Connotation creep

Something I’ve been noticing increasingly with the rote use of political/civics language, is a curious, somewhat sneaky attachment of connotations to otherwise unobjectionable terms or phrases. The “creep” comes into it, not because it’s creepy (although it sometimes is), but on account of something akin to mission creep; an array of new connotations starts to steer the use of the phrase away from it’s original purpose.

Consider the pair:

1) “You’re free to speak, but you’re not free from the consequences of your speech”.

2) “You’re free to speak, but you’re not free from the consequences of your speech” *Taps baseball bat in hand/[insert implied retribution]*.

The first is often deployed in response to bigots of various stripes who think their public speech acts are immune to criticism – I.e. as a rebuttal to authoritarians who think they’re entitled to be viewed as liberal and to have their critics gagged at the same time.

The second I’ve actually seen deployed by people who’ve tried to pretend that they’re being oppressed by another on account of a speech act, and therefore that a retaliatory threat (or act) of violence is justified – E.g. what boils down to InCels warning women that they reserve the right to violence should they hear the word “no” too often. There are obviously other possible instantiations of the corrupted form as well.

I use the above example not because I’ve seen the connotation deployed recently, but because in its more extreme state, it makes what I’m talking about relatively clear. The difference between the furthest extremes in meaning is stark and hard to forget, but only once you’ve had the opportunity to see it. The creep is usually more subtle in the wild.

You get to wondering, once you’ve seen the creep and then the uncorrupted meaning being used again, just who a person’s been talking to. Have they borrowed the phrase without thinking it through? Do they know how else they could be read? Are they, somewhere, unwittingly co-operating with someone who’s got an investment in the creep? Do they on some level sympathize with these motives, or have a bias that prevents them from seeing them in the first place?

***

This corruption isn’t like the right’s overt co-opting of language (particularly the co-opting of terms that the left has used to criticize itself). That’s usually pretty blunt – more of a connotational lurch, than a creep. If they weren’t jacking our shit, I’d almost respect their openness.

But no, the creep is a worry too. It’s insidious, especially among bros.

“You’re denying her agency!”

A phrase meant to highlight how a women’s role as a decision maker and interest holder is being sidelined from consideration is relatively apt to creep towards something that serves the bros. Just remove power from the analysis, and treat all the current options on the table as the only ones logically possible, and all that’s left is to smear the people criticizing the situation as “denying her agency”. Never mind that the bros may be actively restricting the options she has to choose between in the first place.

Consider the bro who’s gaslighted and socially isolated his partner to the point where she’ll accept any crummy choice from a list of crummy choices. Consider the bro who’s deliberately selected and “helped” a partner with body image problems. Consider the bro who’s rendered his partner deliberately vulnerable through a hundred ratcheting steps. Then consider her modelling on social media to impress bro’s friends, submitting to injurious sex acts, you name it.

“Maybe she likes performing ass to mouth for his gurning bro friends to watch and laugh at! You’re denying her agency!” There are other examples along the continuum both less and more extreme, and if you line them up in graduations you can creep, creep, creep your way along them – if you’re that kind of asshole. If you’re really good, and have the aid of a compliant crowd, you can pass your shittiness off as woke in no time at all.

***

It’s practically a law of the Internet that as a phrase or term goes viral in social justice circles, it’s meaning will creep towards something more regressive. The corrupting agents are plural; marketing departments, MBA speak, narcissists, aspiring social media cult leaders, hipster brocialists, and on and on; the usual eaters of meaning.

It didn’t take long for the “spoon theory” disability metaphor to be used by “good allies” without disabilities who were just looking for a convenient term to express their exasperation.

“This thread is tiresome. I’m all out of spoons”.

“WTF Byron? You don’t even have a disability!”

And fark. “Good ally” itself doesn’t necessarily connote what people think it does anymore (if ever). I’m sick of getting a pat on the head for that one. Don’t be shocked if you call someone a “good ally” only for them to ask you what you mean, and to quiz you on your expectations.

“Safe Space”: That’s been creeping since the 80s at least. It used to be the product of women’s officers on campus, and it had little to do connotationally with “trigger warnings” or “no-platforming”, both of which have had their own substantial creeps as well. Think better lighting, women-only spaces, security guard patrols/escorts during the late hours, intercoms, anti-harassment policies and so on and you’ll be closer to the “safe space” of yore.

I’d ask you this, a favour: If you consider yourself progressive, travel in progressive circles, socialize enough, and still wonder what the fuck I’m on about here, keep an eye on something for me. When you see a designated “safe space”, keep an eye out to see how lesbians are catered to.

Lesbians – lesbians of colour especially – have often been the first to go under the bus in ostentatiously progressive spaces. As a social group in political circles, they’re easy to isolate and then exploit, attack or easily exclude.

***

The examples of connotation creep aren’t lacking if you pay attention. There are things that I suspect, though, that could be of help in keeping conversations from being corrupted. If the thought of my offering advice seems too didactic, feel free to ignore me and skip the rest of this piece.

Don’t reward or encourage people for rote-repetition of cant. This just encourages people to say the words more, but without encouraging them to really think about what they’re saying.

Don’t be quick to dismiss things as “semantics”. Possibly there are few better climates for the corruption of meaning than those where people have decided to deride discussions of meaning.

Do avoid political cant when plain language will convey your meaning with economy. This way you can keep your meaning without edgelords wanting to pervert it – and you’ll be more easily understood. Orwell was right.

Get to really know political language if you can, especially its etymology. I keep seeing people saying that etymology is irrelevant ala the genetic fallacy, but this strikes me as wrong-headed in much the same way as the “why are their still monkeys” creationist argument. Old meanings can still be in play in every day language, if not the foundational literature. Knowing what’s out there as best you can helps you get your point across without participating in the corruption.

Don’t let people guilt you about being careful with words, especially if you’re a writer. You don’t have to be self-flagellating, but writers are supposed to give a shit about words. Allowing others to manipulate you is often tantamount to giving editorial control to people who aren’t entitled to it.

Be fair on yourself and adopt the lexicon at your own pace. Don’t beat yourself up if you need to ask someone to explain a neologism clearly, although give them a little leeway for pace as well.

If people are quick to anger with you, and accuse you of being obtuse, reconsider whether they’re worth having a discussion with. You can’t have an honest discussion with someone who doesn’t want an honest discussion.

Try to preference publications that take a care with these issues. Personal choice isn’t the world-changer some people think it is, but you may be able to positively influence discussions in your own space if the media you take to it is more carefully selected.

***

I doubt there’s more I can say on connotation creep at this point that’s not redundant, vague or boring. I’m trusting that people reading this can get my point. It’s not that hard.

I’ll confess this is all somewhat shaped by the kinds of conversations I’d like to have – but if you’ve got this far then possibly you’re similarly inclined.

I hope this has been helpful.

~ Bruce

Babysitting Grown Men

In less than seven days, I’ve managed to witness on two separate occasions, two separate “Nice Guys” stating openly in person what I’ve only ever seen them too coy to state explicitly online; that sub-cultures (particularly gaming and science fiction in this case) are refuges from the world, especially for men, and in particular from women and/or feminists. This is, to put it plainly, pathetic.

‘Gatorboi

Last week, while preparing to upgrade someone’s computer, I lost my shit with a possible InCel/definite Gamergator. If this was a care situation, or a campaigning context, it’d be unprofessional. In reality, it was after hours and I was still dieting before my upcoming operation, so having some guy I don’t know trying to impress me with his take on Anita Sarkeesian, and with his thoughts on Internet subcultures was the last straw.

This was my time off and as it was I was spending it trying to help someone else to begin with. I’m going to cut myself some slack here.

“Anita Sarkeesian is sooo corrupt. Have you heard about her husband? She’s taken so much money! And all those balding middle aged beta male feminists who are white-knighting to get feminist pussy. [Insert pouty sulk].” – I paraphrase, but the sulkiness is pretty much spot on.

Why the fuck am I supposed to be impressed by or able to empathize with this shit?

I know the conspiracy theories are just that. I don’t care about her husband. I’m a balding middle aged man who’s been feminist-supporting for a long time, and while neither you nor ‘Gatorboi are in a position to verify it, I know for myself that I haven’t used this as an angle to try and get laid. Trying to convince me otherwise is a worthless exercise.

While yes, I occasionally play a game (Solitaire, Bejewelled, Civilization, and a number of DOS games from time to time), I don’t bother to self-identify as a “gamer”. It’s not something I’d aspire to. The technology behind the games is far more interesting if you want a topic on which to expend any serious mental effort (e.g. considering the historical development of floating point performance, running through implementations such as various first person shooter engines before widening the scope to include the implications for non-gaming applications like protein folding modelling and CERN’s ATLAS software stack), but the gaming experience itself? Not so much.

Further, beyond the technology, if I was going to go to any great length considering my use of computer games above and beyond what’s required to waste time and unwind, I’d be more interested in cultural critique than in mounting a fevered defense of the virtue of some gaming franchise, or clique of Cheeto-gobblers. Brand loyalty isn’t worth the effort. I’m not a fanboi. Of anything.

If this excludes me from being a True Gamer, I don’t give a shit.

Before the rant about beta males, of course, there was an implication by ‘Gatorboi that the influx of outsiders was destroying sub-cultures – a point ‘Gator wrongly extrapolated from my own point about social media, smart phones and a sudden influx of people unfamiliar with the concept of netiquette – which obviously he refined to the point of singling out feminists and non-compliant women in general. Quite a long bow to draw, that. It was in this context that he framed sub-culture as his special refuge, and outsiders as trespassers.

Why on earth would anyone want to be stuck as this guy’s babysitter, patting him on the head and telling him it’s alright? Wouldn’t “gamers” rather game? And what’s he hiding from? Culture’s going to be subject to critique. Get over it. Critics don’t need your permission.

Afraid of the specter of gnashing vaginas, and want a Daddy figure to hold your hand? Please try therapy instead.

Maybe, just maybe, instead of whining about beta males trying to get some – a pretty obvious example of projection that, incidentally – how about considering whether or not they’re being put off of being your Bronie because of your suppurating self-pity.

Fake Numbers

So yeah, another day another whiny man. I don’t know how women put up with this shit. Where do they get the energy?

“Women keep giving me fake numbers!”

No shit.

“It’s like they look at me and see “Loser”.”

That’s clearly how you see yourself. But go right ahead and blame women who haven’t done anything wrong. What are women for, if not to make you feel better about yourself? Just look at your mother – she’s a woman ergo. These ones not giving you there number must just be broken.

“That’s why I like science fiction. It takes you away from the cruelty of mankind. Or in this case, womankind.”

The cruelest thing here is a Fake Number Guy’s sense of entitlement. Even if you strip away the implied threat, and the whiff of angry resentment, you’re still left with behaviour better suited to an Amway salesperson/cultist.

Learn some boundaries guys. Learn the social cues. It’s a part of maturing. She doesn’t want to give you her phone number and she doesn’t want you pestering her by asking for it in the first place.

Some of us learn it later than others – too late – but if you’re past 40 and you’re still not getting it, then… fark. People can reasonably and fairly write you off.

That aggrieved sense of entitlement. That sulking self-pity. You do realize that it permeates your behaviour in general, right? It’s not just the asking for the number. Even your ums, ahs and agitated twitches at the slightest hint of frustration tip people off. People get an off feeling around you because… well, you are off.

In the first instance it makes you a wet blanket. A real party pooper. Even if you don’t squeal “whaaaa”, people can still hear it. It wafts off you like bad cologne. You’re killing the mood like a shit in a punchbowl and that’s before you’ve started badgering women for things you’re not entitled to.

It’s also something pathological you have in common with stalkers, spousal abusers and date rapists, so it’s unreasonable to expect that complete strangers are going to welcome you with open arms and just give you the very means to pester them on an ongoing basis.

Women don’t exist to alleviate your poor self esteem. Generally speaking, science fiction communities don’t exist to alleviate your poor self esteem either, even when marketing departments tell you otherwise. Science fiction communities exist for people who are interested in – surprise! – science fiction, for the purpose of – hold on to your hats – science fiction. Odd that.

The people you need to see about self esteem are called therapists. Again, please try therapy.

“Aww. Therapy? But then the guys will think less of me. Only beta cucks go in for therapy.”

The opinions of guys who think like this aren’t worth respecting. Guys like this are why deep down you think of yourself as a “beta”, subsequently feeling a need to make every other guy the “beta” just so you can feel a little better about yourself. Thing is, if you think “beta males” actually exist in Homo sapiens, you’re a sucker – The Guys have played you for a fool.

Tip: Make like The Guy’s wives and ditch them.

(Yeah, the thought of breaking off makes you feel fear, doesn’t it? You worry about angering your “alphas”. Maybe they’ll yell at you. Maybe worse!)

No. You’re not a nice guy. You’re an asshole, lickspittle servant to bigger assholes, and probably a coward, too. The good news is that unless you’re a psychopath, you can always stop if you choose.

I still don’t get it

Science fiction communities being for science fiction, gamer identity not being worthwhile, certainly not to the point of getting angry at perfectly anodyne critique, and aggrieved, self-pitying entitlement being a buzzkill: Mad, I know.

But there you have it. Clearly I don’t have a clue. It’s that blue pill I guess.

All the same, clueless or not, I still don’t want to be around this bullshit, much less coddle the grown men who indulge in it. Save for ulterior motives subject to cost-benefit analysis, I don’t understand why anyone would.

~ Bruce

What a week in Australian politics

After two leadership challenges in one week, I expect the Australian public are quite fatigued with the state of our federal politics. That is if they haven’t managed to switch off entirely already. It takes a morbid kind of fascination to keep a laser focus on this unsightly mess.

“I don’t want to talk about it! I’m pissed off!”

This could be the public’s anthem, I suspect.

And yet we’ll have another federal election within months. Do you think the public will have enough patience for a long campaign? Do you think it’ll be able to make an informed decision with a short one?

Earlier in the week, when it was just Dutton versus Turnbull, a friend suggested that the media didn’t have their eye on the ball, and were ignoring Morrison moving in the shadows. Just days later, we now have Morrison as Prime Minister.

Dutton was just an agent of disruption. A political cluster bomb encouraged from a safe a distance, while those who’d personally wield the scalpel waited to see what would result, and how best to respond. The result is ScoMo.

Not that a many of us can be enthusiastic about the bloodbath at the moment. If we haven’t written all the leadership candidates off as horrible – ineffectual Malcy, police state Dutton, asbestos Bishop and “This is coal” Morrison – the din of the circus music emanating from Canberra is making it hard to concentrate.

“I can’t keep up or even remember half of it! Leave me alone!”

This is a dangerous state for a modern democracy to be in. It’s not like Morrison’s new government – nor anyone else in parliament for that matter – are going to take a break from making plans that will influence people’s lives.

A thought: Rather than opponents of the – ugh – Morrison Government running around absolutely independently, telling all and sundry why to vote a certain way because X, Y, Z, perhaps they could drip-feed their messages in a more organized fashion, and otherwise respond to the Government’s assertions, primarily with questions geared to remind the public of salient matters?

The government is likely to be replete with contradiction, presenting all sorts of opportunities for raising short and succinct hold-on-a-minutes. And if that pisses the public off, well, the government raised the matter in the first place. Otherwise, empathizing with the public’s frustration, and doing one’s best not to replicate just what frustrated them in the first place, seems like the way to go, at least until the election.

Needless to say, as pissed off as people are with the current mob, overwrought moral indignation is probably not going to appeal to swing voters still experiencing disorientation, and raises its own contradictions.

“Oh my god. Government is taking a day off again! At a time like this!? How selfish!”
”Get off your high horse Black Wiggle. You didn’t caterwaul like this the last umpteen times Government took a break, and those times were no less important. You aren’t relating to me!”

I make no attempt to disguise my loathing of this current federal government, and I wish the more humane and sane all the best in taking them down. But if you lot could start by toning down the affectations, it’d be a nice start. We’ve already got headaches around here without any additional drama.

~ Bruce

Slow News Day: Woman Dumps Man For Watching Pr0n

Unless things have changed dramatically since I last paid attention to the mainstays of the atheosphere, it must be a slow news day for Hemant. Woman calls off marriage!

“This goes on for a while. Dalton goes on and on about how her life is ruined — ruined — for the dumbest possible reason.”

That reason: Porn. Underwhelming. Apparently dumping men for using porn actually is a big deal. Who knew?

I have a hard time working out why it’d even be notable if she dumped him for wearing the wrong colour hat, or for his discomfort with her being walked down the aisle by Uncle Cletus the Iguana, let alone something as anodyne and intuitive as ditching a guy for ogling porn. Maybe it’s the idea of rejection by a woman that’s so salient with Hemant’s base? (I don’t know what his readership is like these days, so really, it’s not a purely rhetorical question).

Okay, so maybe a dislike of porn and its users isn’t the most popular position on the topic in existence, but as preferences go, it’s not so alien as to be from another planet either. Hell, not liking sex at all isn’t even as odd as Hemant makes porn-aversion to be.

Part of Dalton’s reason for objecting to her ex’s porn use is given in her clickbait article, including, among other reasons, “sick and twisted ideas of what women look like”. Thankfully, what “sick and twisted ideas” she’s referring to aren’t fleshed out, but it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to suspect that stereotypical tropes have to be involved. I mean, come on, porn may (or may not) have moved on from stories about horny housewives paying for pizza deliveries with sex, but are you actually going to credit it with properly fleshed-out character development and realistic plot twists? Of course it uses tropes. Are those tropes likely to be sexist? Derr. Are people going to universally find this desirable? Of course not. And that’s okay.

Dalton also mentions the matter of how her ex lied directly to her face, blaming another dude for his antics, so it’s not just the porn anyway. Deception’s not really great in a marriage so you can’t expect her or anyone else to be comfortable with that. Maybe you could go into a forensic analysis of why she doesn’t focus on that aspect as much as the alleged porn addiction, but we are dealing with clickbait here, folks.

“In short, the 21-year-old Mormon (a presumed virgin who’s saving herself for marriage) had her life shattered — shattered — by a man who dared to fantasize the same way pretty much every other guy does.”

Dalton’s prose may be overly dramatic, but it’s hard to see why Hemant is bothering to get all worked up about it. And “pretty much every other guy”? “Pretty much every other guy” fantasizes about the same old sexual clichés? Sure.

Years ago, a friend of mine uploaded a song to YouTube with the title “Red Hot Ejaculate”. He relayed to me at the time that it was conspicuous how his hits showed a distinct preference for views from ultra-conservative theocracies. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the more conservative and religious states in the United States that see higher subscriber rates to online pornography services. (Hemant touches on this in his post himself.)

There’s real world difference here, and if we’re going to frame this in a religious versus secular context as Hemant has done, clearly not “every other guy” can be magically assumed to be the same, including when we break those guys up into religious categories. (I’d rather not even try to imagine what porn gets a Mormon’s rocks off – the hackneyed scripts, the surgical alterations, the fake orgasms and magic underwear.)

Here’s a hypothesis: Perhaps Atheists, more-so than Mormons, prefer their sex to have actual human interaction, and less screen-bound trope. Perhaps for some of them, more-so than for Mormons, their idea of enticing sexuality doesn’t involve porn, but rather just entails being better in the sack. Perhaps for some of them, the idea of a listless women faking arousal while being penetrated by a Cialis-driven desperate, all captured in a plot that even Uwe Boll would turn down, isn’t actually arousing.

Based on what is already known, would it even remotely surprise you if this turned out to be true? And how – aside from argumentum ad populum – would the “every other guy” argument sit with you then? Do Atheists in the US want equality in opportunity and law, or just equality in access to crappy sex tropes?

***

Hemant goes on to state that Utah’s number one ranking in porn subscriptions is both hypocritical and the most Mormon thing ever. I have to agree. I also have to state though, from a non-American perspective, that all this panic about porn being demonized – a “they’re comin’ to take away mah porn!” panic if you will – seems like the second most American thing ever, right behind “they’re comin’ to take away mah guns!”

I’m not even going to deal with the boilerplate sex-positive part of his content. It’s basically pamphleteering and if you want something more analytic there’s ample debate about that kind of thing elsewhere on the Internet – perhaps at a price. JSTOR is your friend.

So… someone criticized porn. Gasp. Someone – a young, naïve and not particularly powerful someone writing at a clickbait cesspit from Buttfuck, Nowhere – has a low threshold for what constitutes porn addiction. So what?

I mean, I’ve authored some frivolous shit before, but I’ve never sold it half as hard as Hemant sells his writing. Hemant doesn’t write clickbait himself, so you have to wonder, especially if you’ve been absent from his readership for a long time like I have, why he’s bothering to wrestle with it at all.

The dude always seemed savvy with marketing himself too, so with the benefits of analytics tools, maybe he knows full well better than any of us just how this appeals to his usual crowd. Judging by the reactions on a few Facebook pages, this at least includes a few men from the “can’t handle sexual rejection” demographic. Classy, if true.

Hemant’s supplementary allusions concerning Dalton’s capacity to remain in a healthy relationship would certainly appeal to bros looking to see an opinionated woman taken down a notch. And while not having quite the cynicism of a wink-wink to it, his mention of the abuse she’s copped over the post does come across as just covering his bases – a small, politically necessary side-note if only for the sake of plausible deniability.

Her partner may be better off as well; better to break off an engagement than deal with a divorce, especially when something that’s so commonplace outside Dalton’s bubble was eventually going to push her over the edge anyway.

“…over the edge”. Choice words in those tricky situations where you can’t call a woman “hysterical bitch”.

You have to question why anyone would knowingly float even a sanitized version of the she’d-be-a-shit-wife-anyway hypothesis into a context where a woman has been targeted with misogynistic abuse by thin-skinned sexists – which as noted, Hemant is aware of. That shit’s like chum for sharks, especially when the target is online and seen as ultimately powerless to retaliate.

Is he that gormless, or is it deliberate? There’s an ongoing debate about how clueless Dawkins is with these things, versus the notion of him being adept at plausible deniability dressed up as cluelessness. I still lean towards genuine cluelessness in the case of Dawkins*, and I’ve noticed something similar in Hemant’s output, albeit not so much. It’s hard to square naïvety in this respect with someone so seemingly good at self-advancement.

Maybe there is precisely zero malice in Hemant’s effort here. But in as far as Mormonism is simultaneously puritan and hypocritically pornography consuming, it’s also incredibly fucking patriarchal, overseen as it is by a bunch of leering old men with a good deal of institutional power. It’s probably a bad sign then, and possibly symbolic of the direction of organized atheism in the US, that Hemant is instead investing his energy in going after a young woman who writes clickbait.

It is, in any case, off-putting.

From where I’m standing, all this does is remind me of why I read so few atheist blogs anymore. It’s possibly a bad spot for me to have randomly dipped my toe back in – it’s a small sample and possibly not representative – but geez, I think I’ll go back to hanging with the normies a bit longer.

~ Bruce

* Not that I’m proffering this as some kind of exoneration.

Identity fetish #n+umpity-three: “I identify as”

Just under a decade ago, I had a kind of mental hiccup, then forgot about it and promptly moved on. This mild disturbance was brought on by an assertion that we in the Left don’t use identity labels to describe others that those others wouldn’t use to describe themselves. And while for example I don’t think institutions should author meaning – including identity – it doesn’t follow that individuals get to have their self-identification accepted as “valid” simply because that’s the way they see themselves.

For those of you that may be wondering, the identity label that was being applied against the wishes of the labelled was “teabagger”. If the Associated Press decided to apply “teabagger” as an objective label as part of its editorial policy, or a census used it as part of a leading question, don’t be mistaken, I’d have a problem with that. But individual, living, breathing, meaning-making interlocutors without the power to force their meanings onto others, simply rejecting “tea party activist” as inaccurate in lieu of “teabagger’’; I’ve no problem with that at all.

What entitles people to have their self-belief ratified by others? I can think of some examples, particularly in relation to pedagogy and child raising – nurturing the belief in your child that they’re worthy of their school is something you may reasonably be expected to do as a part of your responsibility for a child’s welfare.

But when adults, especially in political settings where there are conflicting interests at play, want to view themselves in grandiose or fantastic terms, what then? Maybe we let them continue with their fantasy, and opt to get on with other business. Maybe we have a clash of interests and therefore describe them and their politics in terms we find the most truthful, but afford them the respect of not pretending to edit their own copy.

But what do we do when they demand we ratify their self-view in our thoughts and words, simply because that’s the done thing?

“Teabagger”, with its inference of conspiracy theorizing, historical fantasy, scientific illiteracy and economic fetish, is a better fit for the reality of the Tea Party movement, than the grandiose way “Tea Party activists” self-describes. I’m not going to ratify their fantasy, and in their case I don’t care one dot if they’re upset about it.

***

A few years ago, during a period of unease I couldn’t quite describe at the time, there was a blog post published about Rationalist versus Empiricist identity. Now, sure, people call themselves “Rationalist” to self-describe in the here and now, with the inference that they value science and logic, and consider themselves generally sober-minded people, but this isn’t the “Rationalism” of Rationalism-contra-Empiricism.

For one, that Rationalism – the old one – fizzled out along with the debate that defined it. It’s hard to be a contra-Empiricist Rationalist, rather than just the more modern, sober-minded, generally reasonable Rationalist, in a world post-Kant. The modern “Rationalist” can even be – gasp! – a bit Empiricist.

It’s also a fact, that neither Empiricism nor Rationalism sat overly well with this thing called science. This is an important fact because the author of said blog post was a scientist, yet they self-identified as an Empiricist.

Further, the author identified Richard Dawkins as a Rationalist, in part on the basis that he wouldn’t object, and further, to position the author in opposition to Dawkins. But this is problematic.

Dawkins can’t be a Rationalist of the contra-Empiricist variety. You only need to read what he has to say about ontological proofs and the like in The God Delusion; he decries the lack of evidence feeding into the process, and comments that perhaps he just takes this position because he’s a scientist. Rationalists of the old school would not have sympathized with Dawkins, believing that arguing for or against God’s existence from pure logic was the best way, even going so far as to regard evidence as being a bit vulgar.

So maybe Dawkins is a Rationalist of the new variety? Probably. It’s also probably the definition he wouldn’t object to. But that’s not the “Rationalist” of the contra-Empiricist variety, so if your aim was to distinguish yourself from Dawkins along these lines, you’d have failed. There’s an equivocation here; when summarizing Dawkins’ actual views on the relevant points, he’s a Rationalist in the modern sense, but when trying to put him at a distance, the definition is bait-and-switched for the traditional, more exclusive one that doesn’t describe him.

While I can think of a few good reasons why people may want to separate themselves from Dawkins – “please attendant, can I be seated somewhere else so I don’t have to listen to this guy whine about his confiscated honey?” – this Rationalist contra Empiricist confection was pure self-regarding narcissism of the small differences variety.

The author anticipated some of these objections, and no doubt copped some uncharitable, even nasty contributions from some quarters. But the preemptive retort given was simply that “we’re talking about identity”, as if that made a jot of difference. I mean yes, language is malleable, but if meaning can be molded that easily on the fly you can’t have a meaningful conversation anymore; your views are so much wet pottery in your interlocutor’s hands.

Importantly, it was clear that the author expected that mentioning identity would be sufficient to quell criticism; that they expected their audience not to object.

Suffice to say, while I did keep my mouth closed in this case, owing to the harassment the author was probably copping from various forms of winged monkey at the time, I didn’t and don’t respect their “identity” as an Empiricist. If they actually are one, albeit one of the newer variety, they’ll need to articulate it better, explain why they can be that and a scientist at the same time, and quit with the spurious distancing.

Either that, or perhaps admit that the entire discussion was pure self-absorbed vanity to begin with.

***

So here’s my point; we Lefties don’t go around “respecting” people’s identities automatically and universally, so we shouldn’t pretend we do, nor allow ourselves to be gaslighted into doing so.

When MRAs affix “non-sexist” to their identity label, it doesn’t alter their politics or character one bit. When some douche preemptively asserts that he identifies as a non-racist, you’re not obliged to abstain from perceiving their attitudes, actions and arguments as racist. Indeed, you’d probably be more suspicious that they were racist.

Yes, there are situations where supporting someone’s self-image is morally salient – “you’re not a piece of shit”, “women are the equal of men”, “your skin isn’t dirty” – but there is no universal obligation to just up and validate identities. The Left has never as a bloc held this to be universal and it, perhaps more than its critics, needs to be reminded not to pretend otherwise.

Far from being self-evident, the simple observation that you didn’t validate an identity isn’t even sufficient as an objection. And yet some will gasp po-faced at precisely that – “Oh my gawd you didn’t validate their identity, I can’t even!”

Evidence contrary to the idea of the Left universally ratifying identity is all around, so I’ll not labour that point any further. But let me leave you with a line of questioning; what sort of character expects their own image to be reflected back at them by others as if those others were mirrors, and gets angry or manipulative when that reflection isn’t precisely flattering or fabulous enough? And what kind of person would take advantage of your over-obligating yourself in this regard?

~ Bruce

In preparation

jungI’ve been trying to avoid coverage of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules because I’m intending to write a critical review of the text in the near future, and to the best of my ability I don’t want to prejudice my reading. I suspect I’m not going to have terribly good things to say about it as it is, without loading the dice any further.

Lobster memes; suspect interviews and bros whining over probably-fair critiques – I’m turning away it seems like every other day. I’m trying to reserve judgement.

What I do find interesting though, and it’s something I haven’t been able to avoid, is a number of purportedly rational atheists with aversions to pseudo-scientific gobbledygook enthusing over the text. I do know that Peterson is a Jungian Christian mysticist, so it’s an odd relation, and I’m curious to find out why and how it may have come about. Maybe Peterson goes light on the ga-ga?

Something that I have been doing in preparation though is brushing up on my Jung. I understand Jung’s praxis as much as I care to, not being that dissimilar to Freud’s, and my objections on that front are likely to stand irrespective of any differences (see Popper’s objections to Freud for a pretty bog-standard position similar to mine).

What I don’t know terribly well are the particulars of Jung’s thinking, so I’ve gone and grabbed a copy of Jung et. al.’s Man and His Symbols and started having a read. It’s been interesting, although perhaps not in a way the authors intended.

My thinking is that if Peterson depends heavily on Jung, then at least I’ll know more precisely where I stand upon reading. Also, if I remain as ignorant as I am of the specifics, something that I’d otherwise want to criticize may go unnoticed, misinterpreted into something more innocuous for the sake of charity.

A great way of reducing the benefit of the doubt while remaining fair is to make an effort to just plain reduce doubt through education.

As it stands, thus far I’m not surprised with what I’m reading. I’ll reserve judgement on Jung’s book until later though, saving such criticisms and observations for when I’m finished, but before I’ve moved on to Peterson’s book.

Hope to get back to you soon.

~ Bruce

Waves of humanity

The blogosphere and social media have both been around for some time now, and if you’re like me, you’ve seen waves of readers, interlocutors, content creators, friends, acquaintances and so on, come and go via these technologies. A small few friends you’ve made will remain close – not that you hold them there against their will – but there’s a level of social transience that you need to become accustomed to.

On Facebook, I’ve become a big fan of unfriending people I haven’t had meaningful associations with. Not the big, grandiose “I’m unfriending” announcement, with a ticker tape parade complete with brass section. Just the quiet, unceremonious variety. Whatever it is that social butterflies get out of “likes” and “friendings” subjectively – the giddies or a certain kind of buzz – eludes me. And I don’t think I’ve so much as sent a friend request in years. Certainly not an unsolicited one.

There is an exception. Beyond the more meaningful associations, I try not to unfriend genuinely kind people, even if we haven’t had that much to do with each other. Maybe we’ll hit it off eventually. But beyond that I like to keep things minimal.

I’ve recently had a short chinwag over Facebook messenger with a pre-Facebook Internet friend, talking about old times on the blogosphere and the like. Oddly enough, we became Facebook friends on the same day as another mutual and he became friends – only humorously, that mutual friend is one of the very people I’ve since blocked. So it goes.

So yeah, then there’s blocking: Unfriending’s more decisive cousin.

There’s a risk in wondering too much about what the blocked may make of you, and their being blocked. If not leaving you emotionally vulnerable to them via other modes of communication (like the 20+ text messages you wake up to the next morning), it can make leave you open to be played by mutual acquaintances. Not that anyone’s actually tried this with me, it’s a pathetic sight to see people often unwittingly recruited into pestering someone on behalf of another who’s been blocked.

As is often the case these days, I manage to dodge this stuff, and comment on it only after after it’s struck friends. I don’t give the benefit of the doubt nearly as much I used to, and I don’t doubt my character assessments as much for there to be as much benefit either. (It’d be nice to say my suspicions over the years have been proven wrong even a third of the time, but alas.)

Still, you do meet less people this way – unfriending the not-really-friends, blocking the nastier sorts, and overall being a bit wary about accepting friend requests in the first place when you feel no need to have a large number of friends (again, outside marketing cynicism, why would you need this?)

Over the past week or so, though, I’ve been given pause. A smart, sincere lefty woman who socialized among mutual friends died recently. A woman I’d only had the occasional light interaction with – liking the same cat photo, that kind of thing. By all accounts she was loved and is sorely missed. Also, it seems as if we probably would have hit it off well – others have remarked as much.

I literally have very little idea of what exactly I missed out on, in terms of social exchanges, but my policy of withdrawal clearly has a drawbacks.

Reflecting on some of the blockings draws me back to my original position, though. For the most part, while nobody’s been horrid to me, even when I’ve invited them to be, the kinds of people who do get nasty or show all the warning signs, do generate a lot of mental din.

Keep certain types of behaviours at a distance and the fog in the mind clears. You realize it wasn’t all in your head, that you weren’t out of order. Maybe over time you even learn a little more about what was really going on behind the off behaviour, and wish you’d cut ties sooner.

This is the dilemma, though. Sure, when you let the tide of humanity recede you get a bit of space to think, you feel like yourself again, your values re-assert themselves more strongly and you gain a bit of perspective. But the outgoing tide takes with it waves of opportunities to get to know people – people you may have really worked well with – leaving you with whoever’s left in your little rockpool of a social circle.

A valuable little rockpool for sure, but small all the same, and one more or less isolated from oceans of human beings you’ll never know.

Finding a balance isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s hard to be certain about such things. Apparently I’m supposed to be good at it, but I have no measure to judge by and neither do the people who tell me, so I couldn’t say – and therefore am of limited use to you in this respect.

Your space is your space and you can manage it how you see fit, or at least, you should be allowed to. We are in a sense, alone in working our way through this.

~ Bruce