Sunday, April 24, 2011

Who's being intolerant here?

[Note: I may update this post a bit or add more links over the next week, but I've decided to publish it now rather than sit on it. I really hope to turn it into a YouTube video soon, but in my experience, making a video takes far longer than making a blog post, and I'm very stressed for time at the moment. Note that even though this is posted off of YT, it is inspired by some arguments there, making for a bit of a disconnect between the subject of the argument and the response here. However, see any argument where blatant authoritarians rail against "the status quo", not uncommon these days, and you basically have the same argument.]

An argument I see beaten into the ground by “the usual suspects” in the YouTube radfem crowd is that the large number of people who oppose them constitute a “herd” and a “hivemind”. That we are being “intolerant” of a “different opinion”. And that, by implication, radical feminists are some sort of dissidents, bravely standing up to "the status quo". And while I think this is so much name-calling and ongoing melodramatics on the part of these people, which largely deserves to be ignored, this drum is beaten so heavily addressing this nonsense head on is in order.

This “herd” rhetoric rings extremely hollow. To begin with, it is simply a kind of logical fallacy called the “Galileo gambit”, a kind of inverse of the appeal to authority, holding that vilification of one’s ideas provides evidence that one is right. This rhetoric makes heavy use of the language of tolerance and ideological diversity to promote ideas that are at their very core illiberal and intolerant. One only need only look at some of the specific things these people have done or advocated for to see this. When Diana Boston uses hateful language against “trannies”, this is a direct appeal to devalue trans people for their very identity. Or when “Bonedancerff” attempts to call for police intervention to stop something as simple as somebody getting a tattoo on her ass? How about when antiporn feminists call for support of the goals of PornHarms, who’s direct goal is to have hardcore pornography censored through zealous enforcement of obscenity laws? How about when people like Diana Boston have openly said that individual rights should be take a back seat to the “collective”? How is that not an appeal to the “herd” beating down the individual?

All of these are direct appeals to intolerance of speech, ideas, and even personal identities that fail to agree with the strictures of radical feminism. And yet when their ideas are subject to even the mildest rejection, the radical feminists scream “intolerance”, and make an appeal to tolerance that they are wholly unprepared to practice themselves. Apparently they feel that they are so completely special that their ideas deserve some kind of special treatment.

In fact, I think that radical feminism presents a very similar conundrum to a liberal society that racial supremacist or theocratic ideas do. How does a tolerant society deal with fundamentally intolerant ideas? How does a marketplace of ideas deal with those ideas that wish to eliminate that entire marketplace? I am a strong believer that a healthy democratic society legally tolerates the expression of illiberal ideas, and I strongly differ from the European and Canadian approach to censor hate speech. (Which I will point out has acted as a slippery slope into censoring speech that is critical of religion.) I fully agree with broad free speech protections exemplified by the US Supreme Court decision to allow neo-Nazis to march through Skokie. It is only when hate speech rises to the level of a clear and direct incitement to directly harm individuals or property that there is any justification for the state stepping in.

However, that does not mean that I think all ideas deserve equal treatment on an informal level. I think it is the mark of a healthy society that blatant racism and appeals to racial superiority are shunned. I’m pleased that blatant hatred toward gay and trans people, or the idea of the superiority of men over women, or vice versa, are increasingly looked down upon. And I think it is a very good thing that calls for the legal curtailment or stigmatization of explicit sexual images, attacks on sex workers’ rights, and the demonization of male sexuality are also increasingly unpopular on some of the forums I frequent and that people there largely see through the pseudo-progressive justifications for such ideas. (Note that I am not invoking some kind of Marcusean notion of so-called "liberating tolerance", which is actually entails an illiberal rejection of formal protections of free speech. What I am talking about are informal methods of sanctioning bad ideas.) As I pointed out in a previous video, free speech does not mean that anybody owes it to you to believe in your ideas, nor are your ideas owed any kind of popularity.

I also question the idea that there is anything terribly progressive or dissenting about the various causes espoused by radical feminism. The idea that pornography should be suppressed, that casual sex is wrong and particularly harmful to women, and that sex should only be practiced within a narrow range of what are deemed to be committed relationships (and yes, antiporn and abolitionist feminism definitely goes there – one only need a little ways into Gail Dines or Robert Jensen, for example, to find such rhetoric), that the state should step in suppress certain “dangerous” forms of expression, or that trans people are “freaks” and “frankenstein’s monsters”, all are very old and reactionary ideas that are not redeemed or made any less reactionary by reverse engineering them with a new set of politically correct-sounding justifications. That Catherine MacKinnon and Morality in Media work toward many of the same ends, or that somebody like Melinda Tankard Reist was able to go from being one of Australia’s leading antiabortion activists to being one that countries main antiporn feminists without changing a thing about her ideas, says a lot more about what antiporn feminism is about than any nitpicky details of the various ideological justifications from each group.

I’m sure one of the main responses I will get from the usual gang of idiots, if they can even muster a coherent response at all, is that I am a “liberal” and therefore fall short of their “radical” greatness. To this I say, what’s wrong with being liberal? What’s wrong with pushing a set of politics based on putting people before profit, and before ideology, basic respect for human and individual rights, free expression, social equality, and a role for the state in promoting social good, while nevertheless placing meaningful limits on its power? And in spite of claims by detractors, liberalism does not inherently entail bland status quo solutions to social problems, nor does it exclude radical solutions to social ills that need to be gotten “to the root of”. It does, however, preclude totalitarianism, riding roughshod over individual rights in pursuit of social goals (however noble) and generally putting ideology or abstract goals before real people.

So go ahead and call me personally intolerant of your authoritarianism and intolerance and call me (gasp!) a liberal. To that I simply say "Yes" and “Thank you”.