Leah Letter

The men are at it again

They're mad about stuff online, but the problem is them, not the stuff.
Leah Letter

The men are at it again

They're mad about stuff online, but the problem is them, not the stuff.

There was a long piece in The New York Times this weekend about identity politics, which is a funny topic. It has become a bugaboo among old white men as something that is “ruining” America, even though “identity” is a fairly new concept for both the country and the human race. After all, not too long ago black people were slaves, women were considered to be property of their husbands, and children were for child labor, even if they had nut allergies. Also, everyone drove steam-powered cars. Really bad.

The only group of people for whom “identity” has remained a constant positive is white men. White men have always had robust identities, just look at all the magazines that cater to them. So it would make sense that white men would be threatened by the nascent rise of identity politics, because it signals that their hold on power is not as firm as it once was (but still: pretty firm). Still, the scads of op-eds and essays written largely by white men on this topic often fail to acknowledge that the most dominant identity in politics since the beginning of time has been theirs. Curious.

The Times piece was by one such man, Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla, so, a good start all around. Lilla’s article, not really worth your time unless you like screaming, is wrongheaded and fairly offensive in how it conflates narcissism with identity and also how it argues that Megyn Kelly and Laura Ingraham were affirmative-action hires for right-wing media (because their hair is slightly different shades of blonde, you see).

The only group of people for whom “identity” has remained a constant positive is white men.

The piece also contains this incredible sentence: “Recently I performed a little experiment during a sabbatical in France: For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones.” If you can’t tell, Mark Lilla is a man of the people. But also: white supremacy wears many different outfits. Sometimes it wears a fun bandana. Sometimes, a cravat. Sometimes it dresses like an unassuming professor in little colonial glasses.

White men and Francis Fukuyama went gaga for this piece. One excited man was Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor of business ethics (lol) at NYU, who said that he wanted to “tweet every paragraph” of it. Jonathan… please… control yourself. It should surprise no one that Haidt is a favorite scholar of the Vox.com intellektuals. Just last week he was interviewed by the site for a piece titled “Why social media is terrible for multiethnic democracies.” In this piece Haidt says some truly crazy shit, like, “multiculturalism and diversity have many benefits, including creativity and economic dynamism, but they also have major drawbacks, which is that they generally reduce social capital and trust and they amplify tribal tendencies.” VRRUUP What? Tribal tendencies? My man, it is 2016 and you are not Franz Boas. I also did a little journalist trick on this article – I searched for the words “economic disparity among racial and ethnic groups” in the text and they did not appear once!

Anyway, Haidt really hates social media, unless he is tweeting every paragraph of a Mark Lilla piece in ecstatic adulation. “So long as we are all immersed in a constant stream of unbelievable outrages perpetrated by the other side, I don’t see how we can ever trust each other and work together again,” he told Vocks. Hm. So people (except for Jonathan Haidt)… should… stop calling out... bad… things? Like poverty? And police shootings? And lack of civil rights? Yes. People (except for Jonathan Haidt) should stop saying stuff is bad online to make Jonathan Haidt more comfortable and his tiny vision of democracy workable. Sure, the problem is social media, guy.

Blaming social media for society’s ills is a very popular trick of the Oppressor. I get it, I really do. I hate Twitter so much. But I also love it! I could spend up to 70 hours reading tweets, with some short breaks for water and food. It’s so fun to see some people tweet jokes and others humiliate themselves. But tweeting is definitely immoral in many ways. Like when you tweet serious shit about how you should be egoless in the age of Trump, but tweeting is an inherently egotistical act because you are rewarded with likes and retweets. And you end up tweeting so much about not having an ego and how everyone should serve the less fortunate that you don’t actually have time to go do it yourself. Just something I have observed about no one in particular.

Blaming social media for society’s ills is a very popular trick of the Oppressor.

Wow, it has happened again. I am talking about Twitter and not the Oppressor! Goddamnit! You see how this works? Twitter is a bait-and-switch, a platform so terrible that it diverts attention away from the terrible people who use it, including dictators and fascists, and back to itself. It’s really incredible. The media falls for this time and time again. What’s the current count of articles about how Donald Trump uses Twitter? My guess is 17,000. I gotta say, the man is a genius is some ways, or maybe just in this one really vacuous way.

We really mustn't forget in this age of identity politique and our Twitterer-in-Chief that social media is ultimately just a vector. It’s a really terrible fucking vector with all kinds of exposed wires and shit, but a vector nonetheless. It has certainly played into the rise of “identity politics” because it literally lets people assert their identities and opinions online at no cost, and thus the voices of people who might have otherwise gone ignored by mainstream media are elevated.

Obviously this is gonna make the old white men mad, because social media is confusing to them and they are not good at memes. But any argument that blames Twitter or Facebook for our country’s ills is really stupid. The answer to anything, of course, is never less discourse but more, even on terrible and annoying and problematic social media which will probably not exist in five years. It’s too bad because Twitter really has been the great equalizer, a place where people of all races and genders can be horrifically harassed for any reason, yay, finally we are all equal.

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