Gonads versus Nomads

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day – Otto’s Law:  Thou shalt not cite Internet Laws, for they have as much logical force as laughing at an immigrant’s clothing. 

I lost this fight before I even started it – I assumed as much going in. I spent most of yesterday following responses across the web, and I’ve been quite entertained by the Bakker-slamming going on. I’m pretentious. I’m this, that, and the other thing, my actual argument nowhere to be seen (well, that’s not quite true: someone raised the Criteria Question to make fun of it for being incomprehensible). The issue is who I am, and more importantly, what kind of group I belong to: white, male, university wanker, thin-skinned author, etc. For most of those condemning me agreement simply is intelligence, and disagreement simply is idiocy. Elodie’s troll posts, for instance, struck a handful as a decisive blow, something that somehow proves how much an idiot or fool I am. (As much as the old practical reasoning instructor in me wants to scream, the kid who grew up arguing against the extreme right wing views of his tanked father around the dinner table understands full well). The way their judgments make my point for me  is almost absolutely invisible to them. In fact, at one point, less than 1% of the people checking “Requires Only Haidt” even bothered clicking on the link to Haidt’s interview. Something Haidt would likely have predicted.

But the fact is, there’s another side to this problem, the side represented by all those who think I’m wasting my time. I live my life on the border of two very different worlds, one where I’m ‘questionable’ because of my gutter humour, another where I’m either ‘out there’ or ‘pretentious’ because of my vocabulary. What Haidt calls ‘lifestyle enclaves’ is very relevant to what seems to be happening to contemporary NA society- to what Murray’s data tracks in Coming Apart. I could spend all my time writing and talking for people who already agree that, yes, Sexism is a devilishly difficult and complex thing, and so on. I could exchange all the slaps on the back of the head for pats on the back… Anyone can. All you have to do is say the right things to the right people. Be groupish.

The problem is, I really do buy my own bullshit. And now that confirming data is being published, from both the left and the right, I’m downright, well, elated and excited. As strange as it might seem, I literally feel renewed by all this, knowing that the guesses upon which I raised my career are probably true. Giving into groupishness is inevitable. We’re hardwired to gather about certain attitudinal fires, warm our hands over the recitation of certain words expressed in certain ways. Intellectuals make fun of evangelicals. Evangelicals make fun of intellectuals. Conservatives make fun of liberals. Liberals make fun of conservatives. Everybody is right, completely convinced their group has won the Magical Confirmation and Affirmation Lottery. But a few of us genuinely strive to be nomads, not in the boutique sense of philosophers like Deleuze, but in the sense of not really belonging to any institutionalized group, because they strive to belong to humanity at large, a humanity trapped in a game theory nightmare.

I’m romanticizing, I know. But that’s because I’m actively recruiting. I’m trying to convince as many damn people as possible to be mindful of the ways their own psychology fucks them up. This isn’t some foofy New Age claim: we are not what we intuitively think we are as a matter of scientific fact. And given that ‘Believe!’ is far and away the most pervasive slogan in our culture (after ‘Buy!’), it follows that our culture is delusional – and that you, dear reader, live in a dreamworld the degree to which you buy into it. You can start here if you don’t ‘believe’ me. But the data is becoming mountainous, and it keeps piling up. Politicians and corporations are making use of it because it works. You should too.

(And just to be clear, this applies just as much, if not moreso, to the liberal intellectual types reading this. In some ways, you’re the worst of the bunch, simply because you think you’ve already found your way past all the delusions, when in fact, you’ve simply found a way to fortify them. In a very real sense, all your ‘critical training’ is the product of the Middle Ages. Until you know what your brain is doing, you do not know what you are doing.)

I lost this battle before it began, if you tally up the brains, pro and con. Sure. And it definitely would have been better if I had picked someone who hadn’t ‘reviewed’ me, the way I did with Vox (who only reviewed me afterward), simply because it would have closed down one obvious motivational liability. But the Dude was just such a golden example, and I’m as vengeful as the next guy.

But that’s what it takes, isn’t it? Losing battle after battle, changing a few minds every time. 1% here, 1% there. The research isn’t going away. Neither are the institutions eager to manage our perceptions. The only question is whether we’ll come to collective grips with it in time.

I spent about a half an hour last night, laying in bed and pondering sexism and what I was attempting in my books, worrying all the different angles. What makes a book sexist? The perception of a certain percentage of a certain victim group? The intent or attitude of the author? The actual social consequences of the book? It can’t be the former, because it means that works like the Bible, for instance, only became sexist once they were perceived to be so. Calling a thing something does not make it so. It can’t be the second because the author’s intent, unfortunately, does not abide like magic pixie dust in text. No. It has to be the third, the actual social consequences of the book. For me, that remains an open question, and a worrying one.

Then I fell asleep disgusted because the Leafs had lost to the Jets. What a pisser that was.

In other words, pile-on people. Condemning, lampooning, labelling: these things come so easy because they’re so natural. Indulge away, if it makes you feel superior and connected. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re any less of an idiot than those you target.

We’re all idiots around here.