Self-Delusion and Irrational Persuasion

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Eric Raymond, his curiosity stoked by "The Incomplete Guide to Feminist Infighting", speaks of following links down a "rabbit hole". Two things stood out for me from his report, which concerns "Twitter wars" among various figures in the feminist movement.

Raymond nicely sums up the first, "lack of contact with reality":

The most conspicuous thing is that these women ooze "privilege" from every pore. All of them, not just the white upper-middle-class academics but the putatively "oppressed" blacks and transsexuals and what have you. It's the privilege of living in a society so wealthy and so indulgent that they can go years - even decades - without facing a reality check.

And yet, these women think they are oppressed, by patriarchy and neoliberalism, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, and there's a continuous arms race to come up with new oppression modalities du jour and how many intersectional categories each player can claim.
Material comfort and distance from war, anarchy, or dictatorship certainly help such people pretend to be serious and relevant, but they go nowhere near explaining the commonality of this and similar phenomena. But something else Raymond misses does: the role that our society's dominant culture plays in incubating such creatures. For starters, how else do they (could they) hold positions in, for example, academia or the press? (Some time back, the college newsletter, The Undercurrent, made a similar point about another error (i.e., blaming technology like Twitter) that people often make about phenomena like this.) In addition to not having to face real problems, these flowers live in a hothouse devoid of real ideological challenge.

And that leads me to the second thing that stood out to me about Raymond's report. He colorfully refers to "Kafka trapping" as how these feminists (a) avoid having to think about criticism and (b) how they persuade others of their cause.  In his earlier blog post, Raymond even includes a small taxonomy of Kafka traps, but I think it is also helpful to note that his traps fall under a broader logical fallacy, the Argument from Intimidation, long ago identified by Ayn Rand:
There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent's agreement with one's undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure . . . [It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent's character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: "Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X's argument is false." . . . The falsehood of his argument is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of his immorality.
There is much more at that link, including the following:
The Argument from Intimidation dominates today's discussions in two forms. In public speeches and print, it flourishes in the form of long, involved, elaborate structures of unintelligible verbiage, which convey nothing clearly except a moral threat. ("Only the primitive-minded can fail to realize that clarity is oversimplification.") But in private, day-by-day experience, it comes up wordlessly, between the lines, in the form of inarticulate sounds conveying unstated implications. It relies, not on what is said, but on how it is said--not on content, but on tone of voice.
It is astonishing to think that this was written in 1964, half a century ago.

The Internet is replete with such rabbit holes, and speaking with their inhabitants (or even spending time in them as an observer) is useless unless one attempts to understand what is going on. This one does in order to defend one's own mind and, perhaps, help others understand how to defend themselves against poisonous notions and the unearned guilt that go with them.

-- CAV

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