A Liberal Critique
content warning: discussion of discussion of rape; discussion of critique of an instance of opposition to racism
"Charity over absurdity", 5 of \(\infty\).
A friend pointed out on Facebook (I'm not going to hyperlink.) that they were seriously troubled that the first time I chose to write about race, it was against the idea that we should be doing more to fight racism:
The fact that the first thing that you have ever said about [race] is in defense of structural protections of racism -- even if I, personally, in this case... agree with you -- is highly suspicious, and it is important... to consider carefully how we choose the things about which to be passionate, [especially] publicly passionate, and how those choices influence those around us.
I'm actually pretty sympathetic to this view, though I was heartened by another friend's comment:
I'm not sure if I agree with you that people should make statements that have already been said in order to communicate we are as a person. On one hand, certain issues are so important that people do need to take a stand on them even if a lot has already been said on the issue. On the other hand, I do not feel that Ross has to make a statement condemning the SAE frat boys in order for me to feel secure that he does not support racism. Also, so much of my Facebook feed involves everyone saying the same things about the same issues, all the time, and it is all the more tiring because I myself agree with what everyone is saying.
...but still bothered by the possibility of any of my readers coming away from my first real post on race with the impression that we should be doing less to fight racism than we are. On the one hand, arguments-as-soldiers is a pernicious fallacy, but on the other, that doesn't stop it from being true-in-the-world about how real people will react to real things other people write. And if people react to my being critical of one instance of opposition to racism (as the only positive claim I've made on the issue) by assuming that I'm actually anti-opposition-to-racism in general, then that's really bad, either because (1) it means that they're less likely to trust me in the future or worse, (2) the anti-opposition-to-racism position gains, in their eyes, whatever credibility my (believed) support of it lends.
So I'm troubled by the fact that 100% of the positions I've taken re: opposition to racism have been against the idea that the opposition should be more vigorous. It helps that I mostly trust my readers to not mistake me for actually being opposed to opposing racism, but there's still that underlying, worrying risk.
[Consider] the following two critiques: "The Catholic Church wastes so much energy getting upset about heretics who believe mostly the same things as they do, when there are literally millions of Hindus over in India who don't believe in Catholicism at all! What dumb priorities!"
Or "How could Joseph McCarthy get angry about a couple of people who might have been Communists in the US movie industry, when over in Moscow there were thousands of people who were openly super Communist all the time?"
There might be foot-long giant centipedes in the Amazon, but I am a lot more worried about boll weevils in my walled garden.
Anti-Semites fight nasty. The Ku Klux Klan fights nasty. Neo-Nazis fight nasty. We dismiss them with equanamity, in accordance with the ancient proverb: "Haters gonna hate". There is a role for organized opposition to these groups, like making sure they can't actually terrorize anyone, but the marginal blog post condemning Nazism is a waste of time. Everybody who wants to discuss things charitably and compassionately has already formed a walled garden and locked the Nazis outside of it.
People who want to discuss things rationally and charitably have not yet locked Charles Clymer out of their walled garden.
He is not a heathen, he is a heretic. He is not a foreigner, he is a traitor. He comes in talking all liberalism and statistics, and then he betrays the signals he has just sent. He is not just some guy who defects in the Prisoner's Dilemma. He is the guy who defects while wearing the "I COOPERATE IN PRISONERS DILEMMAS" t-shirt. (...)
I honestly believe that discursive charity and liberalism make social movements stronger. When I levy critiques at the illiberal left for being insufficiently charitable towards the right, it's not because I would prefer they weaken their defenses against rightism -- it's because I would prefer they strengthen them. If you prefer to believe that I'm lying on this point, I don't know how to convince you otherwise, and I don't even know how to signal this every time I'm doing it, but, well, it's true.
I critique certain takes on feminism because I believe that there are things in them that make the movement weaker that I'd like to see go away. I critique certain oppositions to racism because I believe that they are weak tactics in fighting the good fight, and would rather see the good fight fought well. I don't spend a great deal of time attacking the enemy because really, what good would that do?
...besides remind my friends that I'm on their side, of course. Which is important.
Just once, couldn't someone pitch a "controversy" slow and over the plate, so I can opine against [X]ism and for the way in which good people have chosen to oppose it?
...and Scott Alexander says no, Ross, that'll never happen:
Only controversial things get spread. A rape allegation will only be spread if it's dubious enough to split people in half along lines corresponding to identity politics. An obviously true rape allegation will only be spread if the response is controversial enough to split people in half along lines corresponding to identity politics -- which is why so much coverage focuses on the proposal that all accused rapists should be treated as guilty until proven innocent. (...)
(He suspects the aggregate sharers to be driven by a desire to signal their political identities; it occurs to me that the same behavior can be explained less cynically by say, a genuine desire to help the marginalized by demonstrating solidarity.)
A rape that obviously happened? Shove it in people's face and they'll admit it's an outrage, just as they'll admit factory farming is an outrage. But they're not going to talk about it much. There are a zillion outrages every day, you’re going to need something like that to draw people out of their shells.
On the other hand, the controversy over dubious rape allegations is exactly that -- a controversy. People start screaming at each other about how they're misogynist or misandrist or whatever, and Facebook feeds get filled up with hundreds of comments in all capital letters about how my ingroup is being persecuted by your ingroup. At each step, more and more people get triggered and upset. Some of those triggered people do emergency ego defense by reblogging articles about how the group that triggered them are terrible, triggering further people in a snowball effect that spreads the issue further with every iteration. (...)
...and then Ross develops the opinion that everyone should calm down and be more charitable to everyone else, but only says this about the left because a supermajority of the audience of his blog comes from the left. And so Ross is consistently critical of the left.
Yeah, I don't know how to fix this problem. Maybe linking gratuitously to this post every time I end up writing something that could sound like a rightist critique of the left -- on account of being a liberal critique of the illiberal left -- would help, but I doubt it would help much.
Anyway, the real point of this post was that I have things to say that are critical of an opposition to a satire of a critique of structural racism, and I'm afraid that it'll be read as piece-of-evidence 2/2 that Ross wants there to be less opposition to racism in the world. Maybe, goes the vain hope, if I preface that post with 1400 words explaining that that's not what I mean at all, readers will be less inclined to believe that that's what I mean.
It's a trick that really only works once, but this doesn't seem like a bad place to use that one shot. Anyway, here goes...
*crouches, covers ears*
(You're supposed to click on that link.)
(No, seriously. That's where the real post is.)