Aphorism of the Day: Never forget the ‘more’ in moral, because it will never forget you.
So I am an honest-to-goodness sexist. I literally believe that women are marginally more trustworthy than men, more empathetic, more giving, more cooperative, more competent, more reliable, and so on in the majority of modern contexts. I’ve believed–and have been troubled by–this for many years. I don’t want to believe it, because bigotry is bigotry, but I’m not quite how to argue against it. For me it fits into the ‘ugly but true’ category.
At the same time I find myself regularly accused of misogyny.
I imagine TPB regulars are rolling their eyes and thinking, “Oh, please. Not again.” The reason I bring this up is twofold: first, the amount of traffic from Requires Only Hate has spiked for some reason; and second, because Larry at the OF Blog recently mentioned how much he admires the site. As much as the first puzzles me, I find myself deeply troubled by the second, even moreso after some link chasing took me to Schellenberg’s blog, The Cultural Gutter.
For those of you who don’t remember, ‘Dude,’ the name I gave the self-proclaimed troll who runs ROH, declared last year that I was a misogynist on the strength of the first six pages of The Darkness that Comes Before, and because (s)he had been assured (by hearsay) that I acted like one in ‘real life.’
I had some real fun with the topic, especially with the attempts several of the Dude’s admirers made to show me the error of my ways. In most cases, it only took three or four simple questions before they withdrew into the e-ether. I had just finished a far more protracted battle with an extremist blogger on the right and was actively looking for a left-wing counterpart, so the Dude literally seemed like a stroke of fortune. Calling someone a misogynist on the strength of six pages and hearsay? This is more than reckless–it’s… well, immoral.
Now, I’m not a popular guy. Part of it has to do with personality, I’m sure. I’m foul mouthed, and I have the bad habit of carving someone the instant I decide I like them (and only being polite to those I dislike). I’m a horrible know-it-all. I’m chronically disorganized and typically unreliable as a result. I can be lazy and cruel. And I take perverse delight in playing the Devil’s Advocate. Few things give me more pleasure than poking calloused thumbs into pious eyes.
Why? Because we’re hardwired for piety. As David Dunning writes in Self-Insight, “of all the ways that people tend to hold themselves as superior to others, moral superiority seems to be one of the strongest and most pervasive forms of the effect” (114). As it turns out, most of our judgments about others are moral. Likewise, everyone tends to think they are generally more moral than the next guy. We all like to think we’re the winners of the Magical Morality Lottery–I know I do. Blaming others is effortless, whereas blaming oneself either involves intellectual work or takes an emotional toll.
The reason I’m so keen on poking piety in the eye is simply because I think it will be the end of us. We are presently stumbling into an unprecedented technological age, one with existential implications, win or lose. The more we know about our weaknesses, the hope is, the greater our chances of meaningful survival. What I write, I write in the hope of contributing to a self-critical culture. For me, nothing is quite so tragic, quite so dangerous or self-serving, as blanket, facile, moral condemnations.
Racism is complex. Sexism is complex. Throwing attitude and piety at them, I’m afraid, is simply not enough. Moreover, racism and sexism are simply subsets of what is the larger problem: our all too human tendency to think we and those who superficially resemble us are better than others.
In a word, our native sense of moral superiority.
Thus my books. In my fantasies in particular, I’m keen on writing that rubs against the reader’s moral presumption. I’m especially interested in the ways ancient and contemporary piety diverge in content while remaining so frighteningly similar in form. And I’ve ‘succeeded.’ I lost count of the number of moral judgments I’ve encountered a long long time ago. In a sense, people like the ‘Dude’ tell me I’m doing something right, that I’m not simply reinforcing the moral status quo by repeating the right truisms the right way at the right time. My books are meant to problematize gender, to ask the hard questions that have to be asked if we are to have any hope of getting a handle on social problems like racism or sexism.
But I’m always taken by surprise. Like a democratic campaign advisor, I keep forgetting the power of moral agreement, the way people use shared patterns of condemnation to decide who they can trust and who they like, regardless of the fairness or the rationality of the judgements made.
So for me, a site like ROH can only be a kind of joke, an example of one form of facile moral condemnation attacking another. Indiscriminate bigotry versus indiscriminate bigotry. And yet, here I find people whose intelligence and opinion I respect voicing admiration for the thing. If you don’t believe me, then I invite you, as an experiment, to simply take a tour of various politically oriented blogs. Who sounds smart? Who sounds stupid? Who sounds trustworthy? What you are literally witnessing is the way your brain sorts your world for you, the way most everything is preapproved or predisapproved, with nary a neuron involved in any genuine problem-solving.
No one likes to be poked in the eye. So we close them.
In the meantime, always keep this question, the one I posted on ROH but never made it past moderation: “Certainly all accusations of misogyny can’t be true. Given this, could you tell me the criteria you use to distinguish between serious and spurious accusations of misogyny?”
‘Feeling it’ doesn’t cut it afraid. The Nazis felt every bit as pious as you. More.