Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Bright Lights, Big City

I actually read the Ben Weiss column about the "intellectual dark web" linked in this article at Slate.  William Saletan did, too, and while I laughed at the presumption that a "dark web" which was readily accessible could also be "intellectual" because it was the province of the likes of Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris, Saletan thought it a warning buoy to those of us about to foolishly venture into deep waters and end up over our heads, literally and intellectually.

Oh, please.  People like Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson "have become segregated from academia and mainstream media" because Harris is a racist nut job who thinks his education in neuroscience makes him an intellectual, and Peterson is a fatuous ass who thinks his popularity on YouTube makes him a Major Thinker.

But the topic of the "intellectual dark web" is still around, again as the article notes (with links), and I've been meaning to ignore it a bit longer if I could, because really, the idea is so ridiculous it doesn't merit discussion.*  Still, in that context, and this context:

An Asian-American woman, I was once called “exotic” by an older white man at a wedding where I only knew three other people. It was annoying, but microaggressions like this are enough a part of my life that I wasn’t too bothered by the blunders of a stranger. But when I tried to convince an older white couple I know quite well that the word exotic, as applied to people who look like me, was racist, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. “He was just being nice,” I was told. “It’s a compliment.” It’s taken me some time to realize that racism, for them, is an exceptional event, like a thunderstorm, and so this didn’t count. But for me, racism is the weather. A thunderstorm is more striking, yes. But it’s just a more extreme version of what I generally see around me.

There is much to be said about who we are and who we think we are.  The Lovely Wife often mentions what a racist Mitch McConnell is, a charge I'm sure he'd deny (and he's not as open and obvious as Donald Trump about it).  Like me, she grew up in the South, in the part of Texas that's really western Louisiana, in some ways only two rivers away from Mississippi Goddamn.  She knows the racist cues when she sees them, even when non-Southerners (especially) don't.  Racism, in other words, is not established by shooting Medgar Evers, as Chris Rock once pointed out.  Which helps, I think, put that quote in context, and set up this one:

It’s disappointing that a progressive like Goldberg is essentially advising members of groups with the least power to refrain from speaking out as much as possible. Worse still, she warns the left that it could be responsible for the right’s behavior, as if we don’t hear the “look what you made me do” excuse from enough malefactors—as if it’s the cacophony of the left that made people decide to embrace outright hate or tribalism and not the impulses and prejudices they already carry.

Because blaming the victim is a way of asserting that the reaction to the complaint is what is normative, that the behavior that should be condemned is really not the problem.  "Outside agitators" was the phrase in the '60's, especially in the South where people marched for freedom and dignity and the right to simply sit at a lunch counter or ride the bus (and is it any coincidence lunch counters are gone and busses ridden only by the poor?  I mean, while I'm on the subject....).  It wasn't the racism that was bad, it was the "troublemakers" and "agitators" calling attention to the racism.  Some didn't even see the water cannon and dogs and police beatings of marchers as racism, just as excessive violence; or even necessary violence.

What is normative is always defended, usually by blaming the victims of the social order for their plight, and their complaint.  Dr. King's condemnation of "wait" in his Letter comes to mind here:

 "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.' "  

But that was long ago, and in another country, right?  And the country today isn't like that and why do you bring it up anyway and want to stir up trouble?  Do you want to be responsible for more marches like Charlottesville?

As I said:  in our dreams, we are all Steve Rogers; in our actions, we are much closer to Thanos.

*There is another good article about it at Vox.

1 comment:

  1. To say that Peterson is a fatuous ass is underselling it. He’s a reactionary with a martyr complex made uncomfortable by evolving rights in society. His seminal book is a dense word salad meant to impress and bedazzle the not-that-bright. And so not unexpectedly his followers tend to be angry MRA’s, racists, white supremacists and full-on neo-Nazis.

    If he were alive a hundred years ago he’d be arguing that it’s too dangerous to give women the vote - ...”imagine the backlash from men!” - and one hundred seventy years ago he’d be using fancy words and quoting the ancient Greeks to defend the institution of slavery as a time-honored tradition based on deep psychological archetypes that keeps society in balance - and claiming persecution when challenged.

    He’s a fraud and a charlatan.