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.