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The Snowflake-Fascist Translating Dictionary

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Do you have a “Luminato” festival in your town? A urban art festival full of light sculpture and insomniacs?

I’m starting to wonder if it might be time to introduce a ‘Fulminato’ festival as well – one night every year dedicated to the free and full volume airing of the grievances! Too soon? Unwise? Perhaps both – but I can think of very few events which would be more popular across all lines of politics, culture, class and education.

What with shrill tribalism and a maelstrom of finger-pointing theories, the one thing that we all seem to share today is an irrational and barely controllable fury. The theories and targets vary, but the rage is everywhere.

Problem is, none of us think properly when we’re angry. We look for things to justify our anger, instead of stepping back and judging fairly – we take pleasure in stories that allow us to accuse others of creating our frustrations, instead of looking for ways to overcome our challenges – even though recrimination keeps us stuck in pain, and only practical plans can improve the situation we find upsetting. Anger isn’t thinking, or debate, or inquiry. But it is starting to push every one of those crucial principles off of the public stage.

Popular media isn’t helping – they are actually making money by making things worse – but ultimately, just as with recriminations, if we really want to do better as a society, we have to stop listening to interpretations and theories, and start actually getting to know one another as people. You know – do the work.

Please tell me that we aren’t so foolish now that we actually prefer fury and deadlock to learning and advance.

One of the best and most memorable bits of writing advice says “Murder your darlings!” That is, never let a pretty phrase, sentence, paragraph or section get in the way of the overall story flow and purpose of your book – no matter how much you like that bit, it cannot be worth lowering the quality of the overall work as a whole.

I murdered more darlings on this one than I have in years – ever since I deliberately wrote a long overwrought philosophy book, never intended for publication, just to clarify my own thinking and challenge it’s consistency.

The reason I threw out so many cute zingers and nifty characterizations is that I think this one is especially important – or at least, I think the intention I hope to realize here, is one we must strive for more often.

We keep talking about how bad the divide is – how necessary it is, for us to begin to create a bridge – but so far we’re still stuck in the phase where a committee is created to investigate why there are so many committees.

Instead of talking about talking to one another, I’m trying to figure out how to actually do it. I recognize that as a lifelong leftie and a silly art-type to boot, I will definitely put my foot wrong in many places – but I am making the conscious attempt to speak fairly to everyone, instead of just one tribal faction, to prove principle still works, and hopefully inspire others on both sides to add their own voices, in a divide-bridging sort of way.

My thanks and apologies to all who lend me their time and listen – I sincerely hope the eye openers and unexpected hopeful ideas, are worth those offences which I was not wise enough to spot and amend.

¯\_()_/¯

Here is that Munk debate. My younger friends might find most of Taibi’s points obvious, but I was amazed to find him articulating so clearly, ideas that I’ve been trying to assemble for many years, as media revenues plummeted and standards of objectivity, principle and clarity disintegrated simultaneously. 

This podcast was recorded yesterday, before this story by Taibi, about worrisome developments in the once-skeptical media was posted – but he arrives at many of my key points in a very sharp and relevant way.

Should you suspect I was exaggerating how insane that whiteness ‘infographic’ really was – check it out yourself.

In case you still think there is no way to think which isn’t rooted in one hard tribal polarity, here’s a rather nifty list of authors with a wide range of views, doing their best to argue both sides of many relevant ideas.

And lest you think Kendi and Coates, who are the bandwidth dominant black theorists, are the only ones working on the big societal questions, do yourself a favour and have a listen to Coleman Hughes. Proof that universal compassion, courage and incisive brilliance can still coexist in one person – an inspiration for all of us.

6 Comments

  1. Another fantastic and thought-provoking episode! You have a unique perspective on so many issues that befuddle so many, and your articulate voice is very welcome in today’s world. Don’t be too surprised to see your audience growing – exponentially.

    I wanted to give some thinking-aloud feedback, using the same approach I did when taking university philosophy courses: I’ll try to be as coherent as I found the content I’m writing about to be. (Didn’t go over well with all my profs.) This was such a wide-ranging and multi-dimensional commentary, with both old and new themes, so pardon any non sequiturs.

    Thank you for providing the link and references to the “whiteness” stuff. So much “anti-racist” ideology in America these days is so nuts that it’s difficult to describe to most sane people who aren’t already aware of it. Real-world examples are necessary. On-par with Teresa Tam’s recommendation about wearing a mask when having sex (I mean, unless that’s your thing of course). We shouldn’t let the hilarious absurdity of this sort of thing, nor its pacifying paternalism, inure us to its viral toxicity.

    You touch on what some call “Moral outrage porn”, or the crass commercialization of discourse about important issues for the sake of clicks. This can indeed lead to self-gratifying targeting of undeserving others, which, but for a momentary alleviation of stress, adds to a feeling of futility.

    This is an apt lesson, and one I remember learning (well, started learning about, because I don’t want to give the impression of self-mastery) back when I was a kid learning Karate. The best approaches to martial arts are rightly understood as not only about practical self-defense techniques, but actively cultivating a peaceful and conciliatory attitude. (Supported by the firm knowledge that you can destroy your opponent in actual combat. In a funny way, that possibility also serves to remind us of the very tangible consequences of our judgements.) So maybe “conciliatory” is too strong a word – but at least restrained. And the stereotypically “Zen” self-mastery goes with that – disinterestedness, with acute awareness of our natural surroundings, confidence, and quick reflexes. Even a well-developed moral compass. It’s a bit of a fantasy, often overlaid with patriarchal connotations of immutable character and honour – but still worth shooting for. Especially for kids living through all kinds of chaos at home and school.

    By the same token, there is a sublimative aspect to it that is benign. I think that the often performative quality of “catharsis” / emotionality / anger makes it hard to characterize as necessarily reckless and self-indulgent. If we take these things to be directed at people, i.e. weapons of warfare, then there does seem to be an escalatory damage resulting from them. On the other hand, if they are culturally-specific (or even individually specific) tools of expression, they make sense (literally) in, and for, the in-group. It is hard to have that meta-discussion about the particular approaches individuals (or groups) take in expressing themselves, because it can be so hard to identify the function of what they’re doing and how they’re making meaning to begin with.

    Why don’t people take ownership of the chaos around them? There seems to be a paradox here. Adherence to principles, in the form of beliefs, can be self-exonerating (self-justifying), because I am doing my best given the circumstances, etc. At the same time, if we treat principles not as binding but as merely normative, it seems we open ourselves up to the vagaries of all kinds of righteous angst. Not only that, but firmness of principle / belief holds out the prospect of agreement with others, precisely because it does enable us to signal our virtue. The danger is that you can end up with a group of people committed to virtue signaling and not much else. After all, you love the ones you’re with.

    Lately I’ve been thinking more about the more subtle ways that having our biases flattered too much on an ongoing basis can also precipitate hostility or cruelty. When we primarily take in content that flatters our pre-existing biases, there are averse reactions to what is unfamiliar, or mischaracterized by association with something else. This makes us not only unwilling to deal with what is actually before us, but proudly so, leading to an escalation of ignorance. This was part of the initial insight of things like critical theory, feminist standpoint theory, etc. It’s sad that something principled has degenerated in recent years, and academia is largely to blame.
    The context of a (overt) disagreement, is generally between people who don’t share the same rituals. There is divergence around principles, but also the bare facts about an issue. This context is actually good, because the “difference of opinion” makes explicit the uniqueness of individual perspectives, with regard to both the facts of the matter and principles. It can also remind people that their habitual rituals are not constitutive of the truth. The lamentations about our “post-truth” world are actually a sign that truth is still very much valued, and necessary. As long as we don’t shy away from the interpersonal conflict and headaches – by thinking the truth is on our side – breakthroughs are (theoretically) possible.

    I’m often heartened to see more voices on the political / cultural “right” making principled arguments against groupthink and conformity, in response to many, quite prominent and influential figures on the “left” providing excellent referents of the same. Since I’m opposed on principle to many tenets of conservatism, and naturally allergic to rhetorical ploys, I find myself joining the fast growing ranks of the “politically homeless”. I imagine that the aversion some feel to members or ideas of one side automatically drive them to the opposing side, as a defensive measure. In a way, they’re politically homeless too, and represented by their “leaders” in only a shallow sense. And they could use some real friends too, to remember that disagreement can actually be enjoyable and spirited, rather than humiliating and isolating.

    When people are able to hide behind their computers, their ability to engage with inconvenient truths – which may be inconsistent with the online persona they have fallen into maintaining, something on which their “friendships” may depend – is diminished. Not everyone views technology as the liberating, educational, communication tool that you or I do. And the catch-22 is that they arguably shouldn’t. If you want to talk about its potential for directed political and social change, up to and including the creation of a pan-human global consciousness, then you’re really asking a lot. That can feel like an invasive, destructive globalism – the unthinking zombie ideology keeping us tethered to technology as it tears us apart. Such threats to the individual and their social bonds leads many to the consolations of reactionary politics, which can dig an even deeper hole. But I’m not doom-and-gloom. We’re still learning the applications and limits of these tools, both practical and spiritual.

    Your point about “narrow-casting” made me realize that, despite liberals’ well-worn criticisms of Fox News and the like, the consumers of such programming aren’t necessarily seeking, or expecting, truth per se. What they are seeking is an affirmation of their – and their reality’s – relevance, in a world that has indeed changed in many deeply concerning ways, and very quickly. Indeed, ways that are themselves seen as a threat to truth. (Which is why it isn’t helpful to think “your side” is the side of truth.) The consequences of such echo chambers are scary in their own right – but that holds at least as true in the case of liberals’ smug derision of such a large portion of their fellow-citizens. And when the content of that is largely fallacious, as in the case of many Russian collusion accusations, people need to be willing to say so clearly, otherwise they lose credibility, and risk turning journalism into a producer of counterfactual history. That this enables them to never be wrong – or to justify vilifying others – also doesn’t help. That level of denial isn’t really a coping skill, is it? It seems we have drifted out to sea, and some of us have learned to like it there. We feel like… survivors.

    In a world facing this crisis of social competence, the parching partisanship of these salty waters means death. And Truth is dry land. We may never get there – after all, whatever we see might be merely a mirage – but we really do need to paddle on. But how do you “empower” those in positions of power / influence to actually do the right thing, and resist the gravity of institutional closure and its cannibalistic temptations?

    Regarding the framing of Jan. 6th as an “insurrection”. The language is being employed, I believe in a cautionary (and somewhat paternalistic) manner, particularly by the liberal media. (Actually, this has parallels to some of the covid stuff over the past year, which is itself presenting a host of threats to civil liberties by way of rapidly shifting definitions, narratives, and frames of reference, all against a backdrop of mortal – existential – danger. Not the ideal conditions for decision making. “Lockdown” is not a word that should become part of daily use for long, and its usage has become disconcertingly casual.) Whether or not the events at the Capitol actually fit any credible definition of “insurrection”, they bore similarities that were enough to justify an urgent redefinition – a means of repudiating, as it were, what the group represented. Ironically, it actually elevates the riot to a more mythical status. (And there was a guy with horns in attendance, wasn’t there?) Not only that, but the insinuations / assertions of treason seem to be completely useless, exacerbating that already-gaping wound of ideological division and threatening to deprive the word of meaning. It also means that riots associated with BLM or antifa will be similarly characterized very soon.

    The goods for which you have so eloquently advocated can be realized only when we overcome cowardice. That will be essential in distinguishing the easily co-optable, feel-good pap about unity and diversity, which enjoys wide and vigorous displays of assent, from a truly inclusive society. Canadians have a reputation for being nice, but I’ve long understood that that can be more a result of being terrified of being disliked than a sign of genuine compassion. Some conflict is necessary, constructive and healthy, and can be expected to follow from asserting yourself. That takes courage and a bit of stoicism – but also faith in others and in the truth itself.

    I find a couple things strange. For one thing, PC norms and Critical Race Theory and even much feminism these days strive to be so reassuring to those considered “victims” that they sometimes end up effectively denying them a voice and agency (although there’s no shortage of agencies advocating on their behalf). It also seems that many of the most actively morally sanctimonious are in the working class. Morality serves as a form of pseudo-intellectual consolation for the desperation and depravity around them. It is part of how they process their experiences, and confront questions about identity, achievement, and relevance. It promises to get them in good with their higher-ups. That being said, you made a good point about how those constructing the loftiest metaphors seem to be inversely related to the risks they entail. However much you wear your heart on your sleeve, don’t deny yourself the opportunity to make your own mistakes.

    Those in positions of (relative) privilege, i.e. those with ease of access seem to have recourse to authority when things don’t go their way. This is the kernel of truth in the “Karen” stereotype (which is otherwise a useless and misguided construction, like all stereotypes). By definition, “the disenfranchised” – also a stereotype with limited applicability – have less of a stake in the dominant, mainstream society, and hence they relate differently to authority. They remember very well the injustices of the past and present, and have good, principled and practical reasons to eschew “the system / mainstream society”. Anger is a natural aspect of in-group closure, particularly in the face of perceived threats. Not extending compassion to those perceived as bullies or manipulators is a basic defense mechanism, one that renders trust more conditional. And it can itself justify discrimination and bullying.

    Generalizations can acknowledge (or enshrine) dignity, or deny it by exclusion, explicit or implicit. How do we usefully encapsulate universals in a way that won’t lead to misrepresentation, confusion and manipulation? I’ve taken courses called things like “Human Rights” and “Interpersonal Communication”, that frequently dictated that a person’s social location determines their character and how they should be treated. These theories will always be heavily based on appearances and status, because that’s the level human society is assumed to be operating at.

    • Thank you so much, Ian – not only do you reflect my themes perfectly, (which reassures me I was reasonably articulate, despite the grand scope) you also add nuance and new ideas in several areas for me to explore further – much appreciated.

      I’m working on my next episode now (hopefully I won’t end up with forty unused pages by the time I come up with the final script – yet again). ;o) Your comments give me a perfectly timed boost – very much like my thinking, in terms of further developing discussions about understanding itself (both consensus and divide-bridging) – which I suppose breaks down to epistemology and a principled morality-sourced compassion as centre.

      My compassion-as-centre approach (distinct from wishy washy and morally lazy universal relativism in ways I hope to make clearer in the next ‘cast) actually puts me in better sympathy with sincere Christians (devotees of the power of self-sacrificing and all-embracing love) than with cynical and sometimes sociopathically narcissistic (existentialist) “I am my own god” leftists.

      I am still an atheist – but by the time one’s cosmology has circumscribed gratitude, diminished genuine human connection and ridiculed trial transcendence and growth of character, you’ve gone way too far to ever find balance or happiness – thrown all the necessary tools out the window, many hundreds of miles back on the freeway.

      Like you, I also have an especially stark experience of both the truth and the harmful nonsense of many romantic tropes the left applies too broadly and sloppily – especially with regard to child rearing. When we hear comfortable people talk about these ideals as theories, we can’t help noticing that their insights are not leavened by the experience of harm, when even beautifully intentioned ideas are used reflexively – by faith, rather than heart or reason – in place of active (and adaptive) awareness, compassion and responsibility – a mix which every kid (and every victim for that matter – no matter how categorized) deserves.

      Finding ways to clarify what is humane, practical and excellent about leftist ideas, while also soundly repudiating those parts of the established dogma which declare no compromise is required, when two sets of rights compete, seems to be work that such as we are well configured for.

      I don’t want to see an authoritarian state become normalized – not left or right – and you are not just right but very helpfully clear about the importance of distinctions there – we are being habituated to tolerate much, which must not become ‘acceptable’. Obama setting W’s horrendous rights-transgressions in stone comes immediately to mind. Linking our current struggles with debate to global warming is even more helpful for me – brilliant! Have you read “Shikasta” And “The Sheep Look Up” (Doris Lessing and John Brunner, respectively). I keep flashing on both of those stark and yet perceptive books these days. (Science fiction is, at it’s best, an inoculant for soul-shock).

      They both depict many with good motivations doing incredible harm, when we can least afford to waste time, energy or potential good will. Lessing’s climax is no less than the trial of the white race for crimes against humanity – Brunner has his ecological sanctimony faction insisting their steam-cars are the solution to everything wrong with the world, and then blocking the actual solution that might just work, because it doesn’t suit their emotionalist political agenda! ;o)

      Makes me wonder – if Kendi got his wish – the department of anti-racism which could veto any bill – federal state or local, which might benefit whites more than blacks as “racist” – could anything substantial about global warming EVER be passed? Just asking the question honestly. If all disproportionate goods are suddenly deemed evils, the potential for achieving general benefit is greatly reduced. Makes “Raising all boats” effectively illegal. Paralyzing and divisive.

      Remember CKLN? I love CIUT (my Friday night group played live improv shows on air, twice!) and my favourite radio personalities have long resided there, but Toronto used to have two superb alternative radio stations. CKLN was the ‘edgy’ Ryerson station (as opposed to their then excellent but mellow jazz station, which has since become neither excellent nor mellow). There were internal struggles for power at the station for years between several different factions – all of whom were trying to assert that they were the uniquely ‘real revolutionary voice’ (or some such idealist nonsense). These endless and often very nasty battles were fascinating for spectators with pals in the industry – but of course, ultimately, the fate of the station was sealed by MASSIVE financial corruption from most of the ultra hard-line radical factions, in more or less direct proportion to their influence at any given time.

      The first question should never be about ideological purity, but competence (mind you, if we go too far in the other direction, we end up being forced to take a soulless heartless technocratic numbskull like Hillary seriously).

      Dinner-bell ringing – must run. Thank you so much for a whole host of good ideas. You will find some of them explored further in the next show, (and more still fermenting in my cranium helpfully, to help encourage new perspectives).
      Cheers, man – hugs and love, too!
      ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      PS – one of the reasons I had some hope for Ignatieff was his own careful consideration of the exact social questions you mention in your last few paragraphs. “The Rights of Others” may not be an immortal masterwork, but certainly reflects deep thinking on the exact sort of questions we’d want our leaders to meditate upon most often. (Then again, he also proved that academe does not train one well for a rough and tumble zero sum contest – the man arrived under the charming illusion that we Canadians were still a highly civilized electorate – talk about out of touch idealist!) ;o)

  2. Claire Lehman is a founder of Quillette magazine. This is a very engaging conversation about “cancel culture” and its implications:

    This was in Australia, of course. I didn’t mean to imply above that the excesses of political correctness are exclusively, or even necessarily primarily, an American phenomenon.

    • Thank you – I’ve encountered several fine pieces from Quillette – looking forward to listening to this! (always nifty to see how someone set off on the way – especially when they end up doing something of distinct general value).

  3. We must develop ways of distinguishing between the world of innuendo and conjecture (“social media”, let’s say – another addition for the dictionary) from that of established fact – or at least employing a standard and widely-understood scale for the comparative evaluation of the probabilities of different possibilities.

    The recent pandemic has made this very clear, because while the fact of the disease is obvious and warrants our concern, there are still reasons to debate the best courses of action in terms of relief, mitigation and prevention. We could look at it as a dress rehearsal for climate change. Anyone perceived as downplaying it or not taking it (and human lives) seriously enough becomes persona non grata, and they are excluded from the conversation and from cordial association. It works the other way too – those perceived as over-cautious are considered either sheep / zombies, or wannabe authoritarians. In either case, the other is a lost cause, expendable, or even an enemy, irredeemable and unforgivable. The disagreement about who is on the side of “science” (i.e. truth / reality), and who is actively denying it, is also a new feature.

    Now, I do think there are authoritarian forces at work right now all over the world, and that’s partly why we really do need to develop our capacities not only for high-level information analysis, but also ethical conduct and policy. This is part of the appeal of “theory” (not to mention bureaucracy), and some really are more balanced and sane than others. Studying and comparatively evaluating them might seem like a pedantic waste of time – especially given the undue enthusiasm and credibility given to them by some – but there’s an arrogance sometimes in the attitude of hard-headed pragmatism that brooks no nonsense, for it eschews engagement with the world of dreams inhabited by many theorists. And that sort of anti-intellectualism, coming in every political garb, I see as part of the obstructive and regressive quality of so much discourse these days, particularly in online contexts. Its primary descriptor is that it masquerades as realism.

    • Incredibly important questions! I have been taken to task many times over the years for insisting that you don’t want to ask for policies or approaches which only work under certain (ideal) conditions, but rather craft them carefully and accept some compromises and built in checks, so that they will also work well when things are more difficult (and the solutions all the more needed). We hear so many outright foolish demands nowadays, one can’t help thinking of the coyote with his brand new ACME kit and a devious smile – everyone else in the world already knows he’s not only doomed, but he’s pretty much done it to himself by obsessing on revenge. And still he cackles and rubs his hands! ;o)

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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