Democratic Despair

Frustration - Tancredi TrugenbergerI’ve been reading the Internet again.

If I’ve told myself once, I’ve told myself a thousand times that it isn’t good for me, but I still do it. I forget. I drift into this fantasy world in which the Internet/Earth is inhabited by intelligent, articulate people who enjoy developing their own ideas through discourse, consideration of each other’s carefully delineated viewpoints and a walk about in the shoes of people with different experiences.

So every time I follow a seemingly innocuous link on a topic of interest to me, I am devastated anew when apparently sentient beings unquestioningly espouse opinions that are evidently a product of the emotional parts of their brain, entirely unmediated by the logic lobe. I’m even more devastated when those opinions are expressed in heinous generalisations, massive logical fallacies and almost entirely emotive language.

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I am frustrated by this to the point of weeping/ranting/hyperventilating/overeating. I’m currently really, really interested in, among other things, the question of where Feminism stands in the 21st Century, and in the seeming rise of anti-male sentiment in the Media, so I often follow Twitter links to articles on this kind of topic in the hope that I will find a thought-provoking well-expressed piece of writing (I sometimes do), which leads to an inspiring and enlightening discussion to which I might like to contribute (it rarely does). You’d think I would’ve learned by now.

Last night I followed various links from Twitter, through ‘The Good Men Project’ (a site that makes a refreshingly concerted effort to be fair and balanced, but is regularly accused of pandering to Feminism) and out the other side while exploring anti-Feminist opinions. I am, as I hope I have made clear, suspicious of all ‘-ism’s, and am therefore loosely a ‘Feminist’ who is very open to criticism of Feminism. All standpoints need questioning, and all beliefs need challenging. So I clicked on an Exposing Feminism article about the shaming of men to see if it made any interesting points. I’ve discussed shaming before with spouse who has argued that it may be time to move on from shaming British people for colonial actions carried out by their ancestors, and modern men for the actions of men in the past. This is a point I think worthy of consideration, so I was prepared to consider the points in this article.

I was initially put off by the emotive language in the writer’s description of the: “… histrionic behavior of female detractors who refuse to argue their points with logic”, but overlooked it and read on into the article, which is a bullet pointed catalogue of responses that Men’s Rights Activists apparently receive from women in response to their logical points in debate.

I had three responses to his list. The first response was a gut reaction. We all – whether we deny it to ourselves or not – initially respond to things with an in-built gut response that comes from our own personal subject position or belief system. Mine was, ‘no woman EVER said that!‘ But it took all of 45 seconds to remember that, a) women can be just as stupid as men can and b) it is usually necessary in debate to take a speaker’s experiences at face value as it’s impossible to confirm or deny them.

My second response was the realisation that I had, in fact, encountered some of these responses in online gender debates, for example, “You’re afraid of a strong woman”, “You’re just afraid of losing your male privileges,” and what the writer calls “Code Brown” – the accusation that the person you’re arguing with is being some kind of ‘Fascist’ – a logical fallacy I’ve seen regularly used in all kinds of debates not just the gender one. It’s so frequently used that a name has been invented for it: Reductio ad Hitlerum.
fascistFair enough then, I thought. If Feminists are throwing this sort of rubbish around, then Men’s Rights Activists have a right to object. That is no way to hold a proper debate. And some of the other comments the writer reports are just embarrassingly shit. Apparently, a common response from women to points in debate is: ““You are going to make me cry.” Ok, I am taking the writer’s word for it here. If women are using that as a contribution to a discussion, then they deserve to get destroyed by superior intellects. Other shit things women apparently say when men explain their viewpoint are: “Suck it up like a man!” and “I’m not interested in boys. I’m interested in real men.” And, “Men are shirking their God-given responsibility to marry and bear children.” And, “I need a real man, not a sissy.”

Now, let’s pause a moment here. This article is written in the context of a debate in which some Men’s Right’s Activists (do we have these in the UK, or is it exclusively an American thing?) are saying that Feminists are more man-haters than equality-advocates. The strapline of this site is: “Feminism purports to concern itself only with equality – but in reality propagates mistrust, tension and hatred between the sexes.” Although this particular article refers to ‘women’ rather than ‘Feminists’, the implication that it is ‘Feminists’ who are saying this stupid stuff is clearly there, and that it is, therefore, ‘Feminism’ that is responsible for the perceived threat to the rights of men that has resulted in the Men’s Rights Movement.

But let’s look at some of these comments. Would a Feminist – a person who is interested in the debates about which aspects of maleness and femaleness are biological and which are culturally constructed, and – being a ‘Feminist’ is highly likely to believe cultural construction is a major player, and that the cultural construction of gender traits can sometimes restrict people’s freedoms to live in ways that don’t fit a culture’s gender stereotypes – would this be the sort of person who would call a man “a cissy” or a “real man”, with all that connotes? Would a ‘Feminist’ – an inheritor of the fight for women to be able to live independently from men and so come together with men on equal terms – use the phrase “I need a man who…”?

You get my point. It’s not ‘Feminists’ that are the problem here. It’s stupid people. And there is no respite from idiocy in the Great Chain of Stupid that follows the article, and unfortunately for the writer, the stupid comes from both sides of the debate. He must surely be delighted that contributors are supporting his viewpoint with well-considered arguments such as, “Women NEVER SHUT UP, they are never happy, and they are like locusts…”, and “I am surprised that “Femi-Nazi’s … have not taken the major mafia clans to court under the guise of “discrimination” to have “wimmin” inducted into the Mafia……What a joke!….LOL! Helpful of this contributor to provide an example of someone on the writer’s ‘side’ using the precise same reasoning fallacy he is accusing ‘Feminists’ of. Pure idiocy.

And if you think this piece is a bit one sided in identifying poor argument, then permit me to show you something tweeted by the Everyday Sexism project.


At first glance, this is pretty compelling evidence of the ubiquity of some very archaic attitudes to women. So I decided to look at the top sites that are thrown up by some of these searches. Here’s one of the search examples:

women shouldn'tOne article about women’s right to sex, two that are pro-women’s rights, an article expressing outrage at an American saying women shouldn’t have been given the vote and someone asking for help with their Suffragettes History homework. Nothing (apart from a backward reverend in America that nobody agrees with) here to pose the slightest threat to women’s rights. But very much the type of thing that goes round the Internet, is posted all over Facebook, and used as ‘evidence’ of whatever point of view its posters are espousing. This kind of flimsy evidence doesn’t do the credibility of a cause any good at all. And in this case, The Everyday Sexism project can be damaged by it. When some (plenty) of the evidence given to prove there are still problems for women in society is  weak or spurious, it gives credence to the opposition’s claim that women are being pathetic complainers instead of raising valid concerns.

But the same goes for all debates over issues that matter. And the problem is not people’s individual viewpoints – it’s their individual inability to comprehend each other and hold a legitimate debate. I am firmly of the belief that we should be able to discuss anything. And I mean ANYTHING. Tom Matlack at The Good Men project was right to publish an article by a rapist. Feminists should open their ears and consider the points of view of the white males they blame for patriarchal oppression. The most taboo subjects – such as holocaust denial – are the most important topics of all to be tackled. In an open society that believes in freedom of speech, all points of view should be heard. Nothing silenced.

But if we as a society and as individuals do not have the ability to recognise when we are using emotion over logic, to stand back and inspect our own reactions, to consider their validity and where they are coming from, to listen to a point of view we find abhorrent and argue against it using reasoning rather than anger, to recognise that groups of people are made up of differing individuals and not homogenous lumps of identical beliefs, to take time to check our sources and evidence before we use them to confirm our biases and to consider openly whether someone else’s experience or evidence should make us adapt our own belief system, then I can’t see how we can progress as a society at all. If I were to put my catastrophising head on, I’d say democracy is pretty much a failed ideal. It was dreamed up as a collaboration of thinkers, not a toddler fight in a playgroup.

The problem isn’t people’s points-of-view, it’s people’s stupidity.


27 replies to “Democratic Despair

  1. This is very well-written. What has really been lost in every dipstick on the planet having a forum for his or her opinion (myself included) are the skills to debate, discuss and even argue without using inflammatory language or blanket statements.

    I think emotion has a place in a debate if it is correctly named – most people go straight to angry defensiveness instead of saying what they really mean, which is usually “I’m scared”, “I worry about this”, “I feel personally threatened”. Imagine if we had discussions that were a little more self-aware and open. I don’t want a hug-fest, but connecting as humans before we take opposite corners changes the nature of any debate.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Had that same conversation with spouse today about emotion. When you see it the way you just explained it, it could be a positive asset to a discussion. But we often don’t even recognise those emotions at all.

      I used to teach Critical Thinking to teenagers, which was basically this stuff – how to construct logical arguments with evidence to support your points and how to spot assumptions and fallacies in argument. The college stopped it because universities weren’t accepting it as a valid qualification to get in, while they were at the same time bemoaning the lack of critical skills in their undergraduates.


      1. Critical thinking is on the top of my list for parenting. When my daughter went through her “I want” phase at the grocery store, that poor kid was walked up and down the cereal aisle to have a discussion about what the advertisers were trying to do by using cartoons and bright colors on boxes. Now she is getting to an age where I see all that teaching kicking in and I am thrilled by our conversations. It gives me hope!

      2. It’s really exciting when you start being able to have genuinely interesting conversations with your children! It is absolutely obvious to teachers which students have these opportunities at home and which don’t.

        I suppose that all we can do as parents and/or teachers is do the best we can with those we have in our care. There’s that ‘be the change that you want to see’ thing. Not sure who said it. And it’s really frustratingly slow!

  2. Thank you for this great post! “The problem isn’t people’s points-of-view, it’s people’s stupidity.” Exactly. Or people’s narrow-mindedness. It’s such a shame that humankind can’t get over itself. So often the human mind rates simple conclusions over a thoughtful, complex discussion, even if this simplicity needs to be (brutally) constructed (in my opinion, nothing is really as simple as often declared and I always get suspicious over people reducing something complex down to a few words – be it a religious or ideological statement). Somehow we seem to fear nothing more than complexity (which inhabits unanswered questions), and it is difficult to bare the thought that maybe nobody is plain “right” and nobody is plain “wrong” in a discussion. With this fear it is really hard to listen to eachother, for everyone I guess. We hear something that questions our simple constructions in some field of interest and just react, infused in a sudden wave of denial and disgust, like they were trying to poison us. I really wish we could all relax and remember that the human mind is not capable of seeing the complex reality as it might “really be”. We are so limited in our senses and ability to see a bigger part of “the whole picture”. And that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be frightening to live in a complex world we don’t fully understand. We could see eachother’s inputs to a discussion as one more individual tiny part of a complex picture that doesn’t have to scare the shit out of us. Nobody of us knows anything significantly more about this weird thing we call “reality” than any other. I wish we could just listen to eachother’s tiny parts without throwing all those parts at eachother and create a glorious mess all the time.

    1. And then there’s confirmation bias which means people are only hearing what they want to hear to back up what they already think, and entirely disregarding everything else.

      Which means everyone is just yelling their own opinions out into a void. A bit like being on Twitter!

      1. Absolutley. And Twitter never fails to frustrate me 😉 I can’t remember who said it, but some (neuro-/biology?-)scientist pointed out that our brains are trained to think in binaries and it’s super hard work for them to even think a third entity with it. Our brain seems to just *have to* turn everything into a dichotomy to be able to deal with it (good vs. evil, men vs. women…).
        The confirmation bias is really hard to overcome, we just can’t cope with complexity. When I did research for my master’s thesis on stigma, everything came back to this one as a main factor why it’s so difficult (and time-consuming) to change society’s attitude towards a specific group that is stigmatized. They figured out that even if someone had a friend/family member that was part of that stigmatized group, and so their personal attitude towards this group in general should have been different to those that just repeatedly cried out old cliches without knowing anyone real with these features, they still most of the time developed even stronger resentments against this special group and saw the one they knew as an “exeption to the rule” which meant that the rule itself would not be challenged, and so the overall structure of simple rules could remain… How is it even possible for humankind to have ever made any progress at all? It must have been magic.
        Now this is a long comment again, I always fail to keep it short — and searching for the right words in this complex (haha) topic in a foreign language isn’t helping much 😉
        Best wishes!

      2. Regarding remark on dichotomous thinking, below, it occurred to me that it is odd that psychologists usually regard black-and-white thinking as symptomatic of many personality disorders. Then, I thought maybe that explains a lot, actually.

      3. I didn’t know that…. but it explains a LOT.

        It also means that more people have personality disorders than don’t. Which probably means that not having a personality disorder is a personality disorder.

      4. It might be labelled a “personality order.”

        Perhaps there is more than one kind of personality order though? For example, I can be balanced and nuanced in a number of dysfunctional ways.

      5. We need to set down some kind of pivot point from which all disorder and order can be measured.

        My dad once claimed that he is the most sane person in the whole world. If we use him as a starting point…

      6. It might not work like that… they say that every point in the universe is the ‘middle,’ in relation to every other point, at least. I think it could be the same for order and disorder. :/

      7. Do we not all feel that about our fathers, when they move around?

        We might call this, “my-personality-is-the-universe bias.”

        On the other hand, if it IS your dad doing this, it would explain a lot.

      8. It’s probably called the “my dad’s personality is the universe bias”. Although your version is probably more common. I remember thinking (when I was in primary school) that the entire world was just a big trick and everyone was watching my reaction to it. This could be called The “Truman Show Bias”.

        But it’s probably just my dad.

  3. *imagine a blushing face* That’s too kind of you to say! I always feel like my english posts look like a piece of scrabled eggs, lacking any form and you have to put the bits and pieces together like in a puzzle to get a meaning out of it… 😀 Funny thing is it feels like I can write a bit better about topics in the field of human sciences, since university forced us to read mostly original english texts. I could write an essay about the inventing of the subject in the 19th century in english but I fail completly talking about everyday stuff like tv shows 😉 And I would be absolutly lost without my online dictionary. So don’t feel bad! It takes me an eternity to get a post together like the ones above. Definetly nothing suitable for a real-life face-to-face discussion. By the time I’d have my words together to make my argument, everybody would already be chatting about whatever else I’ve lost the plot of… Despite my novel-like posts here I’m usually a quiet person 😉

    1. That’s one of the brilliant things about the Internet, isn’t it? We can remake ourselves a bit. In real life, some people who don’t know me all that well think I’m scatty and a bit odd (according to the people in my new office!). They don’t see the side of me that, like you, can be incredibly ordered and logical and argue like a razor blade…

      1. Yes, indeed! Internet can be a great opportunity to express a side of ourselves that doesn’t always have room in the “real” world (for whatever reason). Since I mostly failed to talk in class (too introvert / afraid of people in general), people there thought I was arrogant and/or not a good student. I have to admit I liked their surprised faces when they had to read some academic essay I wrote or heard about the grades I got for them. Ha! That delayed but sweet gratification! And I’m here and I can read about interesting topics and sometimes I am all chatty and talkative and can even get myself to be part in a discussion. So, the Internet has Twitter and Facebook, but the Internet is not all bad and ugly. 🙂 Have a peaceful night!

  4. Re: Last night I followed various links from Twitter, through ‘The Good Men Project’ (a site that makes a refreshingly concerted effort to be fair and balanced, but is regularly accused of pandering to Feminism)

    The reason they are accused of pandering to feminism is because they do! The real problem is your feminist entitlement complex that makes you think that you and your fellow feminists can make up and repeat lies against the male without being challenged.

      1. Looks like I’ll be kicking myself over this one for a long time. The next few paragraphs after your statement about the ‘Good Men’ Project’ indicated to me that you were just the average blow hard feminist which are a dime a dozen and so I did indeed stop reading at that point. I’ll be careful not to make that mistake again. I modified my comment on my site and left a comment as to why I dislike the ‘Good Men Project’. As for myself I have my own ideas on what constitutes a good man and despise both the feminists and mra’s who – in the past – have attempted to force their own misguided ideas on me.

  5. Reblogged this on Autumn Leaves and commented:
    Re: Last night I followed various links from Twitter, through ‘The Good Men Project’ (a site that makes a refreshingly concerted effort to be fair and balanced, but is regularly accused of pandering to Feminism)

    The reason they are accused of pandering to feminism is because they do! The real problem is your feminist entitlement complex that makes you think that you and your fellow feminists can make up and repeat lies against the male gender without being challenged. Women make great writers of romance and erotic fiction and poetry because they have a talent for writing emotionally. Unfortunately the women who created “feminist ideology” made a willful choice to engage in emotional writing coupled with outright lies and myths without engaging in critical thinking. This is why the intellectual tyranny of feminism has come under such a relentless intellectual attack and as a result is in the process of being completely discredited.

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