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Is The Right Mocking Victim Culture, Or Adopting It?

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For years, I've been criticizing the trope that the American Right (for want of a better term) is victimized by the mean rhetoric of the American Left (ditto). I ridiculed a rightie blogger when he said that accusations of racism are inherently tyrannical and silencing, I dissented when Clint Eastwood complained he should be able to tell ethnic jokes without being criticized, and I scoffed when Kirk Cameron said that he should be able to say homosexuality destroys civilizations without people being mean to him about it. I've discussed how both the "Left" and the "Right" have stretched the term "bullying" beyond recognition.

It's time for me to confess: I'm not entirely sure what some conservatives are up to.

Have they immersed themselves in "victim of speech" culture, accepted its premises, and become part of it? Are they making fun of it subtly? Are they acting to discredit it by overusing it? Are they illustrating how it can be abused, and how it is unprincipled?

Hell if I know.

Take Dennis Prager. I've criticized Prager before for suggesting that mean liberal rhetoric bullies conservatives into changing political positions. In his most recent foray into the issue, Prager portrays himself as the victim of a leftist mob based on angry reactions to comments he made about national dialogue over campus sexual assault. He said:

One in five women are sexually assaulted on campuses? You know what sexual assault means? Did you ever look at what counts? An “unwanted kiss” is considered sexual assault. I’m stunned it’s only one in five. Four out of five women have not gotten an unwanted kiss? My wife gets unwanted kisses every so often!

Prager then nails himself to a cross, citing incendiary comments at places like Huffington Post and Wonkette. He complains:

Second, mockery — indeed cruel mockery — is the norm on the left. I urge readers to visit any of the liberal websites cited and read the comments after the articles. No significant American group hates like the Left does. If you differ with them — on global warming, race relations, same-sex marriage, the extent of rape on college campuses, and any number of other things — they will humiliate, defame, libel, and try to economically crush you.

Look, I know this will provoke a few dozen comments making the empirical claim "the Left just is meaner than the Right." I don't buy it. I think we're hardwired to take more offense at attacks on "our side," and disregard attacks made by "our side." Take a look at the comments on Prager's own column — or on any column on NRO — if you doubt me. I guess that "their commenters fairly represent them, but ours don't represent us" is an argument, but it's not a persuasive one.

So what are Prager and his ilk up to? Do they genuinely see themselves as victimized by rough criticism? Do they actually think that social pressure directed at their speech is different from the social pressure they seek to direct? Or is this an elaborate pantomime, designed to illustrate that "bullying" rhetoric is unprincipled and can be used by anyone against anyone?

Whatever the answer, it's a misstep. If conservatives have fallen prey to the speech-victim ethos, it's a failure of character; if they think they are teaching a lesson, they are too optimistic about their audience. As I said recently in the context of "GamerGate," when you use rhetorical tropes and techniques, you normalize them, so they can be more easily used against you.

Bullshit should be identified as such. Complete lack of proportion should be commented upon. True threats should be reported and their makers stomped. Genuine harassment should be called out. But "we can't endure the unique rhetorical meanness of the other team" does not convey "our ideas are right and we deserve to lead." Instead, it insidiously promotes the very worst and most un-American of ideas: that we have a right not to be offended, that we have a right not to be ridiculed or disagreed with, and that speech might be as bad as action, and therefore a proper subject for regulation.

Cowboy up, Dennis Prager.

Lena Dunham, Meet Barbara Streisand — Have You Met?

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Lena Dunham, who apparently is famous for a HBO show I haven't watched, has a memoir out. I don't approve of 28-year-olds having memoirs unless and until they have been shot for advocating for the downtrodden or something, but Ms. Dunham is hardly the first to commit this minor sin.

This weekend Ms. Dunham became very upset because some people — mostly on conservative political websites — described her memoir as a confession to sexually abusing her little sister.

Here's how "Truth Revolt" characterized quotations from the memoir:

In the collection of nonfiction personal accounts, Dunham describes using her little sister at times essentially as a sexual outlet, bribing her to kiss her for prolonged periods and even masturbating while she is in the bed beside her. But perhaps the most disturbing is an account she proudly gives of an episode that occurred when she was seven and her sister was one.

You can read the subsequent quoted passage for yourself.

Now Ms. Dunham has, according to Truth Revolt, threatened them with a lawsuit and demanded that their post be taken down. Ben Shapiro, author of the pieces, has not yet responded to our request that he post the threat letter. So we only have his word that Ms. Dunham made this demand and threat. However, I submit that Mr. Shapiro has a certain amount of credibility on the subject of overheated reactions to things.

If Ms. Dunham is alleging that the original Truth Revolt article about her is defamatory, she is wrong — unless it has deliberately and extensively misquoted her book. Truth Revolt has admitted that the article originally and incorrectly said that she was 17, not 7, when one of the incidents described took place. But absent proof that Truth Revolt made that misstatement intentionally, that's incompetence, not the actual malice required to prove up defamation of a public figure like Ms. Dunham.

Truth Revolt's characterization of Ms. Dunham's memoir is not defamation. It's classic opinion based on specific disclosed facts. You might think that Truth Revolt's interpretation of Dunham's stories of her conduct with her sister is irrational, or unfair, or politically biased, or cruel. That doesn't make it defamatory. If I linked to one of Ben Shapiro's articles and said "this article proves that Ben Shapiro is a secret lizard person sent by Obama to discredit conservatives," that wouldn't be defamation either. It might be crazy, but it's my statement of opinion based on Shapiro's own words. If Truth Revolt had said "people have told me that Lena Dunham molested her sister" or "I have reviewed documents that suggest to me that Lena Dunham molested her sister," that would be different — that would be a statement of fact, or a statement of opinion based on undisclosed facts.

So: Ms. Dunham will fail, sooner or later, if she sues over this article. Her threat, and her reaction to the coverage, are likely to trigger the Streisand Effect, driving orders of magnitude more eyes to the characterizations of her memoir. She's media-savvy enough that I can't help but wonder whether that's her intention in the first place. It will sell books.

I haven't read the memoir and have no plans to do so. I find some of Dunham's descriptions of her conduct (as quoted) creepy and unsettling. But I also think that classifying a seven-year-old's behavior as sexual abuse is, at least, problematical. (Being disturbed by the tone Dunham uses to relate her seven-year-old behavior is a separate issue.) I seriously doubt that the discussion of abuse of or by children will be advanced by a dispute that is deliberately politically charged.

The truth of white hair

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“White here…. No, they have to be scratch and sniff. Can you make them or not? Look, I’ll call you back. Hi! Can I help you?”

“I need a fence a turney.”

“You need…”

“A fence a turney. The dark voice said you would help me.”

“I… uh….” (more…)

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

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I'd like to thank Ezra Klein for his excellent work in creating a Readers' Digest version (1 November) of my post (21 October) and podcast (31 October) explaining the tribalistic aspects of Gamer Gate.

It did a great job of simplifying the details for the lower IQ audience over at Vox, and my thesis didn't lose too much in the repackaging.

Normally I'd expect a shout-out in the form of a link, but given that my post excoriated Ezra in the fifth paragraph for being a Pink activist (for creating Journolist to help coordinate Cathedral media air cover for the social justice warrior shock troops), I can see why he wouldn't want to point his readers at my original.

Clark on the Ace of Spades Podcast

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I've been reading Ace of Spades since way back in the early days of the blogosphere, so it was a thrill to be invited on the podcast last night to talk about the blue, pink, red, and gray teams, about #GamerGate, about John Scalzi and Vox Day fighting for the heart of science fiction, about how the broader culture war is over, and about how that doesn't much matter because the current American government will be swept away by the tide of history within twenty five years.

Listen to the whole thing here.

With Apologies To Black Sabbath

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ALRIGHT NOW!
Won't you listen to me?

When I first met you, didn't realize
Can't buy a condom, for Cory Gardner's lies.
He weirded the weather, in my clime.
Cut my brother's Pell Grant, him and his kind.

OH YEAH NOW!

Treasury was empty, revenues way down,
Until Mark Udall, turned things around.
Abortion's free now, your uterus is clear.
I love you Sweet Pea, that fetus won't adhere.

Come on now, try it out!

NDT5
Republicans don't know, what Science is about.
They put Neil deGrasse Tyson down, and shut him out.
On Election Day now, you'll vote Straight D!
We'll have an abortion, Oh Sweet Pea!

OH YEAH NOW!

Ten Short Rants About #GamerGate

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If you know what #GamerGate is, I don't have to tell you. If you don't know what #GamerGate is, any description I give you will be attacked by hordes of partisans saying that I have described it unfairly and that the sources I have linked are biased. So I'm going to treat you, dear readers, as if you know what it is. Clark wrote a post about it last week. My take is different. I'm not going to offer you a timeline or an attempt at a definitive "what happened" or "who is right." Instead I'm going to rant about ten ways that this controversy illuminates how we're screwed up.

(more…)

Gamer Gate: Three Stages to Obit

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A lot of things been written about Gamer Gate. Some of them wrong, some of them stupid, some of them both.

A lot of the confusion (both accidental and malicious) is because Gamer Gate is three separate things clustered together under one name.

The Three Stages of Gamer Gate

Gamer Gate began in a relationship spat. Person X was dating person Y. At some point person X realized that person Y had engaged in a pattern of cheating and lying, and person X blogged about the dirt.

This relationship drama was the first stage of the GamerGate, and as a he-said-she-said tale, it's of interest only to the two people involved, and their friends.

The blog post, though, went beyond "she told me she loved me and then she showed she didn't", and alleged that the unfaithful partner had slept with powerful media figures in the small world of computer games journalism…figures who either reviewed games coded by the unfaithful partner, or managed writers who did review the games. The alleged behavior is (at best) a breach of common sense, and (at worst) a major breach of journalistic ethics.

This gamer journalism drama was the second stage of GamerGate, and as a sex-for-positive press coverage scandal (unproven, in my mind), or just as a "jeez, gamer journalism is as corruptly orchestrated as mainstream media is under Ezra Klein's Journolist" scandal, it's of interest to the tens of thousands of people who read and write game review journalism… which doesn't include me.

This is where things got wacky. And by "wacky", I mean "exploded like a barbecue grill when liquid oxygen is poured on it."
(more…)

A Jingle from the Lockheed Skunk Works

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There's no confusion!
We aim to implement fusion!
It's a tougher catch than lightning in a bottle.

But we can do it!
We made the Blackbird and flew it,
And we circumnavigated at full throttle.

Yes, some are skeptical
That our receptacle,
For holy fire might be a mayonnaise jar.

So we'll assure 'em,
Our R&D is kosher for Purim,
And this'll be our best result by far!

Hedge funds: don't short us!
Federal watchdogs: don't report us!
It'll take a while, so journalists: rake some muck!

Still, we're not kidding.
We're doing DARPA's bidding,
And soon we'll ship reactors on a truck!

(WaPo on Lockheed)

Marian is on the move

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PDX-to-PDX-banner-2

If you have followed our previous coverage of Marian Call, you know that she's our favorite wandering geek-minstrel and catalyst of casual fun. Well, Marian's on the move in her Portland to Portland (and back!) tour, which has already taken her from the Pacific Northwest to New England. At this very moment, she's on her way down the coast toward DC. She'll meander across Penn and Ohio on the way to Minestrone, Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah, and finally end up (of course) in Portland again (on the way back to Alaska).

Braving the same trip is flightless wingman Scott Barkan.

Marian and Scott will be playing in a variety of small venues and at house concerts, and she'll be vending worthy goods. If you enjoy folksy singer/songerwriters with a novel, quirky edge, you should go see her. That's what I plan to do. It's Elementary!