Some Marxists call the factors that interfere with judgment “false consciousness.” They argue that false consciousness accounts for the failure of revolutionary ideology to attract adherents among the working class in the developed world. On this view, it wasn’t outright repression or censorship that prevented the workers from adopting a Marxist perspective. It is was the subtle and concealed influence of capital on their ability to exercise their capacity to make their own decisions.
These tensions in Mill’s defense of intellectual freedom were recognized in the 19th century. What we now call political correctness was first articulated in the 1960s by the brilliant German-born philosopher Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse’s achievement was to turn Mill’s argument for free discussion, at least in a modern Western society, against its explicit conclusion.
Marcuse undertakes this inversion, worthy of a black belt in dialectical reasoning, in the 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance.” In it, Marcuse argues that the marketplace of ideas can’t function as Mill expected, because the game is rigged in favor of those who are already powerful. Some ideas enjoy underserved appeal due to tradition or the prestige of their advocates. And “consumers” are not really free to choose, given the influence of advertising and the pressures of social and economic need. Thus the outcome of formally free debate is actually predetermined. The ideas that win will generally be those that justify the existing order; those that lose will be those that challenge the structure.
This prong of the argument is close to the standard critique of false consciousness. But Marcuse links it to Mill’s distinction between those who are and are not capable of participating in and benefitting from the unrestricted exchange of ideas.
According to Marcuse, many people who appear to be rational, self-determining men and women are actually in a condition of ideological enforced immaturity. They are therefore incapable of exercising the kind of judgment that Mill’s argument presumes. In order to make debate meaningful, they need to be properly educated. This education is the responsibility of those who have already shown themselves to be capable of thinking for themselves—in this case, left-wing intellectuals rather than Victorian colonial administrators.
One might wonder how either Mill or Marcuse could be so sure that their kind of people knew what was best for others. The answer is that they regarded the truth as obvious.
Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that #Gamergate’s targets in this fight are more than just corrupt game journalists. Along with their furious denunciations of the gaming press, the movement also appears to be fighting a new culture war — one against a new, radical and dangerously illiberal left which marinates in a hideous quagmire of resentment, smugness, vacuousness and contempt for free discussion. This movement prefers the vile ochlocracy of the Twitter mob (it’s no accident that Suey Park of #CancelColbert fame is on the anti-Gamergate side), celebrates the Maoist public shaming of doxxing, and seems incapable of distinguishing between a .gif and an argument. Deemed “Social Justice Warriors,” or “SJWs” by their detractors, this new left is monomaniacally obsessed with identity politics to the exclusion of almost everything else and will attack anyone and everyone who emanates even a whiff of what it perceives as racism, sexism, cissexism, or any of a number of other “-isms,” including its own allies.
And so it was that I found myself reading a very good article at Tucker Carlson’s website, chuckling at the fact that, thanks to the complete moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the SJWs, I can no longer look askance at an article just because of where it was published. In truth, if we care about truth, we should never take such shortcuts to begin with, but life is short, excuses are cheap and easy, and we all make use of heuristics in order to better manage our time. Still, if you get too attached to saving time for its own sake and become too reliant on superficial signals over substance, you will find that, to borrow Emerson’s words, “…a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.” I knew these people were idiots and frauds several years ago, but I also knew that to say so too often or too energetically was politically verboten. Thus does social capital make cowards of us all.
A minor quibble — neither the war nor the warriors are truly new. We have a new baby-boom generation making use of new technologies, but the bullshit theories and dogmas have been around for several decades.
All This Dog and Pony, Still Monkeys the Whole Time; We Could Not Help from Flinging Shit In Our Modern Suits and Ties
The Red Tribe and Blue Tribe have different narratives, which they use to tie together everything that happens into reasons why their tribe is good and the other tribe is bad. Sometimes this results in them seizing upon different sides of an apparently nonpolitical issue when these support their narrative; for example, Republicans generally supporting a quarantine against Ebola, Democrats generally opposing it. Other times it results in a side trying to gain publicity for stories that support their narrative while sinking their opponents’ preferred stories – Rotherham for some Reds; Ferguson for some Blues.
When an issue gets tied into a political narrative, it stops being about itself and starts being about the wider conflict between tribes until eventually it becomes viewed as a Referendum On Everything. At this point, people who are clued in start suspecting nobody cares about the issue itself – like victims of beheadings, or victims of sexual abuse – and everybody cares about the issue’s potential as a political weapon – like proving Muslims are “uncivilized”, or proving political correctness is dangerous. After that, even people who agree that the issue is a problem and who would otherwise want to take action have to stay quiet, because they know that their help would be used less to solve a problem than to push forward the war effort against them. If they feel especially threatened, they may even take an unexpected side on the issue, switching from what they would usually believe to whichever position seems less like a transparent cover for attempts to attack them and their friends.
And then you end up doing silly things like saying ISIS is not as bad as Fox News, or donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the officer who shot Michael Brown.
This can sort of be prevented by not turning everything into a referendum on how great your tribe is and how stupid the opposing tribe is, or by trying to frame an issue in a way that respects or appeals to an out-group’s narrative.
Excellent article. I should start reading there more often.
Of course, there are numerous factors, some hardwired into our brains, some created by our social environments, which make this phenomenon extremely difficult to resist. That is, telling people to “stop being tribal” is about as doomed to failure as atheists telling religious believers to “stop being stupid and start being more rational!” One of my personal ambitions has been to attempt to use this space in a conscious attempt to resist the gravitational pull of tribal affiliation. I think many things about writing online make it ideally suited for that goal, even though we have plenty of disappointing evidence that it can just as easily be used to reinforce the worst elements of tribalism.
I think part of the misunderstanding comes from a misperception about how culture works. It’s not a direct cause-and-effect situation where everybody just mindlessly copies the behaviors they see in the media. That said, media stories do have a profound effect on us, especially when messages, myths, and images are repeated over and over again. This is the reason why I choose to step back and look at the overarching patterns of how women are represented in video games over time. Because it’s this collective repetition that can seep into our minds and shape, perpetuate, and amplify harmful or regressive perceptions of women.
To put it another way, popular culture is like the air we all breathe. It’s in everyone’s interests to make sure that air is not polluted with poisonous sexism so that we don’t all end up with hideous misogynist mutations growing out of the back of our collective heads.
When I first read this, I just marveled at the brazen bullshitting. “Oh, no, I’m not saying video games directly cause men to form hateful attitudes toward women. That would be ridiculous! Haha, no, I’m saying it happens much more subtly, as a cumulative effect over time. It’s so subtle, you might not even see it, but trust me, it’s there.”
Ah, so a pixelated representation of misogyny is like styrofoam! Once it’s released into the noospheric environment, why, it might take thousands of years to fully disintegrate! Well, as someone who came of age hearing similar empty claims over heavy metal records and slasher movies, I just rolled my eyes at how each generation seems to have a deep need for some type of moral panic. People who would find it impossible to comprehend how anyone could have ever taken stories of preschool Satanic sex rituals seriously are eating this stuff up as fast as it can be served to them. Thankfully, though, others have done the dirty work to explain in detail just how little evidence there is to support this:
The root of these claims is in social learning theory. Social learning theory, in short, dictates that we learn through observing behaviors as shown by models, internalizing them through memory and retention, and then displaying them through imitation until a desired outcome results.
This is taken even further by Craig Anderson who put forth the General Affective Aggression Model. According to Anderson, the chief proponent of GAAM, the model bases itself on social learning theory and other models. This model states that single-episode play/aggression comes from personality variables such as aggression mixed with video game play to change mood, heart rate arousal, cognitions, and result in violent behavior. The model further states that multiple episodes result from repeated violent gameplay causing single episode aggression.
In short, the more often you see violence or experience violence, the more likely you are to repeat violence as it has “seeped” into you resulting in an aggressive behavioral choice. The evidence for this model is exclusively found in research by Anderson and cohorts including Lindsey, Bushman, and others. However, research done by Chris Ferguson time and time again refutes this claim every time Anderson publishes a new article.
Simply put, there is no strong indication that media outright causes human behavior such as aggression. There is research that media can help change a narrative, a memory, or compel someone to buy something. However, there’s no clear evidence that media in any form can cause you to do a certain thing, have a certain belief, or hold a certain opinion.
Ecclesiastes famously said that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Still, even the jaded author of that line might have cracked a mirthful grin to see some propagandist named Chris Hall trying his best, like Baghdad Bob, to assure his readers that the forces of White Male Privilege are demoralized and on the run from the heroic hordes of New-Atheism-meets-New-Left ideology, even as plumes of smoke from the smoldering wreckage of Atheism+ are visible over his shoulder. I mean, I know this is the twitosphere, where memory only extends back as far as your last ten tweets, and this is a joke of a site like Alternet, where stories too inane to get published at Salon, Raw Story or the HuffPo find a home, but my god, it’s been less than two years since this same P.R. job fell to a different hack named Adam Lee, and all these clowns have given the world since then is empty bluster, prodigious butthurt and a few crowdsourced rape accusations. But don’t mind me, y’all, go on and double down with your bad selves. I’m sure it will be different this time!
The normally-discerning 3QD links to the latest from the ever-ridiculous Amanda Marcotte on the topic that even a hotline psychic could have accurately predicted she’d be writing about:
Well, I think I have a theory, and yes, it’s sexism.
Now, attentive readers — and you all are attentive, aren’t you? You’re not like the stupid readers that NPR pranked on April Fool’s Day who comment on articles they haven’t read, are you? — will have noticed that the above quotation is nowhere to be found in the linked article. Yes, I confess, I pulled the ol’ switcheroo on you. That’s actually from a post she wrote last winter where, once again, astonishing, I know, in the neverending Rorschach test that we call life, Amanda saw sexism where others only saw meaningless ink. Anyway, the point is, that blurb is pretty much the Platonic Ideal of her writing, the sine qua non, a journeyman free agent that could sign a contract to appear in just about any one of her posts and articles. She is to blogging what Clayton Homes is to housing construction — a supplier of easily-transported, quickly-assembled, prefabricated building templates whose slipshod construction doesn’t take long to reveal itself. I mean, she’s barely had time to cash the check for this job, but look at the drywall already cracking in this section:
But the internet and the PUA community have created a self-haven for young men engaged in this self-pitying discourse, encouraging them to cultivate that chip on their shoulders, wallowing in misogynist accusations that women en masse are failing them by not giving up the sex these ostensibly unappreciated men believe they deserve. With so many men spending so much time egging each other on, and trying to top each other when it comes to blaming women for their own pitiful lives—to the point of advocating for the denial of basic rights to women—it’s little surprise that one of them would finally work up the nerve to get his “revenge” for all these imagined slights.
When Dimebag Darrell was murdered on stage by a gunman a decade ago, an opportunistic hack could have similarly described it as an inevitable result of the nebulous “culture” of angst, aggression and macho violence that heavy metal is popularly associated with, or even singled out the unfortunate comments made by Philip Anselmo in particular shortly before the shooting. It’s “little surprise” that one of those moshing meatheads would finally decide to bring a gun into the pit, isn’t it? Likewise, we’re all familiar with earlier attempts to blame the suicides of depressed and/or drug-addled adolescents on particular songs by Ozzy Osbourne or Judas Priest. It’s “little surprise” that impressionable, disturbed youths would be pushed over the edge by an emotionally manipulative power ballad glorifying death or suicide, isn’t it? But the, uh, surprising fact remains that such extreme occurrences are exceedingly rare. Millions of fans manage to find healthy catharsis within the scene without taking things to their supposed logical conclusions, which should lead one to wonder if the logic isn’t missing something, perhaps.
No, of course that analogy is not to say that misogyny doesn’t exist, or that you can’t find valid examples of men saying awful, offensive things about women (especially if you seek them out). It’s simply a reminder that an unsympathetic outsider’s perspective can easily morph into a good old-fashioned moral panic, which is increasingly what all this hysterical focus on online misogyny is coming to resemble.
Marcotte would like to have it both ways — the rare example of an Elliot Rodger is proof of how inevitably dangerous her ideological opponents are and how we live in a culture that at least passively endorses misogynist ideals, but the fact that most maladjusted sexless adolescents will never be guilty of anything worse than stupidity or boorishness, or the fact that many men somehow manage to altogether resist the omnipresent siren song urging them to treat women as inferior objects will, of course, not count as disproof; the definition of misogyny will simply become more elastic in order to remain relevant. She’s a seasoned veteran at this sort of thing, though. Several years ago, if you remember, the progressive blogosphere was going apeshit over how the murder of Bill Sparkman, the Kentucky census worker found hanged with the word “Fed” written on his chest, was so obviously the inevitable result of violent, anti-government Teabagger rhetoric. When it turned out a couple months later that he had committed suicide while trying to make it look like a homicide, lesser mortals would have slunk away in shame to contemplate the perils of instapunditry, to think twice about publicly jumping to preordained conclusions based on incomplete breaking news reports. Not our heroine, though. No, in fact, it was still the Teabaggers’ fault for making us believe that they were even capable of such an act in the first place. If it should somehow turn out that there’s more to Elliot Rodger’s rampage than first met the eye, you can safely bet the house that misogyny will be to blame for that, too.
More than a decade ago, Tom Tomorrow said something worth dusting off and repeating:
I have seen it suggested that the advantage of the blogs is their immediacy, but I would also posit that it is their Achilles Heel. The first time I heard of the Instapundit site, I actually thought it was a joke. Instant punditry? Surely, I thought, this must be some sort of sly meta-commentary on the tendency of pundits to instantly, and by implication thoughtlessly, formulate opinions before they’ve had a chance to really mull things over, do some research, consider the implications. But no — it’s a serious self-designation, trumpeting what the author apparently considers the strength of the blogs — the ability to draw conclusions even more quickly than normal pundits.
And so, before the bodies had even cooled in the latest mass shooting, representatives of various monomaniacal obsessions had quickly moved in to claim the victims as martyrs to their respective causes. Same as it ever was. As for me, I will just offer two tangential observations:
• The NRA must hardly believe their good fortune that some other “—RA” group is taking most of the heat for this one. Only one letter apart in the alphabet, but oh, what a difference it makes!
• Irony delights me, but I still find it amazing that the same people who will use a snarky #NotAllMen or #YesAllWomen have no problem turning around and essentially claiming that #NotAllMentallyIll people are dangerous and violent. Well, no, but…
There’s something amusingly pathetic about seeing how easily vapid progressives can be swayed into tattooing a corporate sponsor’s logo onto their political identity. J. Bryan Lowder has been good on this topic before, and I’ll just reiterate that, aside from avoiding the indignity of acting as an unpaid mascot for any corporate entity with a marketing department savvy enough to flatter your vanity, you might want to rethink the logic of this “voting with your wallet” thing.
On the question of journalistic practice, De Botton is at his most interesting on the job of the foreign correspondent – “interesting” in that the same paragraph can combine a nicely expressed insight into a problem with a monstrous stupidity as its solution. As he rightly says, reporting gives us an unbalanced view of abroad, especially of countries beyond Europe and North America, because it concentrates on political crises and natural disasters, and unless we have some sense of “what passes for normality in a given location, we may find it very hard to calibrate or care about the abnormal”. So how does the reporter in, say, Zambia interest his Manchester reader in the Zambian everyday? De Botton thinks it permissible for “creative writers” to adapt a fact or change a date because they will understand that “falsifications may occasionally need to be committed in the service of a goal higher still than accuracy: the hope of getting important ideas and images across to their impatient and distracted audiences”.
A goal higher than accuracy? In a book about the news, even one written by an author who cannot decide what news is, there can be no more dangerous form of words.
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it…”
Sigh. Assuming this is an accurate description, this is what worried me about his views on art. Can’t trust a fellow once he’s got it in his head to be a shepherd for the greater good. Once you’ve decided that you know best what others want and need, what’s to stop you from smoothing the path a little bit by rearranging factual complications? I mean, in what imaginable circumstances would “the greater good” hinge on something as trivial as changing a date? It sounds like de Botton has already decided on the necessity of such noble falsehoods, and is now simply trying to engineer a weak excuse to do so when the time is right.
To understand how Nazis employed culture to define and promote their broadest ambitions, I looked to German mass media, in particular the main Nazi newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, whose cultural pages I examined for the years 1920 to 1945. While the Nazi co-optation of many great figures in the Western intellectual tradition during these eventful years proves revealing, one need look no further than the party’s claim on Friedrich Nietzsche to see how culture became entwined in the discourse of politics and war in the pages of Hitler’s foremost propaganda outlet.
Fitting Nietzsche’s ideas into a single worldview was no simple matter, but this was precisely the mission of the Völkischer Beobachter’s editors and writers: to make even complex ideas such as Nietzsche’s appear to coordinate with the main tenets of Nazism. Looking into the shifting terms with which the daily newspaper presented Nietzsche helps us toward understanding how the Nazi party attempted to place his biography and writings—along with the tradition of Kultur as a whole—at the service of the Nazi outlook.
Rationalization is truly an amazing thing.