Privelobliviousness

By David Ottlinger

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.

-George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

***

The invention of new concepts on the internet has become something of a cottage industry. Certain terms of art like “privilege” and “punching up” have long been familiar in the “blogosphere,” itself a term of art. But the proliferation of terms seems to be accelerating, and in the past several years the internet has added to its vocabulary ‘mansplain’, ‘cultural appropriation’, ‘respectability politics’, ‘manic pixie dream girl’, ‘magical negro’ and the particularly unwieldy ‘privelobliviousness’. [1] In a particularly interesting and telling article earlier this year, Laurie Penny celebrated this widespread linguistic innovation. In the article is a brief interview with feminist linguist Dale Spender, who rhapsodizes: “I love the word ‘mansplaining’…It’s perfect. You know instantly what it means. And ‘manspreading’, ‘manterrupting’ – did you know that in mixed-gender conversations, 98 per cent of interruptions are by men?” Penny, for her part, was in such enthusiastic agreement that she found it necessary to swallow “[her] hero worship together with a lukewarm coffee.” [2]

In my usual role as a wet blanket, I am less sanguine about all this fresh minting of words. It certainly creates difficulty in communicating for those who do not keep up regularly with political blogs and journals of opinions. More particularly, I am concerned with the influence this pattern has on the way we think and argue. In 1946, George Orwell had similar concerns. [3] He observed a glut of technical, Latinate terms in political and literary discussion. With so many repeated words and phrases, ready-made and standing by, pieces were in his opinion being “tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.” Reading contemporary essays, I often experience the same sentiment. So in what appears to be an on-going series on history repeating itself, I will attempt to apply Orwell’s critique of the public discourse of his own day to discourse in our day and add my own thoughts, where I think it may help to update the argument. My hope is that in enlisting such powerful help I may be able to do some small service to a discourse that has once again gotten itself “in a bad way.”

***

In the first place, it is not always clear what these terms of art add to the discussion. “Mansplain” is a perfect example. The term spun out of an article by Rebecca Solnit in the Los Angeles Times (Solnit herself did not propagate the term directly, but her readers subsequently adopted it). [4]  In the article a man, in Solnit’s appraisal, condescendingly explained to her and a colleague a book that, as it turns out, Solnit had written. As Solnit read the situation, this person assumed his own superior knowledge and authority on the subject, by virtue of his gender. In the idiom that was to follow, he mansplained her own book to her.

Now I have no doubt that such incidents occur, that they are motivated by sexism and that they negatively impact women. And, without having been present, I am inclined to take Solnit at her word, in her characterization of the event. My sole interest for the moment is whether such events are best conceptualized under the rubric of “mansplaining.” It seems to me that the statement “he mansplained her own book to her” is just as readily expressed in terms of ordinary discourse. Using everyday, recognizable words such as ‘condescending’ and ‘dismissive’, the statement could be re-expressed without loss of meaning. Re-expressing it in the more customary manner also would have a few advantages. It would not assume knowledge of a term that is likely to be known only by a few, and for an argument with political intent, such things matter. It also would more specifically and perspicuously capture what was objectionable about the incident, which would have the advantage of conveying more information and forcing a certain amount of rigor (about which more in a moment).  So, just in virtue of adding so little, I believe such terms and phrases are suspect. And should be abolished, in a spirit of entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitate. Or as Orwell — who would not have approved of such liberal use of Latin — put it: “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

The main concern I have, however, is the effect of liberal use of terms of art on writers. Such terms become the shorthand for an analysis that does not actually take place because the existence of the shorthand. Political writers are generally tasked with identifying regular forms of public behavior and speech and critiquing them. They judge them as helpful or hindering, necessary or obligatory and offer prescriptions and proscriptions on that basis. But pre-made terms and phrases draw writers away from careful analysis and studied observation, by giving them the ability to simply label the desired object of. Examples will illustrate.

An article, perhaps not important in itself but indicative of a general type, appeared not long ago in Salon, arguing that white women should not perform “belly–dancing,” otherwise known as “Raqs Sharqi”. [5] Needless to say this raised some eyebrows across the internet. The argument alleges that for white women, the performance of the dance constitutes “cultural appropriation”.  The trouble is that the meaning of this popular dictum is spectacularly unclear. By the second paragraph we are told that nineteenth century white women were already “appropriating” a culture, without being told what ‘appropriating’ means or how this display counts as an example. (Apparently Mark Twain was on hand, with a film camera, to help in the appropriating.) The author goes on to describe a number of encounters with white women who perform the dance. Some do, in fact, seem to be objectionable. She describes dining with friends when a white dancer took to the stage wearing “genie pants and a bra and heavy eye makeup and Arabic jewelry, or jewelry that is meant to read as ‘Arabic’ because it’s metallic and shiny and has squiggles of some kind” and began to dance. I found it easy to share in the author’s distaste. But elsewhere she describes talking to white dancers who apparently approached the dance quite reverently and studied it under Middle Eastern teachers for many years. Here it is less clear what is objectionable. But what is striking is that the author never explicitly articulates what all these behaviors have in common, such that they all count as “cultural appropriation,” nor what exactly is objectionable about it. These lapses are disguised by the continuity of language and the assumed logic provided by the idiom of “cultural appropriation.” It gives the argument an appearance of completeness it would otherwise lack.

Philosopher Neil Van Leuween also touches on the theme of “cultural appropriation,” but his approach is entirely different. [6]  He begins by defining ‘cultural appropriation’ and by trying to give a general account of why it is objectionable. He recognizes immediately that cultures borrowing or adapting practices from other cultures is usually innocent and seeks to distinguish such innocent cases from a class of actions that can be meaningfully deemed “appropriative,” with its concomitant negative valence. The definition he settles upon strikes me as sound and is helpful in filling the gaps left by the Salon piece. Neil argues that “cultural appropriation is where people from a group that oppressed or oppresses another group mimics or represents cultural artifacts or manners of the oppressed group, in a way that expresses or reinforces psychological elements of the racist ideology inherent in the colonialist project responsible for the oppression.” Such a definition helps to articulate why the restaurant scene in the Salon piece might be considered objectionable. It does seem that pseudo-Arabic squiggles and I-Dream-of-Genie skirts might re-inforce ideas of a decadent and exotic “Orient” that Middle-Eastern people might fairly find insulting and which played — and likely continues to play — a pernicious role in history. Likewise this definition upholds the intuitive judgment that white dancers who approach the dance with respect would not be considered to have acted wrongly. Such pieces show that these terms of art can be used carefully and not merely as cover for thin argument, but I am sorry to say I find such pieces to be in the minority. (Full disclosure Neil is a teacher and friendly acquaintance of mine.)

It would be one thing if these problems were confined to silly pieces at Salon, though Salon is read by many and has some influence. Unfortunately this pattern seems to occur more widely. Recent debates on race have been marked by the same dysfunction. Writing in the Boston Review, Glenn Loury expressed reservations about the terms in which our discussions of race are taking place. To his mind easy narratives have grown up around “pigs” and “thugs,” “choir boys” and “public menaces.” [7] Loury argues forcefully that in discussing the actions of individuals, we must carefully consider both social forces and autonomous, individual choice in assigning moral praise and blame. A society can be blamed for beckoning its youth to a life of crime and still blame those youths who go where their society beckons. In response Loury was accused of engaging in “respectability politics,” but the same ambiguities crowd around this phrase as did with ‘cultural appropriation’. It is not necessarily denied that people — even those under very adverse conditions — are generally expected to act in ways worthy of moral respect. It is not necessarily affirmed that oppressed people lack the autonomy to lead moral lives in a radically imperfect world. This is largely because in using this phrase, very little is affirmed or denied at all, the actual content of the phrase being remarkably indefinite.

Again I do not wish to be understood as saying that there could be no successful argument which relied on the use of the phrase ‘respectability politics’.  As was the case with ‘cultural appropriation’, this term does gesture at a genuine and salient moral truth.  People must not be expected to be perfect actors, in order to make moral claims. It is only that the phrase often takes the place of argument. It is never articulated exactly what “respectability politics” is or what exactly makes it inadequate. The mere presence of the familiar phrase seems to be enough to persuade both author and reader that the objection has already been made. And arguments that are not made are never successful.  A person who would argue successfully against “respectability politics” would need to undertake the work Neil undertook for ‘cultural appropriation’. But generally this is not done.

I have been focusing on politics, but the case has been made that similar problems bedevil our discourse about art. This would not have surprised Orwell, who expected his critique to be relevant wherever language is being used as “an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”  Leon Wieseltier has decried the widespread use of easy allusions in reviews and discussions of art, for reasons which strongly parallel the ones we have been considering. [8] He was aghast at hearing a Broadway play based on Spider-Man compared to Rilke, Nora Ephron to Shakespeare and Jay-Z to nothing less than “T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Shakespeare, and Dickens.” More than the improbability of these claims, Wieseltier notices that they seemed to reflect a mode of expression that had become ingrained in literary culture. Wieseltier argues that this ever-flowing river of comparisons becomes “an associative shorthand for perceptions that we have forgotten how otherwise to describe.. I am inclined to think he is right. It is easy to call something “Kafkaesque.” It is hard to describe the agony of constantly deferred action, the paranoid feeling of always being observed, always being in public, the grinding brutality of being slowly drained of all energy, all of which makes Kafka’s work so memorable. Instead of describing specifically what works have in common with Kafka and why these common features lend value to both, they are simply labeled “Kafkaesque,” as though the reader and the author both understand what is meant by this. Indeed a literary person must know what is meant by this or at least pretend to know or else risk being exposed as unfashionable. In this way there forms “a loop of allusions that assure us of our in-the-knowness and arm us against any disruption of it”. This is helpful for those who want to feel and appear literary in public, but is decidedly unhelpful for those who actually want to understand literature.

I do not want my critique of certain concepts and the overly-free use of others to generate into a mindless hatred of the abstract. There are some concepts that have no equivalent in every-day discourse and which are beneficial, even essential to healthy political discourse. I hold the feminist concept of “oppression” to be a paradigm case. The concept receives a powerful exposition in Marilyn Frye’s aptly titled “Oppression.” [9] It is worth quoting at length:

The root of the word “oppression” is the element “press”. The press of the crowd; pressed into military service; to press a pair of pants; printing press; press the button. Presses are used to mold things or flatten them or reduce them in bulk, sometimes to reduce them by squeezing out the gasses or liquids in them. Something pressed is something caught between or among forces and barriers which are related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict, or prevent the thing’s motion or mobility. Mold. Immobilize. Reduce.

Many small daily occurrences that women experience share a common logic and rationale and converge, with the effect that women’s freedom of action, even freedom of thought is constrained. Small condescensions like the one described by Solnit send signals on how to behave which, when constantly repeated, shape the way women behave and think in ways which hinder their personal and political freedoms.

This concept, unlike ‘mansplain’, allows us to express a range of propositions that would not, as far as I can tell, otherwise be expressible. It allows us to articulate certain truths of substantial political salience. Some anti-feminists argue that women earn less money than men, because women freely chose lower paying positions and positions in lower-income areas and that women do not voice opinions on many subjects out of lack of interest. They are of course right in that women who drop out of science majors or do not speak up when politics is being discussed are in one sense acting freely. They are acting autonomously and reflectively, by weighing reasons for and against acting as they do. But in another sense they are significantly un-free. Women who wish to enter scientific fields or argue politics in public often have to contend with a headwind pushing back at them, in a way that men ordinarily do not. They are oppressed. This can only be understood by means of the introduction of a new concept, ‘oppression’, because no term in ordinary discourse gathers together all these experiences in a single word and describes what makes them pernicious. Consequently, the concept enriches our discourse significantly. Current my arguments, however, even such beneficial concepts must be wielded appropriately and careful. They should not be used when every-day terms suffice and they must be used in ways which assign to it clear and substantial content. Without this it loses all its power and becomes another empty label which will be carelessly combined with other empty labels to produce familiar pieces which sound forceful but lack all meaning.

***

One of the more charming aspects of Orwell’s essay is that he does not address the problems of the English language, as perpetrated only by others but with regard to his own writing. He goes so far as to concede, “Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against.” Doubtless the same is true for me. It may seem that I have been dumping on wide swathes of writing on the internet and to some extent I suppose I have, but the tendency I am trying to resist is a tendency to which we all succumb at some point or another. I only hope by calling attention to it we can be a little more aware of it and more effective in resisting it. The first order of business will getting rid of “privelobliviousness.”

Notes

[1]  For ‘mansplain’ see: http://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/13/opinion/op-solnit13

and

http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/11/a-cultural-history-of-mansplaining/264380/

“respectability politics”:

https://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=respectability%20politics

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/12/respectability-politics-wont-save-black-americans

‘MPDG’

http://www.avclub.com/article/the-bataan-death-march-of-whimsy-case-file-1-emeli-15577

http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2013/06/i-was-manic-pixie-dream-girl

A very amusing retraction:

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/15/im_sorry_for_coining_the_phrase_manic_pixie_dream_girl/

‘Magical Negro’

https://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=magical%20negro

http://www.yale.edu/opa/arc-ybc/v29.n21/story3.html

http://www.salon.com/2010/09/14/magical_negro_trope/

‘privelobliviousness’

http://lithub.com/men-explain-lolita-to-me/

The above was follow up to this:

http://lithub.com/80-books-no-woman-should-read/

[2] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2015/09/gender-neutral-language-coming-here-s-why-it-matters

[3] https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

[4] see [1]

[5] http://www.salon.com/2014/03/04/why_i_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/18/i_still_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/

[6] http://www.philosophytalk.org/community/blog/neil-van-leeuwen/2015/11/what-cultural-appropriation

[7] http://bostonreview.net/forum/glenn-c-loury-ferguson-wont-change-anything-what-will

[8] https://newrepublic.com/article/81393/excellent-new-art

[9] The paper is frequently anthologized including in Frye’s important collection:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/089594099X?keywords=politics%20of%20reality&qid=1451700395&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Categories: Essay, Uncategorized

81 Comments »

  1. Dan,

    It is always possible to say that a person is just being motivated by ideology instead of argument but I did try to give criteria by which we can judge TOAs good or bad or, better, more helpful or less helpful. There is of course no perfect touch stone which we can find and in practice we would have to make judgments like we brush alligators’ teeth: very carefully. But that is not to say that such judgments cannot be made.

    Eric,
    “My issue however is that you seem to merely be attacking the use of such terminology, rather than the mentality behind those terms.”
    I am attacking the use of TOA’s when they are used knowingly or unknowingly in place of argument. Remember I am not saying never to use them I vindicated Neil’s use of a term and introduced one myself. I am saying we should not let them become overly familiar and think and write by stringing them together when we should be making arguments.

    As to Massimo’s comment, it was just that a comment and one which does not seem eager to take the bait. I think if he were elaborating in a post, maybe discussing Frankfurt, he probably would unpack thew whole thought exercise and what “red pill” and “blue pill correspond to and so on.

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  2. David: I guess my point is that this language just begs to be made mischief with and really does very little that is positive. Rather than wrangle over whose uses of it are legitimate and whose are not, why not just dispense with it altogether?

    Orwell did not describe Newspeak only to then go and distinguish noble and ignoble uses of it. The very thing itself is bad, because of the way in which it bypasses the rational, autonomous person. That someone might use it to good ends is not relevant, because its very modality is objectionable.

    I feel the same way about the sorts of expressions you discuss in your essay.

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  3. Dan,

    There’s more to say but we should probably worry about declining returns. Good exchange.

    Eric,
    I also forgot to say that Davidson argued compellingly that if you tried to coerce people to speak in a certain way we could not afterward know what they meant because we could not undertake the normal interpretation which we use to understand language. It’s a good argument in an unholy bastard of an article called “On The Very Idea of A Conceptual Scheme.”

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  4. Daniel Kaufman,

    Can you really compare the jargon we’re talking about with Newspeak in 1984? Newspeak was a deliberate attempt to distort or conceal the truth, while this jargon is an attempt by generally well-intentioned people to describe situations that do not correspond to any word in our normal lexicon, for example, mansplaining. Now we can debate over whether mansplaining is as common as they claim it to be and in my experience, women interrupt as often as men do and at times males have to struggle to have their opinion heard in a group of women, but the invention of “mansplaining” is not a totalitarian strategy for brainwashing the masses as Newspeak is.

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  5. I think this is just as deliberate. The only difference is that it is not the product of State actors — although, increasingly, it is enforced by State actors.

    But, yes, I think these terms are a deliberate attempt to distort and conceal, by way of loading all sorts of value judgments, ascriptions of motive, and moral standing into what are ostensibly, on the surface, descriptive terms.

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  6. PE, most disciplines have “terms of art” whose denotative meaning is established and understood by specialists in those disciplines. Many, however, enter meme-like into common usage where their usage becomes fuzzy, used as buzz words with the intent of signifying some broadly construed affiliation with an ideology. The Monty Python skit “Hint Hint Nudge Nudge” satirizes this sort of code speak in banal circumstances. There was a time when this sort of thing bothered me. But popular usage of this sort only serves as a red flag for me now. I don’t foresee anything similar to an Academie Francaise for written or spoken English being convened. David’s concerns, as well as Orwell’s, address the responsibilities of the writer. I also think that the reader too has responsibilities.

    Note, for example, David’s citation from a piece in Salon:

    “Neil argues that ‘cultural appropriation is where people from a group that oppressed or oppresses another group mimics or represents cultural artifacts or manners of the oppressed group, in a way that expresses or reinforces psychological elements of the racist ideology inherent in the colonialist project responsible for the oppression.’.”

    Well, that’s a mouthful! But at least the author attempts to make his usage transparent to the reader, regardless of one’s assessment of his prose style. At the same time, the term “colonialist project” in my case was unfamiliar. To unpack this quote, I had to google the phrase and decide whether I was interested enough to read a SEP or Wikipedia article on the topic.

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  7. Daniel Kaufman, Once again I disagree completely with you. The movement feminists whom I’ve met personally or online sincerely see themselves as victims; that they are victims is an important part of their sense of identity; the or one of the main narratives that they frame their life-story with is that they are victims of sexism or machismo. To what extent they are victims or not is open to debate, but their sincerity is evident.

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  8. Hi David,

    Orwell remarks that it is important to view language as a tool to be used and directed not as some natural, evolving phenomenon which cannot be influenced but just grows haphazardly in every direction like coral or undergrowth.

    Well that is his (and your) opinion. I’m not seeing a concrete argument why it shouldn’t be allowed to flow that way . Remember that in the case of serious communication I’m agreeing with the points you made. But I think languages can, in informal settings, change and generate useful terms or phrases that can be picked up (where useful) and added into formal communication.

    Let me run with your evolutionary example. In microbiology, scientists sometimes allow bacteria to grow and evolve on their own, no direction, then study them to see what genetic or functional changes have occurred and if this could be of use for something. I sort of think of informal communication like the bacteria, and professional writers as scientists finding what could be of use in formal communication. Yes, don’t pick up all changes, choose only what is necessary or useful for the function you need. But to not allow flexibility at the informal level seems a bit stifling and overprotective and might have us overlook potentially useful tools that did not come about through prior planning.

    One problem factor is that the internet has made informal conversation public such that it enjoys the level of audience (and unfortunately credibility) that formal communication used to have to itself. So again, I support your argument for people writing on the internet for public consumption, even if it is meant as informal conversation.

    On Solnit, I will address that in my replies to Robin.

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  9. Daniel Kaufman, There’s a lot of psychological research that shows that when one is against a political position, one tends to attribute Machiavellian motives to those who hold it and doubt their sincerity. For example, being on the left (as I am), I tend to see wealthy people who want to lower taxes for big corporations as cynically pursuing their class interests, while in reality many of them may believe, as they claim, that lower taxes increase economic growth and thus, benefit both rich and poor. I don’t know you well, but couldn’t it be that your political and philosophical differences with feminism lead you to attribute Machiavellian motives to feminists?

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  10. Don’t know. I have been on both the Right and the Left and today, continue to hold ideas from both places, so my overall orientation is probably uncharacterizable. Classical Liberal is the closest I get.

    That said, I think there is zero mileage in debating peoples’ personal experiences. Yours are yours and mine ar mine. You’ve had good experiences with movement feminists and I have had rather bad ones.

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  11. Hi Robin (part 1 on lameness), it appears I should have left in a paragraph expanding on my second sentence which stated that originally I had no problem with “mansplaining.”

    Remember that the topic is about terms that are of little to no value. You already agreed that “privelobliviousness” would count as one of those. So you already agree with me that Solnit has made at least one “lame” term/concept.

    Mansplaining. I had heard it used before in the context of the examples given at David’s second link, specifically men telling women about something they could not know, when clearly a woman would know better. The context had been obvious and would remain generally so, even with little detail given. For example: “Then he mansplained what I feel about the fetus growing inside me”, “Then he mansplained what I really need to be fulfilled as a woman.”

    Yeah, that’s an amusing way to puncture some inflated male ego who is obviously acting in an absurd fashion. I laughed. No problem with that being popular.

    I had not read Solnit’s essay before, which supposedly started the ball rolling for the term, by riffing on her “men explain” concept/phrase. Unlike the previous examples, that fit right into the problem David was discussing about such terms of art. If she had written, “Then he mansplained a book to me”, or even “Then he mansplained my book to me”, or even more accurate “Then he mansplained my book on Eadweard Muybridge” I would have no idea what she was talking about. Would you? How? There is no obvious absurdity of conduct relating to the subject being explained and the gender of the explainer or the explainee (assuming you knew her gender).

    Remember, her example was a guy who began explaining her own book to her, without realizing it was her book. Her claim, and I’m sorry but that is what she clearly argues, is that only men do this kind of thing. Hence “men explain”. That is a bizarre idea, and completely counterfactual.

    In any case using that term in this case would be so stretched (from the original context where I had seen it first and made sense) as to be useless. Lame.

    And this does not get into the lameness of using this concept (as a writer) to connect being the recipient of some minor, though agreeably stupid, faux-pas at a dinner party to some common union with women who are/have actually faced oppression.

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  12. Hi Robin (part 2 on bigoted terms/concepts), As far as I can tell from her writing Solnit appears to be a bigot. And the concepts and terms she invents are “bigoted”. I say this based on the standards I would us for anyone else on any other subject.

    If someone tells me there is some behavior done by a certain group of people, admittedly not all, just some, yet continues to use language that blames or implicates the entire group for that action, then they are to my mind a bigot. And it only adds to my impression when they interrupt a monologue running this group down to assure me they have lots of friends/family that are from this group.

    Likewise, negative terms or concepts that implicate a group, for a behavior that does not pertain to all members of the group or exists outside that group, are “bigoted.”

    Maybe I’m crazy but those are my working standards, now read Solnit’s article. As they say, if the shoe fits…

    By the way, these are the same standards I use for assessing people like Rush Limbaugh, and his use of “feminazi”. Or people that talk about, or terms like, “women drivers” (even if by coincidence only women have, from their experience, committed certain stupid accidents).

    Would it really suggest hostility on my part to discuss Rush’s use of the term “feminazi” as being “lame and bigoted”? My guess is you would consider it lame and bigoted too. Would that make you “hostile” to state this?

    Finally, to be fair to me, I didn’t accuse anyone (much less any group) of being “defeated, wounded, fragile creatures”. I was joking about what kind of women Solnit would seem to hang out with, given her comment that she has never seen a woman with an ego so inflated she exhibits “the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant”, and her own self-description (and those of other women) in her articles. You want quotes?

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  13. Hi SW, what does sincerity have to do with whether they deploy something that is not itself true, or has a conceled motive? The loyal citizens in 1984 were from all accounts quite sincere, even the protagonist was by the very end. That didn’t make anything they sincerely felt true, or the mechanics of Newspeak not a device to control them.

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  14. dbholmes, In the book 1984 the protagonist Winston works in the Ministry of Truth where he rewrites and falsifies history to the suit the interests of the ruling elite (inner party). The feminists try to convince us of what they see as the truth of things (although they be mistaken about what the truth is) and thus, are sincere. I see an ethical difference between someone who consciously and deliberately falsifies history in order to control us and someone who sincerely tries to convince us of what they see as the truth (even if they are mistaken).

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  15. Likewise, negative terms or concepts that implicate a group, for a behavior that does not pertain to all members of the group or exists outside that group, are “bigoted.”

    Ok, so let me remind you of her position:

    Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, including a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me; with my infinitely generous younger brother; with splendid male friends. Still, there are these other men too.

    So, for example, do you think.”God-botherer” is such a term? It obviously pertains to a particular group. But it doesn’t implicate the group.

    Would you disagree that throughout history, and still in many places today, men have felt superior to women, in judgement, in authority, have asserted this assumed authority? Would you agree that this has been, for the most part, a man thin? Is that observation bigoted?

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  16. Robin, some might perceive the second quote above, which you suggest to be Sonit’s “position,” as problematic in the same way some might upon hearing someone (defensively) say, “Some of my better friends are ‘xyz’.” Also, when you reverse the sexes in her stated position, the alarm bells are heard. Does this suggest bigotry? Maybe. At the least, taken alone and at face value, one might mistake her position as being glib and shallow.

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  17. I might label words like “mansplain” as well as (from the past) “law and order” or “liberal fascism” secret handshake words/phrases which sometimes do/sometimes don’t have a “dog-whistle” aspect. A major them of Dan Kahan at culturalcognition.net is “Identity protective cognition” that Tversky and Kahneman apparently overlooked, which overlaps some with our own Dan K’s recent reference to “signalling”. I think it is an idea whose time has come, showing up under different names. Jon Haidt, who is pretty damn brilliant when he’s not being an idiot, drew an analogy (perhaps borrowed – don’t know from whom) between a fortress like dwelling physical dwelling such as beehive or naked mole rat’s system of burrows – which theorists of ultrasociability like E.O. Wilson say is always present in an ultrasocial species, and the shared belief-system/language/worldview of any coherent group of humans as the human equivalent of such a shelter/fortress.

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  18. Well David, you’ve satisfied me. Most of all I must applaud your fight for the virtue of argument clarity. That people use TOA’s in place of argumentation, really is nothing short of dishonest. And given that we aren’t discussing “hard science,” what could be more vital than argument clarity? Personally I’d have the entire science of psychology think long and hard about how their doing in this regard. Though the children may have been unable to convince their elders of this so far, perhaps the emperor is indeed clothed in TOA’s!

    Then secondly I now see that you would not actually deny us of our various fabricated terms and anecdotes, though merely have us use them responsibly. Oh how I would miss such things if withheld from the skilled commentator!

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  19. SW, I agree there is a difference between someone deliberately promoting an idea they know is false, and someone who promotes something that happens to be false. While I had a lot of bad experiences with 2nd wave and some modern feminists, I may not have had as many or as bad experiences as Dan has. I would not assume that most of these people intentionally promoted something they knew was false. But I do not put it past some in the leadership of doing so, or perhaps more likely not bothering to question their own thoughts/actions because that would be inconvenient… and so promoting a false idea out of self-serving negligence/ignorance, rather than overt knowledge it is false.

    My experience (regardless of sex, race or whatever) people tend not to question their own fabricated BS as long as it works, and while it is working (and until forced to examine its validity) will happily believe it to be true.

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  20. Robin, the quote you gave was not the “position” she was advancing in her article, but the common “defensive position” taken (as Thomas Jones points out) by bigots, usually as they are about to say something bigoted. That quote is exactly what I was referring to when I said “And it only adds to my impression when they interrupt a monologue running this group down to assure me they have lots of friends/family that are from this group.”

    I never heard of God-botherer before, and had no idea what it meant. After looking it up I see it has many uses, so this term definitely seems to fall under the ToA concept David was criticizing. Many of the uses do not implicate a group, even religious people could use it, so while insulting does not seem to suggest bigotry. Then again I saw some definitions which lumped all religious people into one basket, so I guess if I heard someone using it that way first I might consider the person a bigot and the term bigoted.

    Your last series of questions are too complex to untangle and answer in the space I have (yeah and I know I usually take a lot). The shortest answer I can give is that of course historically (and even today) many males have felt superior to females, and more importantly asserted their assumed authority. It is an interesting historical/anthropological question why and how males with such ideas manage(d) to come to power and wield such power for so long.

    But given the historical (and current) counterexamples (egalitarian and matriarchal societies, brutal female leaders), even if fewer in number, the equally obvious answer is: No oppression of the other due to one’s assumed superiority is not a “man-thing.” That power hungry, egotistical, chauvinist males have been able to achieve and enforce their authority, does not mean females are free from such feelings or tendencies. Even within repressed societies (for females), such oppression did/does not prevent females from enforcing their perceived authority over (oppressing) other females, other races (like slaves), and children.

    Your concept keeps us looking at the top of the power structure in societies to pretend no other parts of the structure exist, or no equal will to power exists in those who are losing/have lost the struggle against the very top. Plus, if I were to use your historical example, what would I then have to say of different races? Taller v shorter? Educated v less educated?

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  21. S. Wallerstein wrote:

    In the book 1984 the protagonist Winston works in the Ministry of Truth where he rewrites and falsifies history to the suit the interests of the ruling elite (inner party). The feminists try to convince us of what they see as the truth of things (although they be mistaken about what the truth is) and thus, are sincere.

    ———————————————————————-

    I disagree with this. Much of the Movement-Feminist discourse strikes me as clearly disingenuous and manipulative, in precisely the way that the Ministry of Truth’s discourse is (and in the way that much political discourse is — much of what I describe can be found in the Movement Right as well, with whom Movement-Feminists share much more than they would like to think).

    –Descriptors often contain implicit ascriptions of motive, even when no explicit evidence of such motives is offered or even available.

    –Expressions that are politically/axiologically/morally pre-loaded are ubiquitous and serve the purpose of smuggling in conclusions, so as to avoid the need for any argument. (Thus, an upper middle class Movement feminist can use an expression like “male privilege” to dismiss an opponent, even though the opponent may be a lower class, perhaps even unemployed, utterly disempowered rube, who, in no meanigful sense, is privileged with respect to her.)

    –Guilt by association — and worse, by sex membership — is common, even ubiquitous.

    –Evidence is only selectively applied and only in the political direction already chosen. (For example, very compelling evidence, based on social indicators, that men, now, are actually significantly worse off than women are rejected out of hand and even ridiculed.)

    –Statistics are routinely abused and misused, by people who are far too educated to claim the excuse of ignorance. The “1-in-4/1-in-5” (you hear both) statistic is a classic example of this. Completely bogus, based on bad science, discredited by serious social scientists, yet still routinely trotted out as evidence that we live in a “rape culture.” (And woe betide the poor jerk who tries to point this out — I was called a “rape apologist” for questioning the statistic.)

    ———

    This is just a sample of the sort of routine dishonesty and manipulativeness one finds in this sphere of dicourse. I do not believe that they reflect the attitude one would expect in those who are “trying to convince us of what they see as the truth of things…and thus, are sincere.” Indeed, the only way one could say this is if one assumes that the people one is talking about are too stupid to recognize/understand what they are doing, an assumption that I cannot justify.

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  22. Daniel Kaufman, Feminism is a political movement and like all political movements that I know of deals in slogans, clichés and catch phrases. If you try to hold feminism to your standards of academic philosophy, it will fall short as will any political movement that I’ve ever seen. The individual feminists are not stupid and they may be as intelligent or more intelligent than you and I are, but when people form a group dedicated to a cause, the collective IQ takes a fall of about 30 or 40 points and critical thinking goes on vacation.

    As dbholmes points out:
    ” My experience (regardless of sex, race or whatever) people tend not to question their own fabricated BS as long as it works, and while it is working (and until forced to examine its validity) will happily believe it to be true.”

    That’s true for feminists, but also for every other political group I’ve ever come in contact, even the noblest causes I’ve been involved with, such as the human rights movement in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship.

    I can see that you’ve had some bad experiences with feminists, you being called a “rape apologist”, etc., but that’s a question of chance. I bet your experience would have been equally uncomfortable if you had run into environmental or peace activists. My advice is to avoid activists in the future.

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  23. Yes, if you notice, I said in my comments that this is a characteristic of political activists of every stripe.

    But that’s what “movement feminists” are. Political activists. Indeed, that’s why I am careful to speak of “movement feminsts” and not “feminists” simpliciter. (At least, I try to be careful.)

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  24. Dan, I thought your examples were excellent. I guess I’d like your take on my alternative explanation for how/why they are being used by obviously educated people that should know better: willful ignorance.

    Thus (as SW argues) they may sincerely believe that such a thing is true, but that is because they utterly lack sincerity in finding out what is true, rather than what is useful. It is useful (sounds good) therefore it is taken as true.

    I believe this sort of thing is also reflected in 1984.

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  25. Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil 156

    “Madness is rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, nations and ages it is the rule”.

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  26. Daniel Kaufman,

    Here’s another analogy for you. I bet that wherever you live, according to the media, there’s a crime wave. Well, the rape epidemic is similar to the crime wave. I bet that you wouldn’t bother arguing with your barber if they started talking about the crime wave in your city while they cut your hair (I wouldn’t bother), why argue with people about the rape epidemic? People everywhere exaggerate crime statistics. I’m sure that we could psychoanalyze why they do that.

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  27. I’m impressed, I must say. Actually not often do I encounter a blog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, you may have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is excellent; the difficulty is one thing that not enough persons are talking intelligently about. I am very blissful that I stumbled throughout this in my seek for one thing relating to this.

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  28. David,

    I enjoyed.

    Like some of the comments I mostly have trouble with the term mansplain because it’s a thing women do too, but I think I disagree that words like condescension or dismissiveness are adequate replacements because I think you can do wo-mansplaining without them.

    On oppression I’m with you, and I really like the wired cage analogy — kind of reminds me of ‘another brick in the wall’.

    But at the same time I’m not happy with the term oppression. I think I kind of agree with Dan, to me it seems more appropriate for more physical or prominent, particular or systemic, socio-cultural behavior.

    But if oppression isn’t the right term to use for the less overt ‘oppression’ like systemic stigmatization, racism, sexism, etc (which can lead to just as serious consequences), I want a better word –now– and a better explanation for it than what I’m giving here that includes things like fast thinking, unconscious motivations, culturally ‘acceptable’ violence, privilege, and class.

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