Outside the Asylum

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Why Don't I Care That Dr. Who is a Woman Now?
or, Am I Still a Feminist?
Part II

Once, when I saw women take on roles they had not occupied before, it looked like victory to me. I felt that way regardless of whether it was happening in fiction or fact. Women in the real world achieving things they had not done before, things which, perhaps, tradition asserted that they could not or should not do, were achieving victories, not just for themselves, but for all women. Stories which showed women empowered, stories which troubled people’s assumptions about what women could and could not do—these also struck me as victories. I was seeking a cultural change, an expanded sense of possibility that would enable women to self-realize more completely, and humans, in general, to relate to each other more holistically--and more honestly.

That was true for more than three decades. From the time I was an adolescent, I believed in that kind of individualistic, opportunity-centered feminism (I also believed in other kinds of feminism, with a much more structural, much more radical bent, but that’s a story for another time). Two weeks ago, I wondered why I no longer cared about such things. Two weeks ago, I asked myself in this thread why I didn’t care that Dr. Who was now a woman.

The events of the past week have demonstrated half the reason why.

It should be clear to everyone by now that feminism, like all the various fights against bigotry, is regularly employed these days as little more than a vehicle for character assassination. Character assassination is now the primary currency of our politics, and is even beginning to affect how ordinary people converse with one another. It’s a serious disease for a culture to have. As a scholar and cultural critic, I would be extremely worried about it if I weren’t spending all my time worrying about climate change and nuclear war.

Social justice movements, ironically, provide the perfect resources for character assassination. The moral aim of the movement confers unquestioned credibility on anyone claiming membership. In other words, it’s assumed that supporters of the movement are moral because the aim of the movement is moral. And these days, the only thing you need to do to claim membership in a social justice movement is to say some words on social media. Repeat a few truisms and then accuse someone else of bigotry.

If a charge of racism or sexism is made against someone, disagreeing with that charge tends to lay one open to the same charge. You can’t have a problem with calling someone a racist or sexist unless you yourself are one. You can’t ask the question of whether the charge is true or not. It’s like discursive quicksand. Looking for evidence, using logic, or trying to establish the truth have no place here.

Of course, character attacks themselves are inherently quicksand-like: a person who attempts to defend the victim of a character attack has always been vulnerable to being attacked in the same way themselves. Defend someone from charges of Communism and you’re likely to be called a fellow traveler. But adding the language of social justice movements to a character attack makes that quicksand quality worse, partly because people speaking for these movements are assumed to be moral, and partly because these movements have historically had a habit of taking people’s word for the fact that bigotry is happening.

Now sometimes, bigotry is obvious. A police checkpoint is set up near a predominantly African American polling place, and every black person on the way to vote is stopped and questioned. A woman gets paid 60 cents for a job, and her male colleague makes a dollar for the same work. Sometimes bigotry is blatant. However, sometimes, (most often in cases of rape or abuse) it comes down to who you believe, and you have to ask yourself which person is a liar. And other times, people don’t even know that they are saying or doing something racist, or something sexist, even though everyone in the room subject to that racism or sexism can see that they are. Cultural conditioning can work like that. Sometimes being privileged means that you don’t know you’re doing someone an injury.

Because cultural conditioning does work like that, and because it was necessary to address severe injustice like rape and abuse even when it’s a he said/she said situation, social justice movements adopted the practice of giving those who had been culturally injured (disadvantaged is too mild a term) the benefit of the doubt. It was an imperfect practice, sometimes abused by the unscrupulous. Yet for a very long time, it worked. Most of the time, the people accused of bigotry and abuse actually had done something wrong.

This was not simple chance. Few alleged victims of rape or abuse (or other forms of bigotry) were lying, simply because the cost of accusation was very high. Even if the victim eventually “won,” there would always be those that didn’t believe them, and their reputation would suffer, in ways that could have serious consequences. (For that matter, sometimes even the people who believed the victim would treat them as if they were the ones who had done something wrong, and were tainted or tarnished.) I have (obviously) not experienced this phenomenon in regard to racism, but I have no doubt that accusing a white person of committing an act of racist abuse used to put people at serious risk (and maybe still does). When you live in a country comfortable even with extrajudicial killing of black people, the risk of retribution can be very real.

So social justice movements adopted the practice of giving the benefit of the doubt to people of color when they made accusations of racism, and to women when they made accusations of sexism, and the very existence of racism and sexism served to prevent that practice from being abused. Only rarely did an unscrupulous person consider the game of false accusation worth the candle.

But what if the culture changed?

What if accusing someone no longer carried such a high cost?

Then, suddenly, you occupy a world in which a person is a bigot if someone black or female (or Latino, or LGBT, or Jewish) says so. And once they say so, anyone who questions or criticizes or disagrees with them is also confirmed as racist or sexist. Even (unbelievably) if the critic or dissident is also a black person, a woman, Latino, etc.

That is the second reason that social justice movements are the perfect ground for character attacks. As long as you have a few people, or even one person, from a perennially injured social group to deliver the attack, you have created a foolproof way to destroy credibility, whether that of a person, a practice, or even an idea. When Obama was attempting to cut Social Security, I had a problem with it. People online responded by calling me racist. Their argument went as follows: Social Security, at its inception, had not been open to black people. Therefore Social Security is racist and wanting to protect it is racist and I am racist. (The fact that women of color now depend on Social Security more than anyone else didn’t even register.) I have had people call me racist for opposing drone strikes, for opposing NSA surveillance, and for asking them why they were calling Bernie Sanders racist.

Long ago, I read an article about Maxine Waters fighting for the soul of the Congressional Black Caucus. The article described how Wall St lobbyists sought out members of the CBC, because they knew liberals could not effectively oppose those legislators if the liberals were white—and sometimes even if they were not. Critics of the CBC would be considered racists. Therefore, if Wall St lobbyists could get a member of the CBC on their side, they need fear no opposition. They and their clients could hide behind the black legislator, using his or her moral credibility to essentially launder their repute. This practice seems to have been expanded so that it is now arguably the primary modus operandi of the elite.

In the Obama era, the rich and powerful have adopted the language of liberal reform and social justice to protect themselves from criticism. Meanwhile, they contain any dissident or troublesome element of society by raining accusations of bigotry upon them. Social justice movements thus occupy an uneasy ground between authoritarian puppet theater and genuine pain. And most of the time, they are far better at character attacks than they are at improving the lives of people of color and white women.

This is only half the reason I don’t care that Dr. Who is a woman. Or whether the President of the United States is a woman. I’ll write about the other half next week.

But, seriously. Have we no sense of decency?

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Comments

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@lotlizard

These are very troubled waters. Because it certainly is true that racists, like homophobes, often think that "those people" molest children. Nobody wants to reinforce a stereotype that could cause lynchings. Yet, at the end of the day, you have to stick to the truth no matter who is doing wrong, don't you? Is there another way forward I'm not seeing here?

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7 users have voted.

Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

One thing I didn't mention is that using charges of racism or sexism the way I describe above lessens the credibility of anyone actually fighting against racism or sexism. It makes it much harder to actually talk about the cruelty and unfairness of bigotry.

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11 users have voted.

Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

enhydra lutris's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal
used, with the result that almost nobody has credibility on almost no subject or topic without also presenting a modicum of evidence. Since we transitioned into an evidence free world, credibility per se is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

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8 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/neil-peart-rush-obituary-9...

I had no idea Neil Peart had cancer.

I hope there is an afterlife, and that he is now reunited with his wife and child.

His first wife and eldest child, that is.

What a terrible loss.

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7 users have voted.

Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal Here’s what’s interesting. I remember reading cancer rumors about him in the 90s. He did an interview with Modern Drummer and around that time had taken to wearing a head wrap and a shaved head. He said it was a thing he was doing as they’d started a tour and it was kind of ritual. I think it also had something to do with his cycling. He bikes behind the tour bus to all the towns, which impressed the hell out of me.

PASIC has a percussion museum in town (Indianapolis) and they have one of Neil’s old kits. It was pretty cool to see that. Never got to see him play but, as a drummer, he was impossible to not admire. Always seemed like a good dude too.

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enhydra lutris's picture

You ask:

But, seriously. Have we no sense of decency?

No. No we don't, not as a country and not as a society.

I suspect that this is not a major change, but one that is obscured in part by the mists of time and in part by the fact that our history is largely myth, highly embellished and distorted with a goal of presenting a good, goodly and noble face everywhere one looks, barricading the mind away with a curtain of illusion and delusion. Part of that mythos, in fact, is that we were ever the victims, from the humble pilgrims running from religious persecution (the cultural descendants of whom are still alleging ongoing persecution to this day) to those who reluctantly but valiantly took up arms to cast off the tyranny and oppression of the English crown or who were forced, forced, I tell you, to defend their legally acquired holdings from vicious Indian attacks and raids. If a military force equipped with cannon, gatling guns and cavalry is overwhelmed and slaughtered by those in the encampment or village they attack, it is a massacre. If a similar force falls upon a sleeping encampment or village and murders every last man, woman and child in the pre-dawn twilight, it is a battle. Of such nuance is our history built, and, seriously, built to deceive.

Thank you for the thoughtful OT this morning, one with which I am in full agreement, fwiw, even if it is a bit of an interesting way to start the day. Wink

have a good one.

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9 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@enhydra lutris

Lack of decency sure has been around for a long time, but this business of the elites using left-wing social justice movements as little credibility engines with which they could justify the establishment--I believe that's new. It wasn't happening under Reagan, nor under Clinton, nor under George W. Bush. And people in those movements going along with war, torture, police states, climate change, etc.--that's also pretty damned new. Something happened between 2010 and 2016.

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8 users have voted.

Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

enhydra lutris's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal
form of this type of special pleading. Such character assassinatin as they indulged in was of the old fashioned red-baiting ilk. WJC tried hard to clothe himself in some sort of broad mantle of liberalism and engaged in minimal character assassination except against certain classes. This is not to disagree with you, but to clarify history a bit.

You are correct that this particular phenomenon, which you correctly describe as:

this business of the elites using left-wing social justice movements as little credibility engines with which they could justify the establishment

seems to be very much a new thing. I suspect that it was sitting there, hanging in the air as an advanced and pre-emptive form of "I know you are, but what am I" defence, essentially a specific application of the big lie blended with co-option that occurred to many PR managers and campaign consultants at more or less the same time and, once surfaced, snowballed.

I personally think that Hillary really took it mainstream, it is all she ever did, the entirety of her campaign, in fact. Poor little downtrodden rich-girl Goldwaterite self cast as Jeanne d'Arc fighting off every evil to which we have given a name by ascribing it to this or that hapless competitor, questioner or challenger, individual or group and denouncing them for being whatever she asserted that they were. She was perfectly positioned for the task with fake credentials as a liberal on all fronts and with respect to all matters and a gender champion self charged with the task of ceiling breaking; she came with a huge automatic following which became her huge echo chamber to shout down and slur not only her targets, but any and all defenders of same. Just my opinion, of course.

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8 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Lily O Lady's picture

was a toddler, “You read my head.” I know what you mean. I see that enhydra lutris considers this as part of a continuum of the American myth, but I feel that the public discourse has become a minefield of evil intentions. #metoo has been both weaponized and cheapened.

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4 users have voted.

"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

It with regards to posting a tweet as a comment. I go through the same process every time but I have only a 50/50 chance of being successful. Sometimes it works and other times I get this screen with this message.

"Error
The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later."

In both cases when I click on the preview icon it shows up as intended but quite often the results are different.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

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2 users have voted.
Wally's picture

@humphrey

You have to go into the embed code as it shows in the post and delete only the emojis from the tweet like any roses, smiley faces, check marks or whatever. They will still appear in the post.

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3 users have voted.

@Wally Thanks. I will give it a try.

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2 users have voted.
mimi's picture

What's happening in Russia?

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2 users have voted.

Thanks Wally you have helped me immensely.

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1 user has voted.
Wally's picture

@humphrey

If you write a sentence or two at the top of your post rather than just embedding the tweet, it will display wider than that narrow column you have displaying here.

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3 users have voted.

@Wally Once again thank you. I need all the help I can get due the fact the I am programming illiterate.

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3 users have voted.

CStMS, because a few days ago I ran across an interesting article by a very unusual young academic whose questioning of everything includes some of your concerns and might intrigue your imagination. I didn't want to start a thread on her but feared you might not notice if I commented on one of your older essays. So here she is: https://www.drjuliereshe.com/. If her style seems eccentric or overly deliberate, keep in mind that she's eastern European and though her writing in English seems fluent enough, her culture is different and her speaking is definitely ESL. The article that caught my attention was this one https://aeon.co/essays/the-voice-of-sadness-is-censored-as-sick-what-if-... and further research turned up a plethora of pieces on Medium: https://medium.com/@juliereshe, one of which was this: https://medium.com/@juliereshe/identities-can-be-emancipated-and-empower... which I thought you might find interesting.

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Wally's picture

These young people nowadaze . . .

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1 user has voted.
Wally's picture

One must never be the least bit critical of anyone but Bernie and to criticize or goof on him for his Jewish characteristics or mannerisms is never anti-Semitic . . . .

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3 users have voted.

On a personal note I am in the middle of a cancer followup/appt/testing gauntlet so I am not contributing much to the blog right now (or much of anything anywhere to be honest) but I wanted to say thanks for these last two pieces you wrote on working through your complicated relationship with feminism and what these classholes have done to it. I've been really angry about all of it but have not had a very good outlet, and so appreciate the catharsis available from reading about the experiences and emotions of others similarly affected. Plus you are a good writer but you know that already. Smile

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Reverend Jane Ignatowski

I feel so bad I didn't see this comment right away!

I wish you all the best, and am sending good thoughts your way.

As for feminism, really my relationship to it shouldn't be complex, and never was before they decided to appropriate what they could, demonize what they couldn't, and fabricate a bunch of BS from whole cloth to add to their new "feminism."

I can't even say that this is a new generation redefining feminism for themselves--because so many of them are older than me!

Tyrants have used conservatism in such a way that they've damaged it to the point that they can't use it to defend their hideous policy choices anymore. The only conservatives who can get anywhere are the ones who disavow their connections to the establishment and portray themselves, accurately or inaccurately, as opponents of those currently in power. That's why Jeb Bush could get nowhere. Damaged brand, damaged goods.

So the tyrants we have the misfortune to live under needed another ideology to hide behind, and liberalism is it. This was a careful choice, too. They figured out exactly what portions of liberal ideology would be the most useful to them. I feel we need to own those hairline fractures, which were there before the shitheads came along to make use of them, but the resulting BS is, of course, much more the fault of those who deliberately created it.

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0 users have voted.

Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem