Friday, 15 April 2016

Cui Bono? Cui Bono?

In a recent conversation, a friend suggested that, by giving credence to the claims of certain characters from the 'manosphere', I am tacitly giving my support to the hate campaigns that have been directed at women like Anita Sarkeesian. I argued that, in order to have a debate and not just the shouting match that appears to pass for discussion these days, it is necessary to admit all opinions, even those expressed by utter arseholes. I added that I rarely mention, say, Sargon or Thunderfoot, without sneering at them, to emphasise my distaste for their methodology, rigid application of a single epistemology, and that way they talk like they've got their victim tied up in a basement.

While I regard some of the claims about Sarkeesian as valid, if melodramatic (her visit to the UN, when she asked a patriarchal body to limit freedom of expression on Twitter seemed counter-productive), I abhor the language of violence, personal threats and general misogyny that has been directed against feminists. I'm not keen on the whole 'male tears' privilege routines, the rejection of racism unless it is part of a systemic racism (I think Chuck D said something about this ages ago: I admire him, but disagree that racism can only be racism if it is directed against an oppressed group).

I'm clinging to a belief in dialectic, and regard the mansophere and YouTube feminism as mutually arising terms in a debate, both feeding each other until the actual issues are buried beneath ad hominem arguments (which are not always invalid) and spiteful mash-ups. 

On the whole, the 'rationalist' videos of Sargon and Co. are more unpleasant, and the language used against feminists is more aggressive and a prime example of the privilege that YouTube feminists decry. However, the rise of Sarkeesian is a result of these videos. She became famous because she was attacked (her actual reach is limited in terms of actual subscribers to her channel, Feminist Frequency).

I'm saying a curse on both your houses. Reductive versions of feminism are the product of reductive rationalist analysis of feminism. Characters like Big Red have come about because the manosphere creates them, by giving attention to their antics, and lending them justification by being needlessly insulting.

I'm all for the freedom to insult. I just think it is a bad tactic, and it polarises rather than resolves.

If I tend to be heretical towards what ought to be my own side - the feminists, the LGBTQI activists, it's because I agree with the Dalai Lama that religion is all about self-reflection, not self-righteousness (religion here is not worshipping G-d, it's an internally consistent system of beliefs and behaviours). I have frequently called out socialists for authoritarian attitudes, Christians for homophobia, Platonists for believing in the literal theory of pure forms. 

Take The Pink News: it has consistently posted articles trying to undermine the reputation of Pope Francis (S.J.) as a progressive. Any statement made by the Vatican against same-sex marriage is headlined as The Pope Says, even if it is a report made by bishops. There's more to this than I can explore just now, but the antagonism of their approach encourages the continued conflict between Catholicism and activists for gay rights. Cui bono? 

How about the snowflakes chasing bad fashion victims with scissors, and the way that gets loads of internet response? Cui bono?

The wage gap is a real thing, but misusing it allows the manosphere to deny it. It's a calculation that shows the overall disparity between male and female wages and identifies the structures of capitalism's bias towards traditionally male models of work and pay. It's not claiming that every single woman gets paid less for the same work as a man. But if that misinterpretation gets talked about, cui bono?

These are specific problems within movements that I would align myself alongside, if I were not such a bourgeois anarchist. And I'd rather my beliefs, and fellow believers, grew up and looked at how their behaviour undermines our shared beliefs.

Against this specific examples, I have a broad disrespect for the agenda of the manosphere: I do not believe, ultimately, that their mission is anything other than a defence of male privilege. It also uses dodgy ideas - evolutionary biology, the free market - without appropriate critique. 

I learnt a new word last week - epistemology. It's the theory of knowledge, how different ideologies and individual use facts, theories, methodologies. The manosphere has lots of them, although a few beliefs are shared across them. It usually comes down to 'rationality is the only way' and 'that's not science'. The problem in this flame war is the poor epistemological grounding of both sides, which is probably the product of technology that lets anyone add their ha'porth without rigorous thought and the weakening of theoretical grounding by post-modern rejections of authority. 

But - to conclude: I don't like hate campaigns. I speak to both sides because that's dialectic. I'm very pretentious. I am rude to people that I disagree with, almost as a defence when I seem to be taking them seriously. That's actually not cool. In line with my own philosophy, I could do with cutting that out. Unfortunately, I think being snide is funny.

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