Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Noodly Appendages

"Tigger is all right really," said Piglet lazily. 

"Of course he is," said Christopher Robin. 

"Everybody is really," said Pooh. "That's what I think," said Pooh. "But I don't suppose I'm right," he said. 

"Of course you are," said Christopher Robin. 
                     The House at Pooh Corner

I was not unduly bothered by any of this. I somewhat brought it on myself by responding to the little fascists' original attack and I broke away from it when it became boring. But it did give me some insight into the sheer unpleasantness of the neo-right when they have you in their sights. Twenty people saying you are smelly is a little disconcerting. Two hundred people making violent remarks about your genitalia must be…. Well, harassment. An abusive attack. Very likely to leave you traumatized.

I am a satirist. It is my vocation, and I’ll let you into a little secret, it is also my very great pleasure, to stick my tongue out at the pretentious, the pompous, the ignorant, the stupid, and people called Giles. I don’t claim that tongue-sticking is the best form of debate; but it’s the easiest to get people to listen to. Some people seem to be amused by sarcastic Tweets. No-one appears to be very interested in long essays showing that Giles Fraser's claims about the meaning of the Eucharist are textually and historically unsupportable (which they totally are).

Twitter, like Usenet before it, is more like a street fight than a fencing tournament. That is part of the fun. Two drunk guys arguing politics in a pub may possibly provide some entertainment: two glove puppets reciting the party line by rote on Question Time certainly will not. An informed discussion between two people with well considered opinions (each prepared to change their minds if the other one makes a good point) would be even better. But that’s not currently on offer.

While I may use peppery language I believe I have only ever "punched up". The people I slag off have newspaper columns, pulpits, TV shows, university chairs. They have an audience of millions; I have an audience of dozens. Beyond one form letter from the War Criminal a decade ago, none of my targets — Dave Sim, Richard Dawkins, Giles Fraser, Melanie Phillips, Stan Lee — show the slightest sign of knowing or caring that I exist. That’s more or less the way I like it.

I fully accept that if I am going to spend my spare time sticking my tongue out at idiots, then from time to time, idiots are going to want to stick their tongue out at me.

I don’t think that what I experienced was orchestrated. I don’t imagine that one of the larger fascists spotted that I had made a liberal remark and released the hounds. I think that one nasty person made a nasty remark about me, and twenty or thirty nasty people in his echo-chamber repeated it. I don’t think that the little fascists belong to anything resembling a movement or have anything as coherent as an ideology, but the kind of language and forms of attack being used do have a familial similarity. Being nasty on the internet is a sub-culture, in the same way that being a hippy or a punk was. There never was a Supreme Punk who could disfellowship you if your hair was insufficiently spiky; and there's certainly no Punk Congress you can be thrown out of for dress-code violations. But, on the whole, you can tell who is a punk and who isn't by what they wear and how they cut their hair.

Some of the larger fascists have coined three rules to describe the behavior of the SJW

1: The SJW always lie

2: The SJW always double down

3: The SJW always project

It should immediately be clear that these three rules precisely describe the behavior of the little fascists on Twitter towards me:
  • They lied — saying that I approved of silly snarl-words that I had specifically deprecated; and saying that I had "literally made up" the charge of antisemitism, even though some pretty obviously antisemitic abuse had been thrown at me.
  • They doubled down —  escalating intelligible complaints like I wish you would let me insult you in peace and stop trying to engage with me into You are stalking me, I am experiencing post traumatic stress and  even You are the creepiest stalker I have ever encountered.
  • And of course, they projected like hell —  people with twitter feeds full of words like faggot and queer, some of whom were actively displaying Nazi symbols accused me of being a Jew and Homo hater.
This cannot, I submit, be accidental. The final exchange made it pretty clear what they are doing:

that 4 letter c word triggers me greatly

do you mind putting a trigger warning on that  

soo much PTSD 

Now please stop stalking me, 

I think that qualifies as harassment if you ask me.

He's abusively attacking us. 

As we have already said, they cannot possibly believe any of this. They cannot possibly believe that the word cross requires a trigger warning — even if they really did know someone who had been injured with a crossbow, which patently they didn't. They might conceivably think that it was bad manners or poor netiquette for me to remonstrate with them about their insults: they certainly don't really believe that doing so amounted to stalking or harassment. 

Isn't it clear that they are quite deliberately and consciously acting out a parody of the left — or of what they suppose the left to be? They are, in fact, literally fools, criticizing the king by aping and exaggerating his mannerisms.

They pretend that they feel harassed and abused by me because people with mainstream political views often accuse the little fascists of harassing them.

They pretend to feel harassed and abused by silly and trivial things (like being tagged in a message) because they think that all complaints of harassment and abuse are silly and trivial.

They know perfectly well that they will not be taken seriously when they say I feel abused and harassed because someone asked me what I meant by a particular insult: they intend us to infer that women should not be taken seriously when they say that they feel harassed by men sending them sexually explicit threats. (Obviously, the women should just suck it up.)

When people say that you shouldn't talk about sexual assault without indicating that that is what you are about to do (in case a rape survivor reads it ), they pretend that they think it follows that you shouldn't use the word cross without a similar warning (in case, er, a person who has been injured with a cross-bow reads it.) Which is to say: trigger warnings for the word cross and trigger warnings for explicit discussions of rape are both equally ridiculous.

And when Delta claims that the word cross caused him to experience post traumatic stress, what he means is that there is no such thing PTSD: that everyone who talks about is being as silly as he is. If everything is abuse, then nothing is abuse.

But once you've spotted this, it becomes clear that this is what the neo-right movement as a whole has always been doing; almost the only thing it has ever done. The Puppies, Gamergate, Alpha and his little friends — all are offering up an exaggerated and distorted parody of the political left. They believe that by following us around mimicking us they will dis-empower us. Mimicry has always been the favored weapon of the playground bully.

Many other examples will occur to readers, but here are few which I thought of: 
  • They believe that we liberals see fascists everywhere; so they pretend to believe in a cult called the SJW, and pretend to see that everywhere.
  • They think that liberals says "everyone who disagrees with me is fascist" so they say "everyone who disagrees with me is one of the SJW" — and build up complex theories to explain why this is true.
  • They believe that the left are incapable of rational discussion and use faulty logic; so they deliberately adopt illogical positions and refuse to engage in rational discussion of any kind.
  • They believe that the left is characterized by a profound lack of integrative complexity — that we are pathologically unable to imagine anyone else's point of view. So they pretend to be pathologically unable imagine our point of view — to the extent of saying that mainstream political opinions don't even count as opinions.
  • They believe that the SJW spoiled the Hugo Awards by systematically filling them with dreary books that had no merit but happened to support left wing politics; so they deliberately spoil the Hugo Awards by systematically filling them with dreary books that have no merit but happen to support right wing politics.   
The little fascists are, in fact, very like the Flying Spaghetti Monster movement. It will be remembered that around 2005, a group of atheists created an obviously ridiculous deity and pretended to demand that children were taught about it in school, as a valid alternative to Darwinian evolution.

They didn't, obviously, actually believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and they certainly didn't really want it taught in schools. Their point was that it would be no less ridiculous to teach children about the Monster (in science lessons) that it would be to teach them about God. Christianity deserved no more respect than the Flying Spaghetti Monster; giving Christianity or the Spaghetti Monster special status would both be equally silly. Tash is no more than Aslan.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a one-note joke, and a funny one, directed at a target (the teaching of pseudo-science in schools) which deserves to be ridiculed. But a certain number of people persist in talking as if they really do believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster and claim that pastafarianism is an actual religion. In some cases, they may  be executing a version of the Calvin Gambit — obstinately claiming  that a joke is not a joke in order to vex people without a sense of humour. On the other hand, they may be attempting to make their whole lifestyle a parody of mainstream religion. Or they may simply have forgotten the original point of the joke.

I submit that the little fascists are the pastafarians of the political right. They don't actually believe in the SJW, any more than Richard Dawkins actually believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The SJW is a construct, intended to mock liberals who think everyone else is a fascist.

But there are a minority whose entire lifestyle — whose entire online presence, at any rate — has become a parody of the very liberals they so despise.

And some of them have forgotten the original point of the joke.

If you would like to contribute to the cost of placing an armed guard outside Andrew's house, please consider supporting his patreon (i.e pledging $1 each time he publishes an essay.)

The rhetoric of internet debate is discussed at greater length in One Hundred and Forty Characters in Search of an Author. 

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