Archives For: Keepers

Some Suggestions On Gender Wars

Nov 18 2014 @ 1:57pm

Here’s a modest proposal that might help us bridge some differences: an avoidance of arguments in the gender debate that there is no legitimate debate to be had. There is always a debate to be had in any area of human inquiry or life – because most social and political questions weigh one good against another. So, to take an obvious example, the fight over “affirmative consent” balances the security of women from assault and rape against the due process rights of the accused. These things conflict in a liberal polity – because in a liberal world, moral, collective imperatives cannot properly come at the expense of individual injustice.

And it is simply a fact that there are cases of false allegations of rape, just as there are false accusations of every sort of crime. They’re very small in number, and we may exaggerate the problem, but they do exist. My instinct, for what it’s worth, in almost all these cases is to believe the woman. That goes for most alleged crimes and offenses regarding gender, including harassment in the workplace. Readers may have gotten the wrong impression from me about this, but from Anita Hill to Paula Jones, I’ve long supported the women’s side in some of these high profile cases. But there is always another side, and that requires some consideration. Even Bill Clinton deserved that. And what troubles me is the assertion by some on the fem-left side that there is only one side ever. And that even questioning that assertion is a sign of moral failure.

Take this piece from the Guardian today, lambasting Jed Rubenfeld’s nuanced take on the question in Sunday’s NYT. And notice not the engagement with another point of view, but a blanket dismissal of its right even to exist:

You might think that someone given a platform at the New York Times, like Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld was in Sunday’s paper, might have done more than simply note that women are attacked “in appalling numbers” and colleges mishandle rape cases … The worst offense is Rubenfeld’s apparent belief that there is a “debate” to be had – as if there are two equal sides, both with reasonable and legitimate points. There are not. On the one side, there are the 20% of college women who can expect to be victimized by rapists and would-be rapists; on the other side is a bunch of adult men (and a few women) worrying themselves to death that a few college-aged men might have to find a new college to attend.

That echoes Ezra Klein’s endorsement of expelling male students accused of rape without due process. The contention is that it is neither legitimate nor reasonable to worry about someone being punished for a terrible crime he did not commit. And if this is something that worries you, then you really need to be educated by those more informed on the issue before you open your mouth:

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Funny kid at Dennys was looking at my beard. - Imgur

It’s now eleven years since I wrote an early piece on bear culture for Salon. But I was obviously onto something bigger than I imagined:

“Bears” almost all have facial hair — the more the better. Of all the various characteristics of Beardom, this seems to be one of the most essential. The Ur-bears have bushy beards that meander down their necks and merge with a large forest of chest and back-hair to provide a sort of all-hair body environment … Bears at their most typical look like regular, beer-drinking, unkempt men in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They have guts. They have furry backs. They don’t know what cologne is and they tend not to wear deodorant.

Bears were partly a reaction to the whole ghastly metrosexual moment when straight men, for some elusive reason, decided to shave, product and starve themselves so as to look more like women (at the behest of those Queer Eye minstrels). And exactly the same kind of hirsute transition is now – a decade later – well under way among straights.

I regard this, in the spirit of Tim Teeman, first as a huge achievement for gay male America. Not only are we more comfortable in our own unpolished masculinity, we have created a cultural space for straight men to be the same. To put it another way: gays have helped redefine masculinity for straights – and for the first time, straights have not responded by feeling in any way tainted or discomfited by the association. In the process (don’t tell anyone), the gays have craftily transformed the public space by exponentially increasing the number of men we might have a hankering or a fetish for. Win-win!

(We’ve been quietly doing this for quite a while, of course. One reason every film star in an action movie looks like Arnold Scharzenegger is that gay men adopted steroids in the 1990s and strode around town with huge pecs and tight abs and traps that could lift a tow-truck – thereby upping the ante for the now relatively-puny straights. Yes, steroids in sports – especially football – also ramped up muscle culture. But the sexual and aesthetic appreciation of it – often suppressed in public female discourse – encountered no such restraints among the gays.)

The new vibe has many parts. It seems to me driven by a little cultural balancing of the high-tech 21st Century by the mores of the low-tech 19th – whether it be local brews, carpentry or sturdy all-weather clothing. This doesn’t mean being an actual lumberjack of course, as Holly Baxter explains:

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Gruberism And Our Democracy

Nov 13 2014 @ 1:54pm

In general, I tend to agree with Tyler Cowen that off-the-cuff remarks by academics at conferences should not be vulnerable to political use and abuse. We need spaces where we can riff and think out loud without being held responsible for every phrase. But then again, this is 2014, where nothing anyone has ever said or written can be forgotten if you have a dogged web researcher to root it out. And when those remarks come from someone who helped design and write the ACA, and speak to the way in which it was constructed and sold to the public, it’s a legitimate gotcha.

Of course, a large amount of what Gruber said is hardly unusual in Washington. Gaming the CBO scoring, framing the pros and cons in deceptive ways, making it easy for congressmen to vote for something without being hit by 30-second ads in the next election cycle: all this is part of messy governance. But Gruber’s remarks about the stupidity of the American electorate are so typical of a certain Democratic mindset they’re worth unpacking.

And as we noted earlier, Chait makes the point that Gruber really means ignorance rather than stupidity:

Very few people understand economics and public policy. This is especially true of Obamacare — most Americans are unaware of the law’s basic functions or even whether their state is participating. Since people know so little about public policy in general and health-care policy in particular, they tend to have incoherent views. In health care and other areas, they want to enjoy generous benefits while paying low taxes and don’t know enough details to reconcile those irreconcilable preferences. Gruber’s error here is that, by describing this as “stupidity” rather than a “lack of knowledge,” he moves from lamenting an unfortunate problem both parties must work around to condescending to the public in an unattractive way.

I actually think this makes it worse. The only reason Americans are ignorant about the ACA is that they were never clearly told what it was designed to achieve and how it would work. The debate was had among elites, using often technical language – who really knows what a vague “public option” means, for example? – and then sold to the public with either blanket reassurances (if you have an insurance policy, you can keep it) or terror stories about a government take-over (which it wasn’t). The reason for this failure by both sides to lay out the actual plan in ways anyone could understand was political. Neither side wanted a free-wheeling debate with unknown consequences; one was aiming for passage (something never achieved before), and the other was rooting for failure (for rank partisan reasons). Neither side was really interested in a real debate about the pros and cons.

This remains a huge disservice to democracy and it helps explain why our elites are so despised. I mean: why couldn’t Obama or leading Democrats actually make the simple case: we’re going to give subsidies to the working poor to get private health insurance and force insurers to take anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions. We’re going to make this affordable for the insurance companies by mandating that everyone get insurance, thereby including more young, healthy people in the risk pool to offset the costs of the sick. And we’re going to make sure that insurance is better than in the past, and is not subject to lifetime caps or getting booted off the minute you get sick.

That wasn’t that hard, was it?

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“Libidinal Pathology”

Nov 13 2014 @ 12:31pm

Any writer who wants to tackle touchy subjects in this day and age will be subjected to constant and often colorful insults, attacks, smears, ad hominems and general abuse. I’m used to it and don’t whine. And so I am resigned to the fact that any post or essay I might write will be condemned at some point (whatever its subject) because of my support for the Iraq War (despite countless mea culpas, including a whole e-book), or for the sentence in 2001 about a potential “fifth column” (for which I have also apologized), or for asking for some minimal documentation of the story of Sarah Palin’s astonishing fifth pregnancy (for which I see no reason to apologize), or for doubting that gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity can be entirely explained by social constructionism. And look, this is fair enough. I had my say; people also get to have theirs’ about what I wrote. Just because you’ve apologized for something doesn’t mean others have to accept it.

But one meme that crops up eternally whenever the left side of the spectrum wants to take a whack is my alleged sexual hypocrisy from as far back as 2001. A recent Gawker piece – after ticking off the usual accusations that I’m a racist, a misogynist, etc. – prompted the following reader comment:

Anyone remember when he was criticizing gay men for their “libidinal pathology” while posting ads for himself on a bareback sex site?

I do!

Except I wasn’t. That phrase – which appeared in countless articles asserting my hypocrisy – comes from Love Undetectable. It’s used in a section on circuit “rave” parties in the gay male world, and the debate they provoked in the 1990s. Here’s the full context of that phrase, and you can judge for yourself whether I was “criticizing gay men for their ‘libidinal pathology'”:

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What Washington Refuses To Admit

Nov 12 2014 @ 8:24pm

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Let me put this as baldly as I can. The US fought two long, brutal wars in its response to the atrocity of September 11, 2001. We lost both of them – revealing the biggest military machine in the history of the planet as essentially useless in advancing American objectives through war and occupation. Attempts to quash Islamist extremism through democracy were complete failures. The Taliban still has enormous sway in Afghanistan and the only way to prevent the entire Potemkin democracy from imploding is a permanent US troop presence. In Iraq, we are now confronting the very same Sunni insurgency the invasion created in 2003 – just even more murderous. The Jihadism there has only become more extreme under a democratic veneer. And in all this, the U.S. didn’t just lose the wars; it lost the moral high-ground as well. The president himself unleashed brutal torture across all theaters of war – effectively ending any moral authority the US has in international human rights.

These are difficult truths to handle. They reveal that so many brave men and women died for nothing. And so we have to construct myths or bury facts to ensure that we maintain face. But these myths and amnesia have a consequence: they only serve to encourage Washington to make exactly the same mistakes again. To protect its own self-regard, Washington’s elite is prepared to send young Americans to fight in a war they cannot win and indeed have already lost. You see the blinding myopia elsewhere: Washington’s refusal to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture merely proves that it cannot face the fact that some of the elite are war criminals tout simple, and that these horrific war crimes have changed America’s role in the world.

What infuriated me about the decision to re-start the Iraq War last August – by a president explicitly elected not to do any such thing – was its arrogance, its smugness, and its contempt for what this country, and especially its armed forces, went through for so many long years of quagmire and failure. Obama and his aides revealed that their commitment to realism and not to intervene in Syria could be up-ended on a dime – and a war initiated without any debate in Congress, let alone a war authorization. They actually believed they had the right to re-start the Iraq War – glibly tell us it’s no big deal – tell us about it afterwards, and then ramp up the numbers of combat forces on the ground to early Vietnam levels.

This is not just a Republican fixation. It’s a function of the hegemony reflexively sought by liberal internationalists as well. Just listen to Jon Stewart calling Samantha Power’s smug bluff last night:

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It was one of Stewart’s best interviews in a long while. One telling moment comes when Stewart asks Power why, if the threat from ISIS is “existential”, the regional powers most threatened by it cannot take it on themselves. She had no answer – because there is none. The US is intervening – despite clear evidence that it can do no real good – simply to make sure that ISIS doesn’t actually take over the country and thereby make president Obama look bad. But the IS was never likely to take over Kurdistan or the Shiite areas of Iraq, without an almighty struggle. And our elevating ISIS into a global brand has only intensified its recruitment and appeal. We responded, in other words, in the worst way possible and for the worst reasons possible: without the force to alter the underlying dynamic, without a breakthrough in multi-sectarian governance in Baghdad, without the regional powers taking the lead, without any exit plan, and all to protect the president from being blamed for “losing Iraq” – even though “Iraq” was lost almost as soon as it was occupied in 2003.

My point is this: how can you behave this way after what so many service-members endured for so long? How can you simply re-start a war you were elected to end and for which you have no feasible means to achieve victory?

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Anti Sexist Stickers

A reader writes:

I see you’re jumping into commentary against feminism again. First, let me just note that I snorted in amusement when you wrote: “Or is it simply that WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech?” You must admit that that is a funny thing for you to write, given your policy of not allowing comments on Dish posts. If it is such a good thing, this rough-and tumble, and if it’s so easy to handle it, why don’t you turn commenting on?

I’m also disappointed in the continuing scorn that you heap upon feminism. You don’t seem to understand even the most basic facts about it and the sneering tone that you take is unbecoming and not like you. You seem to lose all ability to understand nuance when you write about it. I’m a “straight white male” and even I realized that, in that video, my demographic “as a group” was not being disparaged. You’re like a walking poster child for the #notallmen hashtag and the enraged, entitled, petulant man-boys who complain on it.

And the strawmen – could you just stop with that? You wrote: “Instead of seeing the web as opening up vast vistas for all sorts of voices to be heard, they seem to believe … that women are not strong or capable enough of forging their own brands”. Um, what? Show me a feminist who thinks that women are “not strong or capable enough.” Go on, show me one, anyone, anywhere. You cannot, because they don’t exist. It’s the anti-feminists who think that. Just look at the words of Phyllis Schlafly, for example, and the immeasurable damage that she has done.

And then there is this: “They want gender quotas for all media businesses, equal representation for women in, say, video-games, gender parity in employment in journalism and in the stories themselves.” Gender quotas, huh? Well, I looked through WAM’s “About us” page, the “What we do” page, and the “Action center” page, and didn’t see a thing about “gender quotas.” In fact, what they seem to want to do is simply to raise awareness of the disparities – there is no call for legal action to implement and enforce some quota. It’s intellectually dishonest, Andrew, to write things like that when you know them to be untrue.

First up, the Dish has long opted for an edited and curated version of dissents, rather than a comments free-for-all. And that’s because Dish readers have voted down a comments section multiple times and because we want to create a different atmosphere of civilized debate than in many troll-feeding sites. If we were not publishing strong dissents – like my reader’s – it would be one thing. But we do all the time.

Second: let me address the assumption that I am pouring scorn on feminism. I’m really, really not. I favor the removal of any formal or legal barriers to women’s success. And I’m happy to celebrate moments of women’s cultural, political and social success – and they are many and multiplying. But I’m still a conservative-libertarian. I don’t believe in an identity politics that seeks to remove structural oppression by forcing others to say things they may not want to say, or do things they may not want to do, or by ostracizing people for whatever-ism they are found guilty of. And I’m still a believer in some irreducible differences between men and women that have nothing to do with culture, except to shape it.

This is what animates my contrarian skepticism about groups like WAM who seek to police the culture in pursuit of social justice. (No, I won’t use the SJW term again, since it seems to rile people up unnecessarily.) And if you think I’m just singling out feminists, you should see what I have said about the gay equivalent, GLAAD, when they seek to do exactly the same thing.

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Last night, a reader wrote:

It looks like the fears mentioned in your post have already come to pass; @nero, the Twitter account of Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer for Breitbart, is currently suspended. I am no fan of the guy – he is trans-phobic, but not violently or inappropriately so. I am sure his account will be re-enabled shortly, but that this group was able to get his account shut off not for harassment, but for wrong-think, is disturbing. I’m really liberal/left leaning, but nothing gets me foaming at the mouth more than crap like this. This does a ton of harm to the Women’s Rights movement, turning off people like me who would normally support it wholeheartedly.

Gawker’s Tom Scocca accuses that reader and me of the following:

What really matters is not the stalking and abuse that has taken place, but the hypothetical danger that feminists will seize power as authoritarian censors, burning Beethoven and establishing anti-masculinity brainwashing camps.

No. Try again, Tom. As I’ve now written many times – and did in the post Scocca links to – I actively support suspending abusive, stalking tweeters or those threatening violence. I just worry that some are using this to advance a left-feminist ideology through censorship of journalists. I would imagine a Gawker writer might be sensitive to journalists’ being censored on Twitter because of saying politically incorrect things. Apparently not. Easier to throw a few tired, ancient cheap shots at yours truly than see if I’m actually onto something here. Another reader notes some non-harassing tweeters have also been suspended recently:

Gone are the accounts of Mykeru, a critic of feminism within the Atheist-Skeptic movement, as well as Janet Bloomfield, Social Media Director of A Voice for Men. Their accounts also disappeared in the past three days. Thunderf00t, another prominent critic of feminism within the Skeptic movement, had his account suspended for close to a month. None of these accounts were abusive or harassing. The only thing they had in common was that they were all critical of feminism.

Or critical of a particular strand of contemporary left-feminism. It looks as if Thunderf00t has had his Twitter account suspended because he linked to YouTube videos critical of Anita Sarkeesian. @nero’s account just went back online, but did WAM get it suspended in the first place? Here’s evidence they did:

We’ve asked WAM if they did or did not report @nero for suspension. No word back as of yet. And what threats or stalking or harassment did @nero engage in to merit the brief suspension? Drum roll:

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Well, you could see this coming. Twitter announced last Thursday that it was teaming up with a left-feminist activist group to investigate gender-based harassment on the social networking site:

A group called Women, Action, and the Media, which advocates for better representation of women, is testing a new reporting process for gender-based harassment. The group developed a tool for reporting harassment and will forward confirmed reports to Twitter. “If it checks out, we’ll escalate it to Twitter right away (24 hours max, hopefully much less than that) and work to get you a speedy resolution,” says the group, which abbreviates itself as WAM. “But please note: we’re not Twitter, and we can’t make decisions for them.”

I wondered what exactly this small non-profit believes in. You can check them out here or check their agenda from the statements in the video above. Their core objective is what they call “gender justice in media.” That means that they are interested in far more than curbing online harassment. They want gender quotas for all media businesses, equal representation for women in, say, video-games, gender parity in employment in journalism and in the stories themselves. They are outraged by the following:

Less than 1 in 100 of classical pieces performed in concert in 2009-2010 were written by a female composer (and 1 in 15 was written by Beethoven!). Women make up 2% of the standard repertoire of pieces (Repertoire Report 2009-2010).

Less Beethoven – more, er, women! The crudeness of their identity politics is of a piece with their analysis. Instead of seeing the web as opening up vast vistas for all sorts of voices to be heard, they seem to believe it is rigged against female voices, or that women are not strong or capable enough of forging their own brands, voices, websites and fighting back against ideas they abhor with wit and energy and passion and freedom. Instead, WAM’s goal is to police and punish others for their alleged sexism – along the well-worn lines of contemporary and controlling left-feminism. Here’s the mindset behind the project:

“I see this as a free speech issue,” Friedman said. She said she knew some would see the work WAM does as “censorship,” but that a completely open and unmoderated platform imposes its own form of censorship. It effectively prevents women, especially queer women and women of color, from getting to speak on the service.

How exactly? Does Twitter prevent women of color from using the service? Or is it simply that WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech? And WAM’s intent with Twitter is not merely to highlight physical threats, abuse or stalking. They are quite upfront about casting a much wider net against those insufficiently committed to “gender justice in media”:

“We’ll be escalating [harassment reports] even if they don’t fit Twitter’s exact abuse guidelines,” Friedman said. WAM intends to “cast a wider net” and see what Twitter’s moderators address.

I can find no reason to oppose a stronger effort by Twitter to prevent individual users from stalking or harassing others – but if merely saying nasty things about someone can be seen as harassment, then where on earth does this well-intentioned censorship end? Is it designed to censor only misogyny and not racism? What about blasphemy? Are the only suspects in this brave new Twitterverse the “straight, white males” disparaged as a group in the video above? And yet, among those liberals who might worry about policing free speech in this way – let alone handing over the censorship tools to a radical activist group bent on social transformation – it’s hard to find anyone anywhere who has any qualms. Jesse Singal wonders if it’s enough to keep the trolls at bay:

There are two ways to look at this.

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Every now and again, you have to remind yourself of the wonder of the First Amendment. Given the deep human urge to silence those with whom we disagree, it’s proven indispensable to protecting wild, open and robust debate against the micro-managers of the Social Justice Warriors on the left and the Jihadist-extremism monitors on the right. And if you doubt its value, just take a look over the pond, where the Tory party is proposing the most draconian crackdown on free speech since the press won its independence centuries ago.

As usual, you have the Orwellian terminology, and in this case it’s something called an “Extremism Disruption Order.” A more accurate term would be a “Government Censorship Order” – for that is exactly what this betrayal of British values truly is:

The home secretary’s manifesto plan to silence extremists by banning their access to the web and television is cast far wider than the Islamist “preachers of hate” of tabloid headlines. As David Cameron pointed out, the Conservatives now want to look at the “full spectrum of extremism” and not just the “hard end” of that spectrum that counter-terrorism policy has focused on up to now. The difference is spelled out in the detail of the policy, where it says that it is intended to catch not just those who “spread or incite hatred” on grounds of gender, race or religion but also those who undertake “harmful activities” for the “purpose of overthrowing democracy”.

Or to put it more plainly: the government has an obligation to censor dangerous ideas because they might hurt someone’s feelings:

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has made clear in a letter to constituents that the aim of the orders would be to “eliminate extremism in all its forms” and that they would be used to curtail the activities of those who “spread hate but do not break laws”.

He explained that that the new orders, which will be in the Conservative election manifesto, would extend to any activities that “justify hatred” against people on the grounds of religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

He also disclosed that anyone seeking to challenge such an order would have to go the High Court, appealing on a point of law rather than fact.

So this is how blasphemy laws get a comeback in a post-Christian country: all religions are now immune from any public criticism that could be regarded as “extremist”. And not just religions: also gay people, women and the disabled. And why end there? You can see the multiple, proliferating lines for government interference. If a gay man attacks Islam for being homophobic, he could be prosecuted. But ditto if a Muslim cleric denounces homosexuality. It’s win-win for government power to monitor and control public speech in all directions!

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Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 11.35.59 AM

So the number one issue in the midterms was the economy. And a Democratic president has managed to halve the unemployment rate in the wake of a historically grim near-depression, and his own party decided never to mention this – or him – in the campaign. I wish I were surprised. He also managed to slash the deficit at the same time. But shhh … just tell women the GOP is out to get them.

Voters do not always have access to all the relevant data – but they sure can detect political fear. And fear, after all, is what the Democrats have wallowed in for decades since Reagan. Many of them privately believe that their ideas or proposals, however sensible, can never win majority support. So they hide them, or argue for them only before certain constituencies, or play the usual defensive crouch on foreign policy, and bob and weave until the voters are offered a choice between a decisive extremist from the GOP and a quivering pile of jello from the Democrats. The one figure who broke this cycle was Obama in 2008. He managed to do so again in 2012. And yet the default DNA of the Dems is to go back into a defensive crouch, the masters of which are, of course, the Clintons.

You can see it again with the ACA. You couldn’t have a stronger argument: we have given everyone more security in their health, and removed some of the cruelest aspects of the previous system. We have gotten huge numbers of people insured for the first time. And we have managed to halt the rise in healthcare costs in ways that could truly make a dent on future debt. These are huge achievements, but the Democrats couldn’t bring themselves to utter them, let alone craft a narrative of success to contrast with the fear-mongering and nihilism of the Fox News right.

And here’s my point: the defensive crouch doesn’t even work. Waldman marshals some evidence:

Democratic candidates gave Democrats lots of reasons to stay home, particularly those most loyal to Obama. Now let me take a counter-example. The one Democratic Senate candidate in a close race who won on Tuesday was New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen. How did she avoid the fate that befell so many others?

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