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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Social Justice Bard and The Status Quo Defenders ("SQiDs")

CN: Mention of rape.

Let me begin with two stories of things I've seen in only the last 36 hours....

The first you've probably seen happening yourselves. A Google employee wrote a manifesto that women are biologically less well-suited to be engineers and that diversity practices designed to combat discrimination based on gender and bring gender parity to 50/50 were the brainchild mostly of leftist authoritarianism.

This instantly made national news from blogs galore to National Public Radio debate forums. This is important as it was not laughed at, tossed aside, completely ignored, or considered to be the inconsequential self-absorbed ravings of an irrational person with a biased axe to grind.

It was all bullshit of course, and took mere hours to be debunked not only by other engineers, but even within academia (an institution that can't debunk a cheese sandwich inside a month). This was partially because it had all been debunked the week before.

And the month before that.

And the year before that.

And the decade before THAT.

And basically every time some dude opens up his mouth and tries to reverse-engineer a biological reason for the rampant sexism in their world (from Sam Harris's ludicrous "estrogen vibe" to the popular "girls are bad at math," to The Bell Curve, all the way to the new claim that women are just more neurotic and less able to handle stress), they are pulling the same familiar song and dance, that has never been exactly true and has always been misappropriated as an excuse for discrimination.

It's not that these people haven't stumbled upon some sort of fact or another or some study or something that might be TRUE (testosterone in prefrontal cortexes or whatever the fuck), but rather it is that without deviation, the paradigm into which they immediately attempt to plug and play this new data is that it makes SENSE to look around and see sexism on display. This is always the central conceit of each new round of bullshit. That whatever men tend to do (or not do) more, that is A) always and unquestioningly the objectively better way to accomplish every desirable outcome even though it is men who define success, B) not usefully supplemented by any other approaches that might be what women, femmes, or even gender variant folks "tend to be better at," and C) absolutely biologically destiny–no matter how minor the results are, how little the disparity matters compared with other X factors, or how difficult these differences might be to untangle from culture.

Each round then becomes a variation on the theme: "Aha! I was right to be sexist all along!"

And while the battle lines were drawn immediately, as one can imagine, with sexist MRA's and the so called "alt right" immediately falling to the ground like men's soccer players over the writer's "freeze peach" (because no one should ever get fired for saying outright that one class of people are inferior and there OUGHT TO BE a gender gap since women are naturally neurotic), they then proceeded to publish details of those Google employees who decried the letter (all trans folks, women, or people of color) even knowing exactly what the online response would be.

However, there was also a secondary outcry (mostly from men) that we examine the ten-page document with great intellectual rigor for its 9 1/2 pages of less offensive claims, apply maximum nuance to its suggestion that reverse discrimination is objectively bad, assign nothing but immaculate faith (better than good faith) to its author, trust the author when he assures us he's not about gender stereotypes (right before he drops the mother of gender stereotypes), completely ignore the broader context of a company with a real gender diversity problem in an industry that is famously hostile to women, listen closely and carefully to the scientific explanations, reignite the dialogue about biological determinism, and closely entertain, discuss, examine, and debate this topic.

Oh and, of course, they also ignore anyone who points out the sexism. Anyone (usually women for some unknown reason) who read the slightest sexism into it is just, quite simply, wrong and they are reading it wrong. They need to have someone who "truly understands" its real meaning inform them of how just wrong they are and just how much this idea needs to be discussed. This includes shutting down anyone who does a point by point takedown (without actual counterpoints, of course). Because anyone who continues to read it "wrong," after they have magnanimously elucidated the proper way to read it, needs to work on listening to them and build a bridge to their interpretation.

(Irony is not high among the list of things these folks notice.)

As if this were a new and fresh and exciting idea that it was just wrong to dismiss out of hand.

As if he had floated some invigorating, ultramodern concept heretofore unentertained, particularly within tech industries.

As if he were an exciting firebrand, floating a notion no one had ever encountered before and for which the "Athenians" would make him "drink hemlock."

As if men using vague ideas of biological difference to justify misogyny and discrimination is a new and edgy discourse that no one has ever thought of before and which really needs to be given room to breathe.
"Ug get brandy and monocle.
Have debate why men better at build fire."

The second story is a bit more personal, but even if you're not aware of it exactly, you've probably seen it play out a thousand times.

On a social justice themed FB page, there was a screencap of a tumblr post about portrayals of rape in modern media. A robust discussion ensued. And when I say "robust" and "discussion," please understand the scare quotes around both words. Generally women took to the thread to explain that they sure would love a little less rape-as-backstory, and a lot less rape happening "on camera" within modern media, and to try to draw a parallel between the reaction to the character whose sexual assault was "heavily implied" and the outright demand that it MUST be actively portrayed to "count," with those of the prevailing attitudes in our society that people don't believe women who say they've been raped. ("We must have more than heavy implication," the men said, "if this man is to be deemed a 'bad person'.") Generally the men were explaining that realism, "showing, not telling," and emotional gravitas required this rape to be portrayed rather than implied. And of course that we couldn't know the guy was a bad guy if there was only ever heavy implication.

First it was one guy. Comment after comment rolled in from women and he replied. Not to one or two. Not five. Not ten. But fifteen comments. Then twenty. Then thirty. Hours went by and he just kept going. Each comment a carbon copy of the last, almost a dead repetition of his original reply ("Rape MUST be portrayed for emotional impact!"). He was the online paragon of the guy in your contemporary lit class who won't stop talking over all the other students but who keeps saying the same thing over and over about why THEIR take is right and every other is wrong. Thread after thread where he had to have the last word and kept going no matter how many more voices chimed in, even with new and interesting perspectives. Hours of him simply hitting reply with a resilience and tenacity that would have impressed Hercules.

Then another guy joined him, meticulously going through dozens, perhaps hundreds, of comments to explain why our current depictions of rape are exactly what is required by fiction and in no way a reflection of our culture.

Then another showed up. Sometimes they would tag team a thread, but often the second showed up where the first had not. Again, it was not a matter of expressing an opinion on the idea in general and moving on. Every single new person who came in on that thread was contradicted separately–and pretty much by the same exact argument.

Between the three of them, there was almost nowhere, in dozens or perhaps even hundreds of sub-threads, where their argument went unrepresented. Each newcomer was argued down with a replica (not exact, but a variation on a theme) of the last. And while there were a few people who gave their opinion and moved on (and a couple who left screeds like "sexism isn't real" but then also moved on), the impression that there was a balanced debate going on was almost entirely driven by these three guys' indomitable vigor in replying endlessly to comment after comment after comment.

It didn't have to be those three guys. It could have been any three guys. Any three who would ceaselessly, tirelessly, unswervingly continue to basically auto-duplicate endless variants of the status quo party line to any newcomer who dared to enter the conversation with a contrary opinion.

These types of guys are so clich├ęd because their arguments are identical. Their scripts are identical. Sometimes their actual word choice is even the same.

And the thing of it is, these arguments are so interchangeable... SO predictable.... SO unoriginal... SO common... SO basic.... that they were actually wholly unnecessary to articulate (even once, never mind hundreds of times). These men weren't exposing all these commenters to their fresh and innovative thinking. They weren't producing unique or original thought. They weren't blowing anyone's mind. It was the same old bloviation as always. Any one of those women would probably have been able to articulate their argument at least as well as they did (if not better). Any one of them probably had a hundred conversations just like it.

These men weren't even actually edgy (though they would certainly have vociferously argued that they were indeed the bleedingest of edgy). They were arguing, literally, that nothing should be changed and we should keep doing things the exact way that we do them right now with absolutely no alteration.

They were literally (and ceaselessly) defending the status quo.

"Not today, Satan!" say they.

Conventional wisdom in social movements is that something called emotional labor is seldom done by those with privilege (particularly men).

These folks (usually men) demand to be educated. They refuse to empathize. They won't even bother to understand the basic vocabulary surrounding a concept before trampling in with their opinions. They don't process their feelings. They make little effort to be nurturing and excuse it with "women are better at this stuff." They seek validation but do not put as much energy into giving it. They do not develop the emotional literacy to express, or even handle, and particularly to take responsibility for their emotions. They don't learn to be vulnerable and instead distill every emotion into anger.

Emotional labor?
Is that like when I scream and sweat as I'm pumping out hot lead?

And this is true.

Certainly also there are plenty of dudes who will spend six hours online researching PvP shadow priest builds and spell rotation so they don't get called a "n00b" in battlegrounds, who will suddenly, inexplicably lose all ability to work the Google when it comes to the core concepts of social equality, the "meaning of feminism," the sources that confirm the wage gap, violence statistics for groups pushed to the margins of society, the concept of privilege, how microaggressions work, or even (ironically) emotional labor. There are those who expect that conversations about lifelong inequality must always center on their feelings and never dare to imply that any impact is anywhere near as important as intent, which must never be impugned. There are those who expect any conversation about their odious behavior to be diplomatic enough that they never actually have to sit with uncomfortable feelings.

And this is also true.

But the idea that they do no emotional labor seems to have a hitch. 

Because they are the vicegerents of tirelessly replying. They ceaselessly roam about, entering any space they aren't physically barred from and rarely fail to find the time and energy to play devil's advocate, demand nuance, provide a one-size-fits-all approach to metonymy that they have heard about slurs (while simultaneously being rather forgiving of actual slurs). They are the ones who will reply to a thread for hours without giving up and who always "just have to" point something out. If you disagree, you must not have understood, so naturally they are willing to explain again why you are wrong. And if you disagree again, they will explain again....and again....and again....

These are the people who, with indefatigable tenacity, call out any progress and "reset" the conversation to some halcyon moment of equality (always "about ten years ago") in which equality was achieved and "you can't prove otherwise." Like creationists insisting with each new debate that the central tenets of evolution are unproven and must be defended afresh, they demand the conversation return to square one and that square is that all things are equal and fair and the burden of proof is to demonstrate otherwise. Even inequality itself must first be demonstrated.

And they are the people who do every step of dance of "proof" with inexhaustible precision. Demand they educate themselves, and they can call out just wanting to learn in good faith. Provide them the education and they question its veracity. Provide the integrity of the education with proof and they wonder about the source. Demonstrate the source validity, and they become experts in the methodology of proving a claim and demand physics-level experimental rigor. And if you somehow get through all of this and their defenses begin to crack, THEN...they often must away. They finally have something they must do. Finally an engagement is pressing. However, when they return, the dance will have reset, and all the steps must be done anew. They are unrelenting and feel no fatigue.

These are the people who dig through the internet with dogged persistence to quote mine a Tu-Quoque argument or focus on some imperfect moment they can use against anyone who makes a point they don't want to hear or whose basic human dignity might challenge the status quo. (The race to excuse extrajudicial executions with a suspect's risque selfies, for example.) Thus they can limit those who they arbitrate are deemed qualified to complain only to saints.

These are the people who tenaciously show up to accuse victims of faking their own lived experience or only looking for things to complain about. These are the people who walk past a thousand travesties of the criminal justice system to appear like clockwork and demand all about them adhere to the founding principles of "justice" in the form of jury-level skepticism. Who liken every criticism to thought police. Who dismiss criticism as the tumblr addled rantings of professional victims, but then go ten rounds extolling the virtue of building bridges to those with openly bigoted viewpoints. Who will demand academic rigor in order to accept a claim, but turn around and find academic studies laughably out of touch of the real world. Who will (but only when the status quo has hurt someone) tirelessly demand everyone wait endlessly for "all the facts" before forming judgement.....until such time as that can reasonably become "get over it." Who "Not ALL men" any negative generalization about cishet white men (but are strangely okay with both good generalizations and the ones done towards other classes of people). Who will bloviate endlessly on using derailing techniques from fallacies of relative privation, to bringing up that men suffer too when a conversation is not about them. These folks endlessly reassert their purview to be the arbiters of what "counts" as bigotry, marginalization, discrimination, even though they've never experienced any of it. Who weaponize white male (and cishet) mediocrity as an ideal that all others must aspire to. Who are unrelenting in their stop energy. Who ignore people's boundaries or attempts to disengage (a practice called sea-lioning) and continue the argument. Who find no overall point made with humor or anger too clear not to dive in with a "Well actually..." or a "To be fair" on their lips or tips of their fingers. Who construct longer and longer replies that require more and more time and energy to unpack. Who meet points not with good arguments or undeniable facts but rather simply with MORE--more time, more energy, more words, more replies, more comments....

And who never ever ever ever stop for a moment from dissecting and policing the tone of any piece--no matter if they are the intended audience (or not) or the piece is intended to be angry or funny. They promise that social justice would essentially already BE here if only people would word things more to their liking. Most use vastly more energy to perpetually inform authors of EVERYTHING–everything from blogs to FB comments to Tweets–that they would surely listen if the case were just made in a nicer/more respectful/less angry/less insulting way. Most use far more energy getting people to match their ideal tone (which bears a striking resemblance to dead silence) then they ever do engaging the idea.

And slowly but surely by simply outlasting and outspending emotional labor, they exhaust everyone. They exhaust those who engage them in good faith. They exhaust those who try to educate them. They exhaust those who try to give them another's' perspective. They exhaust those who painstakingly disprove the assumptions by which they are operating. They exhaust the academics and the laymen. They exhaust the people they claim to care about. They exhaust....everyone. The message is clear: the price, should the status quo be challenged in any way, will be unswerving, unrelenting attrition. And when those they work so hard to silence succumb to fatigue, they take a victory lap.

And of course if at any point during any of these inevitable, predictable, uninspired gambits anyone should become exasperated, angry, frustrated, emotional in any way (even if it's having to deal with the same argument for the thousandth time), or restrict their access to go right on tirelessly expressing their opinion ad nauseam, they declare their victory by virtue of superior rationality.

These people don't do no emotional labor. They do tons of emotional labor. They practically do ENDLESS amounts of emotional labor. They show up with North Starian predictability almost everywhere. They rant on endlessly. There are a million more to take their place should one fall. While they have the "home court advantage," few groups are willing, with such predictable tenacity, to kick open more doors, slog into more battles, and take on more opponents in their resolute intransigence. They are constantly doing vast, unceasing amounts of emotional labor.

It is just emotional labor done with the aim of maintaining the status quo.

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Often these fighters for "The Way Things Have Always Been Done™" are called Status Quo Warriors in the world that has gleefully adopted the label "Social Justice Warrior" as not only a shitty insult, but a pretty cool thing to be called, actually. However, personally I prefer and for purposes of my bardic yarns, I shall use something a little different for these stalwart, untiring defenders against the agents of social progress:

"Status Quo Defenders"

I personally like this since A) they don't really "fight" for anything, but rather run an endless gambet of pre-programmed defenses intended to win based on attrition and causing their opponents to eventually give up. And B) I get to call them "squiddies" like the nickname for Sentinels in The Matrix, and imagine them as having sensitive radar dishes that can hear the slightest breath of social criticism and "snap" towards the any detection of progressive thought around them (like "maybe rape shouldn't be such a common plot device"). Then here come the SQiDs

"Squiddies sweeping in quick."

"A squiddie?"

"A sentinel. A killing machine designed for one thing."

"Search and destroy."

A mention of women's issues on a thread in G sector.
Let's get over there right away.
You two "What about the menz?" and we'll demand proof it's even really an issue. 

Plus you have to love the metaphor of those tiny little hands constantly grasping for anything they can get their little fingers on and lasers eager to tear apart any resistance they find to those who dare to break their rules. The only way to deal with them is to shut them down completely (with an EMP) or be so quiet they never notice you in the first place. All identical. All relatively mindless beyond their programming. All imagine they are rational, and eschew emotion, but have mistaken their programmed violence as perfectly objective. All completely indistinguishable from one another. And all serve a fucked up system that doesn't want people waking up lest it lose the ability to suck the energy out of them without so much as a complaint.

Sounds about right.


  1. Fantastic piece and thank you for your service to women, which is what I see when men take the time to explain to other men why their behavior is unacceptable.

    1. I do this with my brother all the time. To be fair there are times when I see why he's defending certain view points but for the most part it's just reminding him inclusion isn't terrible and different perspectives isn't necessarily pandering.


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  3. Hi Chris, Jan Shirley here. On your other page I had made an offhand joke about the Status Quo Collaborator. After reading your article, I realized that That might be a good term for the females who have a vested interest in defending the Status Quo, because they are too entrenched in working the system to their own advantage, others be damned! Just a thought; do with it what you will...

  4. In my experience, those men most afflicted by toxic masculinity also have the least ability to interrogate the bases of their complaints. Unfortunately, this is exactly what's needed to give them the ability to critically evaluate and see past the facile screeds directed against feminism.

    That's a major knot to try to unravel to reach any one of them. I should know. I was one once. It's a rich irony that men purportedly fighting for men are shitting on a movement that has given us the vocabulary to even describe these issues in the first place, simply because words like "toxic masculinity" and "patriarchy" make men sound complicit.

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    1. *standing ovation*

      (First comment deleted due to typo)

  6. Coming in late, but wow- that was utterly brilliant. Thank you, it's a keeper.