Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Magic Words: "Tone Policing" And "Gaslighting"

In the interests of clarity, a brief discourse on the subject of two words I see frequently in various conversations around the Internet: "tone policing" and "gaslighting". Both could have legitimate uses, but as typically employed, they reflect poorly on the user. Despite claims to the opposite, they are in fact efforts to silence discussion.

Tone Policing

For "tone policing", I head to the always useful Everyday Feminism, which provides an example from Robot Hugs.

That's all nice, but it also fails a critical test: if you want to persuade people of your position, you need to take their interests and viewpoints in mind. That is, to object "tone policing" is the sound of the speaker failing to tailor the message to the audience — and demanding that audience listen and agree anyway. You want to call people names, yell at the top of your lungs, have a tantrum in public? Fine, but don't expect anyone to pay attention to your position, let alone adopt it. Is your purpose to persuade, or vent?

That is, ultimately, they must answer the question, do I want to be a jerk in order to make a point? For a longer-form meditation on tone policing that involves Arthur Chu, the now-ancient hashtag #StopClymer, and whales not getting cancer, Scott Alexander's "Living By The Sword" has some interesting (if perhaps overlong) examples. He wraps up thusly:
... [I]f you elevate jerkishness into a principle, if you try to undermine the rules that keep niceness, community, and civilization going, the defenses against social cancer – then your movement will fracture, it will be hugely embarrassing, the atmosphere will become toxic, unpopular people will be thrown to the mob, everyone but the thickest-skinned will bow out, the people you need to convince will view you with a mixture of terror and loathing, and you’ll spend so much time dealing with internal conflicts that you’ll never get enough blood supply to grow large enough to kill a whale.
The whale-killing remark stems from an observation that whales don't apparently get cancer; one possible explanation for this is that cancers are not all that good at cooperation, and so "whales survive because they are so big that their cancers get cancer and die." (He mentions in the text that this is possibly not the case, but ad argumentum it serves his purpose for social structures as well.) That is, non-cooperative actors in a society, if they get to be numerous enough, start succumbing to their intrinsic fractiousness and selfishness. It looks something like this, on-screen:


Derived from the 1944 feature Gas Light; Wikipedia expands: "The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes." That is, the husband tries to make his wife think she misremembers factual events.

Used thus, "gaslighting" is a valuable (if infrequently applicable) term. Yet all too frequently, we see "gaslighting" used as a sword to dispatch others' interpretations of events, as though the speaker's version were the only one possible. Kris Nelson's definition at Everyday Feminism is instructive (formatting is original):
In short, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse “in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

Essentially, gaslighting is a tactic used to destabilize your understanding of reality, making you constantly doubt your own experiences.
 It gets better:
Furthermore, gaslighting is commonly used to discredit the lived experiences of mentally ill and neurodivergent folks, which is both abusive and ableist.
Several points here:
  1. It is incumbent on the speaker to convince others of their interpretations of events.
  2. Disagreements on those interpretations are not "abusive".
  3. Maybe you are just plain crazy, which is why others doubt you.
 The first definition of gaslighting (about factual events) is useful; the second (about interpretations) is manipulative.

Magic Words

Both of these terms are forms of something Freddie deBoer called "magic words", which supports a style of argumentation he calls "We Are All Already Decided" (emboldening mine):
This is the form of argument, and of comedy, that takes as its presumption that all good and decent people are already agreed on the issue in question. In fact, We Are All Already Decided presumes that the offense is not just in thinking the wrong thing you think but in not realizing that We Are All Already Decided that the thing you think is deeply ridiculous. And the embedded argument, such as it is, is not on the merits of whatever issue people are disagreeing about, but on the assumed social costs of being wrong about an issue on which We Are All Already Decided. Which is great, provided everybody you need to convince cares about being part of your little koffee klatsch. If not, well….

All of this, frankly, is politically ruinous. I meet and interact with a lot of young lefties who are just stunning rhetorically weak; they feel all of their politics very intensely but can’t articulate them to anyone who doesn’t share the same vocabulary, the same set of cultural and social signifiers that are used to demonstrate you’re one of the “right sort of people.” These kids are often great, they’re smart and passionate, I agree with them on most things, but they have no ability at all to express themselves to those who are not already in their tribe. They say terms like “privilege” or “mansplain” or “tone policing” and expect the conversation to somehow just stop, that if you say the magic words, you have won that round and the world is supposed to roll over to what you want.
 The problem, then, is that such calls do not address an opposition audience so much as they signal virtue. They talk past those who need convincing. They ignore actual facts and counterargument. And they are irreparably smug.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Virtue Signaling Is Not Persuasion

I'm not terribly surprised that this needs to be said, but it apparently bears repeating:

Virtue signaling is not the same thing as persuasion.

I've seen this at least twice since the election, and one time I already mentioned: California Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Léon's joint letter with the state Assembly, a thing of unbearable smugness.
By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny.
Hey, Trump voters, d'ja hear that? Yer all bigots! I suppose we probably shouldn't talk about Hillary's late conversion to the gay marriage thingy, calling young black men "superpredators" in a 1996 speech defending the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, her continued support of the War On Drugs in which "total numbers of state and federal inmates grew more rapidly under Bill Clinton than under any other president, including the notorious Republican drug warriors Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush." Since the vast majority of those incarcerated are black and Hispanic (in no small part because of sentencing disparities), concluding a vote for Hillary is without shame but one for Trump is racist or sexist or bigoted in some other way is based entirely on branding, rather recent conversions, and in some cases, willful blindness. At best, Clinton triangulated her positions as they became popular, not out of anything resembling principle. Yes, this is politics, but it also gives those wishing to wear their morality on their sleeve some rather shaky ground to stand on.
The largest state of the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy has shown it has its surest conscience as well.
"Largest" by population, sure, but "surest conscience"? Well, see above.
California has long set an example for other states to follow. And California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.
And we will make sure you know how exemplary we are because we'll remind you of our moral rectitude at every opportunity.  Sense a pattern here?
California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future.
Bah, the provinces. This is why I very much doubt the coastal elites that run the Democratic Party will have learned anything from losing four consecutive Congressional elections, and now a presidential election as well. Given that Republicans now control both houses of Congress, 31 governorships, and 66 of 99 state legislatures (Nebraska's is unicameral),  this kind of preening represents a remarkable obliviousness. Sure, you can keep at it in your safe seats in mostly-coastal redoubts, but elsewhere it appears to be suicidal — as is a chronic incuriosity about the electorate handing out those defeats. By writing off key states in the upper midwest against Bill Clinton's advice, Team Hillary handed the election to Trump.

It's hard not to wonder whether this reflects a sense of contempt for "flyover country" derived from the base. A personal example of this showed up in the form of Patrick Thornton's essay in Roll Call, "I'm A Coastal Elite From The Midwest: The Real Bubble Is Rural America". His point that rural communities can be insular is well-taken, but then he takes a leap beyond it:
To pin this election on the coastal elite is a cop-out. It’s intellectually dishonest, and it’s beneath us.

We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.
Funny, last I heard, all of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin are still in the Union, all their residents are US citizens eligible to vote in the election — and it was the coastal supergenius Robby Mook who decided those states weren't important to pursue. It is not "deifying" those people to say you need to pay attention to them; in a democratic republic, it is the very essence of winning elections. The electorate's flaws does not relieve a candidate of the need to hear them out. This would seem to be a Civics 101 principle, but it eludes Thornton entirely — as it does HuffPo contributor Jennifer Sullivan, who pays lip service to "paint[ing Trump voters] with that broad a brush" but then proceeds to imagine the reasons why such voters might have polled as they did:
At the end of the day, I cannot and will not be friends with people who think that we should be directing resources toward conversion therapy, for people “suffering” from homosexuality (like Pence). I will not be friends with people who think that it is okay to subject black people to practices that were deemed unconstitutional, because they deprived them of the very civil liberties our Constitution was intended to protect (like Trump). I will not be friends with people who think that those who subscribe to Islam are any less deserving of love, respect, or refuge than their Christian counterparts. I will not be friends with people who think that it is morally sound to indiscriminately murder the children of terrorists. Nor will I be friends with people who speak ill of immigrants, when without immigrants, none of us would even be here.
 Again, the author has concluded — without any supporting evidence — all Trump voters are bigots. I understand this from a certain perspective — there's plenty of evidence that Trump is a bigot himself — but his extreme negative ratings in poll after poll do not point to people suddenly converting to the cause of white nationalism. For even anecdotal evidence on such people's motives, the WaPo recently published a series of "why I voted for Trump" missives that is worth reading. Example:

Kirsten Johnson

31 years old • Minneapolis
I was literally undecided until I went into the voting booth. I was a strong advocate for Gary Johnson for most of the race, but I changed my mind after I saw him at a lackluster rally in town. Then Trump came through, and the energy and passion was astounding. He overflowed an airport hangar with 24 hours notice on a Sunday during a Vikings home game. Holy crap. So, in the end, I voted for the economy, against Obamacare and against a corrupt government, just as I was planning to for Johnson. But I also voted for the people, because Trump was the clear choice of the silent majority I eventually became a part of.
N.b., I do not endorse any of this, or Trump; as Freddie deBoer recently observed, "acknowledging the causes of terrorism is different from justifying terrorism". So Trump. The great task of convincing such people otherwise remains unfinished, and if the above examples are any indication, will not be set upon any time soon with the gravity it deserves.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Shocking, Totally Gross Victory Of Donald Trump

  • Donald Trump won the 2016 election 306-232, which leads to a Nate Silver postmortem on why the polling data turned out to be so wrong in predicting a Hillary Clinton win. The only interior states Clinton won were Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Clinton's home state of Illinois, Minnesota, and Vermont. All the others went to Trump. She won the coastal states, but no states of the old Confederacy save Virginia.
  • The Los Angeles Times/USC outlier polls turned out to be right, and most of the others wrong, predicting a surge of support for Trump. Polling is increasingly difficult for a number of reasons, so it's no surprise a lot of the pollsters clanked. (And see also.)
  • Given the vile nature of Trump's very public remarks ("grab them by the pussy" particularly), it seems reasonable to assert this was less a victory for Trump than a categorical rejection of Clinton; despite those incredible remarks, she couldn't win over white women without a college degree. It appears that Obama's coalition was never the Democrats' categorically; Clinton lost a sizeable number of black, Hispanic, and female voters, which should not have been surprising, considering Obama's historic status for blacks especially (source).

    Especially surprising: the uptick in Hispanic female voters. Clinton lost a lot of white Obama voters, too.
  • My Own Two Cents: Hillary was a terrible candidate, and her flaws were the flaws of an inexperienced campaigner. She is the worst public speaker of any major party candidate of my lifetime not named Donald Trump, with the demeanor of a third grade teacher talking down to her class. Her "basket of deplorables" remarks, idiotic and inflaming (which Hillary-supporting site Slate still excuses as a nothingburger in context, even after the election), amount to public virtue signaling and spleen-venting. That is to say, it's the kind of tyro mistake one expects of a candidate for a school board seat, not President. Her contempt for everyone who disagreed with her, and disagreed with the left more broadly, risked a ferocious backlash, as suggested by Robby Soave in Reason:
    I have warned that political correctness actually is a problem on college campuses, where the far-left has gained institutional power and used it to punish people for saying or thinking the wrong thing. And ever since Donald Trump became a serious threat to win the GOP presidential primaries, I have warned that a lot of people, both on campus and off it, were furious about political-correctness-run-amok—so furious that they would give power to any man who stood in opposition to it.
    Clinton had none of her husband's political acumen, had no real history of stumping for office amid a possibly skeptical electorate, and historically negative ratings. Only running against Trump would she even begin to make sense. And even then she couldn't pull it off, despite getting a thin majority of the popular vote.
  • Maybe Salon will want to rethink shaming blue-collar Americans for even thinking about voting for Trump?
  • Making Arkansas Proud (Not): Lest anyone think I am stumping for Trump: Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is pushing to eliminate proscriptions on waterboarding, and might end up with a cabinet seat.
  • The problem for those thinking Trump will attack political correctness is that he conflates it with politeness, and could easily inflame it by presenting such a large and polarizing target.
    When a man who behaves this way is held up as a fighter against political correctness, it lends credence to the leftist fallacy that the alternative to PC is unabashed bigotry and male chauvinist pig-erry.
  • Don't look to coastal elites to figure out what they did wrong anytime soon:
    By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny.
  • Amanda Marcotte Is Still A Horrible Person:
    No one should be surprised that it was men, especially white men, who handed Trump this election. It’s been exhaustively established that the majority of white men in this country are consumed with resentment at being expected to treat women and racial minorities as equals, though of course some liberal journalists — usually white men themselves — kept valiantly trying to claim that it was “economic insecurity” that somehow drove the most prosperous group of Americans to kick angrily at those who objectively make less money and have less status than they do.
    Wow, you mean telling people they're horrible just because of an accident of birth and then expecting them to vote for your candidate doesn't produce the desired result? Imagine. 
Update 11/11:
  •  An interesting postmortem from Annie Karni at Politico (as always, emboldening mine):
    And some began pointing fingers at the young campaign manager, Robby Mook, who spearheaded a strategy supported by the senior campaign team that included only limited outreach to those voters — a theory of the case that Bill Clinton had railed against for months, wondering aloud at meetings why the campaign was not making more of an attempt to even ask that population for its votes. It’s not that there was none: Clinton’s post-convention bus tour took her through Youngstown, Ohio, as well as Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, where she tried to eat into Trump’s margins with his base. In Scranton and Harrisburg, the campaign aired a commercial that featured a David Letterman clip of Trump admitting to outsourcing manufacturing of the products and clothes that bore his logo. And at campaign stops in Ohio, Clinton talked about Trump’s reliance on Chinese steel.

    But in general, Bill Clinton’s viewpoint of fighting for the working class white voters was often dismissed with a hand wave by senior members of the team as a personal vendetta to win back the voters who elected him, from a talented but aging politician who simply refused to accept the new Democratic map. At a meeting ahead of the convention at which aides presented to both Clintons the “Stronger Together” framework for the general election, senior strategist Joel Benenson told the former president bluntly that the voters from West Virginia were never coming back to his party.
  • I Know, Let's Be Even More Polarizing:
    “The Democratic establishment had their chance with this election,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “It’s time for new leadership of the Democratic Party — younger, more diverse and more ideological — that is hungry to do things differently, like leading a movement instead of dragging people to the polls.” 

  • File Under, Things That Haven't Aged Well: Hey, you guys, Ezra Klein in Vox thinks Hillary is an extraordinarily talented politician
  • ... And, Things That Have: Ross Douthat in the NYT, September 21:
    On late-night television, it was once understood that David Letterman was beloved by coastal liberals and Jay Leno more of a Middle American taste. But neither man was prone to delivering hectoring monologues in the style of the “Daily Show” alums who now dominate late night. Fallon’s apolitical shtick increasingly makes him an outlier among his peers, many of whom are less comics than propagandists — liberal “explanatory journalists” with laugh lines.

    Some of them have better lines than others, and some joke more or hector less. But to flip from Stephen Colbert’s winsome liberalism to Seth Meyers’s class-clown liberalism to Bee’s bluestocking feminism to John Oliver’s and Trevor Noah’s lectures on American benightedness is to enter an echo chamber from which the imagination struggles to escape.
  • A nice apologia from Frank Bruni:
    Donald Trump’s victory and some of the, yes, deplorable chants that accompanied it do not mean that a majority of Americans are irredeemable bigots (though too many indeed are). Plenty of Trump voters chose him, reluctantly, to be an agent of disruption, which they craved keenly enough to overlook the rest of him.

    Democrats need to understand that, and they need to move past a complacency for which the Clintons bear considerable blame.

    It’s hard to overestimate the couple’s stranglehold on the party — its think tanks, its operatives, its donors — for the last two decades. Most top Democrats had vested interests in the Clintons, and energy that went into supporting and defending them didn’t go into fresh ideas and fresh faces, who were shut out as the party cleared the decks anew for Hillary in 2016.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Rolling Stone Loses The Nicole Eramo Defamation Lawsuit

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Rolling Stone, and its publisher are all liable for defamation, which is not surprising because
Rolling Stone edited out information favorable to Eramo. The dean had tried to get Jackie to go to the police, but the final draft of the story made it seem as if Eramo was no more in favor of that then, say, an informal resolution.
It takes a certain amount of navel-gazing power to say this:
When Wenner testified, he said he wished the magazine hadn't issued a full retraction to the article, apologized to Eramo, but said that he had "suffered as much as" she had.
Molly Hemingway in The Federalist:
Erdely smeared someone and failed to do obvious due diligence with her sources. At every step of the fact-checking process, the magazine failed. The publication didn’t just fail to do its job, its staff didn’t seem to want to, putting a blockbuster story over basic journalism practices.

One key factor in the verdict, according to the jury, was the magazine’s delayed retraction and its decision to keep the article online with an editor’s note.

Further, this was not some one-off mistake but part of a pattern of the politically driven narrative journalism genre the magazine has paid Erdely and countless other reporters to do for decades.
I remain skeptical that anyone there has learned anything.