Sunday, 23 April 2017

More Empathy, Less Echo Chamber: A Genuinely Radical Proposal

The Press Ombudsman of South Africa brought the hammer down and brought it down hard on the Huffington Post South Africa for its recent blog post suggesting that disenfranchising white males might be a good idea.  I discuss the antecedent action in all its gory detail here.

The question is whether the blog contained "discriminatory and denigratory" references to white males.
Let me be short and sweet: If disenfranchisement of anybody (whether white males or black females, for that matter) is not discriminatory, the meaning of discrimination should be redefined. Moreover, the reasons given for such a malicious suggestion certainly were denigratory. I do not believe that this statement needs any further justification. 
I do not believe for one moment that such discriminatory and denigratory opinions can be described as being in the public interest – especially given this country's history of its struggle for liberation. To disenfranchise a section of the population once again would indeed represent a huge step backwards – one that may have some serious unforeseen consequences.
This was followed up by a rather stern order that the HuffPost South Africa publish an apology to the general public for publishing material that "was discriminatory and denigratory, amounted to hate speech, was malicious, was against the public interest, contained factual inaccuracies, impaired the dignity and reputation of many people and blaming its system instead of probing deeper into the racist and sexist nature of the blog."

I want to make clear right now that I have very grave reservations about the state having the power to adjudicate what is and is not appropriate for publication.  I have grave misgivings about "hate speech" laws, especially when they can be used to equate criticism of belief systems with hatred expressed towards particular groups of people.  Like when antifeminism is equated with misogyny or when criticism of Islamic theology is equated with "Islamophobia."  Perhaps this ruling is another such instance.  Many a feminist blogger will insist that her quarrel is with patriarchy and male privilege, not men on a more personal level, however caustic and self righteous her views may be.  As Noam Chomsky once so eloquently put it, if we do not favor free speech for our political opponents, we do not favor it at all.

That aside, one must also commend the South African authorities on their consistency here.  No "power plus prejudice" rationalization of double standards here.  They'll bring the boom down on you for blasting white males as fast and as surely as they will for going after any other demographic.  Good on them for at least enforcing their rules consistently.

Much of the complaint against the HuffPost SA piece, which as it turns out was the work of an especially clever troll, was subsequently defended by HuffPost SA senior editor Verashni Pillay on shamelessly ideological grounds.  In her words, the post by "Shelley Garland" consisted of analysis that was "pretty standard feminist theory."  Pillay's shameless apologetics for "Garland's" post was pretty standard feminist apologetics.  Meaning not exactly pulitzer prize material.  In it was:

  • A list of tweets, messages and comments that HuffPost SA received in response from "angry white dewds" who were "Upset that everything is not always about THEM" intended to show that the backlash against the article was motivated, as everything always is, by racism and misogyny.
  • This monstrous paragraph, making up for in slogans, buzzwords and cliches what it clearly lacks in depth, analysis and creative thought: "Garland's underlying analysis about the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the world is pretty standard for feminist theory. It has been espoused in many different ways by feminist writers and theorists for decades now. In that sense, there was nothing in the article that should have shocked or surprised anybody (or so we thought.) It would appear that perhaps much of the outcry derives from a very poor reading of the article -- or perhaps none at all. Dismantling the patriarchal systems that have brought us to where we are today, a world where power is wielded to dangerous and destructive ends by men, and in particular white men, necessarily means a loss of power to those who hold it. A loss of oppressive power. Those who have held undue power granted to them by patriarchy must lose it for us to be truly equal. This seems blindingly obvious to us."
Any notion that "uneven distribution of wealth and power in the world" boil down to race, gender and identity rather than class, relations of production or political economy reveal quite plainly how deeply flawed what passes for "pretty standard for feminist theory" no doubt is.  

But in terms of what's wrong with Ms. Pillay's defence, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I have, in fact, tried to contact Ms. Pillay and asked her where she copy and pasted this drivel from.  I have yet to hear a response, though I suppose I do not need to.  I can copy and paste such tripe, almost verbatim, from any feminist blog or from the comments section beneath any pro or anti feminist article I can find anywhere on the web.

And that's the real problem here. 

What is "pretty standard for feminist theory" is dogmatism and self righteousness.  Is an inability to self reflect, and to entertain the prospect of its own fallibility.  What is "pretty standard" is that the only way to innovate in any closed system of belief is to carry the one single permissible vector of thought to ever increasing extremes.  That's why it was so plausible to so many readers that a feminist blogger would unironically suggest disenfranchising all white men.  Where to go from there I will not say, but I'm sure we can all guess.

As a result of the furor, Ms. Pillay has since submitted her resignation to HuffPost SA.  Notice that in Pillay's statement of resignation to the HuffPost, she says only, "I respect the office of the press ombudsman and have decided to tender my resignation. Thank you to Media24 for this opportunity and all the best to the team at HuffPost SA going forward."  And that is all.  No admission of either professional or moral wrongdoing.  

The "power plus prejudice" concept - the idea that racism and sexism are power plus prejudice and that it is therefore impossible for women of color such as Pillay to be racist or sexist, was the underlying rationale behind her blind acceptance of the "Garland" piece, and her decision to defend rather than reflect upon her choice to publish it, and defend it in purely ideological terms in the way that she did.  Power plus prejudice means that actually oppressing white males is impossible, since they are a "privileged" and "oppressor" class themselves, and that it is therefore impossible and nonsensical to suggest that the oppressor can themselves be oppressed.

Replace "white male" with "kulak" and one can easily see where this line of reasoning can lead.

In the manner of the true believer, Pillay confers all truth and all morality upon feminist theory, elevating it to the level of an infallible religion.  There will be no self reflection on Pillay's part, and she will doubtlessly regard herself as the victim, and express this sense of victimhood entirely in ideological terms.  Entirely through the use of slogans, buzzwords and witticisms that are the sole stock-in-trade of feminist theory: that she was victimized by "white male fragility" or something of the like.  The failure of the white male to see the eternal wisdom of feminist theory, even when it unironically advocates such rubbish as the disenfranchisement of white males, will doubtlessly be chalked up to white male racism and misogyny.

Keep drinking the Kool-Aid, Verashni.  It's what feminists do best.

As for the HuffPost SA itself, a somewhat more hopeful note is being sounded.  In a HuffPost SA piece entitled "A View On The Fake Blogpost: The Oversight Was That There Was No Oversight," author Gus Silber writes, "Slow down a little, HuffPost. Pause, ponder, reflect. Question fiercely everything you upload. Is it true? Is it good? Is it worth the rush? The world will still be here tomorrow, and there will still be time, in-between the page-views and the engagements, to be social and have fun."  Good advice.  Think I'll try and heed it myself, actually.

The title of another HuffPost piece by Sarah Britten expresses what can be our best hope, not merely for the Huffpost but all around: "More Empathy, Less Echo Chamber: A Genuinely Modest Proposal."

Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

More empathy, less echo chamber.  Nothing modest about that proposal.  It may well be the most radical, and the most necessary proposal of our time.

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