NO argument about the accuracy of ANY of these outrageous stories of censorship.... just a torrent of self-satisfied white guys streaming forward to brag that they can "handle it" and aren't "threatened" the way Chait is. There is absolutely NO discussion about whether this mode of "take no prisoners" discourse is decent or self-destructive behavior for the Left to engage in, just that THEY are cool about it all. Chait's piece provided the perfect opportunity for a veritable TORRENT of strutting, unbridled narcissism from the "social justice activists" -- as they all congratulated each other for not being like him and not agreeing with him... or if they did agree with him, they tried to make it sound like they didn't.

I have been so upset by the invasion of the Left by these fascist wannabes, that I have lost considerable sleep over it. I have considered not bothering at all, leaving the net entirely to the bullies. Only my sheer stubbornness keeps me coming back.

And I know I am not the only one. Chait reports--
“It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing,” confessed the progressive writer Freddie deBoer. “There are so many ways to step on a land mine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.” [Michelle] Goldberg wrote recently about people “who feel emotionally savaged by their involvement in [online feminism] — not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists.”
And is that what we want the Left to be? The land of the Thought Police?

How on earth can we arrive at solutions if we are not allowed to discuss anything?


As one on liberal talk radio in the most conservative county in the USA, I can't use esoteric internet political in-group terminology and expect the local Baptists to understand me. Further, as an older person, I frequently use unfashionable or antiquated words. This crime alone, in the current hyped-up politically-correct climate, is enough to get a well-meaning but unsuspecting newcomer savaged [4], as I have witnessed numerous times. Once the social justice police have applied the Mark of Cain, it means anything the stigmatized say (or any political event we report on) is either attacked relentlessly or totally ignored. Remember the early internet, where people argued for days at a time? Where minds were actually CHANGED? (and mine was one, so I know) Well, that's all over now. Many once-lively, fun places are now just battlegrounds where no ideas or nuance can be seriously developed or mulled over [5]. For example, the once-exciting FEMINISTE blog is now mostly a place for trans women to police cis women for various ideological crimes; a blog that once might have hundreds of comments per thread, now routinely gets 3-10 per thread, if that. Reddit calls the political correctness situation "Metareddit Cancer" (since it has spread to the moderators). And as Chait reminds us, this phenomenon now extends to powerful news organizations; The New York Times and CNN both censored the Charlie Hebdo cover with the drawing of Mohammed, showing themselves to be craven cowards, and giving the terrorists exactly the censorship they demanded. (No negotiation with terrorists, huh? Major news organizations excepted!)

I have become so upset with the Left in this regard, I could barely summon up the strength to blog... I've simply entered my snarky comebacks on Tumblr, enjoyed the cute animals photos (the main reason Tumblr exists) and grumbled. It is Chait and his guts that made me decide to speak up here, now that the smoke has cleared.

He's right. The Left is becoming a cartoon of itself.

And another thing... a message I got from a sister Tumblrite, after another of the fabled arguments in which I was told how dumb I am, how wrong, how bad, please go away. Remember how I once said Women's Movement pioneers are mostly shit on, while Civil Rights pioneers are lauded and praised as precious? (And I wonder what that's like?)

I really don't understand so much about this epidemic of self-righteousness and narcissism (which is what I think characterizes so much of the most extreme PC babbling), and began chatting with another feminist who had some amazing insights (and shall hereby remain anonymous).

She certainly inspired some deep thinking here at DEAD AIR:
The social justice sector may skew younger, because the ethos of instant moral certitude and endless identity-gazing would appeal to adolescents, the profusion of stupid neologisms less offensive to eyes and ears that haven’t known much discourse. It helps my sanity to bear in mind that a lot of these people are 9th and 10th graders who’ve never had a moment of real-world political activity (or offline interaction with the identity communities they claim to represent, for that matter) in their lives. What’s more, many of them probably never will. Because it is a subjective enterprise conducted primarily by those who are privileged to endlessly indulge their subjectivity.

For many reasons, “social justice” cannot be equated with what we would have once called the radical left. I’ve been thinking about your comments on sabotage and agents provocateurs. Sadly, I think very few of them are being paid or otherwise extrinsically motivated. I think most of it is organic and sincere, which is worse.

For the past week or so I’ve been coming across posts warning white people away from police brutality protests because “it’s not about you,” accompanied by extensive instructions for all the self-examination white people should do it rather than join the movement. What a brilliant trick that would be from a deliberate saboteur! But horribly enough it’s absolutely sincere - SJWs who don’t understand that it’s not “about” any of the protestors; who honestly mistake mass protest for an arena for the elaboration and display of identities. Which again, suggests less than robust experience with actual protests.

The emphasis on subjectivity and invisible ideological purity is, I’m sure you realize, the reason they attack people who are “on the same side” - if your subjectivity isn’t PERFECT, you aren’t actually on the same side. They are for the most part just too dumb (or less uncharitably, too naive) to comprehend the opportunity that the endless goalpost-moving and ratcheting up of standards creates for those who are up to no good.
And here is where I remind everyone that there are still wars going on. Obama is seeking further war authorization as we speak. Here is your golden opportunity to GET OFF YOUR DERRIERE and start a real live anti-war movement, instead of a pretend-movement on Tumblr.

Let me know when you are ready for real politics. As long as this extended silliness continues, I will treat it as the mindless din that it is.

I have serious work to do.


[1] I put quotes around the term since this is what they call themselves, even though as I have pointed out before, the vast majority have actually done NO activism at all. (Asking for a resume is a good way to shut them up and call out the hypocrisy.) "SJW" is nothing more than a label and requires no one do anything risky in real life, otherwise we wouldn't have 2-3 wars going on at once, apparently without missing a beat or noticing this imperialism enough to even remark about it on their extra-special SJW sites... let alone actually attempt to, you know, STOP THE WARS.

[2] Social justice activists habitually claim they are "centering" this or that oppressed group and therefore do not have to argue with any political criticism on the opposite side of the divide. So, I decided to use this tactic myself as an old person, and re-center baby-boomer experience.

And I guess you know how well THAT went over.

[3] I was told that I am too old to be on Tumblr, and that it is automatically "suspect" (!) when any older person is there. Also: "ageism is not a thing"--yes, I swear, these two statements came from the SAME PERSON. But in short, treating old people like shit is still fine, same as it ever was. Somehow, age has not entered that sacrosanct category of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and all the other social justice status-labels.

[4] It has been deemed "racist" to use the word "savage"--even as a verb. I tell them: stop doing it, I'll stop using the word. What other words do you prefer? Barbarism? Bullying?

I am committed to bringing back the word McCARTHYISM.

[5] When I asked some critical questions of anti-sex-work feminists, it was assumed (with a nasty, snarky vibe) that I must think sex work is fabulous and great. Um, no, I don't, I just think sex workers need basic protections from arrests and harassment. It was then decided that I must believe women are "empowered" by sex work (language I don't even use!) ... In short, SJWs assume everyone is sharply PRO or CON (meaning: their very limited version of PRO and CON positions, usually a rehash of what they've seen on CNN or something)...they never see political positions as evolving, undecided, nuanced, changing, learning... which is where the vast majority of people live out their political realities on a day-to-day basis.

The SJWs live on Planet Certainty, and most people don't. Further, most people aren't sure they want to live there.

And on that note, let me clarify: JUST BECAUSE I AGREE WITH JONATHAN CHAIT ABOUT THIS SUBJECT, does not mean I agree with everything he says about everything. It seems obvious and ridiculous to have to say such a thing, but in the climate we are describing, it is required. If you like a blog post, its obvious you must love the author and love everything they say (see above)-- so you are accountable for something they wrote in 2006 too.