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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Vapid Side of Online Gender Discourse

There was a time where Craccum would regularly publish letters. In 2015, quite a lot of the ones they published were by me.

The editors and I didn't really get along. I think a lot of that was a misunderstanding on my part of what they tried to do with their responses. I'm a... seriously minded fellow and I really should have noticed by reference to Sophie whatsherface what 2015 Craccum did when they were serious about following up on letters. 

On the other hand, 2015's Craccum editorial staff really were dilettantes when it came to feminism. They knew a couple of talking points and just chucked them in wherever. So, there was some substantive room to not get along on.

The insights offered by Craccum weren't well informed. They weren't electrifying. But they were earnest and honest. In short they weren't vapid. At least in this limited case.

The following year's editorial staff were extremely disappointing. But they did make the interesting point that it's often seen as childish to define words. That's true but it shouldn't be. (I think this was, iirc on all counts, Abley's point also.) I think a large part of the issue is that after about 13 it suddenly seems dumb to be unsure of what a word means. And after about 16, it suddenly seems dumb to use small words. So, let's define these words. Dictionary of choice says:
  • Vapid: Offering nothing that is stimulating or challenging; bland.
  • Dilettante: A person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.
  • Earnest: Resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.
  • Honest: (of an action) done with good intentions even if unsuccessful or misguided.
  • Honest: Simple, unpretentious, and unsophisticated.
  • Honest: Free of deceit; truthful and sincere.
In other words, Craccum '15 were honest and sincere dilettantes whilst I was overly earnest. So, what do I think is vapid?


You see a lot of cartoons that look like this on the internet. Some of them are quite good. This one is awful. A complete waste of space and effort... in production, hosting and reading. Let's dive in anyway... and obviously we're assuming this isn't satirising the webcomic genre it belongs to.

Masculinity is Under Attack

Okay, so we're going to talk about notions of being male?. We're going to dive in and engage specifically with the things that people who say this actually think?

Er, no, we're not.

I don't care if your final intent is to mock, abuse or denigrate... if you're going to talk about an observed class, talk about the observed class, not the talking points the observers have about them, If your intentions are more earnest than this, it's a travesty but even here it's still wrong.

You Want to Put Blinkers On and Look at the World in a Completely Self-Centred Way

Liberty is when you're free to do those things which don't restrict other peoples' freedoms.

It seems a completely natural thing to point out that people ought to consider others. Whether we're making an intensely traditional argument like the above one or saying something about, e.g. #MeToo, we come across this idea, right?

But, at the same time, anyone with the slightest awareness of a world where whataboutism is a term should know that the notion of talking about men's issues, masculinity and maleness from a male point of view is only allowed to happen in a completely self-centred way. In every other situation the idea is mocked, ridiculed and dismissed. In other words, this is the deeply ironic statement.

Also... I hate it when I am forced to sound like the lunatics who go on about the Matriarchy.

Can't a Man Just Be a Man?

Far be it from the cartoon to explain where its anguished villains come from.

No, wait, the entire point of satire is to use earnest representations of the satirised object.

Men Must Lead... Tough Guys are Back

I admit, since 2015 I've become completely disenchanted by this subject... it is now, like most things online, no longer stimulating. I find myself bored of the internet. But this doesn't have that truthy sound. It sounds exactly like the old talking points of critics of ideas like fathers' rights or male failure theses or male justice statistics explainers or MRAs or academic feminists etc. etc.

Unfair to Men if We Don't All Keep Playing Along With a System That's Rigged For Us

This is the moment where the cartoonist loses all credibility.

Seriously, read what the alt right think... their central and general thesis is the system is rigged against them. In the particular case of our subject today? They think the CURRENT system is unfair to men.

What makes the alt right an alternative right, rather than the extreme right... given we use the conceit they're different things... is that that the alternative right criticises Social Justice arguments whilst using their premises. You can switch between voting for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump because both times you're against the establishment, pro-gun, anti-globalist (co-operation in one country) and convinced the Man is Keeping You Down. The difference is the Alt Right believes the Man's policies are the key to defeating the Man. Except they call the Man the Deep State.

Why Are We So Threatened By a Level Playing Field?

Yes, it would help to establish that everyone agrees this is what is being created. Clearly, it isn't the case. Remember, we're not talking about people who see the current system being toned down... we're talking about people who see the current system being toned up. Maybe that matters.

Where Does This Assumption Come From That Any Gains For Women Are Losses For Men?

By analogy to child custody disputes and educational attainment statistics. Just a guess.

Maybe this isn't a great format for engaging with complex, if typically conspirational and intellectually fraudulent, arguments. (Analogies are really, really dumb.)

We're Drawn to Alpha Males

This is just nonsensical. The only people who believe alpha males exist are... the alt right.

People are drawn to charismatic people. A lot of the time charisma is not associated with moral goodness. In fact, it's possibly easier to cultivate when you're bad (ever seen Megamind?).

To think that the charismatic are alphas is ridiculous. Grow up. It's pathetic to imagine others are your superiors in life.
  • Pathetic: Arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness.
  • Pathetic: Miserably inadequate.
Actually, the most fascinating insights arise because of our failures to live up to normative standards... this is the chief lesson of Brave New World. (It's not. But it really is something you could call a lesson of said book.)

Strength, Bravery, Power

None of these are bad things.

Well, power gets a bit of a bad rap, but the truth is that it's an increasingly cliched criticism of a text to say it just repeats the cliche of ambition = evil.

Winning At Others' Expense

Can be a bad thing.

When your points rely on clearly false equivalences, you don't have points. You've got memes.
  • Meme: An element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.
This is a pretentious sense of meme, but when you're mindlessly sharing midnless talking points you be meming.

Comfortable in Themselves

Another very ironic section.

What we have here is a cartoon which oscillates between ridiculing and accepting the premises of its chosen bogeymen (i.e. the alt right) that has ultimately reached the point of arguing that strength is about being comfortable in one's own skin.

This is why it would be useful to not start off trying to ridicule the alt right but rather exploring what their end goal is. Does this guy know Jordan Peterson is a self help author? Does he know being comfortable in your own skin is the defining cliche of the genre?
His secret? After watching several hours of his lectures, I think I've figured it out. It can be summarised in a single word: responsibility.
Dr Peterson's message is a hard one to hear: "Life is suffering." Hardship is inevitable and life will always find some way to make you resentful. But don't complain about it, because that'll make it worse. Instead, find some reason to make life worth it, despite that suffering.
[...]
"Why should you feel good about who you are? You should feel good about who you could be," he said. And we actually like that message. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and it gives us a goal to strive toward. It gives us direction.
Dr Peterson isn't in the "self-help" business, he's in the "self-improvement" business. Rule number one in his book is: "Stand up straight with your shoulders back." Rule six: "Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the worldis."
Luke Kinsella's summary of Peterson's appeal appears at first glance to suggest comfort is the opposite of what Peterson is after. I disagree. How do you do that stuff in the last paragraph without being comfortable? To me this summary says: accept your reality and use that to move forwards. This is not about anything which wants one to feel diminished and lesser. This is a philosophy that asks one to be in a position to be responsible. That requires comfort with oneself.

We're Taught... I Dominate You or You Dominate Me

Actually, no.

I like sport. I'm the kind of person who people are sometimes surprised to learn this about. But I do. And anyone who went to school with me would know this immediately.

You ever hear of the ball hog? The sore loser? The gracious victor? No I in team? Sportsmanship? It's not about winning it's about having fun? It's about winning the right way? 

The lessons of the sportsfield, the team sportsfield of any sport, subsume the individual in necessity for the team. They allow recognition of individual success but the individuals all complement the whole, the greater part. The domination of one team might be the object, but it's not the point. The point is doing things right and doing it as a team.

We Can All Be Satisfied, Safe and Respected

Yes, this is exactly why you need to listen to these people. They don't feel respected. A lot to nearly all of them aren't responsible in the-Peterson-Kinsellian sense and blame women, feminists and the Man for this. But that doesn't mean they're wrong about not being respected. Look at the train strike. I literally wrote an entire blog post arguing that everyone, including the unions involved, misunderstands why Train Managers matter. You can have the right idea for completely wrong reasons. This is particularly true when we're dealing with society and all its confounding variables.

Men aren't valued as a class. That's a fact. No-one wants to hear about the male view or opinion. It's always assumed that the default societal view is male. But that's not the case. It's elite. And, yes, it's usually an elite male view. But you hear a hell of a lot more about what Emma Watson thinks about the world than you hear about Oliver Twist's view of things. And you get a lot more of Hilary Clinton's views than you do Emma Watson's. And this is true even if normally we're just hearing an endless parade of David Camerons.

I don't want to give the Alt Right "Freudian Excuses" because usually what that means is we valorise and accept the character as "not bad". I don't like the alt right. And I know it seems completely insincere to say this when I'v basically had to take their side and be them. I shouldn't be doing that. My whole point is that these kinds of cartoons shouldn't be squaring off and trying to dominate that which feels fake.
  • Valorise: Give or ascribe value or validity to.
  • Valour: Great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle. (Different Words! Blew my mind.)
More terminology may have been mangled here. I make no apologies. My pet frog died.

Tradition is Also Slavery 

Not here it's not. What kind of insane BS is this? Do you know when slavery was abolished?

It was traditional. But it's not any more.

Mass Land Theft

By which he presumably refers to the New Zealand/Land Wars.

If you fight a war, expect territorial change.

Don't get me wrong, the confiscations were way out of proportion and were sometimes levelled against non-combatants or even quasi-allies... the actual problem was unjust warring (e.g. the invasion of the Waikato).

Also, not really a tradition. Don't see anyone defending it now, do I?

Cultural Genocides

Yes, this literally didn't have a name until the 1940s. That's how long people have been aware of genocide. Until then people didn't perceive a unique thing, and as soon as they did see a unique thing they decided it was bad.

Also, it's just genocide you ninny. Look it up.

Just because lots of examples exist over a long period of time doesn't mean you've found a tradition:
  • Tradition: A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another.
Powered Wigs and Believing in Mermaids

These are harmful how? Not the point? Absurd, then? I mean, maybe? Ever hear of historical empathy? Traditions? Not really.

Also, remember when I said analogies are stupid? They're stupid here too.

Traditions are Things We Used to Do

No, they're things we still do because they were done before.

These 'new rules'

In my experience, when people don't articulate exactly what they mean, there are three options:
  • they tried and failed, finding the articulations didn't line up with their expectations
  • they don't actually have any idea
  • they're waiting to see what's formulated in response to make sure the "official" version is something else
If you want to make an entire and very, very self-satisfied cartoon about something... put it at the front.

This was pathetic. I pity its author. I find it woefully inadequate.

If Masculinity is Under Attack, It's the Shit Parts

See why you need to do some legwork?

Fire Away

I'm tired so I'm just going to call you a loser. But you already seem to believe this.

Now, if I could only draw this up in cartoon form, make the loser thesis the point from the start and get it published on someone else's website (not that a blog should count as someone's website) we'd have put in exactly the same amount of effort.

Toby Morris... if you want to say something interesting and worthwhile, here's a starting formula:
  • there are people who believe X
  • what exactly is X?
  • why do those people believe X? why do they think they do? 
  • what is my response to X?
Or, in cartoon form:
If You Know the Original Source, help a brother out???
aka. it wasn't the medium

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