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Justice does not take the shape of punishment eagerly dispensed.
January 6, 2014 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Words, Words, Words: On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism: "There was a time in my life where I took pride in being a 'social justice warrior' on Reddit, ticking the boxes of others' mistakes, missteps, and misspoken words, cruelly scolding people, looking for those who were 'doing it wrong' as a means of validating my own sense of integrity as an activist, as if each person I roasted would be a talisman against the same thing happening to me ever again. It was only when I discovered that I had made someone cry for hours that I took a long step back and asked myself if I was really making the world a better place by doing this."

The new year has inspired soul-searching in several prominent activist bloggers in the trans and queer feminist gaming community, most of it involving bullying in online activist culture. Of course, the behavior in question is not unique to 2013, or the internet.

Previously.
posted by Anyamatopoeia (284 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
She makes some good points but my eyelid is twitching from the excess of writerly embellishments in every sentence. Damn it, it's okay to just say a thing, you don't have to gussy up every phrase.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:01 AM on January 6 [27 favorites]


One of the hallmarks of activism is it's a slow, methodical process. People are typically persuaded (or not) one at a time, rather than en masse. I'm curious to see if this lasts, and how the people involved react over time to continued opposition or apathy.
posted by zarq at 10:03 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]


She makes some good points but my eyelid is twitching from the excess of writerly embellishments in every sentence.

To be fair, the writer self-identifies as an academic.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:04 AM on January 6 [6 favorites]


To be fair, the writer self-identifies as an academic.

Having emerged from the Ivory Tower I can attest to not-a-few academics mercilessly paring back prose with that horrible, keen-edged, blood spilling pen.

Oh God, I can feel their attentions even now
posted by Slackermagee at 10:08 AM on January 6 [17 favorites]


I've thought a lot about this kind of thing. Because on the one hand, I absolutely agree that aggressiveness on behalf of activism is a mistake; but then again, I've also had my moments where I've been all "fuck the whole 'tone argument' accusation snarf growl".

I think what's problematic is that one person's "aggressive" is another person's "assertive", and it's a pretty gray area. Especially when it comes to disenfranchised groups fighting a huge monolithically powerful ruling class or whatever.

Then again - y'know, there are some kinds of aggression under the guise of activism that are just plain mean. And I've whipped out a couple of examples of that here in the blue myself. But deep down, when I did that, I wasn't trying to convince anyone of the validity of my argument - I was having a good all-out rant. And, that's necessary sometimes.

So maybe it comes down to: If you gotta yell to blow off steam, fine. And if you gotta pick at someone to say that they're doing something wrong because you want to prove you know better, fine. The catch is - you are not allowed to call either of those tactics "activism", because....they aren't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:13 AM on January 6 [20 favorites]


What bothers me is the way activists are at their most aggressive against those who are, or should be, broadly allies, over minor distinctions of orthodoxy. It is easier to rip someone a new one when they're a) close enough to you in spirit for their guard to be down, and b) likely to understand your language and feel even your subtlest barbs acutely. I see it as an ugly way for frustrated people to score cheap victories when the hard and useful ones elude them.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:16 AM on January 6 [122 favorites]


Having emerged from the Ivory Tower I can attest to not-a-few academics mercilessly paring back prose with that horrible, keen-edged, blood spilling pen.

Sounds like they missed a sentence.
posted by Edgewise at 10:17 AM on January 6 [9 favorites]


My sister, who spends a lot of time online, seems to think that most hardcore feminists and trans activists literally want to kill all men and/or cis people, and that they spend all their time getting mad over nothing at all. So now she thinks activism equals whining about nothing of importance, and that activists think she should die so why should she respect them?

On the one hand, that's a super dumb thing for her to think, but on the other hand, she got that idea from people actually saying those things (mostly on Tumblr).

I spent a long time trying to explain to her that these people were speaking from a place of anger and disenfranchisement and so on, but I'm not sure how much of a difference it made. It sucked.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:17 AM on January 6 [33 favorites]


showbiz_liz: "I spent a long time trying to explain to her that these people were speaking from a place of anger and disenfranchisement"

... and insecurity. Not that those particular groups are particularly insecure, but they are populated with people, and people by and large are insecure. Many insecure people lash out, revealing those insecurities and suppressed anger and fears, when they believe they aren't going to suffer personal repercussions.

Flipping the bird at the cop while driving by, and his back is turned? Super-easy and fun! Yay for me; I stood up to The Man!

Wittily attacking someone online with vicious words? Boy, that feels good. Almost for a second there as if I hadn't suffered "a thousand cuts" in my lifetime that I was powerless to avoid.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:25 AM on January 6 [7 favorites]


I wish we could talk about clean fights.... I think that it is possible to call for improved discourse without tone policing, though I don’t think it is easy. I will say this: the question of tone is somewhat different today than it was when the term ‘tone policing’ was first coined. Our discussions are largely not happening in closed settings. They are publicly viewable by all. Even when people aren’t subtweeting you, arguments automatically feel uncomfortable because someone is talking about you and to you at the same time. This means that one person’s tone will influence the feelings of hundreds of other people.

I really do think the vilification of tone policing is where it all went wrong. An assumption set in that the only reason anyone would bring up tone was as an underhanded way to attack an argument. But it's not. Tone matters. When your relationships are largely mediated by rhetoric, rhetorical violence is violence, and violence destroys.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:26 AM on January 6 [41 favorites]


That's a pretty darn good essay.

I hope it takes... Tumblr/SJW internet culture is as toxic and irrational as any I've ever personally encountered. My faith in the basic rationality of humankind convinces me that it will be forced to reform itself or be even further marginalized. So I've never really doubted that it would eventually vanish in a puff of (il)logic...

It may be worth nothing that basically all the major points in this essay have been made before, often by members of the groups so hated by the T/SJWs... It's not like any of this was hard to see, nor any of the points esoteric. It's all immediately obvious as soon as you encounter the stuff. It's really unfortunate that so many people are immersed in the racism/sexism/etc. of extreme identity politics that it's virtually a cornerstone of their world view that ad hominem arguments about the speaker's race, sex etc. are valid...and so unfortunate that they were unable to recognize the validity of the criticisms when they came from people they assumed to be white or male or whatever... But this might constitute a step in the right direction, anyway.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:27 AM on January 6 [9 favorites]


I think what's problematic is that one person's "aggressive" is another person's "assertive", and it's a pretty gray area. Especially when it comes to disenfranchised groups fighting a huge monolithically powerful ruling class or whatever.

I think what's problematic is that what to reasonable people is "being a huge jerk" is, to many self-involved activists, "assertiveness". Especially when it comes to people who have decided that their identity entitles them to be a huge jerk to anyone who they identify as part of an "oppressor" identity, and to make incredibly nasty generalizations about entire groups of people that they've decided are their oppressor.

People who think their politics entitles them to be nasty to other people based on identity, people who think their politics entitles them to make shitty generalizations about whole groups of people, they are not activists, they are assholes.

This piece doesn't go far enough. It's way too forgiving, and way too laden with the same babble that tumblr and twitter radicals use to justify the way they've turned online radical politics into a bratty high school clique.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:29 AM on January 6 [29 favorites]


I have been one of those who lashes out too quickly, who uses the "tone policing" argument to excuse my anger, and who alienates possible allies as a result. I was recently compared to Hamas for the apparently extremist way in which I asked someone not to use the word "tranny". That was a moment that spurred a lot of self-relflection for me, even while I made light of it to friends aware of the situation.

Like EmpressCallipygos says, it's a grey area - I don't want to work to hide my anger, and I don't think it's right to say that someone's point isn't valid because they express it with an angry tone, but at the same time people are dismissing the entire social justice movement because of the loudest, angriest voices. I can't deny that my own anger and vitriol has made enemies of my causes where perhaps I could've made allies. That's a hard thing to face up to.

But it's also hard to know where the line is. To use an analogy that I fear might get me in trouble, social justice movements need MLKs and Malcolm Xs - and the reason those two men were separate people is because it's so difficult to embody their tactics at the same time. Maybe impossible in the real world, and only workable on the internet because of the liquid nature of online identity. But we're just at the beginning of using this tool to shift between those two poles, and we're making mistakes.

I hope it those mistakes don't damage the social justice movement long-term.
posted by aedison at 10:31 AM on January 6 [13 favorites]


What bothers me is the way activists are at their most aggressive against those who are, or should be, broadly allies, over minor distinctions of orthodoxy. It is easier to rip someone a new one when they're a) close enough to you in spirit for their guard to be down, and b) likely to understand your language and feel even your subtlest barbs acutely. I see it as an ugly way for frustrated people to score cheap victories when the hard and useful ones elude them.

Some people who fashion themselves to be allies really aren't. TERFs: not allies. Hugo Schwyzer: not an ally. Intersectionality isn't a made up thing.

On the one hand, that's a super dumb thing for her to think, but on the other hand, she got that idea from people actually saying those things (mostly on Tumblr).

I'm willing to bet that 100% of those things were not said seriously.

Tumblr/SJW internet culture is as toxic and irrational as any I've ever personally encountered.

More toxic than AVFM or Mens Right's Edmonton? More toxic than FreeRepublic?

so many people are immersed in the racism/sexism/etc. of extreme identity politics

I didn't realize eyeballs were physically capable of doing full 360 degree rolls.
posted by kmz at 10:34 AM on January 6 [25 favorites]


For visual learners, here's the distillate.
posted by dogrose at 10:37 AM on January 6 [12 favorites]


Electronic handwringing is self-congratulation. Florid, self-indulgent manifestos about the shortcomings of "online activism" is meta-handwringing. This has all the practical value of How To Read Donald Duck, but it's not nearly as funny.

Marx said "The philosophers have already interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it," and I think he was saying that talk is cheap.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:38 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


"You're not an effective activist if you're a big dick about it."

Perfect tl;dr version--the gist of the entire piece is that an activist asshole is still an asshole. I've been on both ends of this type of perception and interaction, both here and in "real life".

But it's not as cut and dried as the article is making it seem. The problem is one of discernment. Left/progressive/green activists are operating in an extremely hostile environment. Sure, you have to try and be civil, but you can't expect to just sing kumbaya with people, either. Sometimes the can of whoopass must be opened. But in a comment thread... maybe not so much.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:38 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


I'm willing to bet that 100% of those things were not said seriously.

Poe's Law, dude.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:39 AM on January 6 [8 favorites]


One of the issues I see about online "activism" (such as it is) is that there are no private spaces for it. Even the so-called private spaces aren't, in that someone may reveal interactions there, cut/paste/quote private comments and make them public, etc. There's not a lot of break between public persona and private thoughts. I've long thought that this plays into tone issues and the viciousness of online arguments. You can't really have a private grump/tantrum/etc. about something without the risk of it being brought up later, which changes the risk and reward factors of publicly displayed anger from the offline world, where private spaces were more available. I'm not sure online discourse can fully address tone without looking at that problem.
posted by immlass at 10:39 AM on January 6 [8 favorites]


Some people who fashion themselves to be allies really aren't. TERFs: not allies. Hugo Schwyzer: not an ally. Intersectionality isn't a made up thing.

Stipulated. I'm definitely not defending concern trolls or astroturfers either. But that doesn't mean you can shove everyone over that line into otherhood and go all scorched earth on them the moment you disagree with them, and that shit happens all the time.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:39 AM on January 6 [11 favorites]


I really do think the vilification of tone policing is where it all went wrong. An assumption set in that the only reason anyone would bring up tone was as an underhanded way to attack an argument. But it's not. Tone matters. When your relationships are largely mediated by rhetoric, rhetorical violence is violence, and violence destroys.

I think this is a really plausible point, ThatFuzzyBastard. One thing it took me years to learn as a student in analytic philosophy (and something Peirce helped me recognize) is that tone matters enormously. There's a tendency in analytic philosophy--it used to be worse--to attack other philosophers very aggressively in conversation. And there is--or was--this idea that this is some kind of crucible of truth. And I bought into that. But what I came to realize--with the help of others--was that all this did was turn discussion into combat, and get people's hackles up in a way that made it, psychologically speaking, almost impossible for them to admit error. If you come at me with a tone that clearly indicates that you think that I am an idiot, then it's on--I'm probably not going to have the kind of distance and dispassion that allows me to admit that I'm wrong if I am, even to myself. Tone is an extremely important aspect of conversation, and can say I think you're an idiot just as clearly as the words can.

(It's also funny that the very people who deride "tone policing" are more than happy to criticize ever verbal nuance of their opponent's speech...but that's another point...)

Tumblr/SJW internet culture is as toxic and irrational as any I've ever personally encountered.

More toxic than AVFM or Mens Right's Edmonton? More toxic than FreeRepublic?


'x is as F as anything I've seen' is not equivalent to 'x is the uniquely most F thing that I've seen'


I didn't realize eyeballs were physically capable of doing full 360 degree rolls.

Hey, that comment proved to me that they can actually do a 720...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:45 AM on January 6 [18 favorites]


You cannot reason someone out of a position that they didn't reason themselves into.
posted by sfts2 at 10:56 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


You can't really have a private grump/tantrum/etc. about something without the risk of it being brought up later, which changes the risk and reward factors of publicly displayed anger from the offline world, where private spaces were more available.

This is an important thing, yeah. It's easy to understate the value of being able to just be angry out loud in a private space, to vent to sympathetic ears knowing that venting is all you're doing vs. creating an unsympathetic artifact for public consumption. Pretty much nobody's a zen master to begin with; people are going to curse and say unfair things about the rock they stubbed their toe on sometimes. Add in something like systemic social injustice and the way it manifests in people's lives on a daily basis and the stakes go up considerably.

So you get these semi-private places online, out of a mix of lack of caution (maybe what you think of as your defacto private space isn't really all that private in the first place, just a little off the main drag or unadvertised) and the fundamental insecurity of something that leaves a record (someone with a grudge or just a poor sense of what's helpful can, as noted above, trivially copy and paste something that otherwise wouldn't be accessible to non-members of some private discussions space). And it erodes significantly that barrier between public engagement and private steam-venting or thought-organizing, and that changes things in a way that may be sort of subtle for folks not actively worrying about it ahead of time.

It's not a new dilemma, for sure; people can eavesdrop on an ostensibly private conversation in the real world, someone can think they're being discreet but be wrong or not take enough care, a confidant could get burned and decide to spring "well I heard him say..." into conversation or column out of spite, etc. But the geography of all that is different online, less obvious, less self-organizing.
posted by cortex at 10:57 AM on January 6 [10 favorites]


You cannot reason someone out of a position that they didn't reason themselves into.

A bumper sticker is not an insight.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:59 AM on January 6 [21 favorites]


The importance of the tone argument, and recognizing that it is a valid discussion, is that for anybody who is not expressing the status quo, and is presenting a worldview that is challenging to the status quo, there is literally no way they can express themselves without somebody carping on them for how they said it.

And this causes people to just give up and say things whatever way works best for them. And it may not be the nicest way to say things, because it comes out of years of frustrations, of being minimized, of being dehumanized, of having your experience of life made dramatically worse -- sometimes murderously worse -- by the status quo. If you say it in a pleasing way, people complain. If you say it in a civil way, people complain. If you say it in an educated way, people complain that their "eyelid is twitching from the excess of writerly embellishments in every sentence." As the first comment.

I agree that there is probably a best practice in saying something provacative. That there is probably a best way to let somebody know that they are doing something that hurts you. But my experience is that this is largely an academic discussion, because whatever approach you use, you're going to get it for saying something people don't want to hear.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:00 AM on January 6 [44 favorites]


You cannot reason someone out of a position that they didn't reason themselves into.

Respectfully disagree. I didn't reason myself into a belief in the Easter bunny but I certainly reasoned myself out of it.
posted by ian1977 at 11:01 AM on January 6 [14 favorites]


What bothers me is the way activists are at their most aggressive against those who are, or should be, broadly allies, over minor distinctions of orthodoxy.

Crucial observation, on that has always perplexed me. I wonder if there's any social psychology on this phenomenon. I mean, think of yourself as a Martian anthropologist: would you think of Catholics and Lutherans as very different? Then look at the blood spilled historically over precisely this difference (obviously it's cooled of quite a bit since the 95 theses were posted...)
posted by mondo dentro at 11:02 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


More toxic than AVFM or Mens Right's Edmonton? More toxic than FreeRepublic?

On that level I've "personally experienced" actual no-shit Nazism. But I've never been a Nazi, so I don't know how pleasant it is from the inside, which is the viewpoint in question.
posted by topynate at 11:03 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Tone isn't everything, but it's not nothing, either. It matters, which should be obvious whenever a fight about "tone" starts. Part of the reason that those fights start is that there will always be disagreement about what "unacceptable" means when it comes to tone.

Like: You're not an effective activist if you're a big dick about it.

Really? Many, many people in the early-to-mid-90s thought ACT UP were assholes. Some of ACT UP thought they themselves were assholes, I'd bet. And they were very effective. Ditto a couple generations ago when it came to protesters sitting at lunch counters, registering to vote, or trying to go to school. A lot of people - a lot - thought those protesters were assholes and that their tactics were too confrontational and that allies would be driven away. I don't think you can argue that they were ineffective.
posted by rtha at 11:03 AM on January 6 [29 favorites]


I come from a background where the "tone policing" game is played to the absolute hilt -- I was probably in my mid-to-late-20s before I realized that "your complaint will not be taken seriously unless a) you can provide a flawless logical defense from first principles for why you should be treated in X way instead of Y way and b) do this without betraying the slightest hint of emotion" is an unwinnable game in general, and I'm a person who is probably a little less talented than average in masking emotion. Now, when i go back home, it amazes me when I see that little "click" of "oh, okay, I don't have to pay attention to you anymore because you're hysterical" when I say something even just in irritated tones. So I get where people are coming from, and the frustration, and the realization that at base (even if unconsciously) the people doing that sort of thing are being fundamentally dishonest. It is a legitimate issue.

Beyond that, there are a lot of people out there who have been rather severely hurt by the experiences that led them to pursue activism -- to sum it up, I laffed my ass off at TumblrInAction until I realized that I was laughing at children with severe mental health problems from the perspective of someone twice their age and possessed mostly of minor neuroses. Then I did not feel so good about myself.

The trick is, of course, that there's a line between refusing to play the tone game and declaring it open season to savage anyone who comes within range, and I think there needs to be some attention paid to finding where said line is and keeping to it. Granted, we didn't poison the well (at least, we weren't the first to), but we all don't have much choice but to help pump it out.
posted by sparktinker at 11:04 AM on January 6 [8 favorites]


You're not an effective activist if you're a big dick about it.

Maybe it would be better to say 'You're not an effective activist on the internet if you're a big dick about it.' Beyond the already inherent limitations of being an activist on the internet.

I'm willing to bet that 100% of those things were not said seriously.

Oh, I would so like to take that bet.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:08 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Tone isn't all of it - people will get just as angry about content they disapprove of, no matter what the tone is.

I've gotten banned from forums for very politely suggesting that, even though I personally support gun control and by choice have only ever lived in countries and states with strong gun control, the left has spent far too much of its energy on this issue without actually getting any results, and perhaps we should direct some of our attention elsewhere.

Or on Metafilter, when I fairly politely suggested that we were spending too much effort on the Chelsea/Bradley issue because it would resolve itself soon (a prediction which was completely correct) and that we should pick our battles, I was told that I'd made people cry, I got multiple pieces of hate mail - particularly disconcerting since many of these people actually disapproved of Chelsea Manning, someone I've worked hard to support for years now.

The result? I simply don't ever discuss such issues any more and I direct my financial support elsewhere, to organizations that take concrete, specific action.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:08 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


If you say it in an educated way, people complain that their "eyelid is twitching from the excess of writerly embellishments in every sentence." As the first comment.

That was a little harsh of me out of the gate, but it was not because I took issue with her thoughts; very much the reverse. It's not to do with being said in an "educated" way, but in a distractingly overdecorated way, and I didn't say it because I don't want to hear what she's saying but because I do want to hear what she's saying without having to contend with so much gratuitousness in how she says it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:08 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]


I liked her point about the rampant structure of society's pervasive influence, even into spaces that are nominally opposed to it.

Perhaps the underlying assumption of "you'll never convince me with that tone" is that any singled-out statement or idea is meant to convince specifically "me".
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:10 AM on January 6


It's not to do with being said in an "educated" way, but in a distractingly overdecorated way,

I wonder if MeFites can stop taking issue with the way people write when it doesn't directly relate to the subject.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:15 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


[Comment removed, if you cannot manage to avoid "it's like domestic violence" comparisons maybe just skip the discussion from the get-go.]
posted by cortex at 11:16 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]


A bumper sticker is not an insight.

This one is.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:19 AM on January 6 [6 favorites]


Speak for yourself, human.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:19 AM on January 6


I'm hesitant to call myself an "activist" because I feel like my online activity in that regard is of pretty low import and I'm not as politically involved as I wish. However, I've been following people I would call "activist" online for a long time.

I loved the term "tone argument" because it expressed something necessary so neatly--the way that too many people focused on the legitimate anger of activists to dismiss their views. It was liberating to have two words to identify what those people were doing and move on without further argument.

Then, when I joined tumblr, it was a whole new world. There is real activism on tumblr, but there are also a lot of impressionable people in a hostile environment who have learned that the way to participate is to attack. You can't object to any attack as being too vicious because then you're using the "tone argument." It's really soured the term for me. There is real value in displaying anger, in having the freedom to display anger, but I think tumblr's platform promotes mob-like behavior.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:22 AM on January 6 [7 favorites]


Unrelated to the topic of this article -- which I will be reading shortly -- I am amused and confused to see one of my own bits of art as the header image for the post. Random photoshop wankery from easily a decade ago.

And then I find out someone is claiming it as their own on DeviantArt. Awesome [/] Looks like I need to unearth the originals if I can.
posted by ChrisR at 11:26 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Then, when I joined tumblr, it was a whole new world.

Well, that's true. Tumblr is nuts. When they started it, I didn't expect it would develop its own culture so completely. And some of it is genuinely great, and some of it is genuinely toxic, and a lot of it is endless repostings of GIFs from Hannibal.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:26 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]


Really? Many, many people in the early-to-mid-90s thought ACT UP were assholes. Some of ACT UP thought they themselves were assholes, I'd bet. And they were very effective.

They were effective not because they were assholes but because they were doing something well beyond wheat-pasting flyers, which would be the equivalent of posting on Tumblr.
posted by dogrose at 11:27 AM on January 6 [8 favorites]


This is going to radically change the way I approach Metafilter.


(or it would if I could get through that prose -- ugh!)
posted by mazola at 11:29 AM on January 6


More toxic than AVFM or Mens Right's Edmonton? More toxic than FreeRepublic?

The thing that gets missed with this kind of logic ("oh, you're saying that [radical community] is as bad as [far right assholes] when that's obviously not the case? Actually, you have nothing to complain about and since activists are nicer than MRAs we are actually Doing A Very Good Job!") is that most of us are not emotionally enmeshed with the far right. Honestly, I don't want to be targeted by TERFs or MRAs, but I don't care what they think of me the way that I care what other radicals think of me. In fact, if the TERFs or MRAs hassle me, my community is right there to say "see, they're hassling you because you're a good person and they are bad people". This is emotionally very different from conflict in your own community.

The thing about activists being assholes to each other is that conflict is so rarely about one side which is totally right and the other side which is totally wrong. It's not that all marginalized people should be allies; it's that we tend to have multiple identities and multiple relationships but sometimes act as though everyone has a very simple identity. So you're like "oh, all trans men are shitty misogynists who are just as bad as cis people" [actual example!] and whoops, you find that you've really hurt your friend who is struggling to come out as a trans man. Or you say "gay men have so much privilege, they're always whining and pretending they're oppressed" and then it turns out that your feminist friend's gay brother got fired by his homophobic boss and is currently homeless. Or else you find that on one "side" is someone who is mostly right about stuff but who also makes fun of people for having mental illnesses and tells people they should kill themselves when she knows that they have struggled with suicidal ideation. It's not that we're all natural allies or all need to be nice to each other; it's that even when we think we're laser-targeting our anger at people who really, really deserve it, we're actually spewing it over a very heterogenous group.

But obviously, the solution to a structural problem isn't individual; it doesn't make sense to say "If only This Specific Person/group/blog just weren't so angry all the time everything would be hunky-dory".
posted by Frowner at 11:30 AM on January 6 [37 favorites]


...they were doing something well beyond posting on Tumblr.

I see good, poignant SJ stuff on Tumblr with 200K+ notes on a pretty regular basis. If even one percent of the people who reblogged/favorited/whatever those posts actually read and absorbed the message, that's activism in my book.
posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on January 6 [7 favorites]


The sheer hostility, hair-trigger anger, and constant urges to find a single small slip-up you made and use it as a sort of "Aha! You were really Old Man Limbaugh all along!" to discredit everything you'd ever done is why I got out of anything resembling leftist politics and activism. I just do not have space for that kind of constant negativity/outrage about EVERYTHING in my life and honestly I've been so much happier since completely disengaging I totally get why people don't want to be involved.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:37 AM on January 6 [18 favorites]


These issues are all much more common in online activism (i.e. talking about activism) than IRL activism. They're also much more common within the social/enviro/economic justice campaigns popular among the 20-something white graduate student set. It's rare to find this type of vitriol, self-aggrandizement, and witch-huntery in working class organizing campaigns around fair housing laws or workplace rights in my experience.
posted by willie11 at 11:39 AM on January 6 [19 favorites]


Just an odd thought:
When people talk about being "social justice" advocates, how often is their definition of 'justice' not actually the definition of the word, but simply Retribution.

The definition of Justice is, per google: just behavior or treatment. synonyms; fairness, fair play, equity, objectivity, neutrality, honesty, righteousness, morality (a few skipped, due to repetition or simple common root)

Thus understanding that 'justice' is not something that simply talking about it will fix. And the frustration of being powerless to change things often channels itself into what feels more productive, i.e. taking matters into ones own hands and delivering retribution for slights and wrongdoing, instead of seeking real justice for the parties involved.

Much of the vitriol and screeds and rants against those who oppose an advocate devolve into aspersions and generality because there is no easy fix for injustice. It is so much easier to attack and cast aside anyone who does not immediately see the "rightness" of an activists view, that actually hammering out the details of how to fix things gets set aside for the immediacy of slaying the closest enemy (or even ally, depending on the circumstances).

I also would note that a synonym for justice is Objectivity (not the Ayn Rand flavor, obviously), but to really understand this, and to understand justice as a whole, you have to believe that there is a place for objective observation of any given situation, and one where the grievances of the marginalized can objectively be ascertained and addressed.

It is also a good point to observe that many of the systems and problematic behaviors in our societies are very much intermingled with a lot of structural and foundational institutions (capitalism, religion, tribalism), that finding true justice is almost Sisyphean in attempting to correct every problem from the point of the marginalized groups. In order to change society, the majority must be shown (or forced) the objective problems and given no choice to argue. See how the Civil Rights movement was addressed by Johnson in the 60's. Force was used from the top to correct a great wrong in our society. While the work of the leaders of the movements was very necessary, it also meant that to avoid further violence and bloodshed, the action must be taken by those in power to change the status quo, and nothing short of a complete overthrow of the systems of power will achieve this goal (and even then, you stand a good chance of setting whole of the goals to nothing, should the newer power be nothing more than a facelift for the previous regime).

I do applaud every social justice warrior out there, though. It is very important to keep fighting for real justice and to upend the current horrific inequalities and injustices that exist in our society. And it is something that will only ever work if people keep pushing for it, every day, in everything they do. Even if they are "doing it wrong", they are at least doing something. And we must all remember that every social justice warrior is still a human being, and human beings are always fallible. And we must forgive them if their anger is unduly released on ourselves, just as we'd hope they will forgive us when we do something equally, if not more stupid.
posted by daq at 11:39 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


One of my favorite adages is "perfect is the enemy of good", and I think it applies quite strongly to current online activism.

I would never ever tell someone to not be angry or "settle down" when talking about injustices, particularly injustices that they themselves have to live with on a daily basis. But I do think that it's fairly easy to tell when someone has good intentions as opposed to when someone is just being a smug -ist asshole, and there's value in discerning between the two.

For my own part I have felt increasingly alienated from online feminism in the last year or two despite being an ardent feminist and student of intersectionality. On Tumblr and Twitter, anyway, it seems like there are a lot of folks who are more about getting to pass judgement on everyone around them than the pursuit of justice and understanding.
posted by jess at 11:41 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


that's activism in my book.

Sure, why not? Better than nothing, I guess. But ActUp did not limit themselves to posting "good, poignant" or "good, angry" or "good, mordant" or "good, graphically interesting" flyers in high-traffic areas. Do you really think they'd have been the least bit effective if they had?

On preview: It's rare to find this type of vitriol, self-aggrandizement, and witch-huntery in working class organizing campaigns around fair housing laws or workplace rights in my experience.

Totally, totally agreed.
posted by dogrose at 11:43 AM on January 6


I just do not have space for that kind of constant negativity/outrage about EVERYTHING in my life and honestly I've been so much happier since completely disengaging I totally get why people don't want to be involved.

I was a bit more on the end where I ended up discovering that in fact my interlocutor HAD in fact been Old Man Limbaugh all along, but the experience of being continually caught between those two poles was a big factor in my scaling back involvement with the subject matter in question.

Part of why this comes up so often is because disingenuous argumentation really does happen, along with the unchecked ripping. I got worn down by so many cases of "I support you but I just have questions could you answer my questions plz, such innocent questions I have" -> "WHARRGARBL biotroof here are my links to vdare" that it seemed like I had to either get the hell out or have a black coal for a heart, and ultimately I ended up picking more the former. I hope. Mostly.
posted by sparktinker at 11:45 AM on January 6


It was only when I discovered that I had made someone cry for hours that I took a long step back and asked myself if I was really making the world a better place by doing this.

I'm not surprised that it's people who are rethinking their bullying who feel able to talk about this issue, more so than the people they've harmed. It's not any easier to fight back against it as an adult in online communities than it was as a child in offline ones, but it is much easier to leave online communities and quit engaging.
posted by asperity at 11:46 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


It's rare to find this type of vitriol, self-aggrandizement, and witch-huntery in working class organizing campaigns around fair housing laws or workplace rights in my experience.

Yeah, I do think it's relevant that all of the linked essays are specifically about vicious rhetoric in discussion of ferchrissakes video games. I'm trying to imagine the look on the face of the resurrected James Baldwin as some activist explained why it so very important to be sure that people admitted that Proteus was not an interactive artwork but a video game.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:46 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I'm willing to bet that 100% of those things were not said seriously.

It's up to the victim to decide if they were offended, isn't it? I'm not allowed to make a racist comment then say "Oooh I wasn't being serious!"

Double standards are weak standards.
posted by Jimbob at 11:50 AM on January 6 [10 favorites]


Tone is always important because communication is not just about words, or linguistics, for that matter. There are extra-linguistic modalities of conveying information (and meaning), and tone is one of them. That's why people invented smilies, for example, as a kludge to provide something lacking in text-based communication.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:51 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Also, about anger:

1. "Anger" varies from milieu to milieu. In some places, what gets labeled as "anger" is saying "well, it might be possible that your experience as a white person means that you don't quite recognize the power of white supremacy maybe a little bit". In some places, it's telling people with great depth, sincerity and inventive obscenity that you hope they get cancer.

2. Our experience of anger varies from person to person. I'm sure there are people for whom "get cancer and die, you useless piece of shit" is the equivalent to my "sorry, that won't be possible" - that is, they are both intended as firm statements of position more than anything else, and both are acceptable in the rough-and-tumble of argument. Because I grew up with an anxiety disorder, emotional abuse, and a family who rarely swore, "get cancer and die" is a really, really unpleasant thing for me to read, possibly far more unpleasant than it is intended to be by the writer.

3. Rhetoric is social. When I'm in an environment where there's a lot of very hard-line stuff - that is, where it's assumed that identities are simple and anything goes rhetorically speaking - that spills over into my experience of the rest of the world. One reason I've pulled back from tumblr, in fact, is that it was making me really anxious about my IRL interactions. I found myself expecting people I actually knew in the flesh to act like people do on tumblr, and I found myself getting irrationally worried about being called out over random and totally not-callout-worthy stuff like "I am failing to make small talk in an otherwise silent elevator because I'm really tired but maybe this will make a marginalized person feel that I am biased against them and I am committing a microaggression by not making smalltalk" kinds of stuff, just irrational stuff. I'm not saying that people shouldn't be angry; I am saying that being in unpredictable angry environments is really triggering for me and probably for other survivors of various forms of abuse, and that this is a reason to be thoughtful about environments where there is chronically a lot of vitriol flying around. (Not a reason to stop speaking angrily; just a reason to understand that environments persist after words have been said.)
posted by Frowner at 11:53 AM on January 6 [12 favorites]


I'm trying to imagine the look on the face of the resurrected James Baldwin as some activist explained why it so very important to be sure that people admitted that Proteus was not an interactive artwork but a video game.

I'm fairly sure that's not the kind of debate discussed in the main article. It's dense, and I'm not familiar enough with Said, DuBois, and so on, to understand it fully, so I haven't gotten to the other linked essays, which might well confuse bad activism with bad criticism.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:55 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Respectfully disagree. I didn't reason myself into a belief in the Easter bunny but I certainly reasoned myself out of it.

I respectfully disagree. I bet you had a feeling or intuition that preceded your conscious reasoning on the subject. Maybe a nagging sense something wasn't right. The science is pretty clear that we've already made up our minds at a lower, unconscious-level before we ever perform a public speech act or consciously reflect on our thinking. And logic is nothing but dead and empty formalism without guiding intuitions and premises that are taken as assumptions. People don't reason their way into or out of beliefs. We feel them, or intuit them, then rationalize them with arguments having varying degrees of logical rigor.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:56 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


(I was trying to say in 1 above that there are lots of times when people say "you're so angry" over something really Not Angry; and there are also times when people say "you're so angry" over something that really is kind of awful; and so when we talk about "angry" activist spaces, it's important to talk about what kinds of rhetoric and which spaces and the purpose of the anger.)
posted by Frowner at 11:57 AM on January 6


I'm trying to imagine the look on the face of the resurrected James Baldwin as some activist explained why it so very important to be sure that people admitted that Proteus was not an interactive artwork but a video game.

It just so happens that I was rereading some James Baldwin the other week, and what actually struck me was how much he sounded like some of the better writers on tumblr. (Or how much they sounded like him.) If you want to test whether it's the "tone" that bothers you or the "argument" (and you're thinking about, say, critical race theory) you could do worse than read some Baldwin, since he's basically saying the same things as tumblr racial justice bloggers minus the "get cancer", although he's a pretty frank speaker in a lot of places. I don't know that he'd care about video games, but he was certainly down with making people uncomfortable if he felt it was the right thing to do.
posted by Frowner at 12:00 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


It's up to the victim to decide if they were offended, isn't it? I'm not allowed to make a racist comment then say "Oooh I wasn't being serious!"

Double standards are weak standards.


Do you believe a white comedian making fun of black people is exactly equivalent to a black comedian making fun of white people?
posted by kmz at 12:07 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Anger is a wonderful emotion in any kind of activism and is an absolute prerequisite in organizing people to use their power for real political change.

The problem with this twitter/tumblr leftist anger is that there is no opportunity for the anger to be used to accomplish anything and so it is used for selfish purposes - gossiping, talking trash, and moving you up or others down a peg. It's not healthy. It's not helpful.
posted by willie11 at 12:11 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


I see good, poignant SJ stuff on Tumblr with 200K+ notes on a pretty regular basis. If even one percent of the people who reblogged/favorited/whatever those posts actually read and absorbed the message, that's activism in my book.

But isn't it pretty much "preaching to the choir"? Does the average Tumblr user even frequent SJW pages? That's what gets me about this whole discussion, it seems that all of the "bullying" is aimed at other SJW/SRS type people or would be allies. Apart from them few people, other than trolls, care.
posted by MikeMc at 12:15 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Do you believe a white comedian making fun of black people is exactly equivalent to a black comedian making fun of white people?

No, because there's a power differential. But alleged "social justice activists" saying things that indicate they wish anyone who happens to be born the same race/gender/sexuality as you dead is hardly comical.
posted by Jimbob at 12:16 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


But alleged "social justice activists" saying things that indicate they wish anyone who happens to be born the same race/gender/sexuality as you dead is hardly comical.

Die cis scum!
posted by MikeMc at 12:21 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


kmz,
That's just arguing for is a bit of a fallacy. Your question, as stated, with no outside influence to existing racial inequities or other existing societal influences makes little to no sense.

Objectively, the answer is "yes, they are both wrong."
Now balance this out in the real world, where there has existed for centuries a massive imbalance of power, influence, and social equity, and you can easily say "well, given all of this, it's better for the black comedian to make fun of white people, because of x, y, z, etc reasons".

But that only re-enforces the status quo. The "correct" answer would be, no, they are not equal, and they should both be addressed as separate issues, and we should work towards making it so that when a black comedian makes fun of white people, they are treated the same (negatively) as if a white comedian makes fun of black people.

I am not saying that it is wrong to make fun of people. However, simply making fun of someone due to the color of their skin is at a minimum racist, and should be frowned upon equally be ALL people. As stated, it is still a poor question to ask of someone, and stinks of troll bait.

Also, as to the reality of the original poster you are commenting on:
The answer should never be "I was only joking." The answer should be "I'm sorry I offended you. I will do better in the future. Thank you for pointing out my short sightedness, I was not aware that I was saying something that offended."

However, that's a tricky one, as many times people get offended by really stupid things. However, just like how anti-discrimination laws are written very clearly to define what one can and can't do to discriminate people, I think they offer a very simple and easy guideline. If your offending comment was "punching down" or attacking someone based upon a function of their being in which it is impossible to change (race, physical ability, sexual orientation), then maybe what you are saying makes you the asshole. However, if you say something that the offended party has the ability to change, well, fair game, I guess. The question is whether you want them to change or whether you just want to hurt them, and I guess there saying "I was only joking" makes you a double asshole, because you can't stand up for your own actions and take responsibility for the effects of your "jokes."
posted by daq at 12:22 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


Some social justice activists engage in appallingly abusive, bullying behaviour on Twitter. It comes up in my timeline pretty much constantly. A pretty egregious example came this week when a pretty inoffensive but nonetheless 'high profile' (ie has achieved some stuff) feminist was called a white supremacist simply for calling out bad behaviour in a few intersectionalists. The fact she has blonde hair was even used against her. It's beyond parody.

A lot of it seems to be driven by pure jealousy. The knives come out for anyone who has a 'platform' - ie anyone more successful than they are. The phrase 'Big name feminism' is particularly cringeworthy.
posted by Summer at 12:22 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


The problem with this twitter/tumblr leftist anger is that there is no opportunity for the anger to be used to accomplish anything and so it is used for selfish purposes

I think this is a really important point. The problem under discussion is exactly that venting righteous anger online provides too easy, too cheap a political-emotional catharsis — allows the rager to feel like they're doing something, being an active activist — when it shouldn't actually be that easy to achieve. Online discourse does a really bad job of marking the vital difference between recreational outrage, either targeted at "allies" or "enemies," and actual motivation to go do things; the former provides far too much easy ego satisfaction — substituting for, rather than motivating, action.

Sometimes I think what we really need is more of an overt psychoanalytic understanding of online community — a more overt theory and shared understanding of the psychological needs that online discussion solves. (Jodi Dean's book Blog Theory is a good start, but there's a lot more to be said on the topic.) It seems like this problem is really all about displacement: we bring our anger online to meet emotional needs that go unfulfilled in the offline world, to seek some resolution for conversations we can't have, or aren't satisfied with, face to face. We need better ways of recognizing this kind of redirected emotional energy, and maybe just not allowing the cheap pleasure of online outrage to provide too easy a self-aggrandizing resolution to political emotions that are really the result of hard, unresolved offline political problems.
posted by RogerB at 12:28 PM on January 6 [17 favorites]


I think there are two, largely distinct but to a certain degree mutually reinforcing, phenomena at work, when discussing the world of online social justice:

1) There's a crowd of amateur writers - largely teenagers and very young adults, to my eye - who, I think at least, feel quite sincerely that Western life is fundamentally unfair, in ways that vary from "microaggression" to murder. Tumblr has provided them a quasi-competitive platform - not entirely unlike Metafilter, to be honest - that incentivizes oneupsmanship and mutual reinforcement. It's inevitable that you get, for instance, people who claim that the Sami people of northern Scandinavia are "POC", or who take scholarship wildly out of context to suggest that African people made up something other than a trivial proportion of the medieval European population. (These are both real things on Tumblr.)

I interpret this as sincerely-felt horror over genuine issues of fairness and equality between various social groups, but when you take people without a strong formal education in these ideas and thrust them into the competitive arena of tumblr, this kind of environment is what you get.

2) The more important and destructive thing, I think, is the crowd of elites (educational and cultural elites, mostly) who use left rhetoric as a means of social positioning. This is endemic on Twitter, in the blog world, and frankly, here. This is largely animated, I think, by cultural animus between these individuals and their typical targets (although that's not to say that the targets aren't problematic themselves). The anti-tech backlash, for instance, is one largely led by well-educated people with no technical backgrounds; those people staging the protest against the Google buses last month were artists with MFAs, you don't think even a little of that anger came from personal insecurity and the narcissism of small differences, rather than some high-minded advocacy for the working class?

The tumblrites aren't the problem; the problem is the rich, well-educated, and otherwise culturally-advanced people who use trite slogans to make themselves look better.
posted by downing street memo at 12:36 PM on January 6 [15 favorites]


If even one percent of the people who reblogged/favorited/whatever those posts actually read and absorbed the message, that's activism in my book.

I dunno. I think of this as what was called consciousness-raising back in the day. Which is something that has a place and is maybe even inseparable from activism but which is still distinct from the actual boots-on-the-ground that changes circumstances. I think a key problem here is a failure—maybe even an inability—to distinguish between the two. By itself, "calling out" some individual on tumblr or twitter is about as likely to result in a fairer, more equitable world as the spats between right and left blogistan were likely to keep Bush from invading Iraq.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:39 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


I assure you that if you log off twitter and come get your social justice jollies in the streets, this behavior will become but a minor inconvenience.

Even at Occupy Wall Street - where this status-seeking call-out behavior was as rampant as it was rancid - the behavior of a handful of annoying grad students was mostly drowned out by the important work the rest of us had to do with all these amazing people around us.

For a more recent example, please see the Moral Monday demonstrations in North Carolina. When regular people get together and organize for collective action without these no-leaders graduate school anarchists leading things, these issues become marginal at worst.
posted by willie11 at 12:46 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


The tumblrites aren't the problem; the problem is the rich, well-educated, and otherwise culturally-advanced people who use trite slogans to make themselves look better.

Sloganeering is and has long been an actual, practical form political practice takes, though, just like pamphleteering. I don't know I would consider it "activism," as such, but it's really not very charitable or realistic to assume that the only reason people invent and propagate political slogans is to make themselves look better. And it displays a sort of willful ignorance of the practical history of political speech as activism. Frank Luntz didn't rake in millions of dollars as a top-tier political consultant for making himself look better. He coined most of the "trite slogans" that still define the terms of our political debates today. Trite slogans as political tools can be very effective.

But what does that have to do social justice activist in-fighting anyway?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:48 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


I'm not talking down about slogans, I'm talking about the reasons they're deployed.
posted by downing street memo at 12:56 PM on January 6


I sometimes wonder if intrafactional conflict isn't the work of provocateurs more often than is recognized. Certainly divide and conquer is a thing. And there are definitely powerful interests that are well served by disenfranchised groups not managing to make common cause for any extended period of time. But then, I occasionally fantasize about environmentalist and hunter/sportsmen types getting together and saying, "well, we're incredibly unalike, granted. But we can agree that a healthy wilderness is vital to us both, so let's pool our lobbying power on that one and we can treat fighting over how to use it as a separate issue." Copious pants-crapping would ensue from on high.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:57 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


... you don't think even a little of that anger came from personal insecurity and the narcissism of small differences, rather than some high-minded advocacy for the working class? ... the problem is the rich, well-educated, and otherwise culturally-advanced people who use trite slogans to make themselves look better.

Just how small are these differences?
posted by octobersurprise at 12:57 PM on January 6


saulgoodman,
If you haven't noticed, about 50% of all posts on here about any kind of social justice movement (especially those that have any kind of tumblr or twitter presence) will quickly devolve in to anecdotes about why people feel justified in criticizing any particular movement.

It is actually beneficial, though, as it does give at least plausible reason as to why a lot of current activism seems so very toothless as compared to other social/political movements.
posted by daq at 12:58 PM on January 6


(educational and cultural elites, mostly)

As opposed to elites with money and power.

those people staging the protest against the Google buses last month were artists with MFAs, you don't think even a little of that anger came from personal insecurity and the narcissism of small differences, rather than some high-minded advocacy for the working class?

The usual joke about artists with MFAs is that they have no money. Haw haw, I'll have a vente mocha latte, hold the Racine. And they usually don't. The usual fact about the working class is that they have no money. Every paycheck counts. Even if the former group has a middle-class support network, and their values are middle-class (not necessarily guaranteed), they feel closer to the working class's precarity than does the financially secure middle class. I think their advocacy makes sense, and it strikes me as uncharitable to attribute much of their work, as you do not quite do, to social preening.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:00 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


Just how small are these differences?

The difference between a white activist with a master's degree who runs an art studio in San Francisco and her white Google employee neighbor is indeed vanishingly small. Sorry.
posted by downing street memo at 1:00 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I've met some very effective activists.

The one thing that they had in common was civil discourse. They got stuff done because they advocated firmly, but politely.

Also, they set reasonable goals. (Eg, raise money to provide a safe space for homeless youth, rather than try to dismantle capitalism with three signs and a megaphone.)
posted by jb at 1:03 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


"politics is best discussed on all fours"
(Robert Anton Wilson)




which is just my way of saying that I'm not surprised that so much ugliness rises so easily in political discussion; because politics are about power, and power is mostly ugly
posted by philip-random at 1:04 PM on January 6


Really? Many, many people in the early-to-mid-90s thought ACT UP were assholes. Some of ACT UP thought they themselves were assholes, I'd bet. And they were very effective.

I was involved with ACT UP in the late 80s/ early 90s, and while as a whole, on the surface, what they did was effective, I can tell you from the inside there was a lot of vicious infighting, less than respectful disagreement, disorganization, and toxic personality clashes, all of which tended to make the organization less powerful than it could have been.

They were right to be angry,and when that anger was channeled it was a powerful force. But being assholes, especially to each other, might have hindered their effectiveness.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:08 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


But isn't it pretty much "preaching to the choir"?

To a degree, but that doesn't entirely lack utility. There's a stage that I certainly went though, and have seen in others, where a certain amount of "yes, you really did see that thing, yes I saw it too, yes it was part of this overall pattern that arises" serves a purpose to the folks who read it because they're getting over a lifetime of being told that that thing that just happened didn't happen. Obviously that's colored by my experiences which included a lot of techniques centered around denial, but it's not an uncommon experience either.

The catch with that is (at least IMHO) there comes a point at which you've got to come to a conclusion and move on from there, and stop examining over and over again a thing that is already decided. Also it helps if you haven't followed some rabbit hole all the way down into something that can't survive contact with the real world -- if you're in a position, in the end, where that's an option.

This isn't exclusive of saying also that an ugly dynamic can develop from examination of social justice issues as a lifestyle, but I'm not sure that I would agree with summing up online internally-focused discussion as entirely useless and empty either.
posted by sparktinker at 1:08 PM on January 6


If I admit "tone policing" is a thing, can we also admit that "don't tone police me" all too often ends up being misused to mean "I am POC and/or queer and/or trans and/or female and you are not, so it is morally acceptable for me to be a jerk to you and you should not complain when I do that"?

Tone policing can be real, I acknowledge that. But can we make up a term for the misuse of the term that I describe above?

Usage example:

Them: "#killallmen"
Me: "stop being a jerk and a demagogue"
Them: "stop tone policing me"
Me: "I'm not tone policing, you're ____ing."
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 1:10 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


Sorry.

No, no need to apologize. I don't disagree (much) that the social distance between your imaginary elite gallerist and your imaginary elite programmer is slim. I just found it humorous that you choose to locate your narcissism of small differences in one elite over the other.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:10 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Oh, well, I guess I just don't see much organized hatred from tech company employees to artists and stuff. Most seem to like artists just fine. Maybe I'm wrong, though.
posted by downing street memo at 1:14 PM on January 6


bunny ultramod: The importance of the tone argument, and recognizing that it is a valid discussion, is that for anybody who is not expressing the status quo, and is presenting a worldview that is challenging to the status quo, there is literally no way they can express themselves without somebody carping on them for how they said it.

That's a mistake, though. Or, rather, not exactly relevant.

It may be true that every time you challenge the status quo, you'll piss *someone* off... But, then, every time you say *anything* you'll piss *someone* off. It's an error to focus on that fact. The important point is that, if you are an asshole with respect to your tone, then you will maximize the number of people who you piss off. Most people I know are perfectly willing to listen to the general *kinds* of things that T/SJWs say--but if you start off by addressing them as if they are idiots and moral criminals, they become way, way less sympathetic to what you have to say.

Furthermore, the T/SJWs are simply wrong about all sorts of things. So they end up berating and bullying people about things they're not even right about. Of course everybody's wrong about a lot of things...and recognizing your own fallibility is one reason for maintaining a moderate tone. If you loudly proclaim a certain view with tone of utmost certainty, it's hard to back down when you're shown to be wrong, because you feel foolish. Of course, the T/SJWs are hardly fallibilists...which is one of their biggest problems...

Tone can be a sign of rationality. Of course one can reasonably get a strident tone when one knows one has been wronged...but the constant stream of shrill, dogmatic, insistence from those folks is the sort of thing people legitimately take as evidence. When your points aren't clearly right, and you are shrill, dogmatic, and accusatory about every jot and tittle of your position...well, basically, most of us have learned that that's a fairly good indication that you are not a reasonable person. And now the position you are advocating is a position that is apparently being advocated by unreasonable people..which, again, is evidence.

But, finally, aside from the adverse affects it might have for your persuasiveness, good people simply deserve respect. Am I making some error? Then, by all means, explain it to me. But don't treat me like a moron and a moral criminal. Everyone makes mistakes, and honest mistakes don't deserve disrespect.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:22 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


Oh, well, I guess I just don't see much organized hatred from tech company employees to artists and stuff.

Do you not read the internet? Anyone who doesn't program is basically a Morlock to some tech company employees. All the jokes about a liberal arts degrees, all that nonsense.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:23 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


The difference between a white activist with a master's degree who runs an art studio in San Francisco and her white Google employee neighbor is indeed vanishingly small. Sorry.

But as I understand it, a lot of the people who are dealing with gentrification in San Francisco/Oakland are not people who run their own art studios and have plenty of money and graduate degrees. "White" isn't verbal shorthand for "well off", despite the reality of white supremacy.

Also, I think that material matters get turned into cultural matters a lot. If you're getting priced out of your community and you're going to lose your network of friends/family/medical and material resources, that's not a "cultural" problem. People who are better off and relatively deracinated don't get this - if you need to drive another five miles to get to the doctor's office, it's no big deal, and you don't expect to put down roots anywhere because you're going to get another corporate job in five years anyway as you move up the ladder, plus you can afford to fly to visit people. Plus, you don't need to worry about access to cheap food and public transit. And if you don't care about a particular arts scene (and "arts" isn't just for rich white people - poor folks and people of color make art too and have art scenes) it's easy to feel that someone is being a privileged whiner if they talk about losing an arts scene to gentrification - if you don't know what it is to have a local community (and I grew up in the suburbs and moved to the city - there's a huge difference) then you won't understand what people are talking about losing, or that it's a real loss.

This is the other thing - it's very, very hard to talk about "anger" or "activism" in general and have it mean anything. There are activist communities and projects where there really is bullying and abuse and chicanery and it's unhealthy and this is apparent to at least some of the people actually in those communities; there are other communities where people are very rough-and-tumble in their language and it doesn't look like Tea Time At Frowner's House but it's still a healthy, resilient space. There are people who protest gentrification who themselves are basically members of the gentrifying class and will disappear back into it as soon as protest gets boring; there are people who are not members of the gentrifying class. And you can't tell those people apart on casual inspection. I have rich white activist friends and poor white activist friends, for instance, and while careful inspection reveals the differences (in terms of material possessions plus habits plus background plus education plus connections), casual scrutiny of a picture on the internet does not .

This is why I think that changes in the discourse of our various communities need to come from within and need to be specific to each community's purposes.

Here is another thing: honestly, there are spaces where unpleasant things are going to be said about white transmasculine people (I am a white more or less transmasculine person) by people who are not white transmasculine people. Sometimes that assholery - I could certainly do without some of the "trans men are the source of all transmisogyny" stuff that was going around a while ago (want to baffle your [trans] therapist? Tell them that you're worried about transitioning because you don't want to become an overprivileged and overvalued trans man like all the other trans men.) But sometimes it's just a space I don't need to be in. If I want to read the "trans women vent" blog, I can just put up with what gets said there; if I don't want to read it, well, it's not the "trans women vent for an audience of trans men" blog, is it? Some spaces are unhealthy when they're full of vitriol; for other spaces, that's okay.
posted by Frowner at 1:25 PM on January 6 [22 favorites]


I've met some very effective activists.

The one thing that they had in common was civil discourse. They got stuff done because they advocated firmly, but politely.


Yeah. And its not like it's impossible or anything.

If Martin Luther King can bloody well be temperate and reasonable, then anyone living in the U.S. today should be able to be.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:27 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


MLK was certainly reasonable and of course nonviolent but he was often shrill, angry, and very very pointed in his speeches and writings.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:31 PM on January 6 [14 favorites]


I'm not talking down about slogans, I'm talking about the reasons they're deployed.

Ach so--well, yes, that is possibly a useful distinction.

I don't know what to make of any of it all anymore. It seems like people are just really, really bitter and petty in all sorts of exaggerated ways both online and off. I don't know if this effect is limited to activist communities or not.

posted by saulgoodman at 1:31 PM on January 6


I guess I just don't see much organized hatred from tech company employees to artists and stuff.

I'd say that you've never been the only humanities person on a committee full of engineers. But none of that's here or there. There's no more organized hatred of artists by techies than there is vice versa. If you genuinely think that there is only one kind of elite who use rhetoric as means of "social positioning" (or if you think that "social positioning" is some kind of a serious problem) then maybe you should wonder if you aren't engaging in precisely the same kind of narcissism you're laying off on others.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:33 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


What I take from this article is I wish they would get the old team together and make a new System Shock.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:47 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


I think the anger coming from activism sometimes comes in the form of needing other people to change. Not wanting, but needing. As in, there are people who can't even get their basic needs for financial or social survival, protection from attacks whether verbal or physical or sexual, etc met and they NEED people to stop supporting a culture that is either actively injuring them in the way it defines them and their issues or actions- or is passively destroying them by denying that their needs matter or being willing to offer needed assistance to address valid survival needs.

Certainly in a country as individualistic as the US, if you take a position that it's every person for themselves and robinhood was a villian- any act of aggression anywhere is absolutely wrong except MAYBE in the most obvious of self defense situations.

However if you acknowledge that many humans systemically have been cut off from basic needs ( physical and social and participatory) whether by their family, community or culture at large-- and to them, these conversations are not matters of thought, or shooting the breeze, or an intellectual exercise but SURVIVAL- whether they get to live or die, whether they get food to eat, a place to live, medical care for diseases, emotional support for emotional injuries, sympathy towards their plight rather than vicious judgement for their struggles--

These things effect whether people survive, how well they endure, whether succumb to physical or mental ailments--- these conversations impact human wellbeing in a much more profound way.

And one person passively saying that such and such group may as well die off if they can't make it on their own, these kinds of statements ARE vicious attacks.

So yeah to police how people respond to being attacked as if the source of the problem of a raging bull is THE BULL and not the people who LOCKED IT IN A CAGE AND TORTURED IT-- is problematic to me. Society really does have a lot of ideologies and practices that routinely cause and allow huge quantities of suffering and unnecessary death and poverty.

What I think is helpful is creating a safe space for people to admit wrongs and understanding how cultures/families/lack of education create people with specific belief systems and that is takes work to undo that even for people who are trying. I am NOT a fan of being nasty to people for their errors, I've made plenty myself-- and yet do you really think it's not ok to call slave owners morally corrupt? There are some cultural practices still in effect that probably are morally corrupt and monstrous and I'm not sure how nice you can make that.

But I think something an activist should ask themselves is- if a person repented COULD you forgive or at least have empathy for them? Because if so, you're just looking to help them make the change-- but if you think they are unforgivable "morally evil" for ever having done what they've done or thought what they've thought- you're starting off with dehumanizing their worth as a human being which is DANGEROUS for them.

People have a right to defend themselves and while I would absolutely respect that someone who worked in a sweatshop and watched their child laboring child die of a disease they got there might VALIDLY want to punch me in the face should they see me wearing shoes I didn't realize were sweatshop made- I'm still going to defend myself because letting people who I may have harmed by my indirect actions berate me verbally or physically doesn't actually improve their situation and I'm not even sure if that's what I think justice is really about. It might have a specific place with justice but when carried out in blind dehumanizing rage I'm pretty sure that's not exactly it and often carries a force that doesn't match the actual crime committed by default of privilege or ignorance or failure to render aid or participating in exploitative cultural practices.

That said, I'm not sure I would really see THEM in the wrong either to be honest. If you torture a human, what to expect they can keep the resulting anguish in and ALSO make sure it doesn't harm the people torturing them? That's an awful lot of burden to put on people who often are already being truly tormented by the status quo as accepted by people around them.
posted by xarnop at 1:49 PM on January 6 [10 favorites]


There's no more organized hatred of artists by techies than there is vice versa.

I have no idea if there's any way to prove this true or false. I do know that we're in a bit of a cultural backlash to technology at the moment, most of it driven by people who are culturally very similar to most technologists but who lack a technology background, and that this backlash - while probably correct in some sense - misses the forest for the trees.

If you genuinely think that there is only one kind of elite who use rhetoric as means of "social positioning"

I don't, and I never said that. I'm talking about one kind of elite that I think does do this.

(or if you think that "social positioning" is some kind of a serious problem)

I do, in fact, think this. Upthread Frowner talked about people who are actually hurt by gentrification, for instance. Long-term, working-class residents. The "Firesticks McYurts", people who are probably gentrifiers themselves, hijacked that movement to advance their own agenda of putting their cousins the technologists down a peg. That makes it a hell of a lot harder to take actual, real complaints of gentification seriously.

Stipulating that this is my anecdotal experience, albeit based on once having a career as a community activist and still doing significant work in low-income communities in the city I live in, no one is angrier about gentrification than white people who're upset that the buttoned-down, corporate-job newcomers have taken their exclusive "cool" place away from them.

then maybe you should wonder if you aren't engaging in precisely the same kind of narcissism you're laying off on others.

Hey, maybe I am. Politics is mostly narcissism and cultural animosity wrapped up in a thin veneer of rationality, after all. But at least I can admit it, rather than pretend like my ideology has the right answer to everything and that everyone else deserves nothing but my snark.
posted by downing street memo at 1:49 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


If Martin Luther King can bloody well be temperate and reasonable

Christ, have you actually read Letter from a Birmingham Jail?
posted by MartinWisse at 1:50 PM on January 6 [15 favorites]


I've met some very effective activists.

The one thing that they had in common was civil discourse. They got stuff done because they advocated firmly, but politely.

Also, they set reasonable goals. (Eg, raise money to provide a safe space for homeless youth, rather than try to dismantle capitalism with three signs and a megaphone.)



Okay, I don't want to be all No True Activist on you here, but I can't think of a single reason why building a homeless shelter with privately-raised funds would be controversial to anyone (beyond some kind of NIMBY sentiment, perhaps). I have absolutely no doubt that politeness would trump rudeness as a tool for raising money to build one.

Try to do something about the CAUSE of homelessness, though, and politeness might not be so effective. 'Polite' isn't a word I'd use to describe a typical strike, for instance.

Which has been more effective overall in the great Social Justice Struggle? Occupy Wall Street, or tumblr? And how do you know? Honest question, for anyone who invokes the Real Life Activist as a counterpoint to internet SJWs. How do you measure the success of activists, internet or otherwise, when they work against systemic social ills (patriarchy, racism, &c.), rather than against only the symptoms of those maladies?
posted by Androgenes at 1:52 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


If Martin Luther King can bloody well be temperate and reasonable

He was not regarded as such by the powers that be at the time and often not by his allies, either. He was regarded as An Angry Negro, and a very dangerous person. His fellow activists were literally fire-hosed off the streets and murdered (as was he). We retcon MLK as this perfectly temperate and reasonable person to our detriment.
posted by rtha at 1:52 PM on January 6 [37 favorites]


hahah, MartinWisse, I had the same thought: here it is.

" Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:53 PM on January 6 [9 favorites]


Martin Luther King is considered temperate and reasonable only through the lens of history. Go read Letter from Birmingham Jail and tell me he was temperate:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."
Upon preview, what Martin said.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:53 PM on January 6 [12 favorites]


What bothers me is the way activists are at their most aggressive against those who are, or should be, broadly allies, over minor distinctions of orthodoxy. It is easier to rip someone a new one when they're a) close enough to you in spirit for their guard to be down, and b) likely to understand your language and feel even your subtlest barbs acutely. I see it as an ugly way for frustrated people to score cheap victories when the hard and useful ones elude them.

I cannot take this at face value. You provide no specific examples of this. Furthermore, a) is not the case (because that would amount to evidence that you merely thought you were close in spirit), and more emphatically b) definitely not the case (again, if you think they are barbs then you aren't tuned into the language). The logic is that simple. I can see why someone would interpret the dynamic as such (that activists are being stupid and counterproductive, that frustration hinders them), but that has no correspondence with reality.

Further, I see this exact pseudo-argument a lot on other online forums. It's a gap but it's not fair to blame it on so-called "activists".
posted by polymodus at 1:53 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


he was often shrill, angry, and very very pointed in his speeches and writings.

It's not like there's never a place for shrill and angry. But the accompanying question is always, is there a point here? Is there a point to being shrill and angry in this instance? Is the aim persuasion or catharsis? Both are perfectly valid in their own way, but they do different things. It seems to be a function of a medium which is in some ways both public and private, real and "unreal" that these communicative goals become hopelessly confused.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:55 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Guys, that paragraph from the Letter is actually quite temporate and reasonable. The sentiment is angry, yes. No one's objecting to angry sentiment; the problem with tumblr isn't that it's angry.
posted by downing street memo at 1:56 PM on January 6 [15 favorites]


Guys, that paragraph from the Letter is actually quite temporate and reasonable.

We think it is now, sure. We look at his words and his tactics from a 50-year lens and all that's happened since, and it looks not just right but reasonable and calm and barely challenging. But anyone who thinks that MLK's contemporaries - those who worked along side him and especially those who worked against him - thought everything he did and said was unobjectionable (and presented unobjectionably) then you're missing huge chunks of the story. See SNCC, for example, and the Black Power Movement. See John Lewis having to tone down his March on Washington speech at the behest of other civil rights organizations and the organizing committee because he was pissed at the Kennedy administration for not doing enough.

[edited to change "even" to "especially" because what the hell, fingers]
posted by rtha at 2:11 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


So yeah to police how people respond to being attacked as if the source of the problem of a raging bull is THE BULL and not the people who LOCKED IT IN A CAGE AND TORTURED IT-- is problematic to me. Society really does have a lot of ideologies and practices that routinely cause and allow huge quantities of suffering and unnecessary death and poverty.

But the thing is, we're not talking about a monolithic "internet" where I can go out there and verbally lambaste Henry Kissinger or my homophobic co-worker - some kind of vast free-for-all where we're all able to identify and access the exact people who have demonstrably done us wrong.

If you and I actually know each other in some capacity, we're not just relating to each other as abstract figures who each have a certain set of oppressions that are super easy to define, like we're in some kind of rollplaying game and I need to roll a certain marginalization score before I can take an action.

I really don't like the "who caged the bull" logic. I mean seriously, I'm a transmasculine person - can I never be an asshole to, for example, a cis woman because I have male privilege? Or can a cis woman never be an asshole to me because she has cis privilege? Which of us caged that particular bull? And which bull are we talking about? Or what if I'm just an asshole to other trans men? What if I go around saying that if they disagree with me it's because of internalized transphobia? What if somebody tells me that my messy and not-super-far-along transitioning process isn't good enough (something I dread because I've seen it happen to others) and that my anxiety about employability is about internalized transphobia? What if someone has a history of self-harm and I know this? Do I have an obligation to be a little bit kinder in my speech with them or is it totally okay to break out the "go kill yourself"?

I mean, we are very very seldom talking about the really obvious racist/ misogynist/crappy situations, where someone is like "I hate hip-hop, it's all guns and bling and trampy women and I think everyone should listen to post-rock because that's the only intellectual music there is" or something. Obvious things happen plenty, but that's not the intraleft anger problem that is under discussion here, precisely because those things are are a lot more cut and dried. I don't want to get into mere gossip here, but I'm sure we can both think of lots of internet activist stuff that has happened in, like, the past year where the discourse was pretty messed up and it wasn't messed up neatly along "oppressor speaks cruelly to oppressed person" lines.

Also, frankly, I don't like the whole "some people are homeless because of transphobia so you should just suck it up when I say that you're cis-identified and doing your transition wrong" type of reasoning. There's a lot of violence in society; it's legitimate to use anger and to say angry things; but it isn't extra virtuous to do so, and it isn't always justified or harmless.
posted by Frowner at 2:15 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


I'm not an idiot, rtha. I'm well aware that King was not the anodyne, Disney-fied character he's presented as today. All I'm saying is that that paragraph is a pretty far cry from "kill all men" and "die cis scum" and "white people are inhuman vampires" and "you are literally Hitler" and the rest of the shit you see on tumblr today.

I mean, if you want to make the argument that it's only historical perspective that's keeping me from seeing King's rhetoric as any different than the misguided rantings of teenage tumblrites, then, uh, I guess that's something you can do.
posted by downing street memo at 2:16 PM on January 6 [9 favorites]


Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

This is why Bill Murray's appraisal of Chevy Chase - as "medium talent" - was such an excellent burn. Anybody can say anybody sucks, and it's easy to disregard that when you know that you don't, but when people start saying, "oh, I see what you're getting at, and maybe one day you'll achieve it!", then eyes start twitching.

...

This is complicated territory. Quoting Alan Keenan, on the topic of "moralizers" of any ideological stripe:
What were originally feelings of public concern, commitment to democratic values, or sympathy with others who are suffering are then quickly transformed into angry and resentful moralism at a system that loudly proclaims its democratic achievements as its effective democratic spaces grow ever smaller. The anger and resentment at the world not fitting one’s ethical designs, which is almost always to some degree involved in any adherence to high ethical standards, here takes on greater strength, often being displaced onto those one is appealing to for having failed to live up to their political and moral obligations. The burdens that the moralizer’s rules impose on those being asked to take responsibility for the world’s problems are likely to provoke defensive reactions even in the best of scenarios. Here, though, they are likely to produce their own reactive anger and resentment at the self-righteousness of such criticisms, for the basic impurity of democratic action and the “structural guilt” we all have simply from being part of “the system” make it all too easy to show how the moralizers themselves fail to meet the high standards they ask of others.
It is fuzzy and difficult to find the line between what "works" and what "doesn't", to the extent that any communication has a purpose, conscious and/or unconscious. Sometimes people are venting amongst themselves - sometimes they are actively trying to sway others - and on the internet, the borders between the two are sometimes porous in an unwelcome way. Sometimes people are reaching out - other times, people are trying to squelch others, or explain them away - and still other times, people like to act out a role where they get to be the Defender Of What Is Good, against the Brutes Who Just Don't Understand.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:17 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


can I never be an asshole to, for example, a cis woman because I have male privilege? Or can a cis woman never be an asshole to me because she has cis privilege?

I think I reversed that. What I was trying to say is: "If I am mean to a cis woman, does that not count because she is cis? Or if she is mean to me, does that not count because she is a woman and I am a transmasculine person?" And what I was trying to show is that this is a really reductionist way to talk about stuff.

Obviously, I could be misogynist to a cis woman in all kinds of ways, just as she could be transphobic to me. It's quite possible that we could both have a horrible interaction in which I was misogynist and she was transphobic. Or we could be assholes to each other on some other valence. Or she could be an asshole to me because I'm nerdy (and the wrong kind of nerdy, not the fashionable kind). What I'm trying to say is that all this stuff runs so deep and is so complicated that it isn't just a question of "who caged the bull" (even if we can figure out which bull).

I have definitely been in situations where even though I am fat and transmasculine and awkward, I have way more social power than someone nominally "less oppressed" than me - for example, when I'm in a situation where I have lots of friends in a space and lots of experience with a project and they have none. There are tons and tons of ways available for me to make them feel afraid or ashamed or useless or unwelcome, even though if we were in a different situation, they would have privilege over me. But because we're in a particular activist situation where I have power and they don't - and because we are not competing in other aspects of our lives and they don't have the opportunity to use their structural advantage over me....what I'm trying to say is that it still counts as me being an asshole. And that type of interaction happens all the time; I've observed it and participated in it on both sides. I've seen a young woman spread a really toxic lie about a straight white guy because he was awkward and it was a cool lie to tell (she pretended he was an informant because, basically, it made her feel powerful and important to have "spotted" him - even though he was just from a really different social background and didn't act like all the other activists, and he wasn't an informant, as I happened to know.)

The point is, it's really difficult!
posted by Frowner at 2:31 PM on January 6 [9 favorites]


"If I am mean to a cis woman, does that not count because she is cis? Or if she is mean to me, does that not count because she is a woman and I am a transmasculine person?"

This, fundamentally, is one of the best distillations of where a certain sect of radical feminism gets radically stupid: Cis women accusing transmen of male privilege, and even sometimes excluding them or ostracizing them from feminism because they're seen as traitors for having been women and wanting to become men.

I find this incredibly depressing. Transpeople, having change genders, have so much to teach us about gender. Not just from the experience of being treated both as a man and as a woman by society and having an opportunity to compare, but also from having experienced the very viceral and personal effects of changing the hormone levels in their blood stream. Listening to Buck Angel talk about developing male gaze is something every woman should do. Listening to a transwoman talk about the emotional experience of adding estrogen to her bloodstream is something every man should do.

At it's core, all of the bad behavior addressed in this piece is about needing to build ones' self up, and going about it by knocking other people down. Ironically, if you ask me, this is a super patriarchal, super bullying, and a very ugly American way to be. They're becoming everything about their enemies that they hate.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:40 PM on January 6 [10 favorites]


"What bothers me is the way activists are at their most aggressive against those who are, or should be, broadly allies, over minor distinctions of orthodoxy."

I cannot take this at face value. You provide no specific examples of this. Furthermore, a) is not the case (because that would amount to evidence that you merely thought you were close in spirit), and more emphatically b) definitely not the case (again, if you think they are barbs then you aren't tuned into the language). The logic is that simple. I can see why someone would interpret the dynamic as such (that activists are being stupid and counterproductive, that frustration hinders them), but that has no correspondence with reality.


Ironically, your response here is the very kind of critique of minor distinctions being talked about, because of

a) the demand for "specific examples",
b) the going on to argue the point anyway despite initially saying you couldn't take the argument seriously.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:40 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Frowner,
Maybe you hold yourself to too high of a standard? I don't think anyone should expect another person to always be the utter pinacle of virtuousness in every and all things. That is just as much a failure as dehumanizing someone. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is the same thing, just the opposite end of the scale.

You can be an asshole to who ever you feel the need to be an asshole to. You just have to accept the consequences of that behavior. That's all. While there may be those who strive for complete harmony and virtuous living, that is in itself a narcissistic endeavor, and is in opposition to functioning as a member of any group.

I also think trying to always "punch down" might be part of the problem, more than the raging bull. It is completely normal to rage, even when the apparent slights may seem trivial to others. You are human before you are anything else. And as a human, you deserve equal treatment as any other human. If someone who might be more marginalized than you treats you badly (or just differently marginalized, as it's not a 2D scale, more like a 3D sphere), then you are more than within your rights to feel aggrieved. However, you are also asked to understand their anger (if it is anger) at you. If it is not anger, but someone being rude for the sake of rudeness, well, then they're the asshole and frankly deserve whatever reaction their behavior leads to. Responsibility for ones own actions is part and parcel with being human, and being afforded human rights.

Now, mind you, this is EXTREMELY complex and difficult to do, especially when there is no way to ameliorate an injustice. It takes a lot of structural changes and the advancement of a lot of societal fixes. It is similar to how many people view Affirmative Action. Most people completely misunderstand it, even those who benefit from it. And it was never completed, as it was meant to be a step towards a more just and equitable society. What it ended up as has yet to be named, but it has consistently been weakened by more and more legislation that rolls back many of the gains that it was meant to improve upon. But that is a completely different discourse.

But back on track. Sometimes you just have to accept that no matter what you do, you will be seen as the asshole. Even if you are the one being attacked, you cannot change those that will attack you. You can simply change yourself, or decide that the change you need is not the change they want.
posted by daq at 2:45 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I feel I've reached the point now where I feel discussion/deconstructions of "online activism" are nearly as narcissistic and divorced from actual activism as most "online activism" itself. I dunno, I just feel the internet has lowered the bar on activism so far you couldn't slide a cigarette paper under it - most of it is approaching the level of "pink-shit-on-shit for breast cancer".

Actual online activism is stuff like the Obama campaigns, 350.org, Get-Up/Move On etc etc. Some blog on Tumblr and the heated discussions therein, come on, that's not activism, what's that changing?

I dunno, I just feel there's a real forest for the trees thing going on, and I can't help feeling if half the people participating and writing on this stuff got involved with genuine activism, a lot of the conflict would evaporate fairly quickly.

There's nothing wrong with blogging about social justice issues, at all. But I do think it can be... frivolous I guess, to conflate it with practical activism and social justice movements. It's a very small, self-selected audience, really, and the history of activism is about almost the opposite.
posted by smoke at 2:46 PM on January 6 [12 favorites]


"What bothers me is the way activists are at their most aggressive against those who are, or should be, broadly allies, over minor distinctions of orthodoxy."

This happens all the time. To take it further, the radical left seems to have narrowly defined the term "ally".

Consider the allies of WWII: they disagreed with each other about tactics, they didn't all do what the others wanted all the time, but they were broadly united in a common cause.

Contemporary radicalism seems to define "ally" a lot more like George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld defined it in their time in power. They meant a nation that did what the US said to do. France became "Old Europe" when it didn't comply, and congress started eating "Freedom Fries".

Basically, in some circles, "ally" is a new word for "pawn".
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:51 PM on January 6 [11 favorites]


This, fundamentally, is one of the best distillations of where a certain sect of radical feminism gets radically stupid: Cis women accusing transmen of male privilege, and even sometimes excluding them or ostracizing them from feminism because they're seen as traitors for having been women and wanting to become men.

Then again -- speaking as a transmasculine person, I take advantage of masculine privilege. Sometimes deliberately. Not so much the privilege of being recognized as male, as I generally don't pass (and don't usually try to), but the fact that a lot of the way I present is in the way that is coded as more serious, more rational, and generally Not Like Those Other (dammit...) Women is something that has been useful to me in the past. Of course, it's useful in getting me things that I should have anyway, but still someone who is more cis-presenting might not get those things, so in that sense I have an unfair advantage over them in an overall unfair system.

That said, I've certainly seen trans-exclusive feminist types say and do some really unkind things based on that sense that male privilege is involved somewhere and that the thing to do about male privilege is to stomp it mercilessly. That unkind behavior is not excused by anything involving the complex truth involved in the concepts they're examining.
posted by sparktinker at 2:58 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


From the article:
I have long argued (privately) that our current phase of online activism is very much hobbled by the logic of neoliberalism and its emphasis on the individual, in ways that many of us are completely unaware of. Much online activism exalts the particular at the expense of the collective, rewarding individual episodes of catharsis and valuing them with considerably higher esteem than the more hard-nosed and less histrionic work that sustains a community.
I wonder how my understanding of activism would have been changed if the first activist communities I joined had been constituted online instead of face to face. The ethnic studies coalition activists I joined in undergrad engaged in intragroup sniping, and there was plenty of judgementalism to go around (criticisms of one woman's fashion sense because it was more sorority girl angora sweater than hoodies and doc martens), but there was a general sense that you learned to get along and make do with everyone's imperfections because there simply weren't enough activists to go around cutting people off for insufficient political purity. There wasn't an endless supply of people willing to put up posters for the next march, or chalk slogans, or protest in front of the Dean's office. And "tone" was easier to parse in face-to-face encounters, even if our meetings were grueling hours-long affairs once we took up consensus decision making.

The activist communities that I joined in the late 1990s and early 2000s used email to communicate, but our biggest blowouts and reconciliations came when we were in the same room, muddling through yet another meeting, often times with a trained facilitator or mediator. How do you facilitate Tumblr? Mediate Twitter?
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:59 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


What bothers me is the way activists are at their most aggressive against those who are, or should be, broadly allies, over minor distinctions of orthodoxy. It is easier to rip someone a new one when they're a) close enough to you in spirit for their guard to be down, and b) likely to understand your language and feel even your subtlest barbs acutely. I see it as an ugly way for frustrated people to score cheap victories when the hard and useful ones elude them.

The narcissism of small differences.
.

It's why England and America feel so weird to me as a Canadian and yet France, Spain, Croatia, Italy seem just fine. In the former places I expect little to no differences and in the latter I expect huge differences. Wrong both times but the former error is more unsettling than the latter.
posted by srboisvert at 2:59 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


"It is easier to rip someone a new one when they're a) close enough to you in spirit for their guard to be down, and b) likely to understand your language and feel even your subtlest barbs acutely."

I've actually seen this happen. There are some online communities, usually that aren't well moderated, that really allow horrific and brutal verbal attacks on each other for extremely minor differences like how women should deal with the issue of make-up and suddenly feminist women are screaming death threats at each other and you're like, what the shit is happening here?

When you think about micro-aggressions and the psychological toll they take on specific groups who are more likely to experience them, I think we can also consider how living around toxic online attacks really messes people up and they start acting nasty too because they're immune to how much it's harmed them as well or they have literally dehumanized the other people they are talking to to the point they don't even care if they psychologically harm the other person. Certainly I think there are conversations that merit saying things that might harm the person you argue with, but there should be ethical considerations as what might actually merit this and it's not "You omitted mentioning specifically how this issue effects women/minority group x and therefore I will now tell you what a despicable sexist pig you are and never see you as an equal human again because you are horrific and bad" which in comparison to what people actually say to each other over things like this is actually much nicer than the level of vitriol on a lot of internet conversations that just don't seem to call for the level of hate, rage, and harmful language that gets used.

Sometimes saying the truth will itself hurt the other person and it needs to be said and being angry while you say it can be called for. I think some people have been so injured by casual internet hatred that they can't see straight (I know some conversations have done that for me) and they keep trying to defend themselves because no one else will.

If no one else is doing it, I think people are entitled to defend themselves and their worth and status and right to resources and social relationships and opportunities to get needs met as well as they can and if they have too much anger while doing it, maybe that's the best they can do. All the same, if you're the person that is an angry activist it's VERY worth evaluating when you actually want to say something hurtful and meditating on the fact these words may cause very real injury to the person you're talking to and deciding if there is REALLY a genuine benefit in saying something- and also choosing what statement might be most effective whether hurtful or not hurtful. But yeah, I think sometimes it is necessary to say something even if it will hurt feelings or contains legitimate anger.

I think anger is rarely, but occasionally useful, but mostly after it's been processed and reflected on- or occasionally when it's part of a valid self defense (or defense of others) reaction.

Frowner- I know what you mean about these kinds of conversations, I personally feel like it's best to be as kind as possible and to understand that most of us don't feel like we have much power even when we do and most of us don't realize we hurt others even when we do. I tend to side with absolute forgiveness in a certain sense, however when applied to actions that are ONGOING absolute forgiveness can too easily promote acceptance of harmful behavior and it's hard to navigate those sort of competing goals of wanting to be understanding of how much people harm each other and also stop people from harming each other. I feel like I'm doing about as well I can right now and I don't feel there's much good anyone "ripping me a knew one" about any problem behavior I might have would do. I work toward self improvement but it's slow going and assume that's the case for many others who can't just snap their fingers and fix harmful behaviors they might participate by default of how their life came together and how they've learned to survive.

It's scary to tell people they're doing something harmful and taking the blows and retorts they have for you as a result. It's like someone just injured you and you're expected to tell them they injured you nicely and then listen to them injure you again by justifying themselves and also pointing out why you deserve to be treated that way.

It's also scary and painful to find out you were doing something harmful when you didn't mean to be a harmful person, and really didn't mean to at all. I think that happens all the time and I understand people get defensive about it and I wish there were an easy way to let people know something they said was harmful without making them feel bad or calling attention to them as some awful person at all and leaving plenty of room to understand that they didn't see it clearly and that's very human.

"While there may be those who strive for complete harmony and virtuous living, that is in itself a narcissistic endeavor"
I don't know that it's a narcissistic endeavor to care about human (or sentient being) welfare and to work for a world where there is greater welfare, needs met, and less suffering. I feel like that statement is itself part of what justifies a lot of unnecessary suffering sort of like how christians use "there will always be the poor" to disregard the rest of the new testaments teaching on poverty and suffering. We can't eliminate suffering because we are imperfect and limited, however if we could doing so would be the opposite of narcissistic, that's pretty much what compassion would do- create an abundant healthy happy world for living beings. I like the principle of doing the most good and the least harm, taking into account that reality and the humans in it are limited and doing so requires compromises and complex thinking and empathetic reasoning.
posted by xarnop at 3:02 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


. I am NOT a fan of being nasty to people for their errors, I've made plenty myself-- and yet do you really think it's not ok to call slave owners morally corrupt? There are some cultural practices still in effect that probably are morally corrupt and monstrous and I'm not sure how nice you can make that.

It's fine to call slave owners morally corrupt. But (to return to the subject of the linked articles) treating people who preferred GTA V to Proteus as though they were slave owners is bonkers.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:05 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Nothing a songwriting retreat at a whitewashed plantation wouldn't soothe.
posted by kmz at 3:18 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


She makes some good points but my eyelid is twitching from the excess of writerly embellishments in every sentence.

To be fair, the writer self-identifies as an academic.

To be fair, the writer is a bad writer:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word should tell.— Strunk & White
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:18 PM on January 6


I saw some upthread blame this on the deprecation of the "tone argument," and I wanna take a sec to mention why that's particularly wrong-headed:

A "tone argument" is essentially a layman's ad hominem; that is, critiquing how something is said rather than responding to the actual argument underneath it. Now, granted, how something is phrased does contribute to its overall meaning, but if you look at how "tone arguments" are deployed, they're very much of the, "I don't like the way you're phrasing it, so I don't have to acknowledge any points you make," genus.

I'll also point out that, e.g. #misandry, people tend to miss the humor of things that are pointed at them in a way that makes them parse the hyperbolic as literal, (which plays into the problem that people with less power tend to often frame their discourse in ways that are more hyperbolic in order to make up for that lack of power).
posted by klangklangston at 3:20 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


"To be fair, the writer is a bad writer:"

To be fair, anyone who cites Strunk and White as an authority lacks the discernment to have a worthwhile opinion on writing styles in general. Its place on the self-anointed pedant's bookshelf is next to the worksheets for removing prepositions from the ends of sentences.
posted by klangklangston at 3:25 PM on January 6 [19 favorites]


It's fine to call slave owners morally corrupt. But (to return to the subject of the linked articles) treating people who preferred GTA V to Proteus as though they were slave owners is bonkers.

TFB, I'm reading all the linked articles and so far I don't see them describing the behavior you say they do. They all seem thoughtful, though, and I might have missed something. Is there context that I'm not aware of, or is there something specific that you could quote?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:25 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I'll also point out that, e.g. #misandry, people tend to miss the humor of things that are pointed at them in a way that makes them parse the hyperbolic as literal, (which plays into the problem that people with less power tend to often frame their discourse in ways that are more hyperbolic in order to make up for that lack of power).

#misandry is a whole separate clusterfuck unto itself.

Men's Rights Activists generally (not always) use the #misandry hashtag when what they're actually talking about is equality.

Men's Rights Activists often (not always) use the #misandry hashtag when what they're actually talking about is feminism.

Radical Feminists generally (not always) use the #misandry hashtag when what they're actually talking about is counter-misogyny.

Radical Feminists also seem to use the #misandry hashtag after making a nasty generalization about men, to declare it OK to do so.

Radical Feminists sometimes, quite rightly, use the #misandry hashtag to mock Men’s Right’s activists misuse of it.

Men’s Rights Activists occasionally use the #misandry hashtag to talk about actual misandry, such as UK law’s bias against divorced dads.

Both MRAs and RadFems mostly misunderstand #misandry. It exists, it’s rarer than misogyny, mostly patriarchal, done to men by other men.

And in the end, every single one of these uses has the capacity to piss somebody off. Because, well, narcissism of small differences.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:26 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


I saw some upthread blame this on the deprecation of the "tone argument," and I wanna take a sec to mention why that's particularly wrong-headed...

I don't think there's anyone here saying that it's not possible for someone to be arguing in bad faith, and focusing on tone to distract from content. That said, in many circles, the exclamation of having been the target of a "tone argument" has become no less a bad faith gesture than the actual practice of making one.

Or, put another way: "I can be an enormous asshole and nobody is allowed to ever be put off by it!" does not follow from "My argument is righteous!".
posted by tocts at 3:29 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


It's (??) place on the self-anointed pedant's bookshelf is next to the worksheets for removing prepositions from the ends of sentences.

You're welcome to disagree, but I think the hallmark of good writing is succinctness. Fowler advocated the same thing.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:30 PM on January 6


#misandry is a whole separate clusterfuck unto itself."

It seems to be mostly making fun of it, though a few use it earnestly.

"I don't think there's anyone here saying that it's not possible for someone to be arguing in bad faith, and focusing on tone to distract from content. That said, in many circles, the exclamation of having been the recipient of a "tone argument" has become no less a bad faith gesture than the actual practice of making one."

Well, but the way around this is to address the underlying argument and ignore the tone. And comments like this:
I really do think the vilification of tone policing is where it all went wrong. An assumption set in that the only reason anyone would bring up tone was as an underhanded way to attack an argument. But it's not. Tone matters. When your relationships are largely mediated by rhetoric, rhetorical violence is violence, and violence destroys.
don't support the idea that it's a reaction to bad faith on the part of the initial "tone-arguer," but rather is an effort to focus on the tone, rather than the content, of an argument. It's funny, especially because some of the same people who are so sensitive to this rhetorical violence, don't think that, say, violently sexist and racist video games deserve that same excoriation.

"You're welcome to disagree, but I think the hallmark of good writing is succinctness. Fowler advocated the same thing."

You're welcome to think what you like, but the hallmark of good writing is being effectively joined with content. Joseph Conrad was an excellent writer; he was not succinct in the least.

More to the point, arguing over whether her writing was of sufficient carat, especially by citing long-discredited bloviators, is so much folderol.
posted by klangklangston at 3:45 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


people tend to miss the humor of things that are pointed at them in a way that makes them parse the hyperbolic as literal

Telling people that your endorsement of violence against them is meant to be "hyperbolic humor" is just a polysyllabic way of saying "Wassamatter, ya can't take a joke?"

TFB, I'm reading all the linked articles and so far I don't see them describing the behavior you say they do. They all seem thoughtful, though, and I might have missed something. Is there context that I'm not aware of, or is there something specific that you could quote?

Rustic: I'm conflating a few things. All the linked articles are specifically about rhetoric used in the game criticism world. And in the game criticism world, one of the (many) vitriolic discussions last year involved whether Proteus was a "game" or an "interactive artwork". Which led to a lot of people (including some of the linked writers) insisting that to call Proteus anything other than a game was not just as bad as misgendering a trans person, but was exactly the same thing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:48 PM on January 6


That all said, I do totally get that working with other folks who can seem overly sensitive and combative is a real pain in the ass; I have to work in a lot of non-profit coalitions built around identity politics with idiosyncratic views, and it can be a terrible slog. Mostly, though, I put that down to the fact that we almost never talk face-to-face, being scattered throughout the state, and conference calls are probably the worst way to decide anything ever.

(It's also worth noting that internet activism and "SJW" have almost no traction in the broader world, so there's really pretty little risk from them poisoning activism on a broader level.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:51 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I'm usually confused by internet social justice trolling. What's really at stake? Getting more clicks? Getting invited to some conference? Having a broader audience? It seems to me, it's still just people fighting for status by parading their own street/theory cred. It's rarely illuminating, and I wonder who has been changed by an internet argument.

The need to be right, or righteous, I find to be tiresome and obnoxious. Callout culture seems a lot like merely a secular form of Puritanism, with a destructive manichean streak. I admit, it's one of the reasons I stay away from interweb discussions on feminism.

For the only way to get through this messy world is to show some magnanimity for others, including the people who get things wrong.

While everyone's correcting each other's politics, there's plenty of on the ground political work that needs bodies.
posted by john wilkins at 3:53 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Telling people that your endorsement of violence against them is meant to be "hyperbolic humor" is just a polysyllabic way of saying "Wassamatter, ya can't take a joke?"

This. Exactly. Wassamatter, ya can't take a lynching joke? Wassamatter, ya can't take a kill whitey joke? Wassamatter, ya can't take a rape joke? Wassamatter, ya can't take a castration joke?

The depersonalization of the web is a huge culprit here. I wonder if this generation's kids will, having been on social media their whole lives, get better at being human online, or worse at being human when they're not online.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:54 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


"Telling people that your endorsement of violence against them is meant to be "hyperbolic humor" is just a polysyllabic way of saying "Wassamatter, ya can't take a joke?""

Well, yes, if you have no independent faculties for distinguishing them. But since we can actually shoot each other in video games and understand that isn't a legitimate threat of murder, I think we can also parse between humor that reinforces actual violence against people, and the use of pointed humor, even with violent rhetoric, that does not, actually, constitute a serious threat and may in fact be poking fun at the hyperbolic and paranoiac fantods of people who feel threatened by a tiny marginalized minority. If you are not, that's your handicap, not a flaw in society.

"This. Exactly. Wassamatter, ya can't take a lynching joke? Wassamatter, ya can't take a kill whitey joke? Wassamatter, ya can't take a rape joke? Wassamatter, ya can't take a castration joke?"

Again, this is only a problem if you lack the critical faculties to distinguish between them. Joking about lynching versus joking about castration can be different based on the context.

Indeed, arguments that they must necessarily be the same are appeals to idiocy, in which it must be assumed that we are ignorant of a broader context and constrained to a literal interpretation, which is itself anathema to humor.
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


Joking about lynching versus joking about castration can be different based on the context.

You could make strawman jokes about any kind of strawman portrait of any kind of activist. For instance, not all teapartiers or gun nuts are racist, but they're repeatedly painted as such in the literature of those who oppose them.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:03 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


"The need to be right, or righteous, I find to be tiresome and obnoxious."

I agree the need to be righteous is obnoxious but the need to feel safe in your community and not harmed by the practices of people around you is a valid need. I think sometimes people misunderstand an appeal to defend ones ability to navigate being part of a society the same as everyone else- or standing up for someone being genuinely harmed as "self righteous" or "moralism" when that's the sort of take you might use to preserve your ability to continue harming others unchecked, by calling any opposition obnoxious moralism or self righteousness.
posted by xarnop at 4:05 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


downing street memo: the problem with tumblr isn't that it's angry.

Yep, and i think that anyone who outright disagrees with that at face value hasn't actually spent time using tumblr.

It's funny seeing all this addressed here this way when i've actually been attacked on here before for making pretty much exactly this point.

The group of people i generally hang out with includes quite a few who are really involved on there and have been for years. People who spend lots of their free time interacting on there, have thousands of followers, etc.

Several have just deleted their blogs and quit cold turkey in the past few months. I quit a while before that.

Why? Because someone wanted to get in to a serious argument with me, backed up by a lot of other people about how speciesism and racism were the same thing, by which i mean the same level of seriousness and negative force in the world. Like, they were actually with a straight face comparing the antebellum south and black people getting blasted with firehoses and shit to the treatment of cows vs the treatment of pet dogs. They were willing to go to war over this and fight to the last man standing. Oh, and of course, everyone who i could find any sort of GPOY(selfie, essentially, in tumblr speak for those not familiar) were of course white(or at least, in their parlance, white-presenting) and like fucking 15.

I just closed my laptop and went for a walk, and never went back.

That kind of crap is what's wrong with tumblr. The fact that there are people on there who are so far underwater that they've completely lost the horizon and are swimming down or sideways when they think they're swimming back towards the surface.

My friends who are still on there regularly groan about stuff like that they see circulating and getting really popular.

So yea, in my opinion it isn't just the way some things are presented, but a lot of times the actual point being presented makes you think "jesus christ, is this serious? is this a troll?"
posted by emptythought at 4:07 PM on January 6 [12 favorites]


A bumper sticker is not an insight.

... would fit on a bumper sticker.

My view is that Culture is a big house, with a million rooms, and we're all living in it. But some of us have palatial bedrooms and some have tatty lean-to's. So when enough people want to build a proper extension and bring the people sleeping under canvas, you need men and women with hammers and saws to knock out a wall or two, so you can get building.

But hammers and saws and implements of destruction are so fun and satisfying, and it feels so good to be shoulder to shoulder with the other people carrying them, that there's always the temptation to keep bashing. Even after the walls are down and the people in the lean-to's are building their new awesome additions to the house. And to view the people who want you to stop bashing as enemies of the new construction.

/agonisingly over-extended metaphor
posted by Sebmojo at 4:09 PM on January 6


Activist rage is linkbait. is something that I always sort of suspected, but in the past few years I've managed to internalize that understanding, and let me tell you, it makes my life a lot better.

Yes, there's all sorts of privileges being invoked, but internet activist rage is often unhealthy and unproductive, even it if feels good in the short time. Unharnessed anger is just toxic, and most of that rage is never productive.
posted by aspo at 4:14 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Well, but the way around this is to address the underlying argument and ignore the tone. And comments like this: ... don't support the idea that it's a reaction to bad faith on the part of the initial "tone-arguer," but rather is an effort to focus on the tone, rather than the content, of an argument.

That is a particularly uncharitable reading of that comment. TFB did not say "only tone matters", but simply: "tone matters". And that's the truth.

Tone isn't the only thing, but it is an important thing.
posted by tocts at 4:22 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


It's funny seeing all this addressed here this way when i've actually been attacked on here before for making pretty much exactly this point.

This whole discussion would've gone very, very differently as recently as six months ago, I think.
posted by downing street memo at 4:29 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


Telling people that your endorsement of violence against them is meant to be "hyperbolic humor" is just a polysyllabic way of saying "Wassamatter, ya can't take a joke?"

To call a piece of humor an "endorsement of violence" is begging the question in this chain of reasoning. It may or may not be, but the fact that it uses violent imagery is not in itself evidence for this claim.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:31 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


xarnop: I don't disagree with the principle of safety. But what does a safe internet mean? Is it merely my privilege that makes it easy for me to avoid such websites? Is there a difference between "feeling unsafe" while in one's cozy one bedroom, reading an offensive thread and actually being threatened like "I can find you?" These are important. Physical threats of harm are never countenanced; but uncomfortable stories or politically ignorant assertions? People should be allowed to say wrong, and sometimes offensive, statements. It's how we learn. And of course correction is necessary - but such correction is best made magnanimously and charitably, with the understanding that nobody has it all right.

I distinguish between arguing with someone who makes a bad argument, and someone who is actually threatening. In the former case, we need thicker skins. In the latter, we should challenge, and if necessary, block.

Often, when I'm reading a vitrolic thread, I'm more impressed by the general immaturity and sensitivity of the writers than the actual arguments made. Of course, few people have changed their mind because of an internet argument. Social justice remains elusive, regardless of the many keyboard strokes of justified anger announced in the interwebs.
posted by john wilkins at 4:31 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


But it's not just the tone of an individual comment - it's the tone of the whole conversation which matters, which is part of why this is all so tricky. How often I've seen someone excerpt something which reads really appallingly out of context and then I actually click through and think "you know, actually that was a perfectly appropriate response". I think that one reason the "tone argument" business is such a problem is that it's usually someone whose "tone" is actually perfectly in keeping with the discourse because the discourse itself is pretty nasty.

Actually a year or so ago I went and looked up the "Die Cis Scum" person - who I won't link here because that person has enough troubles on the internet - and I really liked their blog and thought that they were on the whole a very thoughtful person who did not deserve the unpleasantness they'd gotten as the result of a bit of hyperbole. (Which itself was just a play on the good old eighties "Die Yuppie Scum", about which no one got so worked up.)
posted by Frowner at 4:33 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


To call a piece of humor an "endorsement of violence" is begging the question in this chain of reasoning. It may or may not be, but the fact that it uses violent imagery is not in itself evidence for this claim.

It isn't always humor. I've seen rallying Radical Feminists chant "Shoot the Rapists, Shoot Shoot the Rapists".

And what's implicit there, but explicit in other radical feminist speech on tumblr and twitter, is that extrajudicial vigilante justice is acceptable if it's being done in the name of injustice that matters most to them.

That basically makes them no different than the minutemen guarding the Arizona border who think that extrajudicially putting alligators in the Rio Grande is acceptable justice because it's being done in the name of an injustice that matters to them.

This is a core commonality among extremists.

They feel rule of law is failing them on an issue that is important to them. But they lack the maturity to realize that the only viable path is to fix the law, so they end up putting out violent revenge fantasies. Violent revenge fantasies aren't jokes, especially when one's identity is the target of said fantasies.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:38 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Bingo!
posted by bleep-blop at 4:43 PM on January 6


"You could make strawman jokes about any kind of strawman portrait of any kind of activist. For instance, not all teapartiers or gun nuts are racist, but they're repeatedly painted as such in the literature of those who oppose them."

Two points: First off, you missed what I was saying, which was that we could distinguish between jokes pretty easily, so the idea that jokes e.g. about violence against women versus jokes about violence against men as synecdoche of misogynists are equivalent is false.

Second, the Tea Party advocates racist policies and extremist Second-Amendment policies. While not every Tea Party member is a racist or a gun nut, they are, by definition, aligning themselves with an organization that is. They, in fact, have a power that the amorphous "feminists" or "SJW" don't — an ability to stake a formalized platform. Likewise, Republicans. As there is no official Social Justice Warrior Party, the stereotype is more of a straw man.

"That is a particularly uncharitable reading of that comment. TFB did not say "only tone matters", but simply: "tone matters". And that's the truth."

He did say that, yes. However, you ignored everything else in order to argue an "uncharitable reading." He posits that tone arguments being deprecated is where "where it all went wrong." He also uses "tone matters" to argue that it's not only "an underhanded way to attack an argument," but ignores that it largely is in order to create the impression that it is predominantly used as a way to justify rhetorical violence, rather than being used to dismiss irrelevant ad hominem attacks. Yes, not all ad hominem arguments are fallacies, but in general, they are. Arguing that they should not be generally called out because sometimes they're accurate is perverse, and when the argument starts with saying that doing so is "where it all went wrong," noting an exception to a broad truth, that tone arguments are often used to silence marginalized voices by privileged people who are uncomfortable with the critique they're getting, is not evidence in support of the broader point.

So, no, it's not uncharitable to describe that as an effort to focus on tone rather than content of an argument. Tone matters, sure, but it is frequently a distraction and the implication of the argument was that by reacting against "tone arguments," that somehow that's where social justice was lost.

Undoubtably, the comment wasn't likely composed to be exhaustive, but that it might have a broader, unwritten context that makes it less misleading does not mean that it is uncharitable to read it as written.
posted by klangklangston at 4:43 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


You're basically going down the same predictable path of, "Yeah, but, but, but... we're the good guys! So it's OK."

No it isn't. It isn't OK and when you do it, you stop being the good guys. You're start being the ones that the good guys should roll their eyes at as they say "Please, don't 'help'".
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:46 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


And what's implicit there, but explicit in other radical feminist speech on tumblr and twitter, is that extrajudicial vigilante justice is acceptable if it's being done in the name of injustice that matters most to them.

Feminists are not a monolith, so I'm not sure how you can psychoanalyze one group with some things that another group has said. Anyway, "shoot the rapists" is a provocative thing to say but I don't interpret it as a literal call for armed mobs of feminists to round up and execute potential rapists (how would that even work?), and I'm frankly confused that anyone would.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:47 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Feminists are not a monolith

That's why I added the qualifier "radical" and omitted the qualifier "all".

And I could be talking about ANY extreme wing of any cause. This tendency to slip off the deep end applies to the most strident factions of any political movement.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:49 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


"It isn't always humor. I've seen rallying Radical Feminists chant "Shoot the Rapists, Shoot Shoot the Rapists".

And what's implicit there, but explicit in other radical feminist speech on tumblr and twitter, is that extrajudicial vigilante justice is acceptable if it's being done in the name of injustice that matters most to them.

That basically makes them no different than the minutemen guarding the Arizona border who think that extrajudicially putting alligators in the Rio Grande is acceptable justice because it's being done in the name of an injustice that matters to them.
"

Really? "Shoot the rapists" is no different from putting alligators in the Rio Grande to deter immigration? You can't think of any context that might illuminate the differences?

Sure, there are a few people for whom it's just as wrong for the Jews to rise up in Warsaw as it is for the Nazis to kill them, to make the broadest possible point about extralegal violence, but that's a pretty understandably unsatisfying position for the vast majority of people.

"They feel rule of law is failing them on an issue that is important to them. But they lack the maturity to realize that the only viable path is to fix the law, so they end up putting out violent revenge fantasies. Violent revenge fantasies aren't jokes, especially when one's identity is the target of said fantasies."

Well, no, there's probably no actual legal fix for ending rape, and it's pretty understandable to feel frustration, especially when the same people who do the hand-wringing about "fix the law" are the ones opposing actually changing laws.

And violent revenge fantasies can, in fact, be jokes. See: Inglorious Bastards.
posted by klangklangston at 4:50 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


"You're basically going down the same predictable path of, "Yeah, but, but, but... we're the good guys! So it's OK.""

And you're basically going down the path of, "Well, rapists are violent to women, but some women want to be violent to rapists, but we can never know whose right!" That's what I meant about an appeal to idiocy. It's either that or radical pacifism, which you should at least own up to if you're going to argue from.

"And I could be talking about ANY extreme wing of any cause. This tendency to slip off the deep end applies to the most strident factions of any political movement."

Meh. This is just your weak-sauce "both sides do it" platitude. And where we decide the line is between mainstream and "radical" is, wait for it, often very much bound up in the tone argument.
posted by klangklangston at 4:53 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


I think it's tremendously naive to suppose that sjw rhetoric and arguments don't make their way into mainstream political culture. Just because there's no "SJW party" doesn't mean that ideas with their origin in these spaces don't end up being quite influential. At this point, I think the general universe of the American left is about as tied up in questions of identity as it ever has been, and I think this is largely thanks to the SJWs.

This has been good and bad. On the good side of the ledger, the focus on "women in tech", the very rapid acceptance of transpeople into progressive narratives of equality in the last 2-3 years, and surely others issues I'm not thinking of had their roots in what we'd probably call SJW spaces.

On the bad side, the (wildly trivial) obsession with representation in media, the quick trigger finger left-leaning people now have in calling their ideological adversaries racists (which is, like it or not, a severe charge in most of the west), and the general use of anti-racist rhetoric for the purposes of self-aggrandizement.

But more broadly: left-wingers have power, and the constant tic that some have to dismiss that power ("oh, we're just talking on the internet here, we don't have any real power") is silly.
posted by downing street memo at 4:55 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


It's only moral to follow rules of law if the rules of law are moral. Certainly, since individuals are imperfect, and the system is imperfect, defying the law should not be done without a great deal of consideration and knowledge about the reasons for the law and efforts to find solutions that fit within existing law or using methods to legally change the law. But obeying the law that is corrupt is not innately correct.

Was Hitler REALLY the only one responsible for the Holocaust? Surely there's a medium between blatant disregard for law and blind obedience to the law. I think we need some of both. There is a time for vigilante justice. When gross level of human abuses are occurring, like for example rampant rape and sexual abuse, that the law is incompetent to address, perhaps there is a time vigilante justice is called for at a certain point?

I personally prefer to protect the life of all humans, including criminals or abusers, but preserving their lives and well being while stopping them from harming others and stopping the societal forces that enable and empower abusers is very complex and unlikely to be capable of protecting BOTH the interests of abusers and those they harm at the same time.

But I'm not sure why it's innately considered wrong to want vigilante justice when society seems very content allowing a lot of rape and sexual abuse and child abuse to happen. Maybe individual communities SHOULD be coordinating together to do better than what we have since what we have is not working very well. I think people are in the right to be discontent about that and to want to create a stronger and more involved force of people willing to get involved in sexual abuse and violence situations
posted by xarnop at 4:56 PM on January 6


But I'm not sure why it's innately considered wrong to want vigilante justice when society seems very content allowing a lot of rape and sexual abuse and child abuse to happen.

You know this is essentially the right-wing argument for a broadly-interpreted second amendment, right?
posted by downing street memo at 5:03 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


That's why I added the qualifier "radical" and omitted the qualifier "all".

Even radical feminists are not a monolith. If you're going to argue that all, most, or even a sizable proportion of radical feminists support a campaign to identify rapists and then commit gun violence against them, that's a claim that I think would require support beyond some overheard fragments of conversation on Twitter or Tumblr.

Really? "Shoot the rapists" is no different from putting alligators in the Rio Grande to deter immigration? You can't think of any context that might illuminate the differences?

Especially since alligators have actually been found in the Rio Grande (who knows if this was intentional, but it's at least a concrete and specific action that is totally able to be accomplished by individuals), while as far as I am aware no roving bands of rapist-executing vigilantes have been formed in the USA.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:04 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


It isn't always humor. I've seen rallying Radical Feminists chant "Shoot the Rapists, Shoot Shoot the Rapists".

I have two thoughts here:

First, I don't think there's anything more terrible about shooting rapists than about committing rape. This isn't really equivalent to "I hate men because they're all worthless misogynists" or whatever, because committing sexual assault is a choice and not something that you just accidentally do. And if the mere image of violence against rapists itself is what bugs you, you might want to ask yourself why.

Second, I do hear you on the "I am uncomfortable with the gleeful fantasy of dispensing with due process" front, especially when it's a large group having the fantasy. I've definitely been in activist situations where I did not feel good about how into that particular fantasy everyone was, especially because I've been in social settings where there's no due process [or really, let's say "organized, serious and accountable group dealing with an accusation"] and I did not care for the result (as upthread, when the young woman lied about a guy being an informant - we don't have any habits of establishing whether or not someone is an informant, so all it takes is the accusation and boom, the guy is frozen out of everything.) It does make you realize that certain types of social violence seem fun and gratifying to groups, and that this is not unique to the right/Stalinists/whoever-your-outgroup-is.

Sexual assault is one of those things, though, that is so horrible because there's so few effective ways to stop it. I've been in a lot of activist circles where even though we don't have an effective way to deter sexual assault or help its victims, we skip right ahead to "how can we provide a process for the rapist to be accountable and reintegrated into the community". Sometimes this is out of misogyny, but sometimes it's just because people feel like they can get a handle on designing an accountability process (which they usually can't, it's a lot harder than it seems) and that this is something they can do. But it's sort of at the wrong place - there has been this terrible act of violence and we can't just skip to "reintegration"; there has to be an anger/response there first. I think that the discourse around sexual assault is the way it is because the situation is bad - the discourse may not fix the situation but it's not the cause. Also - I have never been sexually assaulted, and because of my body and gender performance it has never been something I've worried about (I had other things to worry about). You're a dude and although that's not to say that you can't be a victim of sexual assault, it's likely that your understanding of it is like mine - something that other people worry about but that doesn't impinge on your consciousness much. Whereas I bet a lot of the women at that rally had been assaulted, and probably all of them had friends who had been.

I like due process and I don't like "mass violence, lol"...but again, it's all complicated.
posted by Frowner at 5:04 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


Yes I know it's always a slippery slope to disregard the law because then everyone else does too. That still doesn't mean following unjust laws is innately right, I don't think, but I'd be interested to hear your take on that.
posted by xarnop at 5:04 PM on January 6


I don't chant "shoot the rapists", but I don't rule out the possibility that I might do so (I just consider it vanishingly improbable). Hence why I avoid chanting such things, as it's not really hyperbolic and not funny to me. Hence also, though, why I don't much care for violent hyperbolic imagery from anyone, whether aligned with me or not -- I don't see myself as powerless and my words as inconsequential, so I don't much care for folks arguing effectively otherwise.

"If faced with the threat of serious bodily harm including among other things rape, I would endeavor to prevent that harm by all means available to me, inclusive of potentially lethal actions, that are compatible with my ethical beliefs and the laws of the jurisdictions that I am in, so far as I know them" got me kicked off the chant writing committee, for some reason. It's also not really popular with the sign painting folks.
posted by sparktinker at 5:05 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


No, Xarnop, I don't disagree at all, but then again I'm in favor of (well-regulated) personal possession of firearms mostly on the exact grounds you've outlined.

But go to a gun thread and all of Metafilter will come out to mock the rednecks.
posted by downing street memo at 5:10 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


"I think it's tremendously naive to suppose that sjw rhetoric and arguments don't make their way into mainstream political culture. Just because there's no "SJW party" doesn't mean that ideas with their origin in these spaces don't end up being quite influential. At this point, I think the general universe of the American left is about as tied up in questions of identity as it ever has been, and I think this is largely thanks to the SJWs. "

All due respect, but I do this for a living and you don't know what you're talking about.

1) The American Left is not as tied up in identity as it ever has been; that would be the liberation movements of the late '60s and '70s.
2) The American Left is not really influential in setting mainstream political culture.

As such, it's bizarre to claim that people are naive for not recognizing the impact of SJW on contemporary politics. It's like claiming that Bronies set the agenda for mainstream entertainment. It's simply not based in fact.

"This has been good and bad. On the good side of the ledger, the focus on "women in tech", the very rapid acceptance of transpeople into progressive narratives of equality in the last 2-3 years, and surely others issues I'm not thinking of had their roots in what we'd probably call SJW spaces. "

Women in tech is one of the few places where any sort of progressive internet criticism has gained traction, and that's mostly because it's women in tech who are talking more about women in tech. Putting that in SJW is over-determining the data. Trans equality has been a long, ugly slog and still is, and very, very little of the progress has anything to do with SJW. Hell, NCLR has probably done as much as just about anyone to advance trans equality, and I'd be surprised if most of their senior staff even knew what a Tumblr was.

"On the bad side, the (wildly trivial) obsession with representation in media, the quick trigger finger left-leaning people now have in calling their ideological adversaries racists (which is, like it or not, a severe charge in most of the west), and the general use of anti-racist rhetoric for the purposes of self-aggrandizement."

Anti-Defamation League started in 1913. Media presentation matters, and has mattered for a long time. (We'll ignore the questions you're begging.)

"But more broadly: left-wingers have power, and the constant tic that some have to dismiss that power ("oh, we're just talking on the internet here, we don't have any real power") is silly.""

Again, part of my job is providing support for actually getting laws passed. The idea that internet SJW have real power to create sizable change in the world is just fantasy. In fact, the vast majority of them could be wildly more effective if they got off the fucking internet and went and did some IRL activism.
posted by klangklangston at 5:16 PM on January 6 [11 favorites]


Most of your post, klangklangston, comes down to agree to disagree, your claim to authority notwithstanding. But I want to address this assertion:

The American Left is not really influential in setting mainstream political culture.

I genuinely do not understand this. We have a left-leaning president, perhaps the most left-leaning president we've ever had. He was reelected despite an awful economy. The senate just approved a female economist to run the Fed, oh yeah, who just happens to be the most unabashedly liberal person to ever run that institution. The two early Democratic favorites for the presidential nomination in 2016 are women; one of those women is a loud, populist, left-wing Democrat. The new mayor of New York sometimes sounds like he's reading from SWP tracts; he went on his honeymoon to Cuba. In 1994.

It's only a matter of time before gay marriage and weed are legal in every state. Gay marriage in particular is utterly uncontroversial among basically anyone younger than 45. Hundreds of thousands of people have registered for a state-subsidized healthcare program that would've been unimaginable 10 years ago. Nasty examples of sexism notwithstanding, women now make up a substantial majority of college graduates and even low-education women are seeing their wages rise in relation to men.

I mean, is your contention that these things aren't really left achievements? That because we haven't seized the means of production, that that means the left can't possibly be powerful? I genuinely don't understand this.
posted by downing street memo at 5:36 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


> > It's fine to call slave owners morally corrupt. But (to return to the subject of the linked articles) treating people who preferred GTA V to Proteus as though they were slave owners is bonkers.

> TFB, I'm reading all the linked articles and so far I don't see them describing the behavior you say they do. They all seem thoughtful, though, and I might have missed something. Is there context that I'm not aware of, or is there something specific that you could quote?

I would also like to see the context for this since nothing I've seen in the linked articles makes this comparison.

As far as I can tell, the article on quinnae.com appears to be bringing up GTA V because there was recently an incident where a trans, female game reviewer was subjected to a deluge of nasty comments about her "mutilated" body and her femininity. This appeared to happen because she gave GTA V a 9/10 instead of a 10/10 and her (mostly very positive) review mentioned that the women in GTA V were peripheral and mostly there to have sex with or be ridiculed.

Trans equality has been a long, ugly slog and still is, and very, very little of the progress has anything to do with SJW.

I definitely agree. I could be wrong, but I suspect it's more that trans-rights activists "on the ground" have managed to wrest the microphone away from (and enact pressure on) more powerful and well-funded LGBT advocacy groups like the HRC. The HRC in particular explicitly prioritized gay and lesbian causes, and especially marriage reform, to the exclusion of issues like workplace discrimination against trans people. But I am mostly armchair QB'ing right now and would love to hear the take of someone who was more actively involved in advocating for trans rights.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:39 PM on January 6


MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch: You're basically going down the same predictable path of, "Yeah, but, but, but... we're the good guys! So it's OK."

No it isn't. It isn't OK and when you do it, you stop being the good guys. You're start being the ones that the good guys should roll their eyes at as they say "Please, don't 'help'".


I hear what you're saying, i really do. But this kind of thing is a ballet dance on a flatbed truck flying down the freeway here. It's really a razors edge.

On one side is, yea, totally, that's a good point. But it's very, very contextual and you have to be very careful. Because one wrong step and you're not only completely indistinguishable from the people who are essentially saying "We, as the bad guys, get to do whatever we want since we're bad and don't care. You however have to fight with one hand tied behind your back and not get too upset or you're just as bad as us".

Which sometimes, yea, you do bad trying to do good. But othertimes it's just "lol see now you're just being hysterical".

So it's like, yea, i see your point here. But Sometimes it really is ok to be an asshole to someone whose being an asshole since you're not the one screaming slurs in the others face.
posted by emptythought at 5:44 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


When did we get a left-leaning president?!
posted by rtha at 5:45 PM on January 6 [15 favorites]


We have a left-leaning president, perhaps the most left-leaning president we've ever had

You're kidding, right? I hope you're kidding.
posted by RogerB at 5:46 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


No True Leftist, apparently.
posted by downing street memo at 5:49 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I genuinely do not understand this. We have a left-leaning president, perhaps the most left-leaning president we've ever had. He was reelected despite an awful economy. The senate just approved a female economist to run the Fed, oh yeah, who just happens to be the most unabashedly liberal person to ever run that institution. The two early Democratic favorites for the presidential nomination in 2016 are women; one of those women is a loud, populist, left-wing Democrat. The new mayor of New York sometimes sounds like he's reading from SWP tracts; he went on his honeymoon to Cuba. In 1994.

So your justification for Tumblr activism driving the conversation on the left and in US politics is a president who occupies roughly the same space on the political spectrum as Ronald Reagan, a Fed chair who is a proud advocate of the capitalist system (and passed by the smallest margin of anybody for that position), and a man occupying an position generally accepted as a dead end in electoral politics?

Or perhaps I just imagined Obama basically saying that gay marriage was a state's rights issue and repeatedly admonishing people on the left for being strident, and he really ran on the DIE CIS SCUM/Bronies Have Rights Too platform.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:53 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


So your justification for Tumblr activism driving the conversation on the left

No. As I explicitly wrote, I am addressing the claim that the left in general is unimportant to the broader political narrative.
posted by downing street memo at 5:56 PM on January 6


> In fact, the vast majority of them could be wildly more effective if they got off the fucking internet and went and did some IRL activism.

That, right there, is the consideration that makes it so very difficult to parse SJW-contra-SJW and similar dustups as any more than the Livejournal ego drama of today, eventually to be chronicled in some Encyclopedia Dramatica of tomorrow. If such folk really care down to the cores of their beings about capital-J Justice, how can they possibly have so much time to waste on tumblr? Does not compute.


> No True Leftist, apparently.

Well, I voted for the guy, and very few here (or anywhere) would be likely to check me off as being "of the Left."
posted by jfuller at 5:58 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


No. As I explicitly wrote, I am addressing the claim that the left in general is unimportant to the broader political narrative.

Actually, the comment klangklangston was responding to was this:
I think it's tremendously naive to suppose that sjw rhetoric and arguments don't make their way into mainstream political culture.
As far as I can tell, that has nothing to do with anything Obama, or Yellen, or even De Blasio has said on occasion, let alone made part of the "mainstream political culture."
posted by zombieflanders at 6:04 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


"In fact, the vast majority of them could be wildly more effective if they got off the fucking internet and went and did some IRL activism."

I don't know this is true. When I hung out in a few of the activist spaces there were a number of people who were disabled/differently abled/non neurotypical and often dealing with PTSD from the sexual abuse/assault/domestic violence that drove them to be so involved in activism. These are frequently people who could REALLY USE advocates to help DO the in real life activism for them because they are too jacked up by the societal forces that upset them to fight the battle themselves.

Yes anyone who can would do WAY more donating real money and real time and real effort to making changes, providing tangible support and creating more extensive research based support and community efforts to effect change.

But sometimes the people who are only able to advocate online are really people who need these services to exist and they don't.

But I disagree that online activism is useless-- limited yes, but I see my family members talking more extensively about body image and abuse and poverty and social change and the environment and healthy relationships-- of course I work to help them get this understanding but that they are finding so much online really is wonderful. But yeah if you get on the internet and think "now I have done activism, it's done!" that is definitely missing the point that talk needs to bring forth actual action. I think if more activist writing included "Here are the steps you can DO right now to change this" it might be more helpful. But that doesn't mean addressing the ideology through encouraging education and awareness isn't a really big part of social change. People have to address their belief systems and ideologies before they can even agree they SHOULD do anything to change it.

You know the whole "realizing there is a problem is the first step". The rest of the steps are the real work but you can't even get to them if you don't realize things need to change or have a model or vision of HOW they need to change and what they need to become.
posted by xarnop at 6:07 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Obama has more common political ground with Eisenhower than Eugene V. Debs. He's only left-leaning in the relatively new American sense of being a Democrat and relative to the current mainstream right (which is off in Zardoz territory for the most part) and considering he is the highest individual state authority, Obama's definitely a member of the right (which really should only be used to mean the ruling elite in a society at a particular point in time--not just because that's its original meaning, but because it remains the only coherent sense of the word with any utility) whether he favors left-friendly policy or not.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:10 PM on January 6 [9 favorites]


"I genuinely do not understand this. We have a left-leaning president, perhaps the most left-leaning president we've ever had."

Uh, we have a center-right technocrat president. You thinking he's the most left-leaning president we've ever had reinforces my contention that you have no idea what you're talking about.

Seriously, I like Obama, I think that he's moderately liberal (which isn't the same as being a leftist), but even that is mightily tempered by pragmatism and centrism. You see this in his repeated attempts to build consensus and work toward bipartisan compromise as a virtue in its own right.

" The senate just approved a female economist to run the Fed, oh yeah, who just happens to be the most unabashedly liberal person to ever run that institution."

A woman = leftist? Again, you have no idea what you're talking about if you think that Yellen, who supports maintaining an inflationary monetary policy focused on moderate unemployment benchmarks, is the most unabashedly liberal person to run the Fed — Eccles and Miller were significantly more dovish than Yellen is.

The new mayor of New York sometimes sounds like he's reading from SWP tracts; he went on his honeymoon to Cuba. In 1994."

Ah, well, now you're just totally talking out your ass. If DeBlasio even once talked about nationalizing industry, it'd be the top headline in the country.

It's only a matter of time before gay marriage and weed are legal in every state."

Much as I love a hand-waiving fait accompli, you realize that this takes actual work, right, and that it's not guaranteed that the "matter of time" means "in the near future" rather than, "in the next 100 years."

Hundreds of thousands of people have registered for a state-subsidized healthcare program that would've been unimaginable 10 years ago."

Unimaginable? Universal health care was a plank for Teddy Roosevelt running as a progressive 100 years ago. Seriously, history happened before Full House started airing.

"Nasty examples of sexism notwithstanding, women now make up a substantial majority of college graduates and even low-education women are seeing their wages rise in relation to men. "

It's so weird to see the gradual decrease of sexism as evidence of leftism's power.

"I mean, is your contention that these things aren't really left achievements? That because we haven't seized the means of production, that that means the left can't possibly be powerful? I genuinely don't understand this."

Most aren't left achievements so much as liberal achievements, and even then, contrasted against the rest of the world, they're pretty pitiful baby steps. I mean, quip about seizing the means of production all you want, but that just kind of shows how ignorant you are of actual politics. It's like you got all your norms from Limbaugh.
posted by klangklangston at 6:15 PM on January 6 [14 favorites]


I'm a former Tumblr SJW type, and am friends with a lot of people who either are SJW stock or relate to them on some level.

I did get caught up in a lot of the callout culture stuff - I was drawn in by people giving names to things that I had experienced but never quite got any validation or recognition for, and followed in on the groupthink for a while.

But then I started to see cracks in the groupthink. The heavy US-centrism and expectation that US activist politics must apply in the rest of the world. The over-emphasis on language policing and dismissing people who aren't automatically familiar with US Coast Pseudo-Academic Tumblr Speak, while decrying tone policing. The lack of nuance. The assumption that if you find some validity or interest with something declared ProblematicTM then you too are Problematic and therefore SHUN THE PROBLEMATIC SHUNNNN.

When I started posing questions about those issues, calling out the call-outers, things got personal. The anger became less about the issues and more about personal failings. My perspective and personal history didn't matter; because I wasn't willing to buy into Tumblr SJW politics 100%, I was a bad activist. (Someone tried to argue against me by saying that I 'sounded like a White feminist'. Given that I'm not White and the issue I was talking about had a lot to do with my experiences with racism, this just struck me as absurd.) They talked a lot about 'personal is political' and personal experiences getting overlooked by distant academics and etc, but when someone's personal narrative doesn't neatly match the SJW groupthink, it's ignored or attacked. They talk about not questioning people's identity, but questioned mine often because I didn't fit a lot of the narrative.

I had to walk away from Tumblr for about a year after being a target of its toxicity, and sometimes the toxicity still doesn't leave me. I still carry some of the attitudes espoused by SJW - the black-and-white thinking, the dismissal of people wholesale for one thing they did ages ago that they've shifted on, the need to see everything as a combat - and I'm still slowly working my way out of it, trying to find better models. It's cost me valuable friends and relationships, yet I'm not sure what a better way is that takes into account identity oppression while not adding to it.

As an adjunct effect I've become less interested in activism in general - largely out of not wanting to see everything as a fight. I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of every conversation I have be "this is how I'm marginalised" yet I also want the space to actually express that if something relevant comes up. A lot of my friends are activist friends and I respect their passion, and a lot of them don't get involved in Tumblr SJW malarkey; they're working on the ground to create tangible change. But the need to be Angry above everything else is draining. Tumblr SJW politics - particularly language issues - have seeped into other types of IRL activism and can get distracting. I read through my Tumblr dashboard and see a lot of rather condescending finger-wagging, and wonder: have any of you ever considered that you may not be entirely correct?

It took me a few years to catch on to what was happening, and I'm still trying to unlearn a lot of the habits I picked up (Frowner's comments about overly worrying about being A Bad Anti-Oppressive rung true). I'm grateful that articles like these are popping up and hope they can actually lead to some collective reflection, especially within the Tumblr SJW set.

This article from 2011 by Flavia Dzodan (she of "my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!") talks about the performative aspect of SJWing, as well as the decontextualised use of academic terms.
posted by divabat at 6:35 PM on January 6 [16 favorites]


"I genuinely do not understand this. We have a left-leaning president, perhaps the most left-leaning president we've ever had."

I feel like you're conflating a kind of representation with actual policy - which, honestly, in the US is easy to do, because it's so hard even to get people of color or women elected at all.

Most people are getting poorer, and that's doubly true for people of color and trans people. We're losing all kinds of ground on wages and working conditions and housing and social services. We have an "affordable care act" that a lot of people can't afford - no one I know is buying coverage. We're losing ground on the environment - leaving aside global warming, even. We're losing ground on workers' rights. We're losing ground on privacy and freedom from police harassment.

There are certain ways in which ground is being gained, sort of. In some media/culture circles, it's no longer unquestionably acceptable to be openly transphobic or homophobic; in certain media/cultural circles there is discussion of racism and white supremacy that would have been totally wildly left madness ten years ago. (Seriously - there's stuff that runs in the Atlantic or on Salon now which would have been strictly Alternet/Z Magazine in the nineties.) I think those are real gains because they help people not to hate themselves and create a climate of - in certain parts of the world - fewer microaggressions. And I do think that's a complicated interaction between SJW/cultural activists, media seeking novelty and the fact that people About My Age are running the show now and we grew up in the nineties.

As long as you have plenty of money, even a person from a marginalized group can take part in that particular cultural world up to a point and succeed there.

We live in such a segregated (by class, by race, by virtually every category except gender and that's only because of teh babiez) society that if you're a white middle class straight man who isn't hurting for money and who isn't a ravening right-winger, it's easy to believe that things really are getting better, because what you see is an increase of certain kinds of acceptance.

I live in an integrated working class neighborhood; I have a pink collar union job and I'm not rich. But even so, I'm constantly astonished by how much I don't see - how much sheer human misery is invisible to me because I'm white, college-educated and employed. Every once in a while I catch a little glimpse, and I realize how sheltered I am by things I don't even think about and didn't choose.

Basically, if you aren't hurting right now, you may not be the 1% but you're certainly, like, the 5%, and that's very heavily contoured by race, class and gender performance (since gender nonconforming people and trans people are much more economically vulnerable.)

I can just imagine the world of 2025 - our video games will be full of trans people of color represented equally with cis people and white people, while actual trans people of color will still be incredibly likely to be broke, sick and homeless or in jail. We'll have a divorced woman president but abortion will be totally illegal except for the states where it is merely unaffordable. Our police officers will be fully conversant with Delueze and deterritorialization and they'll still shoot unarmed people of color to death. "We have a leftist society," wealthy white people will say as they get valet parking at the marijuana dispensary while picking up high quality weed to smoke with their poly social group in their gated communities.
posted by Frowner at 6:40 PM on January 6 [25 favorites]


We're losing all kinds of ground on wages and working conditions and housing and social services

I'd like to see the Venn diagram of SJW Tumblr participants and trade union members...
posted by Jimbob at 6:59 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


FWIW, Frowner, I'm a middle-aged, middle class white guy, and where I live (a middle and working class rural suburb) it seems pretty hard to ignore the signs that we've lost a lot of ground--the number and diversity of the homeless population here, even well away from any urban area, is really striking. And many of our neighbors seem to be struggling financially to the detriment of their home lives (with one or both parents working two or more jobs just to scrape by). But as for gender issues--well, all toys for girls are conspicuously pinker now than 10 years ago. Not sure where that gets us as a marker of progress, but it definitely doesn't feel like progress.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:00 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


(But I should add, you're right: it's damn easy for people in my neighborhood to ignore the specific kinds of issues you probably have to face.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:30 PM on January 6


Jimbob: A lot of the SJW types I know tend to be on the younger end of things, and even those that aren't usually are passionate about issues that aren't trade union-related - mostly to do with identity markers.

I have my personal quibble with unions - I've heard the Australian unions are behind a lot of the rather anti-immigrant policies lately - but that's a whole separate issue.
posted by divabat at 7:38 PM on January 6


passionate about issues that aren't trade union-related - mostly to do with identity markers.

This is where the whole SJW/intersectionality thing falls apart for me, since I can't get past feeling identity obsession should be considered a symptom of a deeper structural ill, rather than seen as a cause célèbre. I've got loads of logical and historical arguments to support my position, but as a Straight White Cis Male First World person, I'm prepared to accept that I'm probably just approaching this issue from a point of privilege and should just shut up, so I will. Heh. Maybe the SJW's have had an effect after all.

I've heard the Australian unions are behind a lot of the rather anti-immigrant policies lately

There's certainly been a bit of noise on the issue of 457-Visas lately. But on the other hand, Australian unions have spoken up in solidarity with Cambodian and Bangladeshi garment workers, which is more than I've seen from a lot of the feminist set on Twitter, who appear more concerned about what photos fashion magazines print.
posted by Jimbob at 7:52 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Let's just take a second to note that we began with a bunch of articles discussing appropriate discourse for discussion of video games, and suddenly it's about whether the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto had a right to use violence and you aren't a NAZI are you?

This is the problem.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:54 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


By the way do you know where the acivists who have a real life agenda and also are willing to talk to nobodies are at? When I was trying to make real things happen, trying to start a national non-profit we talked to NOW and a bunch of "womens orgs" supposedly DOING things and they were totally not interested in traumatized birthmothers who want better resources for poor no good single mothers because blech, that's not really a real womens issue. Not a REAL woman's issue, if an executive wants better pay or a an abortion that could be worked on but, no comprehensive support for moms with low income? Ha hahahahahahahhahahaaha
hahahahahhahahaahha
yeah where am I supposed to go to do this "real" activism that will let me in?

A lot of the women doing online activism have been disenfranchised from participating in "real life" activism for the same reasons they are hoping for social change because they NEED things to change. There's a gap in communication between people in pretty dire straights wanting to work on change and also needing that change and the people who have the means to do this real life activism or the knowledge of how to work with the system and emotional reserves to battle the huge amount of obstacles that exist in the way of making real things happen.

Online I think can change this. People can have voice that were previously relegated to a number on in a case workers file. I've been able to talk to sociologists and tons of social workers and professionals, some of which from working in social work and some of which from the internet allowing me to communicate with them.

They don't have a particular agenda either other than surviving providing whatever service they can given a lack of resources. They don't have the energy to launch comprehensive education campaigns and really bring in the funds and resources they need and make the social change required to convince people it needs to be done. And it's lead me to think that online increasing a comprehensive social understanding of how much need is out there and what needs to be done to address that, in addition to social attitudes and practices that need to change to further help people in need on the interpersonal and community level- it DOES require things like the internet or other media campaigns to get that information out there and help people understand how much need there is. More money, less classism, ablism in services, more workers and better quality of resources and services- better attitudes from people being served both by those who help them and also the community and their families and friends who need a better understanding of issues like domestic violence, harrasment, rape, trauma, PTSD, child abuse, mental and physical disabilities/differences....... we need communities to understand that housing first models work best even economically... we need to reach funding sources by changes cultural values and perceptions about what needs to be done and what their role should be in that.

I have found that it is REALLY HARD to find online people who want to work on real life steps to create and agenda and actually achieve things at the community level in terms of doing real projects (at least one that accepts people like me) and I figure there are other online social justice adovcates in the same boat who really want to do things in real life but don't feel let in or able to participate within existing structures. The people who are really functional and productive tend to have different ideas about what issues need to be addressed are often very different than what some social justice advocates would like to see happen or they're just burnt out from doing this work for a job and aren't able to make any changes because they are exhausted surviving providing too little support to too many suffering people with way more needs than can be provided for.
posted by xarnop at 7:55 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


"Let's just take a second to note that we began with a bunch of articles discussing appropriate discourse for discussion of video games, and suddenly it's about whether the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto had a right to use violence and you aren't a NAZI are you?

This is the problem.
"

Let's take a second to note that the comment you're referring to was using that example to refute the idea that extralegal violence cannot be evaluated based on context, and was in the broader context of pointing out that those who maunder about the "violent rhetoric" of tumblr/Social Justice Warriors are often guilty of using manipulative language to portray their rhetorical opponents of being beyond the pale based on willfully misinterpreted statements.

Your statement seems more like "the problem" than mine does, champ.
posted by klangklangston at 8:00 PM on January 6 [9 favorites]


but as a Straight White Cis Male First World person, I'm prepared to accept that I'm probably just approaching this issue from a point of privilege and should just shut up, so I will. Heh. Maybe the SJW's have had an effect after all.

And that's why Tumblr SJW activism is a circle-jerk, people just shut up, tune-out and go look at funny cat pictures on Reddit. Can I say "circle-jerk" or is that too patriarchal?
posted by MikeMc at 8:13 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I have long argued (privately) that our current phase of online activism is very much hobbled by the logic of neoliberalism and its emphasis on the individual, in ways that many of us are completely unaware of. Much online activism exalts the particular at the expense of the collective, rewarding individual episodes of catharsis and valuing them with considerably higher esteem than the more hard-nosed and less histrionic work that sustains a community. This is the dark side of the anxiety over the “tone argument.”

This critique is great. I also think there's room within activist communities to discuss how we talk to each other, and whether we tear our own communities down or build them up as a result.

But I find it really distasteful, and actually disingenuous, when people who aren't part of these communities (those who honestly think the term "social justice" was actually coined on Tumblr, or those who've had an axe to grind against anti-racist activists and feminists for a long, long time) use these problems as a reason to dismiss social justice activism as a whole. "They're so mean, even to each other, and often work against their own interests as a side effect! See, I knew that advocating on behalf of marginalized people was bullshit!" That is basically the tone argument writ large.

I like Tumblr. I'm way older than the average user, but I love seeing what people get up to, and appreciating how smart younger people can be. When I was the age of people on Tumblr, I didn't have access to the ideas and information they have access to, and it's fascinating to watch what they do with them. It gives me a lot of hope that the next generation will be more aware of these issues than possibly any other generation before them - even if they start by getting their feet wet in some online pissing matches that amount to little. Whenever Tumblr is mentioned on Metafilter, it almost always comes with a side of rather snide sour grapes. It's not a good look. (Sincerely, Another Oldster.)

I've been "called out" (on Twitter) and I found it really painful and even, after some temporal distance, objectively unfair. It smarts and it sucks and can be supremely frustrating. But overall, what I have gained from online social justice discussions is so much greater than anything I might've lost through being unfairly insulted online. I have gained an education to concepts and ideas and entire structures of power that I simply didn't have access to, as someone without the money or time to buy a ton of books or do women's studies or critical race theory or disability studies at university. This education, at the very least, helps me to address people differently, with more compassion and sensitivity and open-mindedness, than I would have in the past. No, that is not centralized systemic change, but it is priming the soil for it. To toss all that away because certain factions of the online activist community are extremely cranky to each other, and alienate fair-weather outsiders, would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Would I like to see the community change to be kinder to each other and to folks new to these ideas? Maybe, but not at the cost of silencing people who are saying really crucial things alongside their anger, and who may have few other opportunities to say them.
posted by Ouisch at 8:35 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


It's interesting to me, as a detached observer, how similar the tumblr sjw-o-sphere and freerepublic are to each other once you strip away the diametrically opposed political beliefs.

They both have a deep undercurrent of anger which they express with constant histrionic outbursts. They both have rigidly enforced (and ever shrinking) boundaries of acceptable thought, and gleefully turn on their own members for the slightest perceived transgression of those boundaries. Every topic of discussion, no matter how seemingly innocuous, has the potential to turn into a circular firing squad.

I tend to have a lot more sympathy for, say, marginalized gay teens on tumblr then I do for the entitled middle-aged sociopaths of freerepublic, but internet assholery seems to work in remarkably familiar ways across the board.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 8:43 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


"but as a Straight White Cis Male First World person, I'm prepared to accept that I'm probably just approaching this issue from a point of privilege and should just shut up, so I will. Heh. Maybe the SJW's have had an effect after all.

And that's why Tumblr SJW activism is a circle-jerk, people just shut up, tune-out and go look at funny cat pictures on Reddit. Can I say "circle-jerk" or is that too patriarchal?"


Yeah this has been my experience too. I've tried to engage and advocate online, but I just keep getting told to shut the fuck up because I'm white and male. So I've done so. Washed my hands of it completely. If someone's going to buck against the night, it won't be me.

Edit: italicized for clarity
posted by disclaimer at 8:54 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


I have found that it is REALLY HARD to find online people who want to work on real life steps to create and agenda and actually achieve things at the community level in terms of doing real projects (at least one that accepts people like me) and I figure there are other online social justice adovcates in the same boat who really want to do things in real life but don't feel let in or able to participate within existing structures.

Is this in part or in full because hanging out online is today's equivalent of watching TV for so many people? Idle time filler?
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 9:25 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Let's just take a second to note that we began with a bunch of articles discussing appropriate discourse for discussion of video games, and suddenly it's about whether the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto had a right to use violence and you aren't a NAZI are you?

This is the problem.


It didn't just get there suddenly, though, but rather by way of discussing chanting of "shoot the rapists" -- something that, depending on when and under what circumstances one means to do it, isn't even extralegal violence. That's kind of a material point as far as describing what happened.

I wouldn't necessarily say this is the problem, singular, but IME this sort of misunderstanding certainly does seem to be one of the ways one ends up at "radical feminists, they say all these horrible things".
posted by sparktinker at 9:30 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


"I've been "called out" (on Twitter) and I found it really painful and even, after some temporal distance, objectively unfair. It smarts and it sucks and can be supremely frustrating."

Yeah, it does suck and can be pretty unfair and hurtful, especially in the moment. But it can also be painfully on-point, and that sucks too.

Luckily, as a straight cis white guy who has now finally gotten to the middle class (such as it is), I can also use some of that privilege to not take the attacks personally. At my best, I try to prove people who unfairly judge me wrong by living better. At my worst, I tell 'em to fuck off.

"I've tried to engage and advocate online, but I just keep getting told to shut the fuck up because I'm white and male."

Huh. I pretty much never have that happen to me aside from a few cranks. I can't say whether that was the case with you or not, obviously not having been there, but pretty frequently on MeFi, a straight white guy will try to tell, say, women or people of color how women or people of color should feel about a thing, and that's usually when I see 'em get told to shut the fuck up (or the bowdlerized MeFi equivalent). That or when they want to make a conversation about what they feel in a way that keeps trying to frame that as the most important issue in said conversation. Again, can't say that happened to you, but it's certainly a pattern I've noticed on MeFi.

At any rate, it seems odd to step back from all activism over that, but I can understand that other people have other shit to do, honestly. I can see looking at doing voter contacts or building a model airplane and choosing the airplane, especially since the voters who will talk to you tend to, shall we say, oversample the cranks of the general populace. In that event, and this shows I'm a goddamned neoliberal, it might be better to just pay someone else to deal with the assholes in activism and make a contribution to an organization you support. Hell, it can even be to an organization that those particular assholes work at, if they accomplish good work. There are plenty of politicians in California who belong to the Asshole Caucus who I would still endorse for election despite wanting to see them eaten alive by bears.
posted by klangklangston at 9:35 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it does suck and can be pretty unfair and hurtful, especially in the moment. But it can also be painfully on-point, and that sucks too.

Luckily, as a straight cis white guy who has now finally gotten to the middle class (such as it is), I can also use some of that privilege to not take the attacks personally. At my best, I try to prove people who unfairly judge me wrong by living better.


This sounds like a near rote recitation of some "how to be called out" blog posts I've seen radicals post.

Those posts are written with a transparent intent of creating cultish conformity from people who get told that they aren't properly living up to radical dogma.

There are actually a lot of cult control techniques in contemporary radical culture. Consensus governance is another example. Everything is done by consensus, so anybody can block change, so nothing changes, and the people who set up the political cult club's values get to keep those values, forever.

Taking criticism is a valuable skill, but when it's radicals expecting you to take criticism and believe it because you just disagree with their dogma, I say the way to be called out is to show'm your scrotum and go find better humans to hang out with.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 9:44 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


It didn't just get there suddenly, though, but rather by way of discussing chanting of "shoot the rapists" -- something that, depending on when and under what circumstances one means to do it, isn't even extralegal violence. That's kind of a material point as far as describing what happened.

But it is disproportionate violence. We're talking about deeming it appropriate to kill or maim someone who committed a horrible crime but did not kill or maim someone.

And in the next breath, sometimes we hear about restorative justice. It is bizarre, incoherent. A mob.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 9:50 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I follow people on tumblr -- mostly for animal pictures and book suggestions -- and I've seen some of the social justice warrior stuff -- but found a lot of real, thoughtful discussion of social issues. The one line stuff gets passed around a lot, but there's much more depth than it gets credit for.

I did fall down the rabbit hole of neo-Nazi tumblr, though, which surprised me perhaps more than it should have. But it's huge!

On the bad side, the (wildly trivial) obsession with representation in media,

Representation, though not the absolute most important issue in the world, is not trivial.
posted by jeather at 10:10 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Representation, though not the absolute most important issue in the world, is not trivial.

No, but a lot of the arguments around it can be. The amount of time spent debating in minute detail whether it's the right kind of representation, or how because it doesn't match every bullet point someone has then it's actively harmful to the cause, is not insignificant.

And it's also where the large sections of social justice warrioring and fandoms on Tumblr overlap, so the people involved increase in number expotentially.
posted by gadge emeritus at 10:28 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


But it is disproportionate violence. We're talking about deeming it appropriate to kill or maim someone who committed a horrible crime but did not kill or maim someone.

Regardless of one's opinion regarding the use of force, it's not a completely unprompted leap from "video games" to "you're a Nazi" -- it occurred by way of a chain of discussion, and representing it otherwise is a distortion.

Personally, I happen to think that the use of force in self-defense is appropriate, I consider rape to be a case to merit that, and I'm not terribly particular about the means employed provided that they're not markedly beyond what is necessary to stop the offending action -- while, on the other side, I think that the use of force outside of self-defense (or, shall we say, certain consensual events), even in cases where one could probably meet any legal standards involved, is deplorably immoral. Actually, one of the more vicious arguments I got into online back in the day, that ended in my being essentially called a rapist or supporter thereof, was on that very point.

However, people obviously have different opinions on both those issues, and it's not an inexplicable leap of logic to discuss said opinions or the way they may have come about.

For instance, while still disagreeing with her, I observe that the person I was arguing with had in fact been raped, possibly more than once, and expressed a notable (and somewhat contradictory, as she was simultaneously stating that she would kill the hypothetical rapist) sense of helplessness and ineffectiveness. Her logic was decidedly bent, probably because it was a bad subject for her (clearly!), and she was kind of simultaneously arguing that she was tiny and weak and defenseless and also that because of this she'd beat the guy to death, and she'd studied martial arts for years.

In some sense, it's not the greatest thing in the world -- and here's where this question of privilege and how it's appropriate to accommodate it -- to engage in a rhetorical clubbing of a rape victim who was clearly struggling with the point, from the perspective of a person, i.e. me, who can manage to see themselves consistently as a strong and capable martial artist. And yet the venue wasn't a support forum, it was a place meant for general discussion, and I happen to have a very strong opinion regarding that ethical point (and to be nigh unto unforgiving for people who are claiming affiliation with any martial art, while neglecting it), and so I pursued it quite doggedly and vigorously and the person in question melted down and left the community (temporarily, as it turned out, but for quite some time).

Looking back on it, although I wouldn't necessarily wish my actions undone, it strikes me as more something that was sad all around than something that was definitively anyone's fault -- even though I also maintain the same opinion I had previously regarding the issue we were discussing, and think that what the person was advocating was absolutely wrong. To me, that seems like the ultimate end of all these sort of debates -- you look at the immediate conflict and then the cause that brought you both there, and the cause of that cause, and further out, and it doesn't take so long before you think that, overall, it's unfortunate for all of us when the world sucks.
posted by sparktinker at 10:47 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


"This sounds like a near rote recitation of some "how to be called out" blog posts I've seen radicals post.

Those posts are written with a transparent intent of creating cultish conformity from people who get told that they aren't properly living up to radical dogma.
"

Huh. Never read those, and it seems pretty bad faith to imply that I was writing with the transparent intent of creating cultish conformity to radical dogma. Surely, for someone so concerned about the hypocrisy of the SJW on tumblr, you must have meant to include some distancing language, at the least. Otherwise, it just looks like you're making, well, an ad hominem argument.

"There are actually a lot of cult control techniques in contemporary radical culture. Consensus governance is another example. Everything is done by consensus, so anybody can block change, so nothing changes, and the people who set up the political cult club's values get to keep those values, forever."

Consensus has its uses, but it did hobble a lot of the Occupy movement, and it's fair to point out the shortcomings with regard to effective action. However, that's pretty much the opposite of how cults function, since they're more of a charismatic leader who decides everything rather than a consensus gutted by the inaction of the doctrinaire. It just seems like you're blaming radical culture for everything you don't like, even when it's incoherent.

"Taking criticism is a valuable skill, but when it's radicals expecting you to take criticism and believe it because you just disagree with their dogma, I say the way to be called out is to show'm your scrotum and go find better humans to hang out with."

Kind of. Part of it is also realizing that radicals can be right about some things, especially about how we're not living up to the logical entailment of our ideals, and that stings.

Just as an example here: Frowner and I both work on activism projects that, while not really overlapping in practice, share a lot of fundamental goals. They're also a radical; I'm not, really. I'm a reformist and a liberal. We disagree on a lot of stuff, and they've given me some pointed criticism. Some of it I thought was kinda bullshit or inapplicable; some of it's been fair cops. I would bet that they probably think a fair number of things I work on are bullshit at best, counterproductive at worst, and there are definitely some goals that we do not share. I still hang out with them here, and feel pretty confident that when they get after me, I'll be able to take a reasonable look at their arguments, agree where we agree, and disagree where we disagree.

I may even think that some of those disagreements are unfair or based on assumptions I disagree with, and they may even be pretty pointed in those criticisms. But what am I gonna do? I still believe in most of the same goals — I arrived at those goals independently of Frowner's comments. So I'm going to keep working toward those goals, pretty much regardless of their criticism (unless, of course, their snark gets me thinking about something in a new way, but whatevs) the same way I would have kept working toward what I think is right without Frowner's comments at all.

That happens all the time for me here: I agree with people about some things, disagree with them about others, and I don't think that anyone here represents all men, women, Republicans, Democrats, radicals, feminists, conservatives, people of color, whatever.

"But it is disproportionate violence. We're talking about deeming it appropriate to kill or maim someone who committed a horrible crime but did not kill or maim someone. "

o_0

So, first off, that's kind of a weird distinction to draw, that rape isn't murder or maiming, so murder or maiming is disproportionate. Crime doesn't lend itself well to those kinds of equivalencies. Second off, there's a several thousand year tradition of seeing rape as a capital crime. I'm not arguing from that tradition, just pointing out that this isn't some bizarre novel feminist thing. (I'd also note that there are several crimes that can involve no bodily injury to anyone yet warrant the death penalty; treason is one.) Third, most people would sanction lethal force to prevent a rape — certainly, if someone is attempting to rape someone else, I'd think it pretty justifiable to shoot them. It's certainly more a crime against the person than a crime against property; I wouldn't support shooting burglars unless there was something more than property at stake.

So, given all that, I really don't get what your problem is with it except that it's superficially similar to mob violence, something you've probably never actually seen personally, and pretty clearly aimed at rapists, a group whom I don't feel particularly inclined to defend. But surely if you're allowed to beg questions regarding whether this is legitimately threatening language, the chanters should be able to beg the question of this hypothetical rapist's guilt.
posted by klangklangston at 10:47 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Oh, sorry, sloppy writing. I didn't mean to imply that your problem with the chant was that it was aimed at rapists, just that since I assume you're not a rapist, I don't understand feeling sympathy for the objects of the imaginary shooting.
posted by klangklangston at 10:49 PM on January 6


No, but a lot of the arguments around it can be. The amount of time spent debating in minute detail whether it's the right kind of representation, or how because it doesn't match every bullet point someone has then it's actively harmful to the cause, is not insignificant.

I think it's worth reiterating that the only place media representation was brought up in the FPP (that I can find) was in an anecdote about a review of GTA V by a trans woman, in which she talked a little in part of her review about how GTA V's treatment of women was not so great (and was then rewarded for this with a volley of insults that attacked both her femininity and her trans-ness).

This trans woman was, I'm pretty sure, a games reviewer - in other words, it was literally her job to review this game. And even if it weren't her job, there are a lot of people who write about games as hobbyists without facing the same charge of being obsessed with trivialities - I mean, how many posts on Metafilter are about games? How many people here engage in any number of fan communities? Do they face the same level of approbation for spending the same amount of mental energy thinking about and talking about games?
posted by en forme de poire at 11:38 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Eh, I don't know that sympathy for the hypothetically shot has to be limited to the perceived innocent. Even if we're not talking about the case of revenge and assume a definitively identified rapist, it's still not an awesome outcome. As least, one might regret that they didn't take up chess instead.
posted by sparktinker at 12:07 AM on January 7


But it is disproportionate violence. We're talking about deeming it appropriate to kill or maim someone who committed a horrible crime but did not kill or maim someone.

There are lots of times when rape comes coupled with maiming or murder.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:30 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Even if we're not talking about the case of revenge and assume a definitively identified rapist, it's still not an awesome outcome.

As I've said before in regards to this kind of attitude - I find it deeply conservative and reactionary. Is the rapist considered "naturally" bad, irredeemable, a product of original sin? Or should the rapist be considered a product of the ill, patriarchal environment and society that created him? So much modern commentary on the issue tends towards the former, but I'm pretty sure that latter would fit better in a considered social justice, progressive perspective. After all, isn't prison reform, the shift towards rehabilitation rather than retribution a social justice issue? Or just not for rapists?
posted by Jimbob at 1:33 AM on January 7


Basically, if you aren't hurting right now, you may not be the 1% but you're certainly, like, the 5%

5% of the world maybe. But 95% of the US is not hurting.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:41 AM on January 7


There are lots of times when rape comes coupled with maiming or murder.

Are you saying that if you're going to advocate for revenge killing without trial or due process after a rape, it's a better extrajudicial killing if that rape culminated in a maiming or a murder?

I mean, I guess you kind of have a point. But there's still that whole extrajudicial homicide as revenge thing. I mean, anarchists love to fantasize about that. American Anarchists at least. Maybe not so much anybody who's ever lived in a place where that sort of thing actually happens often.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:02 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Are you saying that if you're going to advocate for revenge killing without trial or due process after a rape, it's a better extrajudicial killing if that rape culminated in a maiming or a murder?

No, I'm saying that the kind of rules-lawyering you're doing on something that is clearly just a frustrated rant is bound to backfire on you if you don't have an emotional connection to what's causing that frustration in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:07 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


I'm not arguing from that tradition, just pointing out that this isn't some bizarre novel feminist thing.

I don't disagree that it isn't novel to feminists. It's just archaic, barbaric, and when contemporary wannabe revolutionaries talk about it, the overwhelming majority of them have seen very little real lethal mob violence or gang violence.

I'm a little touchy about violent revolutionary fantasies because I've seen a bunch of people actually shot and bleeding in the street.

But yes, it is by no means solely a radical feminist thing to fantasize about extrajudicial killings. Rednecks and manarchists do it plenty too.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:09 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


No, I'm saying that the kind of rules-lawyering you're doing on something that is clearly just a frustrated rant is bound to backfire on you if you don't have an emotional connection to what's causing that frustration in the first place.

You presume that I have no emotional connection. You presume wrong.

Do you also presume that I'm decrying revenge fantasies without having had them and learned their worthlessness first hand? 'Cause you'd be wrong about that too. I still have revenge fantasies. Basically, everybody does. But ultimately they're totally self destructive to dwell on, let alone turn into slogans.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:20 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


[Folks, please remember to assume others are posting in good faith, and that they in turn assume you're posting in good faith. ]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:37 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


I think what's problematic is that what to reasonable people is "being a huge jerk" is, to many self-involved activists, "assertiveness". Especially when it comes to people who have decided that their identity entitles them to be a huge jerk to anyone who they identify as part of an "oppressor" identity, and to make incredibly nasty generalizations about entire groups of people that they've decided are their oppressor.

People who think their politics entitles them to be nasty to other people based on identity, people who think their politics entitles them to make shitty generalizations about whole groups of people, they are not activists, they are assholes.


This is something of a generalisation itself, is it not?

Gay marriage in particular is utterly uncontroversial among basically anyone younger than 45. Hundreds of thousands of people have registered for a state-subsidized healthcare program that would've been unimaginable 10 years ago. Nasty examples of sexism notwithstanding, women now make up a substantial majority of college graduates and even low-education women are seeing their wages rise in relation to men.

I mean, is your contention that these things aren't really left achievements?


I for one would not call gay marriage or the advancement of women's rights 'left achievements', as I simply don't see them aligned in any meaningful way with redistributive economics or anti-capitalism. There are socially-progressive right wingers, just as there are socially-conservative left wingers. There's such a thing as the Log Cabin Republicans - being gay, or wanting your gay relationship recognised by the state is simply not a left-wing thing. Nor is being a woman, or wanting rights as a woman.

I genuinely do not understand this. We have a left-leaning president, perhaps the most left-leaning president we've ever had.

He's hardly the New Deal.
posted by Dysk at 4:28 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


A lot of activists have also seen the aftermath of rape and child abuse and met the people who are emotionally and physically tortured for years or even their entire lives by rape and child abuse. I don't believe in capital punishment but I do believe i self defense and if our society doesn't lock up rapists that leaves it to citizens to defend themselvesand each other without the capacity to imprison for long lengths of time. You're assumption rape is obviously a much more mild crime than murder or maiming someone makes me curios as to how extensively you've been around people with severe ptsd, psychosis, mental illness, physical illness and ongoing dysfunction as a result of rape or sexual abuse. Working with homeless young adults whose life trajectories are disproportionately affected by rape, trauma and abuDr in addition to the disproportionate amount of severely life long mentally ill people, the destruction of human life by rape and sexual abuse is already an ongoing war on human life and welfare. I prfer to preserve all human life also but I think you can advocate this while also realizinv many rape victims wind with less recovery in terms of pain and functioning than some recovered shooting victims and some people disagree that a short death is worse than years of suffering in some cases with no recovery.
posted by xarnop at 4:44 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I for one would not call gay marriage or the advancement of women's rights 'left achievements', as I simply don't see them aligned in any meaningful way with redistributive economics or anti-capitalism.

This is either a) a textbook example of a No True Scotsman, or b) an unconscious admission that the very idea of "the left vs. the right" is context-dependent, ever-changing, imprecise, amorphous, and prone to false dichotomies, and so in that way it is often generally unsuitable for blanket statements in political discussion. One might as well say that Dick Cheney was not really of "the right", as he did not follow the teachings of Oswald Spengler.

"The left" is a big, broad, fuzzy, context-dependent concept. What's more, when there actually is a concrete "left achievement", due to the logic of how "the left" defines itself in the US nowadays, this frequently means that something from "the left" has now been compromised and normalized so as to be seen in the center. In this sense, one could see the left as being in a definitionally permanent state of failure, as it will never get what it wants - the left is not a thing that wins, it is a place to find ways to progress - there will always be more to do. More usefully, one could instead see the left as a place for permanent potential, in that ideas from the left can and frequently are integrated into society. (Contrast with how "the right" can often be seen to "win" for every day that the status quo is maintained!)

The current American association of "the right" with unfettered capitalism is a creation of society, history, and our electoral system, not a firm fact, nor is it even reflective of the right's history even just within the US.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:50 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]



"This sounds like a near rote recitation of some "how to be called out" blog posts I've seen radicals post.


I mean, there is this tension in online activism between manners/rules stuff and individual circumstance - sometimes I feel really uncomfortable with the way that "good advice in general" crystallizes and becomes "what everyone must do". There have been times when I've sucked it up and said what I knew was expected even though I felt that it did not do justice to the complexity of the situation, because I felt like that was the best of a series of bad options. But they were bad options not just for me but for the group - if I were in a real-life group setting, it might be easy enough to hash out some complicated things and make sure everyone felt okay, but online it's difficult. So a bit of oversimplification seems like the best practice. This is a flaw of online - especially tumblr-online - but every system has flaws.

Manners/rules are a big deal. Online, when you don't know people, you're constantly trying to pin down ways to understand what people mean and where they're coming from, and you don't have nearly as many social cues as in the physical world. And online is also way more heterogeneous than most people's social circles. I'd say I have a relatively diverse friend group in terms of class, race, education, gender identity, sexuality and general background, but we're way more similar than the group of people I know online. I have a lot of shared expectations with the smallish group of people I know in the physical world, and I have a lot of lived experience with them. Online, not so much. I think one reason that "good advice" crystallizes into "The Rules" so quickly in some online communities is simply that it serves as shorthand for "I share your understanding of what is important". Also, it's really hard to misunderstand. There's certainly drawbacks to that - "good advice" doesn't always apply to every situation, and if you aren't familiar with the norms of a group, you can pretty well get your ass handed to you. But it's not about cultishness or malevolence, and it really is about addressing genuine problems.

And of course, there's a tension between in-group and out-group. I don't really like it when people pull the whole "look how abusive those awful SJWs are, see how stupid critical race theory is" or whatever, but at the same time, I've also had a really powerful moment where a friend from outside my political milieu pointed out that people were acting really badly towards me and I didn't have to put up with it. I think that sincere out-group criticism is sometimes useful, actually - as long as it's not "I am looking for any reason at all to 'prove' that radical politics are terrible".
posted by Frowner at 6:29 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


(It's also worth noting that internet activism and "SJW" have almost no traction in the broader world, so there's really pretty little risk from them poisoning activism on a broader level.)

This is by and large true, but we have plenty of examples of real world groups splitting rancorously, due to similar dynamics.

Look through the other end of the telescope: when people within a movement act like stereotypical "splitters", they often make themselves irrelevant. Yes, there are exceptions, but those are exceptions.

To take a small scale example, my "favorite" implosion was that of the Guerilla Girls, who had once been a smart group devoted to fighting sexism in the arts. They eventually became three groups, and then people started suing one another for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unjust enrichment, and then some (but not all!) of them asked the court if they could please wear their famous masks at trial through the partially-pseudonymous legal battle. The court said no to the masks. These collected antics did not provide much help to women in the arts. Their outsized concern over whether or not to remain masked while in court revealed their true priorities: themselves.

The courtroom aspect was relatively novel, but the general tendency to split is nothing new. Neither is there anything new about the instinct to retreat from fighting to save the world, so that one can instead win an argument against a would-be ally.

In Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, she speaks gloomily of an anti-war movement which seemed uninterested in preventing any wars:
[I]t is sad that they should not do all that they can to secure the respect of the community when they are trying to revise communal beliefs. It appears possible that they do not really want to succeed in that attempt; and that suspicion is often aroused by the quality of the speakers’ voices and the response of their audiences. The speakers use all accents of sincerity and sweetness, and they continuously praise virtue; but they never speak as if power would be theirs tomorrow and they would use it for virtuous action. And their audiences also do not seem to regard themselves as predestined to rule; they clap as if in defiance, and laugh at their enemies behind their hands, with the shrill laughter of children. They want to be right, not to do right. They feel no obligation to be part of the main tide of life, and if that meant any degree of pollution they would prefer to divert themselves from it and form a standing pool of purity.
G. K. Chesterton had a very funny essay on those radical acquaintances of his who had a deep, profound knowledge of the various intellectuals behind their movement. Such a deep knowledge, in fact, that they could occupy themselves for years over their arguments regarding the numerous and trivial differences among their favorite and least-favorite writers.

Getting closer to modern times, Terry Eagleton had some interesting thoughts about how some parts of "the left", having seen capitalism triumph through the 90s, seemed all too willing to escape into reverie:
If the more abstract questions of state, class, mode of production, economic justice, had proved for the moment too hard to crack, one might always shift one’s attention to something more intimate and immediate, more sensuous and particular….The terrors and allures of the signifier, its snares, seductions and subversions: all of this might figure at once as a bracingly novel form of politics, and as a glamorous substitute for baulked political energies, an ersatz iconoclasm in a politically quiescent society. It would be as though all the high drama, all the self-risking and extravagant expenditure which might have belonged to our moral and political life together in more propitious historical conditions, had now been thrust back into the contemplative theatre of reading, where these thwarted impulses could at least be kept warm, and where certain adventurous undoings which were no longer possible in political reality could be vicariously nurtured at the level of discourse.
He was dumping on the amorphous and frequently ill-defined idea of the "postmodern", but the thoughts ring true when we apply them to the more general idea of fighting against something other than what you are fighting against.

When you don't think you can win, then it becomes much easier for everyone to act like crabs in a barrel, pulling one another down.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:40 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


This is either a) a textbook example of a No True Scotsman, or b) an unconscious admission that the very idea of "the left vs. the right" is context-dependent, ever-changing, imprecise, amorphous, and prone to false dichotomies, and so in that way it is often generally unsuitable for blanket statements in political discussion. One might as well say that Dick Cheney was not really of "the right", as he did not follow the teachings of Oswald Spengler.


No True Scotsman? To me, left vs right is a largely economic issue - redistributive policies (or policies aimed at reducing economic inequality more generally) contra economic individualism. Social progressiveness is another axis altogether. Are the Log Cabin Republicans not right wing because they're pro gay rights? Are tax-and-spend social democrats who oppose gender quotas not left wing? Of course they are. Left and right are just in no way complete descriptions of political policy. The gay rights issue for example is not a matter of left vs right - it fits broadly on a scale of social progressiveness, where anyone anywhere on the scale can be entirely left wing, entirely right wing, or anywhere in between.
posted by Dysk at 6:44 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Dysk, you are just restating a No True Scotsman argument. One person speaks of left achievements, but you respond by saying that those are not actually left achievements, as "the left" actually means something narrower than what the other person had meant by the term "left".

The thing is, your personal ideas about what is left or right for you* must be distinguished from the broader ways these terms are used by most people. Concepts of left, right, progressive, liberal, conservative, etc., are all big topics with necessarily broad, fuzzy, and context-dependent definitions. When you balk at the idea of the expansion of gay and women's rights as being a "left achievement", you are really talking about how this idea doesn't line up with your own personal definition of what is left or right.

In the US today, support for gay rights is more or less definitionally part of a left-wing, socially progressive agenda. That certain concepts about gay and women's rights can be held by people who are otherwise center/right/whatever, or that these concepts are being normalized (and maybe compromised) - this changes nothing. At most, this would just show that these left ideas are being gradually incorporated into the political mainstream. This would only mean that these ideas are not actually of "the left" if we were to say that the left, by definition, can never accomplish anything, as the moment a left-wing idea becomes normalized or adopted by a former ideological opponent, then it is no longer actually a left-wing idea.

This is why I had invoked b), which goes to the fact that talking about what is or is not left or right necessarily reveals how these concepts are not fixed, objective, consistent ideas. "Left" and "right" are only useful concepts to the degree that we appreciate this.







*Best said in a Bane voice.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:06 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Another way of looking at it: when people cannot agree on terms, it often helps to avoid those contentious terms as an interim solution. So, if you two can't agree on what is or is not "left" or a "left achievement", then restate the argument while avoiding those exact phrases. What is the disagreement really about?
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:16 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


There are things I would certainly consider left-wing achievements - the movement toward some sort of universal healthcare provision, for example. That the political discourse in the US is shaped so strongly by your two-party system doesn't change the usefulness of the terms "left wing" and "right wing" as markers of basic economic policy principles. If we're really talking about broadly Republican vs broadly Democrat positions, why not use the words 'Republican' and 'Democrat'?
posted by Dysk at 7:18 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


"I don't disagree that it isn't novel to feminists. It's just archaic, barbaric, and when contemporary wannabe revolutionaries talk about it, the overwhelming majority of them have seen very little real lethal mob violence or gang violence. "

And again, this is born of frustration with the legal system as it currently exists and the epidemic levels of sexual violence against women. Tut tutting "Shoot the rapist" instead of working to remedy the problem that leads to "Shoot the rapist" is asinine.

"This is either a) a textbook example of a No True Scotsman, or b) an unconscious admission that the very idea of "the left vs. the right" is context-dependent, ever-changing, imprecise, amorphous, and prone to false dichotomies, and so in that way it is often generally unsuitable for blanket statements in political discussion. One might as well say that Dick Cheney was not really of "the right", as he did not follow the teachings of Oswald Spengler."

Not really, especially since you seem to have a poor definition of what "The Left" is. The Left isn't just anyone who voted against Reagan; Leftism is different from Liberalism in both values and goals. Leftism is primarily concerned with economic and social transformation, traditionally more the former than the latter, but both are important. A liberal achievement is gay marriage; a leftist achievement would be abolishing state recognition of marriage altogether. Even Roosevelt, pretty much our most progressive president, organized the New Deal to save capitalism, not destroy it, and was happy to send troops in against unions and leftists. There's often overlap in proximate goals for liberals and leftists, but their conflation is both purposeful on the right and a symptom of the general laziness and ignorance in American political thinking.

"When you balk at the idea of the expansion of gay and women's rights as being a "left achievement", you are really talking about how this idea doesn't line up with your own personal definition of what is left or right. "

No, Dysk is closer to what Left Wing means than you are, outside of sloppy appeals to descriptivism.

"In the US today, support for gay rights is more or less definitionally part of a left-wing, socially progressive agenda. "

And this is what I mean by lazy, ignorant muddling. Support for "gay rights" is progressive, yeah, and liberal. Is it left wing? Not in the way you mean it — left wing LGBT politics is liberational, which has had a long conflict with the reformative, centrist strain of the gay rights movement. That's not "No True Scotsman," that's applying the terms as applied by the groups themselves, and being aware of the history and tradition within the gay rights movement. The only way you get to calling "gay rights" definitionally left wing is by accepting the definition of people who are not left wing and don't know very much about left wing politics.

"To take a small scale example, my "favorite" implosion was that of the Guerilla Girls, who had once been a smart group devoted to fighting sexism in the arts. They eventually became three groups, and then people started suing one another for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unjust enrichment, and then some (but not all!) of them asked the court if they could please wear their famous masks at trial through the partially-pseudonymous legal battle. The court said no to the masks. These collected antics did not provide much help to women in the arts. Their outsized concern over whether or not to remain masked while in court revealed their true priorities: themselves."

Well, no, their concern in the lawsuit was that two other groups — Guerrilla Girls on Tour and GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand — were making money on the name of the Guerrilla Girls in a way that they felt diminished the ability of the original Guerrilla Girls to utilize their intellectual property and that could lead to brand confusion. Wanting to wear masks wasn't an "outsized concern," and using it to argue that they only cared about themselves is nonsense, especially when the the Guerrilla Girls are still a going concern and still mentoring young female artists.
posted by klangklangston at 8:44 AM on January 7 [8 favorites]


As I've said before in regards to this kind of attitude - I find it deeply conservative and reactionary. Is the rapist considered "naturally" bad, irredeemable, a product of original sin? Or should the rapist be considered a product of the ill, patriarchal environment and society that created him? So much modern commentary on the issue tends towards the former, but I'm pretty sure that latter would fit better in a considered social justice, progressive perspective. After all, isn't prison reform, the shift towards rehabilitation rather than retribution a social justice issue? Or just not for rapists?

I'm actually really confused here -- what I intended to say, at least, is that it's not a good outcome when a rapist gets killed because a) they were a rapist, meaning that rape happened and b) they got killed, which is generally bad. Even in the case where the rapist was not being killed for reasons of revenge (i.e. judicially, which I don't support, or in immediate self defense, which I do) and even in the case where one is certain that the person is in fact a rapist. That to me is the least bad scenario, and I still think that it's unfortunate when matters come to that.

(I didn't address this issue, but I think once we have caught a serious criminal who has already committed the crime, what has happened already can't be undone and the only thing we can do is do our best to redeem the person, or at least contain them in a humane manner.)

Do you really think that's "deeply conservative and reactionary", or did we just end up talking past one another?
posted by sparktinker at 9:21 AM on January 7


Manners/rules are a big deal. Online, when you don't know people, you're constantly trying to pin down ways to understand what people mean and where they're coming from, and you don't have nearly as many social cues as in the physical world.

Yup. Which is why the dismissal of "tone arguments" is so problematic. Lefty/progressive/filthy-hippie types have a long history of dismissing manners as a Victorian affectation at best, a tool of oppression at worst. That willingness to dismiss the most important element of social cohesion among diverse people is a big part of why lefty/progressive/filthy-hippie groups collapse so readily.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:36 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


A "tone argument" is essentially a layman's ad hominem; that is, critiquing how something is said rather than responding to the actual argument underneath it. Now, granted, how something is phrased does contribute to its overall meaning, but if you look at how "tone arguments" are deployed, they're very much of the, "I don't like the way you're phrasing it, so I don't have to acknowledge any points you make," genus.

I can see how it would appear that way, but I don't think that's the case at all. It's more like saying, "I refuse to be verbally abused. Come back when you're able to speak like a civil human being." To look past the verbal abuse to the actual arguments underneath would be 1) exposing yourself to more of the verbal abuse and 2) rewarding people for abusive behavior, which some of us don't like to do.
posted by corb at 9:36 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


Klangklangston, i feel like you are being unfairly dismissive to Stitcherbeast in your discourse here simply because you disagree with him. You have, in essence, redefined Left Wing and Right Wing to mean what you want them to mean to support your argument here, which makes your chastising him for "sloppy descriptivism" particularly ironic given the context of the discussion.

Stitcherbeast has the firmer grasp on what has historically been the context of the terms Left Wing and Right Wing here than either you or Dysk does. Certainly if you want to debate that you do not share that view, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you will need to do a better job of explaining why, as you say, "Leftism is different from Liberalism in both values and goals." You seem to suggest that Left-Wing and Right-Wing are founded more on economics than social change, for example, which is just not true, and you shy away from what Liberalism means altogether.

The terms Left Wing and Right Wing come from France originally, where the Left and the Right seating within the parliament leading up to the French Revolution were a microcosm of the political schism within the entire country at the time. Those seated on the left supported a fundamental change toward a most socialist system, with the goal of a more egalitarian society and thus the same rights for all. That changing the social order also meant sweeping changes to economic policies goes without saying; still, raising up the disadvantaged, disenfranchised and oppressed was ever the over-riding purpose of the Left Wing movement. Liberalism--coming as it does from the theme of liberation, as you point out, klang-- fits right in there with the goals of Left Wing from the very beginning of the Left Wing movement.

You cannot rewrite history just to make your point, and you absolutely shouldn't chide others for not knowing the context when you yourself are so blithely glossing over it to suit your purpose here.
posted by misha at 9:59 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


Over in another fpp (the eSexism one), we're discussing the value of reaching out with compassion and empathy to people (men) who send rape and death threats to female writers who are perceived as somehow threatening. I'm going to have to be very mindful of which thread I'm actually writing in, I guess!
posted by rtha at 9:59 AM on January 7


But it is disproportionate violence. We're talking about deeming it appropriate to kill or maim someone who committed a horrible crime but did not kill or maim someone.

Rape is a death or maiming of the spirit, regardless of the physical violence involved. The response is not disproportionate.
posted by corb at 10:00 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


"Yup. Which is why the dismissal of "tone arguments" is so problematic. Lefty/progressive/filthy-hippie types have a long history of dismissing manners as a Victorian affectation at best, a tool of oppression at worst. That willingness to dismiss the most important element of social cohesion among diverse people is a big part of why lefty/progressive/filthy-hippie groups collapse so readily."

Pish tosh. This is just another way of restating that manners that privilege your experience to the detriment of marginalized groups are important norms, whereas the "rhetorical violence," as you phrase it, done to marginalized groups far outstrips the bit they give back and you've commented, uh, how many times on that?

"I can see how it would appear that way, but I don't think that's the case at all. It's more like saying, "I refuse to be verbally abused. Come back when you're able to speak like a civil human being." To look past the verbal abuse to the actual arguments underneath would be 1) exposing yourself to more of the verbal abuse and 2) rewarding people for abusive behavior, which some of us don't like to do."

Begging the question regarding verbal abuse. And you're a pretty good example of the problem inherent in that approach: You've frequently decried things as abusive here when the rest of the community disagrees.
posted by klangklangston at 10:14 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


The irony of being lectured on manners by someone who calls progressives "filthy hippies" is really rich.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:28 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


Seriously, toning down the rhetoric if you're trying to have a good faith conversation would be much appreciated.
posted by jessamyn at 10:32 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


"Stitcherbeast has the firmer grasp on what has historically been the context of the terms Left Wing and Right Wing here than either you or Dysk does. Certainly if you want to debate that you do not share that view, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you will need to do a better job of explaining why, as you say, "Leftism is different from Liberalism in both values and goals." You seem to suggest that Left-Wing and Right-Wing are founded more on economics than social change, for example, which is just not true, and you shy away from what Liberalism means altogether."

Well, no, not really. I can give you a broader discussion on the differences between liberalism and leftism if you'd like; the short answer is that liberalism is based on the idea of individual rights and individualism and leftism is not. The U.S. Constitution is a liberal document; it is not a leftist document.

"The terms Left Wing and Right Wing come from France originally, where the Left and the Right seating within the parliament leading up to the French Revolution were a microcosm of the political schism within the entire country at the time. Those seated on the left supported a fundamental change toward a most socialist system, with the goal of a more egalitarian society and thus the same rights for all. That changing the social order also meant sweeping changes to economic policies goes without saying; still, raising up the disadvantaged, disenfranchised and oppressed was ever the over-riding purpose of the Left Wing movement. Liberalism--coming as it does from the theme of liberation, as you point out, klang-- fits right in there with the goals of Left Wing from the very beginning of the Left Wing movement. "

Look, I'm glad you have access to Wikipedia where you live, but you're out of your depth. First off, if you stick with the original formulations, Left Wing and Right Wing would have no meaning at all — there's no real movement to restore the Aristocracy in America, at least not openly. Secondly, liberalism and egalitarianism are values that are in tension in politics — it's easy to design a theoretical system that ensures equality through the removal of individualism; property is a liberal right that is not necessarily an egalitarian or leftist right. Further, liberalism does not come from the theme of liberation — that's a false cognate, at least in English. Liberalism is a philosophy based on individual freedoms and rights being rooted in the individual; egalitarianism is based on the idea of equality, especially under the law, of citizens. There's overlap, but they're not the same thing. And liberation and liberalism are not the same thing — for example, the Mattachine Society was an early, liberal gay rights organization1 that primarily organized around integration of gays into society. They organized the first Pride parade ever, in order to protest the exclusion of gays from the U.S. military. This can be contrasted with the Stonewall Riots, or the later Gay Liberation Front, who advocated a radical liberation from mainstream heterosexual society. As I mentioned above, marriage for gays and lesbians is an integrationist, reformist and liberal project. It is not a liberationist project; that would be abolishing marriage entirely. This is still the position of many queer activists, queer being distinct from LGBT or gay rights.

For example, see the Gay Liberation Front's Manifesto.

Similar splits happen within the labor movement, with, say, communists against unionists. Certainly, Limbaugh et al. would call unions "socialists" and "communists," but groups like the UAW work extensively with management in capitalist projects, rather than seeking to overthrow the capitalist enterprise.

And most fundamentally, these labels do not correspond with what actual, self-identified leftists assert as their identity. That they're used in a sloppy, relative way does not mean that they're correct, any more than "dinosaurs" being used in a sloppy, popular way, means that ichthyosaurs are dinosaurs or that birds aren't.

1: The Mattachine Society actually started with pretty radical roots, but rejected those roots with bylaws decrying "subversive elements."
posted by klangklangston at 10:38 AM on January 7 [8 favorites]


And really, at the bottom, it really seems like so much concern trolling to fixate on the purported rude tones of SJW as a reason to not be an activist or not to work toward progressive goals — there are nearly infinite groups working toward progressive goals, and if you don't like one, it's easy to find another. If you're more effective than the SJW, you'll both achieve the goals you putatively seek, as well as the plaudits for doing so. There are jackasses all over, and pretending that this is a problem purely for the left and that it prevents you from getting involved shows how narrow your experience is, and how weakly you hold the values you espouse.
posted by klangklangston at 10:47 AM on January 7 [9 favorites]


"I can see how it would appear that way, but I don't think that's the case at all. It's more like saying, "I refuse to be verbally abused. Come back when you're able to speak like a civil human being." To look past the verbal abuse to the actual arguments underneath would be 1) exposing yourself to more of the verbal abuse and 2) rewarding people for abusive behavior, which some of us don't like to do.
posted by corb at 9:36 AM on January 7 [+] [!]"


Ok, but how does shutting down the conversation like that give you any indication of what you might be doing wrong that is causing someone to verbally abuse you? I mean, if you are physically stepping on my toes, causing me real physical pain, am I supposed to just say "um, excuse me, could you please not step on my toes?" Or is it more appropriate (or at least more likely) for me to scream really loudly in your face and say "Ow, asshole, get off my foot!"?

And I am really not trying to be too hyperbolic with this, but in effect, when people are hurting, and are angry (for whatever reason), asking them to calm down so you can have a nice polite conversation about what might be bothering them makes you EXACTLY like the moderate white person that MLK, Jr. describes in his Letters from Birmingham Jail, which is quoted previously.

No, if people are hurting, they have the right to scream. You cannot put a lid on that, lest you really want to be the enemy.

This is how "good people" end up doing really horrible things.

You also have the option, especially here of 'flag it and move on', or even just not bothering to engage at all. But when you come into a discussion, and the first thing out of your mouth is something that does not address the cause of the anger, just the person, then it is by definition, ad hominem, and by default, a derail. And more often than not, because someone drops the "say it nicely" bomb, they get to use that excuse to never actually engage in the original root cause of the anger to begin with, because now they are angry that someone offended their delicate ego.

Sorry, no, it is a bad tactic, it is bad form, and using it ANYWHERE is a method to try to redirect the direction of a conversation and make it all about you and your hurt feelings because someone called you out for something you identify with. If they are wrong about it, then answer that part of the question, rather than trying to derail the entire subject to being all about how they phrased it. And if you really want to get on their tone, then you should sit face to face with them and actually listen to them. Maybe then you might hear the pain in their voice, or the unarticulated gasps and sobbing, or the heavy breathing as their adrenaline is pulsing through them making them want to smash the world.

And ultimately, if someone is decrying an injustice, then you should be for correcting that injustice. If you think they are simply whining, go ahead and tell them that. Feel free to be that asshole too. If your only answer to any SJW advocacy is just "suck it up, buttercup", well, I guess we know who to thank for continuing to support the status quo of oppression, sexism, homophobia and economic disparity.
posted by daq at 10:56 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


For the record, "filthy hippie" was a joke.

if you are physically stepping on my toes, causing me real physical pain, am I supposed to just say "um, excuse me, could you please not step on my toes?" Or is it more appropriate (or at least more likely) for me to scream really loudly in your face and say "Ow, asshole, get off my foot!"?

Yes, you are supposed to say "excuse me, could you please not step on my toes." That is what civilized people do; only babies scream at the slightest injury. If someone steps on your toes in an elevator, do you really scream loudly in their face "asshole, get off my foot!" If so, I would imagine you don't get invited to many get-togethers.

Yes, if I have, say, a terrible headache, and a friend asks me to do something, I might snap at them, because my pain is making me behaving sharply. If I do, it is entirely incumbent on my to apologize. And if I am suffering from chronic pain, and I deal with it by being nasty to people, people are entirely within their rights to not talk to me any more. No one should put up with abuse, no matter how much the abuser has suffered.

Pish tosh. This is just another way of restating that manners that privilege your experience to the detriment of marginalized groups are important norms,

This is.... fascinating? Telling? Are you really saying that the guideline that "One should not tell people that you hope they die in a fire" is a norm that privileges certain groups? Are you saying that discourse is improved if there are more death threats? Or are you just saying that some people have a right to not get death threats, and others have no such right, and one can determine which of those groups you are part of based on how many death threats you or people like you normally receive?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:32 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


> When your relationships are largely mediated by rhetoric, rhetorical violence is violence, and violence destroys.

> Telling people that your endorsement of violence against them is meant to be "hyperbolic humor" is just a polysyllabic way of saying "Wassamatter, ya can't take a joke?"

> For the record, "filthy hippie" was a joke.
posted by rtha at 11:43 AM on January 7 [8 favorites]


Do you really think that's "deeply conservative and reactionary", or did we just end up talking past one another?

Yeah, sorry - I was trying to extend on what you'd said, not trying to disagree with what you'd said. Poorly placed quoting on my part.
posted by Jimbob at 11:45 AM on January 7


And you're a pretty good example of the problem inherent in that approach: You've frequently decried things as abusive here when the rest of the community disagrees.

Yes, but we've already established that the majority of the community cannot - or should not - set the standards for "what is verbal abuse/racism/sexism/what have you", but rather the impacted person or community. Thus, while one way to view it is certainly "that person is too sensitive", another way to view it is, "We're being too aggressive."

Ok, but how does shutting down the conversation like that give you any indication of what you might be doing wrong that is causing someone to verbally abuse you? I mean, if you are physically stepping on my toes, causing me real physical pain, am I supposed to just say "um, excuse me, could you please not step on my toes?" Or is it more appropriate (or at least more likely) for me to scream really loudly in your face and say "Ow, asshole, get off my foot!"?

There are a few things going on here that I see.

First, my personal standpoint on this comes as a survivor of domestic violence, who has suffered very real and awful physical and verbal abuse, as deemed such by a court of law. I don't say this to set myself up as an expert, but only so that you can know where I'm coming from, when I say that the idea of "what might you be doing wrong that is causing someone to verbally abuse you" is actually extremely offensive to me. When I hear it, it has echoes: echoes of people, usually men, who said things like, "Well why can't you try just doing what he wants?" To me, when someone says that, they identify themselves as bullies and the allies of abusers.

I don't think this is necessarily what people mean - I think what they maybe mean is, "Hey, you're doing something wrong too." And that may even be a legitimate complaint - but it's a complaint that can't be heard in the same breath as justifying verbal abuse.

The second thing is that this is often talked about as a doctrine of practicality. In the example you mentioned, it might be more likely for you to scream really loudly. I don't know you, so I can't say what your reaction might be. But I think that it's more likely to get a positive response if spoken calmly - because the yelling, no matter how justified in your opinion, instantly triggers people's adrenaline into a fight reflex. If approached politely, they might have apologized effusively. If approached rudely, you may have just started a fistfight.

I don't say this as example of high moral rectitude. I've noticed this behavior in myself as well. But it's something that I work on, because it's a real problem and affects the likelihood of people actually changing - and of creating a society we'd actually like to live in.
posted by corb at 11:49 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


" Are you really saying that the guideline that "One should not tell people that you hope they die in a fire" is a norm that privileges certain groups?

It certainly can be, if that norm is elevated over addressing the rest of the content. Are you saying that adhering to that as an iron standard never detracts from more trenchant issues, and that politeness is the only mode to advocate change?

Are you saying that discourse is improved if there are more death threats?

Are you saying that you can't actually understand what I'm writing, or are you saying that you prefer to ignore it in order to attack a straw man?

Or are you just saying that some people have a right to not get death threats, and others have no such right, and one can determine which of those groups you are part of based on how many death threats you or people like you normally receive?"

I'm not sure, exactly, where you're getting this. Are you saying that all expressions of "rhetorical violence" are inherently equal and that we have no way to discern which are serious, which are legitimate threats, and which are expressions of hyperbole or humor?
posted by klangklangston at 12:02 PM on January 7


"Yes, you are supposed to say "excuse me, could you please not step on my toes." That is what civilized people do; only babies scream at the slightest injury. If someone steps on your toes in an elevator, do you really scream loudly in their face "asshole, get off my foot!" If so, I would imagine you don't get invited to many get-togethers."

Actually, you're not supposed to step on toes, and if you keep doing it, or a person keeps having their toes stepped on, saying, "Asshole, get off my foot," is entirely justified, and prigs who swoon over such strong language after repeatedly stepping on toes are not the sort of people you want at parties anyway.

Not only that, people with stepped-on toes don't want to go to your fucking party, they want you off their fucking toes. Pretending that their goal is to be invited to your soiree is self-obsessed twaddle that serves to excuse you for any culpability in stepping on their toes.

Finally, if you step on someone's toes, even if they say, "Get off my fucking foot, asshole," you should still apologize for stepping on their foot because you were in the wrong.

Locating the problem in the response to offense rather than the actual offense is actually exactly what I was talking about in privileging the feelings of the oppressor over the oppressed. It is exactly the attitude of the "White Moderate" that MLK decries in his letter from the Birmingham jail.

And, again, you've spent how much time arguing against the beyond-the-pale rudeness versus how much actually addressing the cause of that rudeness?

"Yes, but we've already established that the majority of the community cannot - or should not - set the standards for "what is verbal abuse/racism/sexism/what have you", but rather the impacted person or community. Thus, while one way to view it is certainly "that person is too sensitive", another way to view it is, "We're being too aggressive.""

Right, and when it comes to specific examples, we can discuss them and try to decide. However, the broad claims that you've made in the past, specifically regarding "eat the rich," you contend are abusive, are better seen as an example of hyperbolic humor, and demonstrate that your personal rubric for deciding what is abusive is idiosyncratic, at best.
posted by klangklangston at 12:15 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


....Y'know, actually, there's a middle ground between "excuse me, would you kindly not trod on mine toes good sir" and "GET THE FUCK OFF MY FUCKING FOOT, ASSHOLE".

And that middle ground of "OW!....uh, dude, that was my toe," is what I usually do, and have had no complaints. It's possible to be forceful and polite. Although - I do tend to trend a little closer to the forceful, ThatFuzzyBastard.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:19 PM on January 7 [6 favorites]


Another useful article which goes a bit into why these threats are bad overall even if they are hyperbolic and not meant seriously: The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren't Welcome On The Internet
But no matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment—and the sheer volume of it—has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages. I’ve spent countless hours over the past four years logging the online activity of one particularly committed cyberstalker, just in case.
posted by corb at 12:19 PM on January 7


That's rather conflating the issue, isn't it? Since the reactive "toxicity" of advocates online is nearly never aligned with the misogynistic harassment women face; it's often a reaction to it, in fact.
posted by klangklangston at 12:29 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


I really, really, really wish that were true. But unfortunately, it's not. Sometimes, even shitty sexists are for good causes, and when they get in internet fights with women on other sides, the shitty sexism (and sometimes, rape threats) come out. (That's not, by the way, necessarily the best example, just the one I can think of as being most frustrated by: that guy was ostensibly on the side of the anti-war angels, while making female bloggers uncomfortable to attend a protest event) Michelle Malkin is ridiculously offensive, but that doesn't mean people talking about wanting to attach electrodes to her genitals is cool.
posted by corb at 12:36 PM on January 7


Another useful article which goes a bit into why these threats are bad overall even if they are hyperbolic and not meant seriously:

The fpp is here.
posted by rtha at 12:38 PM on January 7


*facepalm* Thanks, rtha. I should have assumed it was too cool not to be posted!
posted by corb at 12:46 PM on January 7


Because I haven't seen anybody linking to it on here:

http://www.reddit.com/r/TumblrInAction/
posted by I-baLL at 1:07 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


It's one thing to scream "asshole get off my foot." Everyone has been there sometime, I've actually said just that word for word once the third fucking time someone stomped on my foot during a bus ride. It's another to have your foot stepped on and start a movement to get everyone you know to scream at the foot stepper, and have them publicize it, etc etc. At that point, it had better be a pretty egregious intentional foot stomping.

Oh, and I'm sorry, I'm perfectly fine with saying if you start telling people to die in a fire I'm going to disregard everything you say until you calm the fuck down, because you are at that point you are obviously totally incapable of listening to anything but your rage, and my experience rage alone allows for no disagreement, no doubt (not to mention personal rage tends to warp perception of what happened in the first place), no subtly, no shades of grey, nothing.
posted by aspo at 1:42 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


There are jackasses all over, and pretending that this is a problem purely for the left and that it prevents you from getting involved shows how narrow your experience is, and how weakly you hold the values you espouse.

I'm not really seeing people saying the equivalent of 'Oh the SJW people on the left are such arseholes - that's why I'm a conservative.' And anyone trying to argue that it's purely the domain of the internet left to be arseholes is so clearly wrong as to be dismissed out of hand.

What I see more of, what I read in the article and how I feel personally, is that these are causes I believe in and fight for, but places where I would expect to find community and a place to talk about such things online aren't a good place to go. That Tumblr communities and certain activist circles can be more concerned with internal purity of thought and angry in-fighting than getting anything done, while simultaneously asserting a commitment to fighting oppression and privilege and negative behaviour in a way that becomes hypocritical.

It's not that just the left does it - I'm not seeing that argument. It's that it's so much more galling coming from people you agree with on so much.

tl;dr Perfect is the enemy of good, the narcissism of small differences affects all groups, and zealots are the worst about everything.
posted by gadge emeritus at 1:50 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


No, Dysk is closer to what Left Wing means than you are, outside of sloppy appeals to descriptivism.

I'm amused by the idea that an evaluation of a word's various meanings constitutes an "appeal to descriptivism". The next time somebody identifies my pets as cats, I will observe that that's merely an appeal to biology.

Whether you like it or not, not everybody agrees with your definitions of what is right and what is left, including but not limited to people who actually study this for a living. It is trivially easy to see professionals using "left" (and "right") in ways differently than you would like. If you don't believe me, go turkey shooting through the papers at the Society for Political Methodology.

It is even easier to discover for yourself that there does not exist a single perfect definition for the word "left", but rather that the word "left", much like every other word that exists in the English language, is defined by consensus (and lack thereof) by the language's speakers.

For a basic, informed, plain-language definition of the political "left", encompassing the term's vagueness, let us turn to the Palgrave-MacMillan Dictionary of Political Thought:
[LEFT:] The polar opposite of *right. The term originated in the habit of the democratic and liberal side of the French assembly, and of other European legislatures in the nineteenth century, of sitting to the left of the president’s chair (a habit presaged in the French Estates General of 1789, in which the nobility sat on the King’s right, and the ‘third estate’ on his left).

Terms like ‘left’, ‘left of centre’, and ‘left wing’ now denote a variety of things, and most of all a certain flavour of politics. They are terms of *journalese, without precise meaning, but used to suggest some combination of the following views (no one of which is necessary and each of which admits of degree):

(i) a hostility to *private property, and belief in *social ownership as the ideal alternative, with control by the state as a necessary means to that;
(ii) a hostility towards classes judged to be favoured by the political system;
(iii) a hostility towards *establishment in all its forms, and towards *offices, *honours, and other symbolic expressions of the dignity of government;
(iv) desire for a classless society, without *privilege, *patronage or a *hereditary principle;
(v) belief in *democracy, or at least in popular participation in government; or government by consent;
(vi) belief in certain *natural rights (or *human rights), particularly those associated with the victims of existing social arrangements, be they workers, women, immigrants or whatever;
(vii) a belief in *progress, to be furthered by *revolution or *reform;
(viii) *egalitarian leanings, together with a desire for *social justice;
(ix) anti-*nationalist (although not necessarily *internationalist) tendencies (although it should be noted that nationalists now constitute one of the largest classes on the left);
(x) belief in a *welfare state, and in state control over education, medicine, and important resources.

Not all of (i) to (x) are compatible in practice, although it is possible to believe that they are.

Many people on the left would describe themselves as
socialists; the ‘revolutionary left’ is composed of those who wish to bring socialism into being by revolution, the rest being content with reform conducted through existing institutions. Left-wing theory is the attempt to synthesize all or some of (i) to (x), eliminate inconsistencies, and provide an underlying justification in terms either of a theory of history or a theory of *justice, or both.

Because there is a clear spectrum of opinion identified by the two poles of ‘left’ and ‘right’ it is now normal to refer, e.g., to the left wing of right-wing parties, and the right wing of left-wing parties. Very roughly those who shift to the left see themselves as moving in the direction of *Rousseau’s ‘compassionating zeal’ for the under-privileged, and away from respect for existing institutions, in particular those that confer power, property, privilege and social distinction. Those who shift to the right tend to regard compassionating zeal as a mask for *ressentiment.
Note the recognition of the fact that "left" is an imprecise term associated with a cloud of several different tenets, and also that the "left" can also refer more conceptually to a direction along what we would call a left-right spectrum, which includes but is not limited to economic issues.

You might not like this sort of definition, varieties of which are used by all sorts of people every day, and yet they do not go away merely because you disagree with it.

Contrast this with Dysk's idiolectal definition of the word "left-wing", in which left v. right is primarily a question of economic redistribution vs. economic individualism. Left v. right encompasses much, much, much more than just that.

Your idea of the Constitution as being a "liberal" document is literally true, but in context, your remark runs perilously close to conflating the liberalism of the 18th century with what most people mean by "liberalism" nowadays, even allowing for the fact that the various strains of modern liberalism do indeed contradict other radical ideologies. Further, it is important not to confuse the technical meanings of the word "liberal" with the ways in which "liberal" is used in the US, where it often typically means left-liberal or relatively left-wing. Clucking that people are in this way misusing the word "liberal" will get you exactly nothing. This is all very basic Poli Sci 101 material.

All told, whether you like it or not, people discuss the left and the right in ways that you obviously disagree with.

This is why it is generally important to either a) agree on terms, or b) figure out how to nonetheless communicate when you know that those terms are not going to be agreed upon.

...

Further, this quote from you is fairly puzzling:

First off, if you stick with the original formulations, Left Wing and Right Wing would have no meaning at all — there's no real movement to restore the Aristocracy in America, at least not openly.

But...what? Nobody is saying that we should stick to these original formulations. Who are you arguing against? Indeed, the whole point is that left and right are imprecise and continually evolving terms. Indeed, the whole point is that, the very moment that these words were translated and used outside of their original context, they had already been decontextualized.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:34 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


(Regarding the definition quoted above, it's worth noting that the same dictionary provides separate definitions for "left-liberal" and "liberal", and also notes that the US use of the word "liberal" tends to mean "left-liberal", as opposed to how it is used in the rest of the world.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:37 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


The main article is distractingly overwrought, yes—but I'm glad to see that someone, anyone in the Internet Social Justice Warrior scene is stopping to consider that the currently fashionable approach of "assume that everyone else is The Enemy, and be a complete asshole to them at all times" is perhaps less than perfect. I sincerely hope this glimmer of enlightenment catches on—though, with humans and the Internet being what they are, perhaps I shouldn't get my hopes up.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:04 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Late coming back to this party, but I wanted to drop a few things in, just for clarity:

corb,
I am sorry if my attempt at metaphor and allegory caused you to think of me as defending an abusive person. That was not my intent, and I hope you accept my apologies.

Sticherbeast,
Frankly, no, civilized people don't step on other peoples feet first, and the whole point of the metaphor was that real physical harm is being caused and supported by people who are oblivious to the harm they are causing or supporting, thus when someone is yelling that you are hurting them, it might be a good idea just to check if you aren't standing on their foot, oblivious to your actions causing harm. Does that help make it clear?

And yes, if someone treads on my foot, I will likely yelp, as I have had my foot broken on more than one occasion, and still have stress fractures, so even my own weight on my feet can sometimes leave me cursing a blue streak. Thus, my attempt at allegorical description of how privileged people can sometimes (often) step on another persons foot without realizing it, and when their only response is to tell the person who yelped that they are rude and shouldn't yell like that, the brain boggles at a proper response other than a fat up yours to any and everyone, and that this reaction is completely normal and should not be treated as rudeness, per se, but as, objectively, the right and natural course of behavior. Do you understand this now? Is this any clearer? Or am I just muddying up my own brain again?
posted by daq at 4:10 PM on January 7


You must have me confused with someone else, daq.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:08 PM on January 7


daq, I appreciate your update, apology accepted and thank you for your consideration.
posted by corb at 6:34 PM on January 7


[Folks, please remember to assume others are posting in good faith, and that they in turn assume you're posting in good faith. ]

This is the best of advice to get to productive discussions, not just on Mefi or for participants or critics in social justice conversations, but just in general. People rarely mean the most negative interpretations of what they said but people will often jump there for various reasons. Once you do that, you may not be engaging with what the person is actually trying to communicate anymore. The goal of your communication should be, if you wish to be persuasive, to hear what they are trying to say and respond on point to that. (You don't have to be trying to persuade. I often rant to communicate my personal disgust or frustration with behavior, with no care if that is persuasive or not)

This isn't unique to social justice or anything, it's rampant in all forms of politics. Democrat said something? Fox gives you the worst possible interpretation. Republicans said something? Fox gives you the best possible interpretation.

Now, that doesn't mean you should fool yourself into thinking nobody uses language with things like dog whistles or that you should let problematic speech go, but it helps to make it clear that you are pointing out a potential interpretation and request clarification rather than jumping right to the worst conclusion.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:59 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


misha: The terms Left Wing and Right Wing come from France originally, where the Left and the Right seating within the parliament leading up to the French Revolution were a microcosm of the political schism within the entire country at the time.

Klangklangston: Look, I'm glad you have access to Wikipedia where you live, but you're out of your depth.

Je vous assure que je n'ai pas atteint mon profondeur! Mais, je suis fatiguée de votre condescendance.
posted by misha at 8:10 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


escape from the potato planet, Mefi did this recently already, and there have also been several MeTas in recent months in which people have been happy to throw stones at Tumblr bogeywomen and talk themselves into froths slinging the term "Social Justice Warrior." Enjoy.
posted by Corinth at 11:37 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


"You might not like this sort of definition, varieties of which are used by all sorts of people every day, and yet they do not go away merely because you disagree with it.

Contrast this with Dysk's idiolectal definition of the word "left-wing", in which left v. right is primarily a question of economic redistribution vs. economic individualism. Left v. right encompasses much, much, much more than just that.
"

The original statement was that gay marriage and the advancement of women's rights were Left accomplishments. You objected to Dysk's disagreement, citing No True Scotsman. You then use a sloppy definition (which, even the refined definition above notes is often sloppy "journalese"). I reply that Dysk is closer than you are.

As to whether Dysk is idiosyncratic in their views: Since the sloppy definition is a relative one, it's not explanatory and unbounded, ergo arguing that No True Scotsman applies is baseless. For example, Nixon passed the Clean Air Act, something that would today be seen as "left wing." Does that make Nixon a leftist? Does that make the Clean Air Act a leftist achievement? No.

Further, leftism has been primarily concerned with economic redistribution, most significantly because of its long association with Marxist and post-Marxist political and economic philosophy. For example, the division between the New Left and the Old Left in America can be somewhat reasonably framed as a break from doctrinaire Marxism/Leninism into the liberationist doctrines of people like Mao and Fanon, who could both be termed post-Marxists.

The New Left is also a good place to look when you want to distinguish Leftism from Liberalism, which many members of the New Left were eager to. Organizations like the SDS used "liberal" as a slur, which doesn't make sense if these were merely divisions among leftists, especially since we see distinctions drawn between the New Left and the Old Left. What connected those two was radical redistributive economic politics. What alienated the New Left from liberals was generally disagreements over imperialism and "establishment," or essentially reformist views.

Even now, current leftists identify primarily on economic axes, though they may support any of the number of the projects you quoted above.

"Note the recognition of the fact that "left" is an imprecise term associated with a cloud of several different tenets, and also that the "left" can also refer more conceptually to a direction along what we would call a left-right spectrum, which includes but is not limited to economic issues. "

But given that the left's primary concern is economic, and that many of those projects are priorities for people whom would not describe themselves as leftists, describing gay marriage and women's rights as leftist achievements doesn't make sense, especially in the context of American politics — they're as much achievements for center-right politicians, e.g. Obama. They are, generally, progressive achievements and liberal achievements, and you might make a case that feminism triumphed from the more radical injection of more radical, liberationist rhetoric into mainstream feminism, but since liberal feminism has a lineage that goes back further than Mary Wollstoncraft, there's a closer proximate cause than just a penumbra of leftism.

"Your idea of the Constitution as being a "liberal" document is literally true, but in context, your remark runs perilously close to conflating the liberalism of the 18th century with what most people mean by "liberalism" nowadays, even allowing for the fact that the various strains of modern liberalism do indeed contradict other radical ideologies. Further, it is important not to confuse the technical meanings of the word "liberal" with the ways in which "liberal" is used in the US, where it often typically means left-liberal or relatively left-wing. Clucking that people are in this way misusing the word "liberal" will get you exactly nothing. This is all very basic Poli Sci 101 material. "

No, not at all. Liberalism is it's own intellectual tradition, and it doesn't just mean progressive or leftist. There are liberal assumptions that continue to underpin liberalism as distinct from leftism or progressivism, most explicitly the focus on the individual as the locus of rights. "Neo-liberalism" is connected to the liberalism of the Constitution just as much as U.S. v. Windsor or the Libertarian party is. They are all different flavors of liberal, and share assumptions like individuals having the right to order their lives and property as they see fit. This isn't technical, this is knowing what the words actually mean and why they're used. If we're going purely by how words are used by a majority of people with no understanding of them, Obama's a socialist. I'm glad you had Poli Sci 101; this is Poli Sci 301. If you're going to talk coherently about liberals, the left, and how that relates to political projects, you need a little more than the survey course you took freshman year.

"All told, whether you like it or not, people discuss the left and the right in ways that you obviously disagree with. "

Yes, and I pointed out why I think they're wrong. There are plenty of people who discuss angels as if they're real; that doesn't make them so.

"But...what? Nobody is saying that we should stick to these original formulations. Who are you arguing against? Indeed, the whole point is that left and right are imprecise and continually evolving terms. Indeed, the whole point is that, the very moment that these words were translated and used outside of their original context, they had already been decontextualized."

That was in response to Misha arguing that Left and Right weren't primarily concerned with economics but rather social change, and muddles the two around by stating that "raising up the disadvantaged, disenfranchised and oppressed" but that "Those seated on the left supported a fundamental change toward a most socialist system, with the goal of a more egalitarian society and thus the same rights for all." She misunderstands that "egalitarianism," which is economic, and is bound up with rights, but is not the same as rights — you can be egalitarian without giving a damn about rights; that's pretty much what State Communism was. The rights in the slogan are "liberté," … Anyway, I was making the point that looking to the French Revolution for strong definitions was foolish; I suppose I should have pointed out that few of the current leftists want the Jacobins in charge any time soon.

(Though, tangentially, the LEF slogan does give a handy example for the what the general distinction between leftists and liberals is: Leftists value egalité over liberté and fraternité; Liberals value liberté over egalité. That doesn't mean that they don't often work together, e.g. the ACLU is a liberal organization that has frequently worked to defend leftists, and has often been associated with leftists, but it's not a leftist organization.)

So, TL;DR: Liberalism and leftism are different, but connected. Counting things like gay marriage as leftist achievement is like counting an Olympic gold as Morgan Hamm achievement, even if most people just referred to it as a Hamm brothers achievement.
posted by klangklangston at 11:38 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


"Je vous assure que je n'ai pas atteint mon profondeur! Mais, je suis fatiguée de votre condescendance."

When you accuse someone of rewriting history and then offer up an incoherent mishmash of misunderstanding and false cognates, expect to be treated as if you don't know what you're talking about.

Si vous vous lassez de condescendance, essayez de ne pas être condescendant. Et si vous voulez plus de Google Translate de moi, essayez allemand.
posted by klangklangston at 11:49 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


If you really do think that there have been no significant leftist achievements in the last 70 years, it might be worth considering what the Left is doing so terribly wrong that it's achieved so little. It's not enough to complain that conservatives are charming meanies, or that Americans keep thinking they'll be joining the ruling class. Those are simply facts on the ground. If your tactics are not overcoming them, then your tactics suck.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:39 AM on January 8


OK, now you're just being ridiculous. First of all, the tactics of Tumblr are not the tactics of the Left, which are in turn not the tactics of the larger movements. And second, it took a century (and a war costing well over half a million deaths and billions of dollars) until black Americans were no longer allowed to be enslaved in this country, another pretty bloody century until they were guaranteed equal rights and protection under federal law, and yet they are still institutionally and openly personally discriminated against at all levels of society and many state governments. Just because we haven't managed to solve the issue of gay marriage or trans rights or harassment of women in the course of a compressed timeframe of your choice doesn't mean that the tactics suck.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:04 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Oh, and for some interesting perspective on the Left of the last 70 years, perhaps you should read yesterday's FPP on the 1971 reveal of FBI's decades-long tactics of suppressing the activities and effectiveness of social and economic justice groups by both sabotaging them from within and using law enforcement and judicial methods. You may want to read it keeping in mind that what we've learned over the last year from Snowden et al has the ability to do the exact same thing at a much larger scale with much less visibility.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:04 AM on January 8


The original statement was that gay marriage and the advancement of women's rights were Left accomplishments. You objected to Dysk's disagreement, citing No True Scotsman.

No, this is not correct. There was an a) and a b):
This is either a) a textbook example of a No True Scotsman, or b) an unconscious admission that the very idea of "the left vs. the right" is context-dependent, ever-changing, imprecise, amorphous, and prone to false dichotomies, and so in that way it is often generally unsuitable for blanket statements in political discussion. One might as well say that Dick Cheney was not really of "the right", as he did not follow the teachings of Oswald Spengler.
That is to say, if the advancements of gay and women's rights cannot be seen as left-wing accomplishments, then either a No True Scotsman has been deployed, or we need to take a critical look at how we use terms like "left-wing".

Compare with this sort of conversation:

A: "There are no beautiful places in Antarctica."
B: "What about the windswept fields of ice?"
A: "No, beauty requires lushness."

Either a) this is a No True Scotsman, or b) one needs to be aware that the word "beauty" does not have a single, perfect, neat, universal definition. Regardless, it is the case that A and B do not agree about the term "beauty", so they will have to either agree on a definition for it, or they will have to conduct their conversation without that exact term.

Regardless, you have also omitted (or not noticed) that the reason why Dysk had excluded gay and women's rights from the left v. right spectrum because these were not issues that they felt addressed economic redistribution. Gay and women's rights were to be categorically excluded from determining whether something was left or right, unless those same expansions of gay and women's rights also implicated economic redistribution. This entails a very precise definition of the word "left", but at the expense of accuracy with regard to how the word is actually used by people.

More importantly, it's a definition which flatly contradicts the definition you had been citing, which recognizes that there is more to the left than just economic issues. Yes, economic issues are primary, but they are not solely determinative.

It's also worth pointing out that not all forms economic redistribution are of the left. If we only used this definition, we would have to place a socially conservative, monarchist distributist like John Médaille into a figure further to the left than most self-identified left-wingers.

You then use a sloppy definition (which, even the refined definition above notes is often sloppy "journalese"). I reply that Dysk is closer than you are.

The invocation of "sloppiness" doesn't really work here. Surely you are aware that amorphous, dynamic concepts exist. Regardless, even if one were to judge such concepts as being "sloppy", such judgment is merely an appeal to consequence, and judging me for pointing it out is shooting the messenger. The words "left" and "left-wing" are not precise in the same way that, say, "uvula" is, although some people may have their own precise ideas as to what those words mean. Do you likewise harrumph that ideas of "beauty" and "ethics" are also sloppy, or do you insist that these words must have their own singular, universal, highly precise definitions as well?

Likewise, the actual definition of the word "left" is not "unbounded", as you claim. There is a well-documented set of tenets, a history, a context, etc. behind what is left and what is not. "Lower the capital gains tax" is obviously not a left-wing position, for example. I find it very hard to believe that you actually think that most people use the word "left" in an "unbounded" way, unless you were being hyperbolic, or you did not really mean what is meant by "unbounded".

For example, Nixon passed the Clean Air Act, something that would today be seen as "left wing." Does that make Nixon a leftist? Does that make the Clean Air Act a leftist achievement? No.

We're using the word "leftist" now? The word often has a specifically radical connotation. (You might opine that "left" and "left-wing" ought to always also have that connotation, but the English language is not in sync with this view.)

I would happily say that Nixon stands to the left of almost any modern Republican. That does not make him a leftist, no more than my being south of Montreal puts me at the South Pole, or even in Atlanta.

As to whether the Clean Air Act was a left* accomplishment, it depends. What is an "accomplishment"?

It is important not to conflate "accomplishment" with "achievement of stated endgame", especially when talking about a political minority. The Act was a compromise. It was a left-wing accomplishment to the extent that the various forces of the left had something they wanted to achieve, and they were able to get something well above their BATNA.

To compare with gay marriage, most self-described leftists who oppose marriage as a political institution still nonetheless recognize that marriage equality is far superior than marriage inequality, and besides, that marriage equality may lead to the abolition of marriage as a political institution. So, leftists often decide to work alongside socially liberal people who are closer to the political center, in order to help achieve a better society, even if it doesn't immediately fulfill their endgame. These various people on the left would also almost certainly have to sway people further right than they into supporting marriage equality. In this way, marriage equality would be normalized (not just those on the left would support it), and some goals concerning gay rights would be compromised (that subset of people who wish to abolish marriage altogether would have to settle at the moment for less than their endgame, but more than their BATNA).

Achieving marriage equality would then be a left-wing accomplishment, to the extent that a variety of members on the left got what they had wanted, even if those leftists opposed to marriage in general still have further goals that they would like to achieve.

If we were to argue that nothing is an accomplishment unless one literally achieves one's endgame, then this quickly leads to a very silly place. One would have to say that those opposed to Obamacare have made no accomplishments in opposition to what he had originally proposed, since the ACA nonetheless still exists. None of the compromises, delays, media blitzes, etc. could be recognized as accomplishments towards their goals.

No, not at all. Liberalism is it's own intellectual tradition, and it doesn't just mean progressive or leftist. There are liberal assumptions that continue to underpin liberalism as distinct from leftism or progressivism, most explicitly the focus on the individual as the locus of rights. "Neo-liberalism" is connected to the liberalism of the Constitution just as much as U.S. v. Windsor or the Libertarian party is. They are all different flavors of liberal, and share assumptions like individuals having the right to order their lives and property as they see fit. This isn't technical, this is knowing what the words actually mean and why they're used. If we're going purely by how words are used by a majority of people with no understanding of them, Obama's a socialist.

Liberalism is its own intellectual tradition? Gosh, you don't say. John Stuart Mill? Wasn't he a character on LOST? I never said that liberalism wasn't its own intellectual tradition, so I'm not sure what you're trying to argue against. Indeed, I had already specifically called out the thread from classical liberalism to modern liberalism to further blends besides, distinguishing between liberals and left-liberals and what you refer to as the left.

This doesn't affect how people still nonetheless talk about left-liberals and how in the US liberals are generally to the left of the conservatives. "Left" and "right" are most often used like "north" and "south". I can go north to Montreal - it doesn't mean that I'm not actually "up north" unless I'm literally at the North Pole.

I'm glad you had Poli Sci 101; this is Poli Sci 301. If you're going to talk coherently about liberals, the left, and how that relates to political projects, you need a little more than the survey course you took freshman year.

There is no need to be upset.

Yes, and I pointed out why I think they're wrong. There are plenty of people who discuss angels as if they're real; that doesn't make them so.

"Angels are real" is a completely different category of statement than "the concept of the political 'left' entails a general cloud of tenets as invoked in certain political contexts".

Two comparable arguments about angels:

Per "angels are real", somebody who is making a claim about things existing or not existing:

A: There is not one single, fixed, timeless definition of the left.
B: Only one definition is correct. No other correct definitions exist.
A: That's not true. Look this definition of "the left", which indeed reflects majority usage. Look at all these people referring to the left in ways which contradict you.
B: No, despite what dictionaries and other books and people say, only one correct definition of the word "left" exists.

Per the actual argument, a situation in which somebody is either using a No True Scotsman, or who insists that others must use their own narrow definition of a concept:

A: Angels have been depicted as being organized in a variety of ways.
B: No, angels have one specific hierarchy. The highest order of angels are the Seraphim, followed by the Cherubim.
A: Thats not how angels are organized in Judaism or Islam.
B: No, only the Christian tradition is valid.

That was in response to Misha arguing that Left and Right weren't primarily concerned with economics but rather social change

No, misha was talking about how Left and Right are not only concerned with economics, and how it is indeed true that Left and Right are context-dependent, amorphous concepts. Indeed, the very history of the idea began in one context, and we have been applying it through changing political contexts ever since. Some constants have remained through left v. right, other aspects have changed, and people often try to pigeonhole ideologies that do not easily fit into any left v. right spectrum, e.g. fascism and distributism.

This is why people often find it helpful to skip left v. right as fixed categories in detailed political discussions, except sometimes as spatial concepts. It is often more helpful to use more precisely defined political positions, concepts, and ideologies.

Either way, you no doubt believe that your definition of the left is still far more correct than that of most other people, and that's fine, but you are still stuck having to communicate with the unwashed masses. AND WE WILL NOT BATHE
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:54 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


First of all, the tactics of Tumblr are not the tactics of the Left, which are in turn not the tactics of the larger movements.

This should probably be tatooed on a couple of foreheads.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:59 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


First of all, the tactics of Tumblr are not the tactics of the Left, which are in turn not the tactics of the larger movements.

That is true, though as noted upthread, "trashing" hardly begins with the internet. But again, if you agree with klang that there have been no significant Left achievements in the last 70 years, then all of the above must all have lousy tactics.

And second, it took a century (and a war costing well over half a million deaths and billions of dollars) until black Americans were no longer allowed to be enslaved in this country, another pretty bloody century until they were guaranteed equal rights and protection under federal law, and yet they are still institutionally and openly personally discriminated against at all levels of society and many state governments. Just because we haven't managed to solve the issue of gay marriage or trans rights or harassment of women in the course of a compressed timeframe of your choice doesn't mean that the tactics suck.

Timeframe of my choice? People above are arguing that there have been no achievements in generations, The ones you're bringing up are specifically those klang does not consider Left triumphs.

I did specifically mention government persecution... as something you should have tactics to deal with. If one can anticipate that the government will try to persecute your group, and your group is built in such a way that it crumbles before government persecution, then you have egregiously fucked up.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:04 AM on January 8


But again, if you agree with klang that there have been no significant Left achievements in the last 70 years, then all of the above must all have lousy tactics.

Why? This just seems like your usual hand-wavy argument.

Timeframe of my choice? People above are arguing that there have been no achievements in generations, The ones you're bringing up are specifically those klang does not consider Left triumphs.

As far as I can tell, he considers the progress made to be from groups not of the Left (philosophically speaking), and the progress left to be made, well...not. Totally different.

I did specifically mention government persecution... as something you should have tactics to deal with. If one can anticipate that the government will try to persecute your group, and your group is built in such a way that it crumbles before government persecution, then you have egregiously fucked up.

What, pray tell, are the tactics that can stand up to widespread persecution and massive levels of downwards force from a government that has capabilities that you can't be aware of outside of actually working for them? It's pretty damn hard to maintain leadership and cohesion when the people responsible for organizing are getting tossed in jail or beaten. It's hard to get your message out when the lines of communication are cut or compromised or hijacked by unfriendly media organizations. So apart from attempting to operate from outside the legal structure, what would you suggest people do to deal with that? Because from my perspective, you've chosen to take the energy you can use to improve progressive activism, and spent it on insulting and belittling them.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:17 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


What, pray tell, are the tactics that can stand up to widespread persecution and massive levels of downwards force from a government that has capabilities that you can't be aware of outside of actually working for them?

Decentralization and cell structures of vouched-for individuals who are taking care not to give leeway to be busted on petty drug charges.
posted by corb at 9:02 AM on January 8


So, basically groups have to use guerilla tactics in order to be effective, and that's their fault. Fantastic.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:16 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's anyone's fault except maybe shitty government orgs. I'm just telling you from experience what I've noted in my time in organizing. If you have a centralized leadership, it is more responsive and theoretically stable, but is usually infiltrated or destabilized by divisive tactics. If you accept large sums of money, you have more power, but are also more dependent on the sources of that funding. If you engage in even minor, petty, insignificant crimes, you will be busted by people who are looking for any excuse to get you on something you can't be a martyr for. This is just the shitty world of organizing.

In that shitty world, though, the single thing that destroys organizations the most is infighting, and one of the main causes of it is people being awful to each other in communications networks. A fix for it is real-world face-time, but that can only happen in small cell-type networks.
posted by corb at 9:25 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


I want to thank this thread for clarifying my thinking (or certainly my wording) on a key point. I've long waded into political discussion by saying something along the lines of, "My natural tendency is pretty libertarian. I believe people should be as free as possible to do whatever the hell they want as long as they're not imposing on other people's rights for same. But one issue trumps all others and seems to get me defined as socialist, and that's the imperative of a functional social safety net. We need to have a system that does not let people fall through the cracks if things go wrong for them. Without it, the bottom falls out of society, our culture, our so-called civilization."

So by this definition, I guess I find myself on the side arguing "no significant Left achievements in the last 70 years" (certainly in the US of A). And yeah, if you define yourself as Left and active, then if this doesn't get you looking seriously at your tactics, I wonder what would.

As for ....

What, pray tell, are the tactics that can stand up to widespread persecution and massive levels of downwards force from a government that has capabilities that you can't be aware of outside of actually working for them?"

... my immediate inclination is to look to what's going on in Oregon this week with the legalization of recreational marijuana use and how this has come to be, because nobody has suffered widespread persecution and massive levels of downwards force from government over the past decades like users of illicit substances. And yet, now something significant has happened.
posted by philip-random at 9:52 AM on January 8


my immediate inclination is to look to what's going on in Oregon this week with the legalization of recreational marijuana use and how this has come to be, because nobody has suffered widespread persecution and massive levels of downwards force from government over the past decades like users of illicit substances. And yet, now something significant has happened.

Then it would be great if someone could point out what, if any, tactics changed recently as opposed to the 75 years prior.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:58 AM on January 8


Which is why my suggestion is to study the process of what's happened in Oregon. Certainly, the decriminalization/legalization movement has been ongoing for decades with all manner of peaks and valleys. And yet now, finally, CHANGE ... and it happened at the ballot box. Why Oregon? Why now and not five, fifteen, thirty years ago? What finally allowed enough people to change their thinking about the issue for democracy to have its way?
posted by philip-random at 10:50 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Why Oregon?

Because you have it confused with Colorado?
posted by RogerB at 10:55 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


philip-random: "Why Oregon? Why now and not five, fifteen, thirty years ago?"

Uh, you mean Washington, right?
posted by tonycpsu at 10:56 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Which is why my suggestion is to study the process of what's happened in Oregon. Certainly, the decriminalization/legalization movement has been ongoing for decades with all manner of peaks and valleys. And yet now, finally, CHANGE ... and it happened at the ballot box. Why Oregon? Why now and not five, fifteen, thirty years ago? What finally allowed enough people to change their thinking about the issue for democracy to have its way?

My guess is that "political infighting" is either very far down the list or not on it all. I can guarantee you that it wasn't Tumblr, which a percentage of the American electorate so close to zero that it is statistically insignificant has even heard of in relation to social and economic justice.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:03 AM on January 8


I think the real problem with tumblr - or why tumblr matters - is because it acclimatizes people to a certain type of toxic discourse, which they then take with them into real world organizing scenarios, which are not used to and are utterly unprepared for that kind and level of toxicity.
posted by corb at 11:39 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


"Regardless, you have also omitted (or not noticed) that the reason why Dysk had excluded gay and women's rights from the left v. right spectrum because these were not issues that they felt addressed economic redistribution. Gay and women's rights were to be categorically excluded from determining whether something was left or right, unless those same expansions of gay and women's rights also implicated economic redistribution. This entails a very precise definition of the word "left", but at the expense of accuracy with regard to how the word is actually used by people. "

No, you're arguing against a straw man there. Dysk: "To me, left vs right is a largely economic issue - redistributive policies (or policies aimed at reducing economic inequality more generally) contra economic individualism." (emphasis mine)

That's not necessarily a precise definition, not only because economic issues are very broad. But they were in no way stated to be categorically excluded; rather, Dysk made the accurate point that there are socially-progressive right wingers (e.g. many libertarians are functionally right wing while still supporting gay marriage or drug legalization).

"More importantly, it's a definition which flatly contradicts the definition you had been citing, which recognizes that there is more to the left than just economic issues. Yes, economic issues are primary, but they are not solely determinative."

In no way does my saying that leftism is primarily concerned with economics contradict Dysk saying that leftism is largely concerned with economics. That's nonsense.

"It's also worth pointing out that not all forms economic redistribution are of the left. If we only used this definition, we would have to place a socially conservative, monarchist distributist like John Médaille into a figure further to the left than most self-identified left-wingers. "

He's wildly idiosyncratic, but being socially conservative and economically redistributive does not necessarily make a person on the right; if it did, many communist parties and thinkers would have historically been right wing. Likewise, Oscar Romero was socially conservative, but openly preached left wing Liberation Theology, to the extent that he was assassinated by right wingers in El Salvador.

"Regardless, even if one were to judge such concepts as being "sloppy", such judgment is merely an appeal to consequence, and judging me for pointing it out is shooting the messenger. The words "left" and "left-wing" are not precise in the same way that, say, "uvula" is, although some people may have their own precise ideas as to what those words mean. Do you likewise harrumph that ideas of "beauty" and "ethics" are also sloppy, or do you insist that these words must have their own singular, universal, highly precise definitions as well?"

First off, beauty and ethics are much broader concepts than either right wing or left wing. But to take an example that's closer to our discussion, I would harrumph over a definition of "democracy" that did not represent how most self-identified leftists understand it (instead, being applied from outside in), did not correspond with the lineage of the term in political discussions, and was so broad as to make the term less clear. For example, Medaille says that his support for monarchy is an expression of his belief in democracy, arguing that a king cannot rule without the tacit support of a majority of his people. But that's absurd, as it only tangentially comports with the idea of power coming through the people, and requires extra-democratic justification, in his case theology, in order to view an unelected leader as representative of the will of the people. It's similar to the crutch of General Will that pervades Rousseau's Social Contract.

Likewise, the argument that because a majority of use goes one way is not determinative, especially given that the majority of use that you're relying on seems fairly circumscribed to US domestic politics. For example, North Korea is nominally the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and certainly a a majority of North Koreans would describe their political process as "democratic." However, that's again clearly absurd if you want "democratic" to have any concrete meaning at all.

Granted, "democratic" is a clearer case than "leftism," but I think that highlights some of the problems with using a purely relative rubric, as well as conflating leftism with liberalism and progressivism.

"Likewise, the actual definition of the word "left" is not "unbounded", as you claim. There is a well-documented set of tenets, a history, a context, etc. behind what is left and what is not. "Lower the capital gains tax" is obviously not a left-wing position, for example. I find it very hard to believe that you actually think that most people use the word "left" in an "unbounded" way, unless you were being hyperbolic, or you did not really mean what is meant by "unbounded"."

Using a purely descriptive definition does indeed lead it to be functionally unbounded, e.g. Obama being called left wing above. At the core, it leads to the tautological definition of "not right."

"We're using the word "leftist" now? The word often has a specifically radical connotation. (You might opine that "left" and "left-wing" ought to always also have that connotation, but the English language is not in sync with this view.)"

It seems silly to argue that "the left" is not composed of "leftists." Using "left" as a modifying adjective is looser than talking about "the left." It's especially baffling that you'd conflate liberalism, leftism and progressivism in goals and values, but object to leftism as synonymous for the beliefs of the left.

"I would happily say that Nixon stands to the left of almost any modern Republican. That does not make him a leftist, no more than my being south of Montreal puts me at the South Pole, or even in Atlanta.

As to whether the Clean Air Act was a left* accomplishment, it depends. What is an "accomplishment"?
"

And again, your sloppiness works against you, to the extent that I'm not sure why you're not putting this together. While Nixon may be further to the left than modern Republicans, that does not mean that his accomplishments are accomplishments of the left. You're consistently conflating adjectives with nouns. At any rate, you're welcome to quibble over the definition of "accomplishment" if it helps you feel better about not dealing with the definition of "the left."

"It is important not to conflate "accomplishment" with "achievement of stated endgame", especially when talking about a political minority. The Act was a compromise. It was a left-wing accomplishment to the extent that the various forces of the left had something they wanted to achieve, and they were able to get something well above their BATNA."

This is the lowest possible, least meaningful definition of "accomplishment." Was the Clean Air Act a leftist project that was completed in comportment with a majority of leftist ideals through the exercise of leftist power? No. Your weak definition of "accomplishment" would tout Texas A&M's accomplishment in not getting shut out by Oregon despite getting blown out and losing the game.

"To compare with gay marriage, most self-described leftists who oppose marriage as a political institution still nonetheless recognize that marriage equality is far superior than marriage inequality, and besides, that marriage equality may lead to the abolition of marriage as a political institution. So, leftists often decide to work alongside socially liberal people who are closer to the political center, in order to help achieve a better society, even if it doesn't immediately fulfill their endgame. These various people on the left would also almost certainly have to sway people further right than they into supporting marriage equality. In this way, marriage equality would be normalized (not just those on the left would support it), and some goals concerning gay rights would be compromised (that subset of people who wish to abolish marriage altogether would have to settle at the moment for less than their endgame, but more than their BATNA)."

No, not really. Most self-described leftists (especially within the LGBT movement) are uninterested in marriage, question or attack the mainstream LGBT advocacy organizations for their focus on marriage, and generally focus on radical critiques of state intervention in relationships and especially on the economic issues that have a disproportionate effect on the LGBT community. My job has entailed meeting with many radical, leftist queer organizations and building coalition work with them, despite us being a mainstream, liberal LGBT advocacy organization. This is, again, more an issue of you conflating the relative adjective "left" with the political identity of "leftist." It's a nice thought, but it's again sloppy and inaccurate at the level of actual political engagement, and relies on question begging to render organizations leftist by dint of their support for gay marriage.

"Achieving marriage equality would then be a left-wing accomplishment, to the extent that a variety of members on the left got what they had wanted, even if those leftists opposed to marriage in general still have further goals that they would like to achieve."

Except, again, they did not get what they wanted and feel actually pretty frustrated by the outsized attention to bourgeois accomplishments like marriage relative to economic justice, immigration rights, transgender equality (especially in terms of resisting violence against transgender people). So, it would be a left-wing accomplishment to the extent that you beg the question of "left-wing" by lumping in groups that gave tepid support to marriage and feel actively harmed by the focus on marriage to the detriment of what they consider more important issues.


"Liberalism is its own intellectual tradition? Gosh, you don't say. John Stuart Mill? Wasn't he a character on LOST? I never said that liberalism wasn't its own intellectual tradition, so I'm not sure what you're trying to argue against. Indeed, I had already specifically called out the thread from classical liberalism to modern liberalism to further blends besides, distinguishing between liberals and left-liberals and what you refer to as the left. "

u mad bro?

Since you argued that I was "perilously close to conflating the liberalism of the 18th century with what most people mean by "liberalism" nowadays," pointing out that I was in fact distinguishing liberalism from leftism was directly related to what you wrote. So, be aghast at yourself for needing that explained.

"There is no need to be upset."

I'm not upset. I'm explaining why your snark about Poli Sci 101 is shallow and inadequate.

""Angels are real" is a completely different category of statement than "the concept of the political 'left' entails a general cloud of tenets as invoked in certain political contexts"."

Completely different? I suppose in that the first is a concrete statement of belief, and the second is a mishmash of qualifiers and vague handwaving. But neither of them have real explanatory value here. I'm going to ignore your muddled straw man dialogue on angels, because it doesn't demonstrate anything aside from you ignoring or misunderstand the general thrust of that argument (which was that angels are an amorphous concept constructed in myriad ways, but that doesn't mean that all opinions on angels are factually correct).

"No, misha was talking about how Left and Right are not only concerned with economics, and how it is indeed true that Left and Right are context-dependent, amorphous concepts."

It would be a lot easier to believe that if it was actually reflected in what she wrote, which I quoted above. She said, and I quote: "You seem to suggest that Left-Wing and Right-Wing are founded more on economics than social change, for example, which is just not true, and you shy away from what Liberalism means altogether." And she attempted to support that through an appeal to the original definitions, which she then recapped in an incoherent manner where raising up the dispossessed wasn't economic.

"Indeed, the very history of the idea began in one context, and we have been applying it through changing political contexts ever since. Some constants have remained through left v. right, other aspects have changed, and people often try to pigeonhole ideologies that do not easily fit into any left v. right spectrum, e.g. fascism and distributism."

Yes, the relative terms have been applied in many situations, but the identity of "leftist" has a pretty through-going and well-established definition, and that does include a primacy of economic redistributive policies. Noteably, without that it makes no sense to talk about achievements of "the left," as that would just be anything not from the right (which would also be pretty meaningless). There are philosophical underpinnings to these terms, and seeking to use them purely as descriptive, relative terms annihilates that, especially when the descriptive and relativistic context is only a provincial subset of global use.

"This is why people often find it helpful to skip left v. right as fixed categories in detailed political discussions, except sometimes as spatial concepts. It is often more helpful to use more precisely defined political positions, concepts, and ideologies."

I agree with you there, especially since part of what I'm pushing back against is an amorphous, vague and ultimately obfuscating definition of "the left."

"Either way, you no doubt believe that your definition of the left is still far more correct than that of most other people, and that's fine, but you are still stuck having to communicate with the unwashed masses. AND WE WILL NOT BATHE"

Which is why I try to avoid using "the left" outside of pretty clear statements, since using it as an umbrella for everyone more progressive, liberal or redistributive than Republicans is problematic.
posted by klangklangston at 11:46 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I think the real problem with tumblr - or why tumblr matters - is because it acclimatizes people to a certain type of toxic discourse, which they then take with them into real world organizing scenarios, which are not used to and are utterly unprepared for that kind and level of toxicity.

Hope this gives you comfort: Toxic levels of internal trashing have been around for decades longer than Tumblr or twitter, and yet, activism continues to be active. And in my sample of 20something activists, well, they go to meetings, they flyer on corners, they organize demos, they make coalition with allied groups, they knock on doors for political candidates, they run nonprofits and political groups, they hold fundraisers for causes at bars, and so on and so forth.

I'm really not at all afraid that some vitriolic frothing in online spaces is suddenly going to poison the well of meatspace activism, since there's zero evidence that meatspace vitriol has made activism disappear. Meatspace activism is absolutely no stranger to vitriol, backstabbing, or sabotage. It will not be taken by surprise in the least.
posted by rtha at 11:59 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Why Oregon?

Because you have it confused with Colorado?


well yeah, but I'm Canadian. They're both west of the mid-west so that makes me mostly right.
posted by philip-random at 11:59 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


That may be the most American thing I've heard a Canadian say.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:01 PM on January 8 [4 favorites]


I'm not aware of any major tactical changes in the legalization movement, if somebody knows any I would be interested to read about recent shifts that found success. At some point lobbying groups like NORML (1970) and MPP (1995) popped up that took the politics out of the realm of hippy stuff but it's always seemed like just an ongoing slow and steady process along with the demographic shifts. Obama deserves credit for softening the the federal enforcement of pot laws in lenient states.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:04 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


corb: "I think the real problem with tumblr - or why tumblr matters - is because it acclimatizes people to a certain type of toxic discourse, which they then take with them into real world organizing scenarios, which are not used to and are utterly unprepared for that kind and level of toxicity."

The real world organizing scenarios I've seen play out could have used more Tumblr, not less. At least in trans advocacy there can be a very staunch "old guard" group of people in decision-making positions who tend to establish and reinforce 30-year old ways of thinking about being transgender. I know for a fact that this has driven people away. There are two younger people who have joined our group recently - both of whom blog on Tumblr - and they've done a lot of good in terms of sticking up for marginalized people and objecting to essentialist thinking.

Anyway, in terms of acclimatizing people to toxic discourse, it seems myopic to blame a tiny corner of the internet instead of The Media.
posted by Corinth at 12:28 PM on January 8 [6 favorites]


"That is true, though as noted upthread, "trashing" hardly begins with the internet. But again, if you agree with klang that there have been no significant Left achievements in the last 70 years, then all of the above must all have lousy tactics."

I don't think there have been any truly significant leftist achievements in the last 70 years that can't better be explained by more proximate ideologies like liberalism, progressivism, etc. I do think that liberalism and progressivism have had significant victories in the last 70 years.
posted by klangklangston at 12:34 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


Anyway, in terms of acclimatizing people to toxic discourse, it seems myopic to blame a tiny corner of the internet instead of The Media.

This totally jibes with my experience with the small amount of activism I do lately. People get more bad ideas from watching people being terrible to each other on television than they ever do online.
posted by jessamyn at 12:35 PM on January 8 [7 favorites]


klangklangston, I'm going to put the tl;dr up front:

tl;dr No matter how annoying you may find it, the political left is not solely defined by your favorite definition for it. This comment thread is becoming too circle-jerky, so if you would like to continue, then we shall continue via MeMail.

No, you're arguing against a straw man there. Dysk: "To me, left vs right is a largely economic issue - redistributive policies (or policies aimed at reducing economic inequality more generally) contra economic individualism." (emphasis mine)

You omitted the crucial first line: "I for one would not call gay marriage or the advancement of women's rights 'left achievements', as I simply don't see them aligned in any meaningful way with redistributive economics or anti-capitalism." Advancement of women's rights would be considered by Dysk to be a left achievement if and only if it was aligned with redistributive economics or anti-capitalism. Yes, Dysk later qualified their argument with the word "largely", but in practice, this had not been followed.

Using a purely descriptive definition does indeed lead it to be functionally unbounded, e.g. Obama being called left wing above. At the core, it leads to the tautological definition of "not right."

You are not using the word "unbounded" correctly. When there are limits - "bounds" - then something is not unbounded. Since there are many ideas that are obviously outside the limits of even a very broad understanding of "the left", then the term is not unbounded. It would only be unbounded if there was literally no limit to the idea of the left - that most people would agree that the restoration of the monarchy would be of the left, that the willful extermination of the human race would be of the left, that lowering the capital gains tax would be of the left, that privatizing the water companies would be of the left.

You are also not using the word "tautological" correctly. A tautology requires the same idea to be expressed at least twice, e.g. "I am correct because I am right". Setting aside the straw man nature of a scheme in which everything is either left or right, such a scheme would be in no way tautological. The use of antonyms is not tautological.

It seems silly to argue that "the left" is not composed of "leftists." Using "left" as a modifying adjective is looser than talking about "the left." It's especially baffling that you'd conflate liberalism, leftism and progressivism in goals and values, but object to leftism as synonymous for the beliefs of the left.

All of a sudden you are concerned about how "left" can be used as a modifying adjective to refer to something other than merely a radical left? Such as with the phrase "left-wing accomplishment", which began this whole nonsense?

As for being baffled over my invocation of connotations: when I say that "leftist" carries a particular connotation, you find it baffling. However, when you say that the definition of the left wing is actually far more restrictive than the one actually contained in many books and as employed in both common and educated usage, people are supposed to accept your more restrictive definition by dint of the fact that it is yours.

Regardless, when Nixon signs an Act that a leftist, radical or otherwise, might have in some way worked for, that would not make Nixon a leftist, radical or otherwise. People, not just politicians, often make compromises and maintain ideological impurity and sign onto things that may reflect in one way an ideology other than their own.

And again, your sloppiness works against you, to the extent that I'm not sure why you're not putting this together. While Nixon may be further to the left than modern Republicans, that does not mean that his accomplishments are accomplishments of the left. You're consistently conflating adjectives with nouns. At any rate, you're welcome to quibble over the definition of "accomplishment" if it helps you feel better about not dealing with the definition of "the left."

The fact that there are noun and adjectival forms of "left" is but one of many clues that your idea of the left is not the only one out there. You might not like it, but the bumblebee flies anyway.

"Accomplishment" does not only mean "achieving one's ideological end game". It is clear that you dislike the idea of a leftist accomplishment being something other than "a leftist project that was completed in comportment with a majority of leftist ideals through the exercise of leftist power", but that is another issue entirely.

Regarding the self-identified left and gay marriage, my experience very much does not comport with yours. All of my left-wing friends support marriage equality, even if only because it is highly preferable to marriage inequality.

Completely different? I suppose in that the first is a concrete statement of belief, and the second is a mishmash of qualifiers and vague handwaving.

One is a statement about things existing or not existing. The other is an argument in which terms have not been agreed upon, with B insisting that both A and B must agree to B's more restrictive definition.

Noteably, without that it makes no sense to talk about achievements of "the left," as that would just be anything not from the right (which would also be pretty meaningless).

This would only be true if the only viewpoints in the world skated along a left-right axis. They most certainly do not, although some people might labor under the misimpression that they do.

There are philosophical underpinnings to these terms, and seeking to use them purely as descriptive, relative terms annihilates that, especially when the descriptive and relativistic context is only a provincial subset of global use.

This is why concepts such as "left" and "right" often bog arguments down, and why it is best to never reify them, or to pretend that everybody agrees what they mean.

Also: provincial? That is exactly backwards. Only a minority of people adhere to your definition of what is left, left-wing, etc.

Since you argued that I was "perilously close to conflating the liberalism of the 18th century with what most people mean by "liberalism" nowadays," pointing out that I was in fact distinguishing liberalism from leftism was directly related to what you wrote. So, be aghast at yourself for needing that explained.

This is still weird. Since I had literally just distinguished between classical liberalism, modern liberalism, left-liberalism, the US use of the word "liberal" to mean something like "left-liberal", and the radical left, it made no sense to try to pretend that I hadn't literally done just that. The point remains that, while there is core continuity from classical liberalism to liberalism in the US today, there is also difference and evolution. The Constitution is a "liberal" document, in the 18th century sense, but classical liberalism is necessarily distinguished from what people mean when they talk about so-and-so being a self-described bleeding-heart liberal.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:24 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


Sticherbeast,
Yeah, sorry, confused your commments with ThatFuzzyBastard. Sorry for the mix up.
posted by daq at 2:33 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


NO PROBLEM
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:36 PM on January 8


Sure, let's go memail.
posted by klangklangston at 2:54 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Ha so I left this thread to read today, and came back to discover that it was now a bizzare argument about defining words. Because those are always great. The irony of all that being that the posts at the top seem to be talking about the social progressive left rather than the economic left. So who cares what words we use, the things many socially progressive people want have been happening.

More importantly, online matters. A lot of my understanding of feminism and trans issues comes from my engagement online. If, at a certain point in my life, I had encountered some of the pointless squabbling within communities of people who fundamentally agree with each other disagreeing in the most violent of tones, perhaps I would have ended up with a different opnion.

To address tone, I always think about what my goal is when discussing things with people online. Am I trying to change peoples minds? Learn something? Or just make myself feel good? If its the last one then I can adopt any tone I choose. If its the others, then I will probably get further engaging with people in a more polite and constructive manner.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:51 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]


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