Archives for category: Social Criticism

The Left often gets labeled as the sentimental side of the political spectrum. They are the bleeding hearts, after all – shedding tears over every little injustice, naïve about the realities of the world. The Left doesn’t even really deny this, either. They will often use far-off injustices to try to shame the Right, attempting to claim an emotional universality. It’s normal to weep over the corpses of strangers on the other side of the planet, and if the world doesn’t weep with you, it’s because there just isn’t enough empathy and compassion. If the world cared a teeny bit more, then we would have that world peace that everyone keeps talking about. So really, it’s unanimous – the Left is too emotional, and the Right isn’t emotional enough. Bipartisan agreement means it must be true, right?

Karl Rove, the Deputy Chief of Staff during the Bush Jr. years and one of the architects of the Iraq war, famously quipped, “Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said, We will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said, We must understand our enemies.” Now, it might be argued that the liberals here are more emotional because they are presumably caring about the terrorists and want a more compassionate response, whereas the badass conservatives are leaping into action to solve the problem. But like… even on its face, the liberals are being painted here as the more cautious and cerebral of the two groups, no? Regardless of the motivation, they want to spend some time thinking on it. The impulsive action is in most other cases derided as the more emotional of the two actions described by Rove. Our gut reaction is the emotional reaction, and particularly in heated situations, the more rational thing to do is slow down, breathe, and try to understand the situation before saying or doing anything.

Pictured: a typical leftist bear throwing a tantrum

The Right does this often. Don’t try to understand why crime happens, be tough on crime! Don’t bother figuring out the root causes of addiction, force the addict into treatment! The more cynical leftist might argue that the Right is suggesting these paths after Machiavellian deliberation, recognizing that capitalism requires an under-class, and freeing people from the bondage of trauma and poverty would free up the working class more broadly, lowering the profit margins of the wealthy. I think the simpler and more likely answer is that the Right is being driven by its emotions, and coming up with action movie policies based on horror movie fears. Crime is scary! Addicts are scary! We need to get rid of them fast before they get us! While it may appear that the Right is often angry at these things they’re actively choosing not to understand (anger obviously doesn’t count as an emotion, but more on that later), that anger is an obvious mask for the underlying fear of the bogeyman driving their political agenda.

Frankly, that is probably enough evidence that the Right is more emotional than the Left, but it actually goes much deeper than that. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who helped found the Moral Foundation Theory, which articulates that human beings have moral beliefs embedded in us that drive our moral perspectives. They are care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. While the list fluctuates, we’ll stick with this version. According to Haidt, the Left prioritizes care/harm and fairness/cheating to the detriment of the others while the Right will accept them all about equally. We’re not going to explore the validity of Moral Foundation Theory today, but I think it’s safe enough to accept it on its own terms for our purposes in this article. The Right has a wider degree of moral options than the Left.

In order for this to be moral, she needs to be loyal to him as the patriarch of the family, otherwise this image is a sinful mess.

The thing about morals though, is that they’re emotionally driven. We are angry at injustice. We feel contempt for the socially disruptive. We are disgusted by the flagrant. There is no pool of objective morality that we draw from whenever we see some moral violation; we have an emotional response that we then define as moral based on our cultural upbringing. That’s how even though morality can shift quite radically across cultures, there is enough truth to the Moral Foundations Theory that some version of each appear pretty abundantly across the world – again, we’re not getting into the problems of the theory, and generalities are enough for today. All humans have basically the same emotions; therefore, all humans have basically the same bases for their morality (however it may develop within a local framework). The emotions line up quite nicely: love with care, fear/anger at harm, attachment with loyalty, indignation at cheating, reverence for authority, and disgust at degradation. Haidt is actually quite explicit in this as he develops the theory.

So if morals are emotionally driven, and the Right is driven by a wider set of morals, then the Right is inherently driven more by emotion. This makes a lot of sense. If you consider all the attempts to justify the existence of the LGBT community by the Left using facts and logic, they very rarely make any kind of impact on the Right. That’s because it’s not facts or logic driving the Right’s perspective: it’s disgust. They see LGBT people as degrading society. Same with drugs, same with sex work; pretty much all the things we might consider vice, the Right thinks is gross. That’s why they don’t want to find ways to live with these things, like through tolerance or harm reduction, they just want to get rid of them. If you saw a spider next to your plate at dinner time, you wouldn’t want to find a way to live harmoniously with that spider while you ate your meal, you would need to get rid of it. That’s the attitude the Right takes toward human beings with lifestyles alien to their own. It’s disgust. It’s emotional. It’s not driven by reason.

Maybe it would be more appealing if we knew for a fact that the spider identified as the gender it was assigned at birth

Same thing with authority. The Left isn’t actually against the idea of authority. Mikhail Bakunin, one of the founders of modern anarchism and thus not a huge proponent of authority as it is traditionally understood, said, “When it is a question of boots, I refer the matter to the authority of the cobbler; when it is a question of houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For each special area of knowledge I speak to the appropriate expert. But I allow neither the cobbler nor the architect nor the scientist to impose upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and verification.” It’s the difference between Anthony Fauci and Donald Trump during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Americans on the Left listened to Fauci because he had decades of experience in public health and immunology. Fauci himself as a person was irrelevant – it could have been anyone saying what he was saying; the experience and expertise were what mattered. The Right listened to Donald Trump because he was their leader, a moral trait he leaned into hard. Whenever he got anything wrong, it was forgiven because emotional reverence supersedes worldly concerns. Not to say that Anthony Fauci is infallible, or that the experts can’t get it wrong, it’s just that the motivation for the Left to respect an authority isn’t as emotionally driven as it is for the Right. The Left doesn’t have the same moral component to their respect for authority, therefore they also lack the emotional component.

So, if the Right is far and away more emotional than the Left, why does the myth of their stoic resolve win in almost every instance? Why is there bipartisan agreement that the Left is a bunch of whiny babies? I don’t have a concrete answer, but my personal theory is that emotions have a branding problem. When we think of emotions, we think of a woman crying or throwing a hissy fit. We don’t think of a manly anger (likely masking a fear), or a righteous indignation, or a social disgust – we think of girly girls who can’t handle a hard reality. The perceived stoicism of the Right is driven by essentially an anti-feminist hyper-masculinity that demands a numbness to the things the Left might care about. When men get angry enough to punch a wall, that’s not being emotional – that’s being tough. When the Right thinks two dudes holding hands is gross, that’s not emotional, that’s Godly. The Right can’t be emotional because emotions are for girls, and the Left has already claimed feminism. The Left embraces this divide because it’s like, “Heck yeah! Emotions! We’re girly feminists who cry sometimes and that’s empowering!”

This must be that Critical Race Theory that everyone keeps talking about

So how do we rectify a situation where the political ideology that is actually the more rational denies that categorization in favour of leaning into the Bleeding Heart narrative? How do we convince another political ideology that has severed itself from any perception of emotional “weakness” that most of its talking points are actually based on those same emotions they’re trying to hide from? We need to be honest about our emotions, and have a greater understanding of how emotions are infused into many areas of our lives that we might not fully understand. And also, that it’s okay to have emotions! You can think gay sex is gross – I promise you, you won’t be canceled. Just don’t have gay sex! It’s easier than you think! But it becomes a lot harder to justify moral impositions on society when we know that those morals are only grounded in our wholly subjective emotional responses. If I think salmon is gross, how monstrous would I be to make sure no one is ever allowed to eat salmon again? As for the bizarre hypocrisy of the Left? I dunno man, the Left is just weird.

Youtube’s algorithm recommended me a clip from the television show Mr. Inbetween. Given that my life is an empty husk papered over by the addictive black hole of video social media, I watched it. In the clip, there is the character Ray sitting in what I assume is a court-mandated anger management class – I haven’t seen the show, I am making this assumption based on the context given in the clip. Ray is nonchalant about his violence, and sees himself justified in it as the people whom he is violent toward “have it coming.” He describes beating the shit out of two young men who swore at his daughter after knocking her ice cream off the cone, an almost cartoonish stereotype. Yet Ray is the hero of his own story; he is providing the just desserts that society no longer feels comfortable distributing. The group facilitator, whom I take to be the personification of society in this clip, doesn’t care to have looked into the full story of Ray’s assault, and can only pipe up strawman assumptions that everyone would agree are morally impermissible. Ray gently corrects him, and in the end, the facilitator – somewhat sardonically – thanks Ray on behalf of society for his service in ensuring consequences for the assholes among us. We are left with the impression that Ray is in the right to have used violence to resolve his conflict, and while society may not believe he is right, it is left without an argument against it. That impression is reinforced by the ubiquity of agreement with Ray in the Youtube comment section.

I’m not going to lie, I would probably enjoy the show if I watched it. It’s rated 8.6 on IMDB!

As hopefully everyone reading this knows, stories aren’t reflections of reality, but manifestations of the perception of reality of the people who produce them. There is ideology behind every piece of media, not just the endless emesis of woke remakes. The ideology behind this scene is actually pretty straightforward: might makes right. It might be argued that the show is trying to portray an absolutist sense of “right” that needs “might” to defend it against the decaying moral fabric of society brought on by decadence and degeneracy, but it’s… not. I mean, it is in the sense that it’s trying to put forward that position, but it’s not because the core of that argument is still that might makes right.

Ray’s position is that the two young men have touched a hot stove and will now think twice before doing so again, but that’s a false analogy. Ray’s argument that it’s wrong to swear at little girls isn’t an immutable objective fact like the searing heat coming off a lit stove, it’s a proposition only backed up by his physical dominance. All it takes for his argument to flounder is those two men jumping him in an alley with baseball bats, and all of a sudden it’s okay to swear at little girls again. He’s not “right”; he won a fight. He becomes wrong again immediately after a successful retaliation. The argument is only valid so long as he possesses the capacity for violence necessary to defend it. The lesson learned isn’t likely going to be that it’s wrong to swear at little girls; that is not the inherent consequence to losing a fight. The lesson could easily be that additional violence is necessary to retain ideological dominance.

An excellent point, sir! Now for my rebuttal.

This façade of justified violence to prevent social decay is endemic beyond the ideology of an individual bluffing his way through an anger management class. It is the ideology of Tough On Crime: criminals are the perfectly unreasonable; they are diametrically opposed to rational argument, and therefore can only be confronted and cowed by violence. It’s the only language they understand, dontcha know! When people demand Tough On Crime policies, they are demanding the irrefutable argument of violent state power. The reality is that it’s actually the abandonment of rationality because as discussed above, this approach is only a simplistic manifestation of might making right. It only appears more defensible because the government has a monopoly on violence – you can’t jump the State in a back alley if you disagree with your arrest.

This is only justifiable if we agree that people who commit crimes aren’t actually human in the Aristotelian sense. It necessarily demands the inherently flawed black and white thinking cognitive-behavioural therapists call a “cognitive distortion.” We must “show strength” against Russia because Putin is an unthinking monster and diplomacy is a waste of time! But in following this line of thought, we have to abandon our own rationality in order to justify it. We abandon our own humanity in order to pursue only the shakiest form of ideological dominance. Is then Putin not justified in his aggression against the West because we have ourselves become the unreasonable? How this self-perpetuating cycle of unexamined brutality has lasted throughout history is tragically obvious. The moral righteousness of imperialism always seems to have been determined by who has more guns.

It’s also how we determine which culture is more civilized!

Violence as an epistemology is a failure of civilization. Asserting its value as a first resort, as in Hawkish ideology or Tough On Crime rhetoric, is like beating the shit out of a waiter because your order was wrong. Even violence as a last resort is somewhat dubious in its discursive value. It’s anti-democratic in the sense that collective will and wisdom are secondary to the ideology of those directing the thugs with the batons. If you can’t convince or compromise, physically dominate.

The “why” behind someone’s actions matters. Even if the young men never verbally abused a child again, doing so out of fear of violence is the stupidest possible reason in the world. The rationale behind our actions, and the rationale behind our change, matters. When Ricky Gervais tweets about the absurdity of God’s threat of eternal punishment being the only inhibitor to social devastation, he’s making this same point. We have ways of measuring what is socially beneficial and destructive now, and it turns out that corporal punishment is quite categorically on the destructive side! Punishment does not deter crime; accountability does. It is measurably better to treat children with communal love and kindness because we know of its positive benefits to both the child and society – we’re far more likely to be accountable to that maxim if we are convinced of its merit.

Weirdly, there are some rather mainstream circles that decry that we’re not being violent enough in our noble pursuit of truth, with some even thinking it is the bedrock of discourse. Without the threat of violence, how will we even know how to behave rationally!? I guess fear drives rational thought better than a logical argument. Of course this is all nonsense, but the lamenting over the “pussification” of men and its impact on society at large has infected much of the right-wing discourse. Mr. Inbetween, at least in that one scene, is overt right-wing propaganda for exactly this. The facilitator, wanting to talk about feelings, fails to undermine the sanctity of violence as an epistemology. It is a celebration of posturing over reason. The strong construct castles of reality and defend them jealously and without thought, and this is encouraged. If someone says that maybe talking about your feelings is a good thing, punch them. Our castle walls must remain strong.

All in all

This is a crisis of masculinity. Society does not see violence as a particularly feminine trope, so its cultural obsolescence is only a threat to the men who don’t have anything else going for them. No one expects women to defend their ideas with violence; the sophists of violence don’t particularly expect women to have ideas worth defending at all. There’s a reason it’s called social pussification: the sacrosanct epistemology of masculine violence has been defiled by feminine influence. Personally, I’m offended, nay, triggered! that my gender has been inextricably associated with the laziest form of argument. The criticisms against feminists for their hysterical misandry pale in comparison to the notion that men need to stoop to the discursive style of chimpanzees in order to be considered men. Talk about an own-goal.

We don’t commit crimes or break social mores when we don’t have reasons to. When we understand those reasons, we’ll probably be a lot bettered prepared to actually address them. If we think we can fix complex social issues by beating up all the assholes, we ourselves have, by definition, become an asshole. If you can’t come up with a convincing argument as to why verbally abusing a child is wrong, then maybe you shouldn’t be chiming in at all.

I drive through your town, and while I am the one behind the glass, you are the one under the microscope, a grazing beast on my human safari. I am the looker; you are the looked upon.

I come to your home, my attention rapt upon you, a voyeur with a camera, legitimized by my passport. I am the visitor, you the local, yet you become the foreigner under my gaze. Your normal becomes exotic, your habit queer. Do not forget that this exchange is for the benefit of the intruder.

I watch you live. I see you cook your food and wash your clothes. I see you pray; I watch you grieve, documenting your life under my rapaciously curious gaze, snapping photographs – memories archived for amusing gossip with friends upon my return. Having witnessed it for a few days, I stake ownership over your story and tell it now as the expert, the wisdom of a worldly traveler.

You endure my objectification, smile at my unencumbered white skin, because more than you are here for my enlightened diversion, I am here for your necessity. The scraps you live on are viciously insufficient, forcing you to beg for some off my own gluttonous plate. I chafe at the expectation, indignant that the price of a beer has outrageously ballooned to three dollars a bottle when in the last town it was only two. If you are lucky, I will remember I pay eight dollars at home, and tip you the difference. Do you feel lucky?

You are examined, inspected, scrutinized, and then you are abandoned. You are left in your poverty. You remain without. I return to comfort, and declare your life “interesting.” Your role as an item on my bucket list has been fulfilled.

We the tourists are entitled to the world, colonizers with fanny packs.

Yet those who never leave their home cannot see. They are limited by a provincial myopia, and the world revolves without them. Your story is forever elusive. If you are seen at all, it is through the distorting prism of media gloss and political bombast. You are both monster and victim, your humanity buried under self-serving spin.

Is this an improvement? Are you better off ignored? Must I remain detached from your existence to avoid exploitation? How can I see you without looking? How can I engage with you equitably when my very status as visitor privileges me over you?

I aim to exemplify the virtues of the guest. I engage with you on the terms of your household. When there is discomfort, I tolerate it, recognizing the privilege of your hospitality and embodying the humility of one out of their element. You are my host, receiving me with gratitude and generosity. No longer taking, what I gain is what is shared.

We are no longer detached, observer and the observed. We embrace across borders. I do not return to a different, more comfortable world, recalling you as an alien Other. We persist in the same world, unfair in my favour. I seek you in solidarity, a global fraternity. May we remain united.