Thursday, 15 June 2017

Argumentative Styles of the SJWs and the Alt-Right

If you spend any length of time online at all, you will no doubt have heard references to the social justice warriors - SJWs, and the alt-right.  If you are reading this blog, it is likely you have more familiarity with both of these groups than most people.  It is easy to be dismissive of them since the bulk of their strength is on the internet.  This would be foolishly complacent.  For good or ill, the internet has become an important, and in some cases dominant medium of communication for many people.  We live in among the most revolutionary times in human history as far as media and communication are concerned.  The emergence of the internet and social media rival the emergence of the printing press in terms of importance.

Certain styles of communication are better suited to certain mediums than others.  You may want to read this blog's previous entry on "The Medium is the Message" to get a better idea of how and why this is.  The swift emergence of the SJW and alt-right movements are due, in part, to their successful adoption of new media.  Most online communication is not face to face, and so the anonymity enables a higher degree of raw visceralness that is not typical of more town hall style politics.  It will be important going forward, therefore, to be aware of how these movements work and how they propagate their messages.

What follows is a comparison and contrast of the ideological and argumentative styles of the Social Justice Warriors and the Alt-Right.  Bear in mind before you proceed, dear reader, that we are all fallible human beings and that even the best of us can fall into the use of these tactics from time to time.  Also there are times when the use of a tactic listed below may well be appropriate.  Anger is a perfectly justifiable response to the advocacy of some particularly odious points of view.  But with SJWs and Alt-Rightists, these lapses are not occasional, and are quite often intrinsic to their whole belief system.

Manichean World View and Paranoid Style
SJWs and the Alt-Right see politics in terms of an all or nothing struggle between forces of pure good and ultimate evil, and perceive themselves as the victims of and last line of resistance against a supremely powerful and malignant conspiracy or monolithic system of oppression.  White supremacy or white genocide, patriarchy or gynocentrism.  The problem isn't so much that there are no conspiracies or systems of inequality in the real world.  The problem is that SJWs and Alt-Rightists tend to view conspiracy and oppression as being all encompassing - as "the motive force in historical events" as Richard Hofstadter put it in his essay on the Paranoid Style in American politics.  This allows for no middle ground, no neutrality and no shades of grey.  You are either with them or you're against them, and they will treat you accordingly.

Ends Justifying the Means and Double Standards
Because SJWs and the Alt-Right perceive the world in such stark, good vs evil terms, they're inclined to think that any action taken to defeat the "evil" side is justified.  Even if those actions would otherwise be seen as evil themselves.  Both judge themselves by their intentions, which are usually (in their minds, at least) good, while judging others by the real-world outcomes of their actions and favored policies.  Sometimes this goes as far as the entire moral compass of the Alt-Rightist or SJW being attuned to whether or not it advances their cause.  Some belief systems are explicit in their view that it is acceptable to lie in order to advance their cause.  This causes bewildering and disarming cognitive dissonance to the uninitiated.  Rational people perceive the gap between the stated good intentions and the often ugly actions taken to achieve them, especially with SJWs, and can experience paralyzing confusion, and may even wonder if it is not themselves who are in the wrong somehow.

Argument From Intimidation and Character Assassination
Both the SWJs and the Alt-Right frame their arguments in such a way as to impugn the character of anyone who doesn't agree unconditionally.  It is implied that only a racist, a bigot, a cuck or a degenerate would hold another point of view.  SJWs and the Alt-Right often assume a dominating posture and take on a shrill and belligerent tone, in order to put their opponents on the defensive, disincentivize disagreement and frame the debate.  This is a common, go-to strategy to derail a conversation and cause opponents to spend so much of their efforts defending themselves from what are usually overblown allegations that very little time is spent pursuing their actual argument.

Emotional Reasoning
SJWs and Alt-Rightists can put on absolutely Oscar winning displays of anger, offense and outrage so as to create a tense and awkward situation that distracts from the substance of the arguments.  The emotional impact of an argument is privileged over its congruence with the facts and logical consistency.  Skillful ideologues have a knack for getting upset at precisely those arguments that are most threatening to their positions, and their opponents become reluctant to use what would otherwise be the best arguments in their arsenal for fear of being ridiculed or dealing with an angry tirade.  This is especially effective with SJWs, who exploit the natural sympathy that people have for victims of oppression and injustice to stigmatize and silence their opponents.

Signalling and Groupthink
Regressives of all kinds systematically ignore opposing arguments in favor of rhetorical gimmicks such as slogans, buzzwords and portmanteaus intended to demonstrate virtue and cleverness to their ideological allies.  SJWs accuse their opponents of mansplaining or whitesplaining, as examples.  Alt-Rightists use memes in much the same way.  Pepe the Frog throwing a commie out of a helicopter, or the like.  Both of these movements prioritize in-group loyalty and solidarity at the expense of independent perception and judgement of facts, conflicting evidence or disquieting observations that would call into question group beliefs.  Much of their presentation is done with this in mind.

Ad Hominem Attacks
This involves a direct attack upon the person holding an opposing view: insults, personalized hostility, ridicule and so forth.  Saul Alinsky once observed that ridicule is man's most potent weapon, for there is no defense. It's irrational. It's infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.  SJWs and the Alt-Right are aware of this and exploit it to the hilt.  They are, in fact, aware of much of what is in Rules for Radicals.  But they sometimes go further: relishing and gloating over personal misfortunes, doxing, threatening family or employment and so on.  Strong internet security and privacy are worth investing in if you are serious about opposing either the Alt-Right or SJWs.

Deconstruction and Reframing
These are high level tactics and their use indicates a skilled rhetorician and political thinker.  Essentially, they constitute a reframing of their opponents arguments to make them more controversial and less defensible.  To do this, they focus in on a single aspect of their opponent's arguments, right down to a few words even, and present them out of their original context.  Conversely, if confronted on a less savory aspect of their own platform, they reframe and reword their position to make it appear more palatable and moderate.  Employing these methods, and defending against them, takes awareness and practice.

Sexism and Sexual Repression
Both of these movements have strong undertones of gender preference.  The preference being for women for the SJWs and men for the Alt-Right.  This could not have been better personified than by the rival candidates for the US 2016 presidential elections.  SJWs and Alt-rightists come across as having "mommy" or "daddy" issues.  The SJWs are preoccupied with tearing down traditional notions of masculinity and femininity while the Alt-Right is preoccupied with upholding them.  And not just for themselves personally, but for the whole society.  This infuses the whole language of both causes.  SJWs denounce "toxic masculinity" while the Alt-Right insults its opponents by calling them "cucks", which are, by definition, unmanly.  Freudian concepts such as penis envy and castration anxiety seem to apply in spades to both sides.

As a corollary, notice that people in both of these movements attack a lack of sexual experience and prowess in their opponents.  Sooner or later, an exchange between the two boils down to people living in their parent's basements and being unable to get laid.

Finally, both sides advocate a high level of sexual control over society, and would regulate consensual sexual behaviors if it were in their power to do so.  The alt-right would suppress homosexuality and miscegenation and tend to prefer a male-initiator and passive female model of courtship.  The SWJs are especially distrustful of male heterosexuality, as they view it is paramount in the objectification of women.  A more recent preoccupation of the SJWs is the abolition of the gender binary all together.

Racism, Fundamentalism and Irrationality
Express disdain for specific racial groups.  This may be rationalized by alleged genetic superiority or by an appeal to alleged historical and/or contemporary privilege enjoyed by the disliked racial group.  Suffice it to say, a preference for whites over PoC is paramount on the Alt-Right, the reverse is true for the SJWs.

Religion serves as an effective corollary to race, often standing in for race among both SJWs and the Alt-Right.  Christianity is coded white while Islam is coded brown and/or black.  This results in paradoxical stances towards Islam in particular by both movements.  SJWs embrace Islam due to their white guilt and the Alt-Right deplores it due to their white supremacy, despite the strongly conservative stance towards women's rights and LGBT rights taken in Shari'a law.

As a related phenomenon, both the SJWs and the Alt-Right are skeptical of the enlightenment, liberalism, rationalism and universal concepts of human experience.  This is expressed on the alt-right through a dark enlightenment or neo-reaction, while the SJWs do so through postmodernism and poststructuralism.  Culture and identity are the order of the day for both.  As such, they seem impractical as actual philosophies for governance.  While the alt-right is anti-communist and the SJWs are usually, though not always, anti-capitalist, both have little time for the empirical and formulaic discipline of economics.

Both the SJWs and the Alt-Right are "feelings based" rather than "evidence based" movements, though selective use of evidence and even scientific process may be employed when it serves their aims. They do not like, and are seldom amenable to, serious scrutiny of their claims and views.  At heart, I think both represent a fusion of the personal and the political.  Often, SJWs and Alt-Rightists have personal axes to grind, or are attempting to rationalize an otherwise very self serving set of positions by appealing to ideology.

Often, but not always.  People in either movement may be sincere in their goals and may be genuinely well intended.  Likewise, even the most sensible and sober conservative, liberal or social democrat may have personal hang-ups that they project onto their view of the world order.  The idea here is not to idealize an impossibly cold and perfectly logical standard that even Mr. Spock would fail to measure up to.  But rather, it is important to emphasise that SJWs and the Alt-Right do not place the kind of premium on formal logic, the scientific method and empirical evidence that their skeptic community opponents tend to prize.  Adjust your expectations of engagements with SJWs and the Alt-Right accordingly.

It is also important that opponents of SJWs or Alt-Rightists not rely on any of the above alone to refute SJW or Alt-Right claims.  Their claims, no more or less than anyone else's, stand or fall on the basis of the evidence for them.  The fact that their positions are poorly argued and reinforced does not itself make their positions wrong. The ideological and argumentative styles listed above are not presented to refute the positions of SJWs and the Alt-Right, but rather to warn of the battery of rhetorical and ideological devices that they use to circumvent opponents who rely on sound logic and evidence as a basis for their own beliefs and as a means of challenging others.  Rationalists should not expect a fight on their terms when engaging SJWs or the Alt-Right.  Be warned.

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