Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Rhetorical "Magic Trick"

'The Red Pill' is an umbrella term taken from The Matrix which refers to the idea of people (men) being "woken up" to the reality of feminism and Social Justice's assault of men and Western Culture.

This is a YouTube of an interview with Joe Rogan and professor Jordan Peterson (University of Toronto). Rogan is a comedian, media personality, and Mixed Martial Arts commentator. Peterson is (apparently) a for-real professor who is notable for being a Canadian who opposes political correctness.

Both these guys are [ right-wing (ish?) ]. The Omnivore expects that they both back Trump to some degree. The Omnivore tells you this to give you some shorthand. During this video, at least as far as The Omnivore got, neither of them went into Alt-Right Nazism or talked about Trump (or Hillary) specifically. It wasn't, to The Omnivore's watch, offensive.

What was interesting about it was that it was reasonably fact-based. For example:
  1. Rogan called out Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau's saying nice things about Castro as an example of some of the weird shit going on up in Canada (Don't they know about [ X-Attrocity ]).
  2. The Left holding white men responsible for American slavery--something that no white man alive today participated in.
  3. They pointed out, with wonder, that something like 1 in for sociologists (?) identify as Marxists--don't they know what happened in the Soviet Union? In China?
  4. They talked about the gender-wage gap: it's not between men and women in the same career/position--but between the genders as a whole. There are many different career choices that men and women make which lead to differences in pay-scales and careers.
  5. They talked about Jordan's particular hobby-horse: a Canadian bill to enforce the use of gendered pronouns that the person refers to wants--rather than what the caller wants. That is: if you are a land lord with a person who is transgender, and you don't call them by the gender they want, you could be sanctioned.

What Does Peterson Think Is Going On?

Peterson seems to think that the problem with being forced to use the preferred pronoun is bad because it's driven by an ideological will-to-power where the transgender person (or other non-traditional pronoun user) sees the conversation--any conversation--as a zero-sum game and wants to use the organ of the state to enforce their vision of reality, justice, etc. over the world in general.

NOTE: The bill in question doesn't sanction speech between peers (as The Omnivore understands it)--but rather between employers, government organizations, etc.

The Omnivore supposes that it also goes without saying that Peterson thinks girls-are-girls and boys-are-boys (and he might acknowledge cases where there is actual medical question about biological gender--but would probably find them rare).

The idea here is that The Left is obsessed with a false reality--one where Castro is alright. Where Marxism had some good ideas and 20mm+ dead is just an "oops," where women are paid less because of white-male-oppression, and where language is a battle-front for an insurgent force of leftist cultural warriors.

This is, in fact, the view of The Red Pill philosophy as a whole. Peterson is fairly polite about it--but you can easily find pages dripping in offensive misogyny that hold an identical position. The only real tonal difference is that The Red Pill people are angrily "fighting back" whereas Peterson's approach is just "making commentary."

If The Red Pill has some of its facts right, what do they get wrong?

The Rhetorical Sleight Of Hand

What you are seeing here is a magic trick (well, one half of a magic trick) that uses an "invisible switch" in context to make it appear that things are being said which aren't actually what the speaker means. This is done by taking someone's position in one context and then swapping it deftly to another context.

What does the Omnivore mean? Let's look:

Praising Castro

The Omnivore is no fan of Castro--and, in fact, was perfectly happy to see him gone. The Omnivore knows from Castro--with direct family members being impacted. So why wasn't The Omnivore upset about Trudeau's praise of him? Two things--the first is ideological amity (The Omnivore more or less likes Trudeau and so is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt)--but also an direct understanding of the context of that speech.

Castro just died, Cuba is going to undergo a potentially dangerous transition. They are still in the grips of a military dictatorship which is enforcing a period of mourning. Trudeau makes a speech praising Castro's love of country, improvements to medical and education status, and skill as an orator.

This is an attempt to politically maneuver the transition government from feeling threatened and to encourage continued opening. Is Trudeau unaware of the stuff Castro has done? Of course not. However the context of his speech wasn't speaking on Castro as a living dictator--but rather as one whose death has potential to cause geopolitical chaos in North America.

NOTE: There are plenty of Americans (and Canadians) who liked and defended Castro when he was alive and made apologies for his murderous behavior. Trudeau, so far as The Omnivore knows, is not one of them.

Holding White People Responsible for Slavery

Jordan is right that no one alive today participated in Confederate slavery--however it is pretty easy to show that even though that specific institution ended, its remnants were, in fact, perpetuated against some still-living people. Jim Crow laws (a direct fragment of slavery), US housing codes, and voter disenfranchisement (in the south), can all be shown to have direct lineage to the institutions that engaged in and profited from slavery--but also had real, substantial impacts both against black people and to the relative advantage of white people who are alive today.

While some people will refute specific facts on the above positions, as a whole, they are pretty unassailable (The Omnivore sees some people saying "Well, black people owned slaves!--no, really, The Omnivore has seen that shit). 

The magic trick comes when you are told that discussion of the disparate and continuing impacts of slavery mean that you (a white person) are being held responsible for essentially owning slaves. If done deftly enough, you can, unless you, uhm, owned a slave, get your indignation on.

NOTE: There are some people who definitely want white people to feel emotionally guilty about America's history or want to engender a kind of fuzzy, blanket "white guilt." The idea of there still being fallout from slavery, however is much more empirical and does not need to have a specific emotional valence (i.e. "guilt").

Marxism In Social Sciences

According to a 2015 survey sociologists identifying as 'Marxist' outnumber those identifying as 'conservative.' Is this because they have no idea what actually happened under Marxism? Doubtfully. Firstly, there were some pro-communists, such as Helen Keller, who, back in the day, did not have access to conclusive facts about what was going on in the Soviet Union--but were sympathetic to the worker's plight. It seems likely that had they known the (presently undisputed) facts about the millions dead under the communist regimes they would not have supported them (Helen Keller was definitely pro-worker--but does not seem to have been pro-genocide or an especially fuzzy-headed thinker in general).

Secondly, today no one is claiming Soviet Union style--or, indeed, any style of Marxism "actually worked."

What The Omnivore suspects is happening here is not ignorance or acceptance of millions of dead people under the Marxist flag but, instead, a sympathy to the ideas of Marxism in a climate where Marxism itself seems unlikely to establish any cultural credence.

NOTE: We can argue about Bernie Sanders and young people's socialism--that's an argument for a different post.

Basically, The Omnivore suspects that if you talk to these people they aren't in favor what the USSR actually tried to do--they just really, really don't like the current state of the economy and see its drivers as being what's good for the "capital-owning" class.

Whatever nuanced ideas you may or may not have about that, consider that at the same 50,000 ft. level is this also what Trump appealed to. If you think it's substantially different, you're kidding yourself.

NOTE: There are certainly people who do advocate for a violent socialist revolution. These people are probably not a high percent of academics--but if we could distinguish what these people mean by identifying as a "Marxist" then we'd have something to talk about.

The Gender Wage Gap

Proponents of various "equal pay"  initiatives have focused, at the "headline level," on the gender gap in wages. Opponents have focused on the internals of the research showing that women go into different jobs and work more part-time hours.

The nuance here is that people who are really active in this field are looking at why women have different work profiles. To be sure, some of it may be personal preference--but some of it is societal too. It seems hard to argue with the massive body of reporting that suggests that women face some societal barriers to joining certain male dominated fields (and, yes, vice-versa--but female dominated fields are as likely to be things like librarian and elementary school teacher as male dominated fields are things like system admin or chief technologist).

It's the societal gender-based sorting process that underlies the visible wage-gap which needs examination. Trying to call off the entire conversation be because women in the same position get the same pay as men is being disingenuous (or uninformed).

NOTE: There are certainly people who either misunderstand or intentionally misuse the top-line wage numbers in lieu of a more nuanced discussion. In that context it is fine to call them out as to what the numbers actually say.

Enforced Use of Pronouns

The law trying to enforce the use of preferred pronouns is an attempt to constrain "free speech" (i.e. my freedom to call you whatever I want to call you) in a particular, and fairly unusual, instance. The context here is that it is being done to prevent people in positions of more-power from harassing or bullying weaker ones.

So long as this context is kept clear, it is fine to have a discussion about what "should be" allowed (and Canada is a very different from the US in what its laws are trying to accomplish). The law in question exists not around mistakes in using pronouns but in continuous use of a non-preferred pronoun after the speaker and subject are very clear on the matter.

In other words, a form of harassment (imagine if you, a male reader, were being consistently called female pronouns by government functionaries you had to deal with--yes, you would undoubtedly "suck it up" like you do every other minor outrage in your life--and you would bravely "soldier on"--but just remember that next time you get outraged about anything else online).

If the people discussing this law (or similar initiatives) move away from "they're fighting for power-over-language"--or "they want to make it illegal to speak the truth"--and just settle for: "Hey, if someone transitions from a man to a woman it should be totally okay to bully them about that" the conversation will be much more honest.

NOTE: There are certainly some people--activists--who will use legislation as an attempt to win fights they plan to start with targets who are likely to be drawn in--but when discussing the vast majority of these laws and situations the tiny percent of people who identify as non-standard genders are not in any position whatsoever to be "the oppressors."


The Mott & Bailey fallacy refers to a pattern where an activist wants to use some language in a more general sense (the "Bailey") but then falls back to a very specific interpretation when challenged (the Mott). Some examples are:

  • All Sex Is Rape: It sounds really horrible in the Bailey (where those words mean what you think they would)--but in the Mott, it's a trivial observation about how very wide swaths of gender relationships impact a hypothetical vision of "true consent to sex" that the speaker thinks can't exist in modern reality.
  • Blacks Can't Be Racist: This, again, sounds like a stunning argument that any broad-brush negative thing a black person believes about whites is somehow justified (in the Bailey where the words mean what you'd generally think they do)--but collapses in the Mott to be speaking about a very specific interpretation of "racist" where it combines racial bigotry with "holds the levers of power in society." In other words, it's just saying that on the whole white people have more social capital than black people do--a pretty trivial statement.
In the of the above examples, it isn't Mott & Bailey but something similar:
  1. Take a high-level view of an opposing position (but not necessarily a straw-man version).
  2. Impute ignorance of reality / facts to it.
  3. Discuss the position with regards not to its natural context--but with its context to your particular set of facts.
  4. Dismiss it as ignorant or disingenuous.
This works pretty well since (a) you can usually find someone who holds the non-contextual view (i.e. Marxists who want--or at least say they want--violent revolution with blood in the streets) and (b) anyone who has ever participated in a debate knows that trying to discuss context or nuance is for losers. 

Literally: if you wind up trying to justify your argument with context and nuance you have probably lost the debate.

The Omnivore will discuss what to do about this in a later post. 

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