GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

November 19, 2015


Filed under: GA — adam @ 3:01 pm

If politics is no longer “declarative” but, rather, increasingly ostensive (the initial move of the SJW is “point and shriek”[Vox Day]), our inherited political vocabulary of “principles,” “convictions,” “beliefs,” “opinions” and so on needs to be retired, or at the very least sharply restricted. All of these terms presuppose that we conduct civil discourse in answerable sentences, that is sentences whose relation to reality and whose own inner relations can be assessed. But if, as Zaweena Grewal, summing up victimary conventional wisdom, put it in a Washington Post Op-Ed a few days ago, “the unquestioned freedom to mock the powerful is qualitatively different than the freedom to, effectively, bully the most vulnerable members of our community,” then we no longer operate under those assumptions. Grewal’s assertion—a declarative to put declaratives out of business—applies well beyond the question of “mocking.” Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker puts the principle in more general terms (or, at least as general as they can get, since all speech for the SJW must be violence or resistance): “The freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered.” In both cases, the statement only makes sense if it is the same speech act that is designated “mock” and “offend” in one case and “bully” in another. It follows that any statement, whether it be the sheer recitation of facts and statistics, detailed descriptions of events, attempts to adjudicate conflicts, moral criticism—must be qualitatively different when addressing the powerful, on the one hand, and the most vulnerable, on the other. This obviously sets up two classes of citizens: those who can uninhibitedly vilify and insult the privileged, and those can speak only in the most circumscribed way about the powerless. Indeed, even arguments over who is powerful and who is vulnerable must be qualitatively different, and therefore impossible—such determinations are embedded in the victimary movement itself, insofar as that movement emerged against an unfolding hierarchical litany of illegitimate centers (Western, white, male, straight, etc.) that are frozen in the victimary imaginary. One has victimary immunity so long as one affirms the binaries implicit in that imaginary (as a white, one confesses to white privilege; as a person of color, one accuses whites of privilege, etc.). If you start to question whether a wealthy black student attending an elite school her grades and test scores would not have qualified her for is “powerful,” and an impoverished young white man “vulnerable,” or even whether a white gay man beaten up by a group of black teenagers deserves victimary-style commemoration, you are simply be speaking a different language (and it won’t matter so much what color you are). In fact, not the least of the indignities imposed upon us by the victimary is that it tempts us to indulge in such comparisons, thereby drawing us into its orbit. Naively, many conservatives think arguments uncovering various forms of victimary equivalences provide them with “gotcha” moments. (Less naively, some seem to be realizing how much material for satire there is here.)

I’ll draw upon Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life to suggest that it would be better to think in terms of immunology rather than “principles.” We don’t need better arguments against the victimary—we need the political and cultural equivalent of vaccinations. Once sufficient immunity has been developed, the possibilities of fighting to eradicate the victimary plague will suggest themselves. Our immune deficiency comes in two forms. First, as civilized beings we are unequipped to deal with overtly and ostentatiously uncivil behavior (especially when such behavior is calculated to test the limits of civilized norms). I remember reading somewhere (and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in some previous post) that Hitler learned from attending upper class affairs that the instinctive reaction on the part of highly civilized people when confronted with the uncivil is to appease it, either by acceding to demands or waving it off as a joke. Most civilized people simply don’t know how to deal with the uncivil, having cordoned it off as something to be dealt with by bands of armed men for so long. Tit for tats with the uncivil are uncontrollable and unpredictable, and there’s no way of knowing whether one will have the physical and moral capacity to see it through—better to do anything to avoid that necessity. Even more, all of your civilized companions will exert great pressure on your to take this course, as they will inevitably be drawn into any prolonged confrontation. Not only do you risk getting your ass kicked, but everyone will blame you for it. Second, as citizens of a democratic society predicated upon assumptions about human equality, we cringe at any accusation that we are excluding someone from the circle of equals—indeed, doing so is now the thing most likely to get oneself excluded from that circle. Our first impulse is to deny the accusation, and to defend ourselves, but this merely traps one in a double bind: any attempt to prove you are not racist (“I have lots of black friends…”) will merely prove that you see anti-racism as a matter of tokenism rather than uprooting the beliefs we don’t even experience as racist. You can go the systemic route, and recite the contemporary anti-racist screed, but that just proves that, in your complacency, you didn’t notice some unchecked privilege. It’s like being investigated by a special prosecutor—if they don’t get you on the “underlying crime,” they will get you for lying to investigators or impeding the investigation. The only way to avoid being cornered is to join in accusing another, but by the time you have been accused, it is too late.

The only way out is to say, first, “I don’t care,” and, second, “you’re lying” (not about calling me racist, or whatever, because the first move is to render that point moot—but in some material claim supporting the charge—about which the SJW will undoubtedly be lying). If you’re not ready to do that immediately and unflinchingly, for as long as it takes, it’s better to go cower in a corner from the beginning and save everyone a lot of time and energy. That means you have to be able to act without even thinking about it—the first moments might be decisive. Hence the need for immunization. At this point, though, we can target the immunizations very precisely. What we need to be immunized against is being infected by the victimary world of lies. The SJWs now depend not just upon the strategic lie, but a completely fabricated world reminiscent of totalitarianism. The statements quoted above makes this clear: since truth must be “qualitatively different” for the perpetrator and the victim, whatever helps the powerful is to be denied; whatever helps the vulnerable is to be affirmed; whatever the powerful have accomplished has been at the expense of the powerless; whatever the powerless is to be applauded as an accomplishment in the face of virulent hostility by the powerful. Al Sharpton perpetrated a massive and very damaging hoax in the Tawana Brawley case back in the 80s, but once the fraud was exposed, people stopped talking about Brawley—it didn’t spawn a “movement.” Today, the exposure of frauds, like the one in Ferguson regarding the shooting of Michael Brown, makes no difference. Resisting the world of lies becomes, on the one hand, harder: it is extremely difficult, especially in the academy or media, to avoid lending support to the lies simply by accepting, for example, “the consequences of Ferguson” as a legitimate topic of discussion. Once you accept that what’s important is not what really happened, but what it meant to the “vulnerable,” then you are in and will find it very difficult to dig your way out. The abomination must be rejected in toto. (You have to be ready to say, “oh, you mean the Ferguson hoax?”)

The lies penetrate because they are advanced by the uncivil (to whom we reflexively and romantically grant a greater authenticity) on civilized terrain (the very difference between civil and uncivil seems to imply, vaguely, some inequality), and because claims that one’s equality has been violated are as a matter of course given deference. This is where the immunological deficiency of modern citizens lies. Building up immunity to uncivil demands for unilaterally defined equality requires (as does any immunity) exposure to the infection. The difference presented as proof of injustice must be immediately, automatically and instinctively treated as proof of qualitative difference. The demand itself must be treated as evidence of incontinence and indiscipline. So far, I have been describing more of a practice than an inoculation that makes it the default practice. The inoculation lies in repeated exposure to the differences signifying victimary status and habituating oneself to insisting on the immunological implications of those differences. If members of group A are more likely to commit violence (and, perhaps, specific forms of violence) than other groups, immunological considerations dictate protecting oneself and things and people one cares about from members of group A—this does not necessarily mean a blanket exclusion of A (although in some cases it might), just different vetting criteria, targeted towards a more or less formal probability assessment. With regard to groups that excel disproportionately, immunological considerations are more passive, requiring nothing more than a defense and refinement of criteria for admission and promotion—here, inoculation must focus on insidious attempts to subvert those criteria. Such attempts at subversion usually take the form of insisting on their circularity—they reproduce existing hierarchies because members of dominant groups more readily see virtues in each other than in “others.” Such a claim is as unprovable as it is unrefutable, and therefore should be ignored: demonstrable improvements to the criteria should be demanded as a condition of taking any critique seriously. Of course, this also means you should know why you have the criteria you do—they shouldn’t simply be inherited.

An automatized defense of the human inclination to notice differences and infer further differences from them; of the natural disposition of any individual or institution to organize reality in accord with the most thorough and finely calibrated apprehension of observable human differences possible; and of the habit of refining and making both more inbred and more deliberate these dispositions and inclinations—this is the vaccine. Not to be pedantic, but it is as if we must invent and then repeat mantras like “differences are our maps to reality, not veils concealing an ultimate gnosis” over and over again. Once inoculated, we are free to discuss at our leisure various possible causes of these differences—such inquiries can be very interesting and productive, once the environment has been freed of victimary pathologies. And, of course, the array of human differences changes, albeit within limits (limits we can never be sure of in advance)—indeed, an enhancement of the immunological resistance of our institutions would itself be sure to induce significant changes. We could then acknowledge counter-tendencies, such as, perhaps, particular forms of gentleness one can find among individual members of disproportionately violent groups. Above all, though, we would be training ourselves to identify the difference of the victimary itself, the signs of the SJW, and devise means of excluding them from, where possible, and marginalizing them within, when necessary, our institutions. In fact, we could read off all the differences we need from the agenda and language of the SJWs—everything that they deny can fairly reliably be affirmed, everything they are against can fairly reliably be supported, everything they are for opposed. It’s as if they provide an inverted map of reality. They openly declare their commitments to incompetence, subversion, falsification and wrecking, presenting themselves as the very infection to which we need to develop antibodies. So, for example, we can confidently respond to Grewal and Cobb that indeed there should be differences in how we address the more and less powerful—those accountable to some public must be expected to set an example for everyone else; while those who are in some sense apprentices within civilized institutions should be admonished to work harder to counter the reasonable assumption that a large number of them will fail, or only barely succeed, without much distinction. How to “mock” or “offend” (or advise, encourage, criticize, report on, etc.) will follow from such considerations.


  1. I just want to say I’m enjoying your recent blogging, Adam. Here’s a recent university president’s attempt at immunology:

    Comment by John — November 29, 2015 @ 10:24 am

  2. Thanks! At least an openly Christian university can do this. (I don’t know if they rely on federal funding in some form–I suspect no.)

    Comment by adam — November 29, 2015 @ 11:44 am

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