A post I did a while back on Commander Edwin J Quinby and the Great Streetcar Conspiracy still gets a fair number of clicks. Quinby is dear to me because he’s one of those rare figures who walks like a conspiracist; publishes weird, almost-unreadable broadsides like a conspiracist; ties everything up into a seamless package like a conspiracist–but, quackery or no, was basically correct.
A couple of days ago I heard from Louis Guilbault, a tram enthusiast and author of the book A Streetcar Named Conspire. He sent me a link to the above You Tube video, which is filled with wonderful archival footage. He didn’t send me the link to his book website, but you can find it here.
I don’t want to post links because real people are involved (this is so much more than a “literary” uproar; actual lives are, if not being ruined, then permanently changed) but the Twitterverse’s focus on the undeniable misogyny exhibited by the Brooklyn-based book blogger who melted down on Twitter, Facebook, and from what I hear, one of the East River spans a few days ago, reminds me in some ways of the dynamics of the gender wars as they are fought in too many chat rooms and blogs.
The big headline issues that define the conflicts are sexism (whether of the misandric or misogynist variety) and victimization, but the energies that keep them at such a white-hot heat are highly particularized–which is to say, fueled not so much by big ideas as by very specific experiences of pain and suffering.
The man who holds forth about women and hypergamy (marrying up) is often writing about (or projecting his fears onto) his ex-partner; the man who is obsessed with misandric persecution may be generalizing his own sad story into a grand unified political theory. Yes, I will acknowledge that some of their stories are true and that there are feminists who don’t like men; I don’t want to re-litigate all that business here. I’ll even stipulate that you could say the exact same things as I do about men’s rightists about some feminists. Sexism is real, of course, and it is a force in politics and culture.
What I’m trying to say is that, while the political and the personal do go together, their relationship is complicated and multivalent at the individual level–and that personality disorders, mental illness, and substance abuse do complicate things, even if they don’t ultimately excuse anything, never mind everything. I suspect that what’s most salient about the Brooklyn Book Blogger isn’t his gender politics (which probably change with his moods) but a sickness.
Since I started writing about Hate with a capital “h,” I’ve come to believe that, while all prejudice and biases are odious, and that while discrimination under the law is beyond the pale, some capital “h” hates (especially those that sit at the centers of grand totalizing theories) have very different etiologies than others. Some theoretical haters hate coldly; some are unhinged by their own experiences. Some don’t even hate–they adopt the language and the attitudes of haters to further their own agendas. Some hate with a righteous passion, but suffer terrible cognitive dissonance and make use of bogus intellectual frameworks to alleviate it.
And then there are those who are genuinely diseased; they write and say things that might horrify them when they are in periods of remission or under the influence of therapeutic medication. It’s not unusual for bi-polar people to speak and act “out of character” in their manic phases; nor is it unusual when people with degenerative conditions like Alzheimers express prejudiced and paranoid ideas.
Not that delusional people can’t be dangerous (give a paranoid schizophrenic a weapon and absolutely terrible things can happen), but it’s kind of a waste of time to argue with them, or to parse their ravings if that’s what they are. To do so is to pretend that they’re lucid, which has the effect of normalizing both their twisted ideas and their bad behavior.
Consider Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista killer, whose manifesto and pseudonymous chatroom comments revealed him to be a thorough-going misogynist. Would writing long, reasoned rejoinders to his posts have saved any lives? Of course his parents did send him for treatment and at the end even go to the police, so my analogy only goes so far. Did Rodgers bring discredit on all the non-homicidal people who share his misogyny? Absolutely; I’m not saying his ideas were irrelevant. But what’s most terrible about his writings in retrospect isn’t their theoretical content–it’s that they announced his intention to kill people.
Of course I’m not talking about someone with real influence–a politician or a demagogue, someone in law enforcement who has the power of life and death over people, a foaming-at-the-mouth revolutionary, a distinguished professor who forms minds and advises important people, a writer with a big audience. You have to engage with them. But while the book blogger might have seemed like a powerful figure to the book people he mixed with, his influence in the wider world is pretty minimal (or I should say “was,” because his career, such as it is, is almost certainly over). If you think misogyny is a big problem in book publishing, then you should choose a more out-sized figure to be its avatar.
Like I said, I’m not going to inject myself into his story (who, full-disclosure, conducted as thoughtful, sensitive, and interesting an interview as I ever sat for the one time I met him). But I will say this: that while the people he victimized don’t owe him their compassion or forgiveness for the awful things he said and did to them, they can rest assured that he hasn’t “gotten away with” anything either.
New post at Salon. “Roger Ebert Was Right: Free Speech, Twitter, and the Holocaust Denier Protected by the University of Illinois”
I was one of the 40 some-odd people who were interviewed for this entertaining documentary. Most of the subjects defend Obama, but director Marquis Smalls gives significant screen time to some notable African American Obama-haters too. Its most memorable talking head by far is a woman sitting under a hair dryer in an Atlanta beauty parlor, who metaphorically tears a new one on Cornel West. I’m my usual temporizing self.
I was lucky enough to catch the world premiere at the Urban World Film Festival in New York City this evening. I understand that it will be released to theaters in early 2015. Hopefully it will be shown on TV or made available through Netflix in due course.
I don’t spend a lot of time at A Voice for Men these days (I really meant what I said about not wanting to write about the so-called Mens Rights movement any more), but my curiosity got the better of me and I checked in to see what the party line on Ray Rice is. As I suspected, it’s that he is a battered husband, who, to add insult to his already substantial injuries, is being institutionally victimized as well.
As Paul Elam puts it, in colorful language that he wouldn’t have tolerated for a moment at his International Conference on Mens Issues at the Claire Shores VFW earlier this summer:
In response to Ray Rice tagging his then fiancé as a matter of self-defense, major sports media like ESPN and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have gone to MuffCon1, opening the door for feminist ideologues and handing them a jar of Vaseline on the way in to ideological control of the National Football League.
Effective pretty much right fucking now, Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith will “help lead and shape the NFL’s policies and programs relating to domestic violence and sexual assault.”
Take that back about the Vaseline. They won’t be using it.
I don’t know the Rices personally; it’s likely that their relationship is more complex than what meets the eye (marriages, like icebergs, hide more than they reveal). I think it’s quite probable that Rice’s then-fiance had aggravated him on more than one prior occasion; from the elevator video, anyway, it’s pretty clear that she lunged at him and possibly threw a punch. If it connected, it might have even hurt him a little.
So here’s the question: Should any man, including a professional athlete, have the right to defend himself when he’s being physically threatened–even when his attacker is his intimate partner?
You don’t have to be a misogynist or a “Stand Your Ground” extremist to answer in the affirmative, though you don’t have to be a bleeding heart pacifist either or, God help us, a feminist to suggest that proportionality is also a real consideration. Otherwise you’d have to defend him if he’d killed her.
It’s a slippery slope. If you don’t think that Rice did anything wrong, then maybe you think it’s reasonable to shoot a woman dead who rings your doorbell seeking help after she’s been in a car accident. Maybe you’d give Israel a green light to kill 2000-plus Gazans after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by criminals with ties to Hamas. There’s self-defense and there’s “shock and awe.” One is instinctive; the other is either strategic or psychotic, take your pick.
Elam famously posted a piece on his site whose title posed the provocative question: “When is it OK to Punch Your Wife?” Of course he wasn’t justifying any and all cases of wife battering. He was reacting, he wrote, to the “pussy pass” that allowed sadistic, domineering women to abuse their partners with impunity.
Does the concept of self defense even apply to men who are the victims of violent females? Technically, the law says yes. But the people around you, especially the ones with guns, regard the pussy pass as a higher authority.
You hit a woman, even in self defense; indeed if you even call the cops on one that is beating the crap out you, the beta thugs we have come to call police will come round to your house and deliver some fucking law and order–on you.
The anecdote Elam used to clinch his argument, about a man who was handcuffed for giving his wife a fat lip after she tried to stab him with a kitchen knife (their dispute began after he’d argued with her about nearly freezing their two daughters to death), isn’t quite as open and shut as he might have liked it to be (neither party was ultimately arrested), but he does make an undeniable point: men can be victims too.
But was Ray Rice a victim? Of the NFL maybe, which first protected him and then threw him under a bus. But does what his fiance did to him rise to the level of assault? Was she “beating the crap out of him” or was she just pissing him off?
Nobody can be more provoking than a small child in mid-tantrum; if they’re sufficiently hysterical, they might even hit you. Is a parent justified in hitting back with all they’ve got? No one, not even a spare-the-rod fundamentalist, would say yes. No matter how pissed off someone makes you, civilization expects you to show some restraint. A line from a Richard Thompson song pops into my head: “But I killed a man in a Brazzaville street fight/I tried to hold back, but he taunted me so.”
In the wider world, the first thing most people see in the elevator video is the asymmetry: Ray Rice is big and strong, Janay Rice is petite. He stayed on his feet; she went down like the proverbial sack of potatoes. But MRAs see what they see, and from their perspective, Ray Rice was a helpless victim, first of a violent woman, and then of a feminist juggernaut and the cowardly White Knight* institutions that it has co-opted. Janay Rice didn’t just attack her husband–she assaulted all men, especially themselves. They outrage they feel on his behalf is deeply personal.
Many of the comments under the Elam post that I opened with underline this feeling of identification:
I’m personally pushing back against the ray rice lynching, by a women that was clearly lunging after him in an elevator. Im pushing back, and am not afraid of being lynched by main stream media!!
We aren’t far from the day we’ll see female coaches, referees, and a job for Condi Rice…..I won’t be watching. I have no interest in seeing receivers wearing pink gloves as the League bows to the breast cancer awareness goddess, nor can I stand the inclusive (i.e. dumbed-down, audience-broadening) chatter that now passes for game coverage. I don’t want to tune in on Sunday and have my social consciousness raised by progressivist indoctrination blended into the discussion.
Pack of manginas. Biiggg tough muscly men, macho man’s men, scared shitless of losing the approval of women by standing up to feminists.
Guys, give up following football. Why worship a pack of grown men who play with a ball for a living and partake in the destruction of men’s rights and kiss up to our enemies for a pay check. Fuck em. Don’t put one cent in their pockets…..They are propping up man hating ideologues with NFL money. Your financial support of football, is funding radical feminist propaganda that is taking away your rights.
People in the Mens Rights community have accused me of denying that men can ever be victims; the blogger Toy Soldier commented that my writings about MRAs and male victimhood reminded him of what he has “witnessed when people who support abusive priests are confronted with the reality of the abuse and the cover up that follows. Rather than support the victim, they blame the victim for having the temerity to feel victimized and double down on their support of the priest and the institution.”
In this one case it’s true: I don’t believe that Ray Rice was a victim of a vicious assault in that elevator, but frankly that’s all that I can say about him with any certainty. He might have had a terrible childhood; he and Janay might torture each other no less than Martha and George did in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. For their kids’ and for their own sakes, I hope they get some help and either separate peacefully or learn to live together more amicably.
But I have no doubt that the corporate conviction of victimhood that animates the MRA community is real–and that their view of the world is distorted by the intimate hurts they have suffered. Like all extremists, they are hammers who see the nails of misandry everywhere they look; like all conspiracists who have a monological explanation for the world’s and especially their own woes, they see things through a distorting lens of confirmation bias. Give a man a strong enough personal agenda and sufficient cognitive dissonance and he will see what he sees. He might even mistake a wife beater for a victim.
*The MRA John Hembling defines a White Knight as a man “who defend[s] women, but not because women are people – which might be noble. Rather, they defend women only because they are women. This almost always encompasses a willful blindness to the behavior and utterance of the women so defended.”
Good lord! The counter says this is my 501st post. What a blowhard I am–or was, anyway. Since I started using Facebook, I’m down to just one or two posts a month.
Last night the president assured us that our security is his number one priority. This morning I woke up and realized it’s 9/11 again, a reminder that nothing as elusive as our safety can be ever be guaranteed, not by the biggest and best-funded army in the world, by super-powered listening devices and predator drones, by militarized policemen, or even by semi-state-subsidized doctors.
Here’s another reminder: Yesterday, I was walking down 2nd Avenue when two people rolling a gurney cut across the sidewalk right in front of me. I looked around for an ambulance and didn’t see one–and then I realized that the gurney was occupied by someone wrapped head-to-toe in sheets. “A delivery,” I thought, and sure enough, they wheeled it through the front door of a funeral home.
The last time I saw something like that happen I was also in the East Village. It was about 20 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with my older son. I worried at the time that it was a bad omen for a corpse to cross your path, but the thought hardly crossed my mind yesterday. Both of my parents and many other older (and some younger) relatives have died in the intervening years. I’ve figuratively buried more than one friendship, and literally buried more than one friend.
I’ve told a story on this blog about an exchange I had with a colleague at a publishing lunch in the first days after 9/11, when we could still see the smoke rising from the bottom of Sixth Avenue and smell it when the wind was just right. “This isn’t new to me,” she told me. “This is what it felt like when I learned I had cancer. Only I had to deal with that all by myself.”
If 9/11 taught us anything, it should have taught us that death recognizes no privileges; that we are all equals in its eyes. It should have taught us to count our blessings, and maybe to be a little less selfish in our dealings with our neighbors, corporately and individually. But it’s been 13 years and too many of us are just as cowardly and narrow and narcissistic as ever. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s the human condition.