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

Creeps

So. Apparently the “Refuse to date men who use porn” Facebook group has been reported and banned on the grounds that it’s a hate group.

You get the feeling that if only they’d named themselves “Refuse to date men who wear green felt hats” they’d have gotten away with it, not that that would actually be any less innocuous.

Human beings are allowed to not date other human beings for whatever reasons they fucking well like. I certainly reserve the right to refuse to date anyone on the basis of anything and I don’t see why women can’t have that right either.

It’s not a hate crime to say “no”. It’s not a hate crime to criticize clients of the porn industry either, any more than it’s a hate crime to not be that into green felt hats.

Surprisingly – I guess – this seems to be one of those scenarios where there aren’t red herring cries of “you hate women in “sex work”” levelled against women who just happen to be criticizing men, and male-centered culture. Nope.

If you search on Facebook right now for “Refuse to date men who use porn”, you’ll wind up with the “Refuse to date women who refuse to date men who use porn” page instead. A page dedicated to whiny incel-like dweebs, which aside from being childish on the face of it, is entirely redundant; they’ve already refused to date you, bro.

You can’t refuse what’s already been denied you. You’re not being offered the chance. Move along Nigel.

From what’s visible in the form of screencaps and whatnot, these clowns became aware of the original “refuse to date” page about a month ago, committed to trolling it, and now the page has been taken down for hate. Yes, post hoc ergo propter hoc; it’s possible it’s a different bunch who’ve made the bogus complaint, but I couldn’t tell you who else they were. There’s no other visible candidate right now.*

***

No, this isn’t a commentary on porn per se, or the sex industry in general; as is often the case around here, this is meta-commentary, and committing my thoughts on the primary subject to writing would result in something a bit long-winded.

You do have to wonder though, why it is that an industry that clearly caters to the urges of pretty nasty customers can be viewed as magically unproblematic by supposed progressives.

~ Bruce

* Correction/update: While there was talk of the page being a hate group (boo-hoo, wha), the page was ultimately shut down due to being spammed by spurious requests from trolls. Otherwise, points made above still stand.

Empathy, narcissism and survivor status

I appreciate that this is a dismal issue, but… there’s an awful dynamic that can take hold in informal circles purposed to supporting survivors of abuse, or discussing the politics of support, and I guess it’s borne of a kind of black and white thinking; the victim can’t also be the perpetrator. By this, I don’t mean that we should blame the victim for their own mistreatment, but rather, that there probably needs to be greater recognition that abuse survivors aren’t magically immune from also enacting abuse against others, and further that they are capable, if willing, of enabling abuse if they’re not willing to get their hands dirty themselves.

Abuse, while providing a particularly horrid array of experiences, doesn’t actually qualify a recipient in combating or preventing more of the same further down the line. If this were true, it’d be marginally easier to break free from abusive relationships – some of the trap is often socio-economic, but so much of it is a mind game as well.

In social circles with an emphasis on empathy, we’re told to respect, and if we can, emulate other perspectives, particularly those of survivors. But this doesn’t actually provide terribly much in the way of solutions, so much as it provides a qualitative approximation of a set of problems.

Using empathy in dealing with survivors can be like walking the proverbial tight rope.

***

The other thing about empathy, in addition to being potentially perspective widening, is that it also makes you vulnerable to narcissists and other apaths. This doesn’t mean you should categorically suspend your empathy, but rather that you need to be aware that given the chance there will inevitably be individuals who view you as an easy mark.

This doesn’t mean that they have to see you as a potential victim – although they could – but rather that you’re an angle for gratification. Maybe you’ll provide them with their own victims, so they can feel better about their own experiences. Maybe you’ll provide them access to a potential pool of followers for their egos to be stroked because they’ve always liked their egos stroked since day dot.

Narcs are pervasive minority that cut across all manner of social groupings. Expecting that your group operates in isolation from this could very well be folly.

***

For seemingly the umpteenth time in the past few years, I’ve just seen a rape survivor condescend to another on the topic of what they’re allowed to feel anxious about (particularly in relation to the proximity of penises). There was no immediate indication in this case of whether or not PTSD was involved, wherein the sight of a penis was a trigger, but I’ve already run across a couple of incidents of rape survivors gaslighting rape survivors wherein it was.

It takes a special kind of callousness to barge into an online support group for lesbian victims of rape, and just tell them the harden the fuck up and get used to cocks; that “feminism” means they should be infallibly strong, and not so (supposedly) self-pitying. And yet I found out that a former acquaintance, herself a rape survivor, did exactly this. I’ve since resolved to pay more attention to the warning signs.

Who are you going to trust in these situations? Are you going to have a “who was raped the worst/most?” or a “who is the most oppressed?” competition to determine who to acquiesce to? Are you just going to acquiesce to the loudest party so you don’t get your own ears boxed, or your job threatened? Or are you just going to look at shitty behaviour and call it for what it is, knowing the damage it can cause?

It’s not like narcs are terribly good at showing genuine solidarity with other people even if they are in the same in-group; a part of the definition is that they’re self-absorbed, self-interested and have a poor conception of other people’s personal boundaries. How do you get to the kind of group-affinity required for a supporting environment from there? Well, you don’t.

I’m not arguing that the suffering of apaths is morally unimportant – it is important. It’s just that in the aftermath, involving them in any healing process, or in any attempts to stem ongoing damage, is a task fraught with risk.

***

You can’t envy people who have to deal with this shit for a living – to simultaneously care, and then have to compartmentalize. It doesn’t help that for any number of reasons, people look to narcissists for direction, sometimes even resulting in those who care – genuinely – taking a hiding.

The trick, I think, in many cases is this:

Step 1: Find a group of people who like you, have suffered a certain abuse, but unlike you, are not apaths. Preference those individuals with the most over-developed doubts – they’ll need you more. Identify with them on the basis of your shared bad experiences if you can. Even if you don’t belong to this group – even if you haven’t been abused at all – this trick can be pulled off by “good allies” as well. These broken people are your base.

Step 2: Find an argument or statement that advocates the interests of your base that is just and obviously so, except to the obtuse – you will need the obtuse; they’re your foil. “Abuse is bad” is far too obvious, but there’s just enough ambiguity around topics like victim blaming for you to never be redundant in condemning it, while importantly, for your supporters to harbor their own doubts and insecurities about certain specifics.

Step 3: Memeify your objection. Make it rote. Make it repeatable. Make it short. It needn’t be ill considered, but it can be, provided it rings true, provided it can be easily repeated by supporters, and provided it has the short, percussive force required of an interruption. It can educate, it can inform, but it is not purposed to this end so don’t bother wasting your time worrying. Also, don’t worry terribly much about plagiarism when working up your material, although you may need to develop a portfolio of memes to rotate through so as not to evoke ennui.

Step 4: Establish your creds by finding an obtuse, enabling sort who’s spouting horseshit about your people’s situation that you have just the bromide for – an easy if near-universally annoying target – and firing your rote objection at them for the benefit of your base as an audience. Your audience will see you being confident in the face of mendacity, in support of their cause, and they will feel more confident for it by extension. They’ll even try to emulate you. But not being narcs themselves they’ll be dependent on you for that confidence going forward too, which is by and large the point. Repeat as necessary to instill the required level of emotional dependency in your base.

Step 5: Reap the rewards. Construe any frustration or slight as being an attack on your person, and by extension an attack on your base by way of your shared social grouping/allegiance. Don’t worry too much about stretching the logic beyond breaking point. On the whole your base will gladly support you, and even overlook abusive behaviour on your part. Remember that for a lot of them, to lose you is to loose their newfound confidence. If you’re really canny, you can get them to attack people who’ve only ever had their best interests at heart, or attack other members of their own group. Maybe you can even get a medical practitioner fired!

Of course, all of this requires you to be a cynical narc. I’m not sure you the reader can actually manage this, and if you can’t, well good for you for being that much better a human being.

***

Stepping entirely back out of semi-satirical mode, I’m not actually sure that the various narcs I’ve seen engaging in this kind of behaviour have actually planned it. It just seems to come naturally to them; they just gravitate towards the exploitable, have a penchant for thinly-veiled self-serving ideation, and a need to weaponize people in the service of their own egos.

And yeah, I’ve seen it derail and break up more than one informal support group. This is especially when the narc in question no longer needs their base, and can benefit personally by doing a deal with some entrenched power broker.

Old support base? Get under the bus!

My point in all of this again, while simple to repeat but difficult to execute: If you want to take care of abused people, you have to entertain the possibility that some of their number may aim to further the abuse, and have some idea of how you’re going to respond. And yeah, if you’re obviously aware of this, any narc in question may just try to single you out in order to make things go more smoothly (for them). The fact that they may have survivor status doesn’t change any of this.

Leaven your empathy with situational awareness.

~ Bruce