A place for new ideas to settle.

27 January 2015

Passive objection

This post is a tangential follow-up to: Rhetorical imperialism

I will soon be working on a non-Marxist fix-up of an article from the Harvard Political Review called "On Privilege: A Leftist Critique of the Left":
 Let me be clear that my criticism of discussions of privilege is not that they are too radical. My quarrel, to the contrary, is that they are not radical enough. The cultural Marxism of the mid-20th century gifted the left with a powerful tool by which to understand how oppressive social structures are perpetuated through discourse—the critique of ideology. Ideology critique acknowledges that the status quo is enforced not only through a single, centralized node of authority, but through dispersed and diverse forms of discourse from all points of origin on the social spectrum. It is a peculiar feature of oppression that it is often enforced by those who are, in fact, oppressed. Ideology critique uses the term ideology to denote modes of thought that justify the dominant social order that privileges certain groups while disadvantaging others; and, more specifically, it deploys the term false consciousness to refer to the thought process by which marginalized groups justify their own oppression via ideology. The task of ideology critique is not to trace discourse back to its author and to critique its content on that basis, but to understand how oppression is perpetuated from multiple nodes, even unlikely ones. The marginalized are brought under as much critical scrutiny as the members of the privileged classes. The immediate origin of discourse is bracketed for a deeper understanding of how the arguments of a given interlocutor may be manifestations of an internalized mode of thinking that justifies the predominant power structure, whether advertently or inadvertently—in other words, how certain arguments further the interests of those in power at the expense of the marginalized, without explicitly declaring it.
If that seems dense to you, trust me: it's good, but burdened by much jargon, and so its usefulness is diminished. With any luck that can be fixed. Meanwhile, from another corner of the left-liberal territory comes a piece from Jonathan Chait, criticizing what he calls a resurgent culture of political correctness:
Under p.c. culture, the same idea can be expressed identically by two people but received differently depending on the race and sex of the individuals doing the expressing. This has led to elaborate norms and terminology within certain communities on the left. For instance, “mansplaining,” a concept popularized in 2008 by Rebecca Solnit, who described the tendency of men to patronizingly hold forth to women on subjects the woman knows better — in Solnit’s case, the man in question mansplained her own book to her. The fast popularization of the term speaks to how exasperating the phenomenon can be, and mansplaining has, at times, proved useful in identifying discrimination embedded in everyday rudeness. But it has now grown into an all-purpose term of abuse that can be used to discredit any argument by any man. (MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry once disdainfully called White House press secretary Jay Carney’s defense of the relative pay of men and women in the administration “man­splaining,” even though the question he responded to was posed by a male.) Mansplaining has since given rise to “whitesplaining” and “straightsplaining.” The phrase “solidarity is for white women,” used in a popular hashtag, broadly signifies any criticism of white feminists by nonwhite ones.
Fair enough, and it's certainly depressing that so much energy has been wasted excommunicating would-be allies. Which is what makes the progressive-lefty response to Chait both predictable and sad.


My case study for this will be Amanda Marcotte, writing for Talking Points Memo. It might seem a bit, well, sexist to call Marcotte's rhetorical behavior "shrewish," but there are parallels—she seemingly needs to publish her body weight in clicktivist rage-bait every week or else die, for example. But her criticism of Chait's article is rather breath-taking in its duplicity, which shrews as a species are not known for:
While the article purports to be a lambast of “the culture of taking offense” and censorious attitudes, it quickly becomes clear that the only speech Chait is interested in protecting is conservative or contrarian. When it comes to people saying uncomfortable or provocative things from the left, Chait comes across as just as censorious and silencing as any of the leftist prigs he attempts to criticize.

To be clear, Chait has plenty of examples of what has become a genuinely serious problem of liberals who react to uncomfortable ideas by turning to censorship: Harassment campaigns against conservatives, canceling plays or art shows because of political incorrectness, tearing down anti-choice posters.

But outside of those few examples, most of Chait’s article is not a defense of rowdy public discourse at all, but the opposite: Most of the piece is little more than demands that liberals silence certain forms of discourse that make Chait uncomfortable. For a piece that mocks the use of “trigger warnings” to alert people about disturbing content, it sure seems Chait has no problem trying to silence anyone who says something that might hurt his feelings.
Mark the highlighted bits well, then consider Marcotte's own reaction to Scott Aaronson's "Comment 151":
Oof. Laurie Penny has an excellent column up right now refuting one of the more irritating aspects of “Nice Guy®”anti-feminism, which is the whole “how can men be oppressed when I don’t get to have sex with all the hot women that I want without having to work for it?” whine, one that, amongst other things, starts on the assumption that women do not suffer things like social anxiety or rejection. It’s a response to self-pitying comment from MIT professor Scott Aaronson’s blog comment section, a response he wrote to a woman who dared suggest that nerd men can sometimes be, you know, sexist. Penny is incredibly gracious to Aaronson in her response, so much so that I thought that his lengthy diatribe must be nuanced and humane on some level. Much to my surprise, however, it was just a yalp of entitlement combined with an aggressive unwillingness to accept that women are human beings just like men. So, unlike Penny, I feel no need to be gracious about it. On the contrary, I think it’s time for a good, old-fashioned blog fisking.
Sure, neither this introductory paragraph, nor the subsequent "translations" (that is, uncharitable readings) are censorship per se, but Chait wasn't really talking about censorship per se either. To use more Latin phrasing, he was observing a de facto climate censorship where people are afraid to speak even a little bit out of line, for fear of overwhelming retaliation.

And let's be clear. This isn't like, say, creationism or flat-earth theory where coming out as a creationist or flat earther will (at least ideally) get one buried under a mountain of counter-arguments. The key word here is arguments.

If you come out as, well, insufficiently politically correct (in the very most Soviet sense of the phrase), you will not be counter-argued but rather shamed. That's because you have implicitly or explicitly revealed your identity as containing a wrong ideology. Unlike science-wrongs, which are at least partially grounded in amoral empiricism, identity-wrongs are highly charged. They carry a high moral and affective load.

Marcotte seems to have made a career off of willful un-charity and misreading of her ideological opponents. (Some of these opponents deserve vigorous opposition, I will freely admit!) Through careful equivocation she coaxes their words into the most ideologically objectionable form. This allows for easy transmission among her co-ideologues. For example, there's this masterful reduction by P.Z. Meyers, on Scott Aaronson:
You may recall that sad comment by Scott Aaronson on his blog, Shtetl-Optimized, in which he deplored the way no respect is given to men’s biological imperative to have sex with all the women.
Funny; I didn't get any of that from Aaronson's post, and (as I said before) it's not like I really have much shared personal experience of that kind, so I don't feel biased...


But I don't want to waste any more time on Marcotte (or the Aaronson shy-nerd thing). Instead I want to waste my time on explore the rhetorical phenomenon that Chait seems to be highlighting in his article.
The Marxist left has always dismissed liberalism’s commitment to protecting the rights of its political opponents [...] Why respect the rights of the class whose power you’re trying to smash? And so, according to Marxist thinking, your political rights depend entirely on what class you belong to.

The modern far left has borrowed the Marxist critique of liberalism and substituted race and gender identities for economic ones. “The liberal view,” wrote MacKinnon 30 years ago, “is that abstract categories — like speech or equality — define systems. Every time you strengthen free speech in one place, you strengthen it everywhere. Strengthening the free speech of the Klan strengthens the free speech of Blacks.” She deemed this nonsensical: “It equates substantive powerlessness with substantive power and calls treating these the same, ‘equality.’ ”
I realize now, after writing a post about what I termed rhetorical imperialism—staking out a personal dominion in concept-space, so that everyone now has to talk about that stuff only on your terms—that rhetorical imperialism is more of a strategy than a singular action. So let's talk tactics now. The far left and far-left-ish, influenced by Marxism, take identity as a valid reason to reject arguments. This leads to a tactic that I'm going to call passive objection.

You may have been chided by an English teacher sometime in the distant past over your use of the passive voice: discounting the agent of an action, and highlighting the object of the action. Perhaps not coincidentally, this kind of argument runs rampant in politics.
ACTIVE VOICE: We made a mistake.
PASSIVE VOICE: Mistakes were made.
One can spot a passive-voice sentence by its use of auxiliary verbs, particularly is, was, were, are, and so on. So it goes with passive objection, where indirect reasons take precedence over direct ones. At least implicitly, it's who the speaker is, was, were, are (see the connection?) that determines the validity of the argument.

Now, passive voice in grammar isn't always bad, no matter what your English teacher may have insisted. Similarly, I'm not saying that every objection of the form "Wrong, because the speaker is X" is an underhanded tactic of rhetorical imperialism. The key is to ask: can this be rephrased into a more active sentence (respectively, objection) and will that new sentence (objection) still make sense?

That is, can you turn the passive objection into an active one based on specific examples of behavior or real-world consequences? For an example of what not to do, consider climate-change deniers. They dismiss reports on the trends and potential effects of global climate change with something like "oh, those scientists are just in it for the grant money and/or shills for one world government!" Similarly, anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists will reject your pro-vaccine arguments as "shilling for Big Pharma."

Note that "I'm just telling you this because somebody paid me to tell you" does not actually address the argument. Even paying off literally everyone who espouses a certain claim doesn't affect the truth-value of the claim.

Consider objections to claims about religion, of the form "I was once X, but now I'm Y. Therefore X is wrong!" One person changing their beliefs does not perceptibly count against the formerly held belief.

And now consider objections to claims about political discourse: "Ugh, look at this Nice Guy" or "oh boy, more white tears" or, slightly more eloquent, "You aren't [special category], you don't get to talk, sit down and shut up" (maybe with extra fucks inserted). None of these address the argument, merely the phenomenon of the argument.


Passive objection does not describe all identity-based rejection. For example, even if a policy change sounds reasonable on its face, I would probably still try to minimize the contribution of, say, neo-Nazi voices to that discourse. And that's specifically because the Nazi's advocacy of, say, environmentalism was supported by really bad reasons—that's putting it lightly. And if the environmental movement wholeheartedly embraced Nazis for that cause, well, it could end up in some way legitimizing those bad Nazism-specific reasons for environmentalism. Humans are weird like that.

So I think it's reasonable to want to prune one's pet movements a bit, on ideological grounds. But on ideological grounds—because beliefs inform our actions—and not on identity grounds. Social categories are largely imposed, the labels mean very little in themselves. But they can be weaponized, and often turned against their owners.

That, at least, is (part of) the essence of that leftist critique of the left which I linked to at the beginning of this post. Consider this a taste of things to come.

23 January 2015

X doesn't mean you're smart, libertarianism edition

There are lots of ideas whose adherents think grant them an intellectual carte blanche, like now that they answered one of the Big Questions all their other opinions suddenly become validated. I've explored this before with atheism: sure, I agree with the idea that wait a second, nobody's actually given me good reason to (1) believe in any supernatural Higher Power, much less (2) worship the thing, but that doesn't mean my reasons are the best possible reasons. Nor does it mean that my future statements on this topic (e.g., heard from some atheists—"Isn't it dumb how all Christians believe [thing not all Christians believe]?", "fairy-tale sky daddy" straw-theism—are any more likely to be correct. This might be the halo effect in action (hey, Ron Paul even has a halo in the picture!): atheists all agree on the God question, so we may be biased towards uncriticality when one of our own starts expounding on similar topics.

Now I come to libertarianism, where the idea that wait a second, nobody's given me a good reason to (1) believe that the government can do better than anyone else, much less (2) worship the thing—slight weak-manning necessary for parallelism, please forgive—is haloed into uncriticality about political-philosophical statements more generally.

In case you don't believe me that "Isn't it dumb how all non-libertarians are statists who worship the state," isn't a straw man, a quick Google search reveals a wealth of memes confirming that yes, this is an assertion that people actually make:

And so I say again: Libertarianism doesn't mean you're smart.

So this meme, shared by Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), and encountered by me on Facebook when it was reshared by the Libertarian Party of Washington, is a fresh new hell of dumb:

Ha ha! Suck it, statists!

This meme is dumb. Terminally dumb. Dumb even on its own logic. Let's break it down:

First of all, the boundary between fees, fines, phones and fun and taxes is rather fuzzy, especially where government is concerned. For example, this 2007 post on The Tax Foundation's website makes no distinction, in principle:
A traffic fine is really no different from a tax on a specific product.


Finally, with regards to the idea that these fee hikes do not violate the "No New Tax Pledges" promoted by Grover Norquist's group Americans for Tax Reform, the true tax burden on a people in the long run is merely equivalent to the level of government spending. In other words, a no-new-taxes pledge should really be a "no new spending pledge." Otherwise, politicians merely seek sources that they call "non-tax," which may be worse than raising an explicit tax like sales, property, or income. Look no further than Virginia.
Okay, but corporations can impose fines, so surely we can be charitable on the sense behind word. Right? Maybe, but

Then there's the idea of taxation. Libertarians Hate It! Again, in case you don't believe me...

If Rothbard says it, it must be true! Yes, the great hue-and-cry: Taxation is theft! And libertarians mean this, that taxation is no different from theft, specifically robbery. In both cases, they say, men with guns threaten you until you give them money:

Okay, fine, but substitute back into the original YAL meme. Now: Fines are theft for doing wrong. Theft is a fine for doing well. Suddenly it's all sorts of weird. "Fines are a theft for doing wrong?" But theft is wrong! So fines are a wrong compounding a wrong... does that mean we shouldn't impose fines? How do we redress wrongdoing though? By any utilitarian calculus, redress is remuneration (in utils at least), so things seem to be unravelling.

Libertarians really love the judiciary; that is, courts and the case law that emerges from them. (Common versus poly-centric is yet another sticking point, but it doesn't matter for the purposes of my objection.) But suppose Alice brings a lawsuit against Bob, and the court rules in her favor. What happens to Bob? Well, if (e.g.) Bob stole Alice's car and sold it to a chop shop, the court might order Bob to pay Alice back. In other words, Bob would be fined. By what authority does the court levy this fine? Well, the court has law enforcement officers—men with guns—to make sure that Bob pays.

Other options that courts use include liens, which are a form of interest levied on some property. Hm... a recurring payment proportional to the value of the property? Smells like a tax.

See, this is what happens when you try to cram too much into such a conceptually-shallow space as an image macro. Yeah, it's punchy; yeah, it gets that surface-level Haha, They're stupid and We're smart! dopamine spike; but taken to any degree of logical conclusions and it implodes. The whole memetic structure goes sub-critical, where one second it seems to be saying that fines are bad, but maybe it's that taxes aren't that bad, or that theft isn't all bad, or fines aren't taxes, or ohmygodmybrainismelting...

Can we just commit to finding better arguments? Thanks.

Now that I've gotten all the very serious business out of the way, let's end with a joke:

Ugh, not funny! Which of you statists posted this! Fight me IRL!

07 January 2015

Rhetorical imperialism

This post is a partial follow-up to: But first, you've got to get MAD!, Atheism doesn't mean you're smart, and Diagnosis of an overwhelming fear pt. 2


My friend Asher has a new post about dealing with bigotry in online spaces. It's enough to get me up and writing on this theme again, after several forays in the recent past (see above). Because I'm never in complete political-ideological agreement with anyone I know at any given time, at least on this blog, let's start with what I do agree with:
I actually used to argue with bigots, to engage with them rationally, and to try to convince them. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to convince random dudes on the Internet that no, my sexuality was not a mental illness, and that no, there actually is no scientific basis for an innate intelligence difference across racial groups. In every instance, I had all the evidence, but they had all the stubbornness. In every instance, they forced me into retreat and became the self-proclaimed winners of the debate. I have gradually stopped bothering with these kinds of dudes, partly out of exhaustion, and partly out of a reluctance to grant their arguments any manner of legitimacy. If you publicly engage in a debate with someone over whether the Earth is flat, you give the impression that the Flat Earth side actually has some weight, that it is actually worth considering, and that it may even be supported by enough evidence to make it a reasonable counterargument to a conclusion reached through thousands of years of scientific inquiry. I am tired of trying to convince Flat Earthers, and I am tired of trying to convince their pseudoscientist counterparts in areas of race, gender, and sexuality.
This is very much a common opinion among science writers and bloggers: The Skeptic's Dictionary calls it pseudosymmetry of scientific opinion, and Chris Mooney wrote in Discover magazine that this is how pseudoscientists and cranks "hijack reality." And it's definitely appropriate to consider this effect in debates on scientific facts. For example, in the extreme case of someone who claims the Earth is flat (or hollow, or that we're inside the hollow earth), we can hit them with a mountain of evidence that points away from that claim, and towards the claim that the Earth is round. Short of severe epistemological differences ("I know the earth is flat because spirit beings from XII-vibrational Venus told me so!") it's merely (ha) a matter of comparing the evidence.

But here's the first quibble. The only 100% accurate claim about physical reality is [symbol that represents the whole of physical reality], so one goes off the rails a bit if one claims that, e.g., "flat earth theory is utterly absurd, obviously the earth is a sphere, that's just science." A spherical Earth is less wrong than a flat earth, but the Earth isn't a perfect sphere: it's sort of bulgy. One of the fascinating and useful takeaways from the presentation on "Faith and Science" (full write-up forthcoming) was that religions tend to overcommit to scientific claims, which, as the claims are refined or discarded in light of more/better evidence, tends to make said religions look outdated and stupid. Keep this point in mind; I'll return to it later.

Asher continues:
There are a lot of reasonable objections to this resignation on my part. Some may point out that [...] The point isn’t necessarily to convince [the other side], but to offer a substantial and visible counterweight to their prejudiced ravings, to signal to bystanders: “These bigoted ideas aren’t reasonable, and plenty of people disagree with them.”
Indeed, in public fora where interested but non-committed bystanders exist, one might have a productive debate, even if there's an extremely low likelihood of changing the mind of one's interlocutor (or indeed one's own mind being changed). This is why, for example, the Campus Christian Fellowship and other interested parties jump at the chance to engage Brother Jed "BroJed" Smock when he comes around to WWU every spring.
Given that Jed has been doing his fire-and-brimstone (and real-life-cartoon-character) thing for decades now, no amount of earnest pleading by Jesus-loving undergraduates is going to sway him, but onlookers might realize that one version of Christianity seems much better than the other. Indeed, some of the more savvy CCFers engage bystanders directly, apologizing for Jed's behavior and offering to explain what Christ is really about—at the next CCF meeting. I have to give them credit, it's a smart move.

Online spaces are much different though. There's no guarantee that third-parties are listening, and in fact, this is rather unlikely in most spaces. Facebook readers are usually friends with one poster or another. Forums or websites are often already dedicated to one side or another. I agree with Asher that there's not much point arguing with, say, a random RedPiller who barges in to a Facebook group about feminism: the audience is almost entirely on one side, they're already against him. So it's a waste of emotional energy. Same with leading a brave one-poster crusade into r/TheRedPill trying to convert them all to liberal feminism, they're all against that. Sisyphus himself would shake his head and tell you it just ain't worth it. On this point, Asher concludes:
The solution that a lot of people have arrived at is simply blocking bigots from their forums and social media groups. This entails a recognition that, while we can’t pretend that racists and misogynists don’t exist, we ought to be able to build and protect some spaces where they can’t spout their drivel. We ought to be able to build and protect spaces in which certain prejudiced sentiments cannot be expressed. We ought to be able to build and protect spaces in which marginalized people feel safe and comfortable. We do not owe bigots platforms.
Sure. I'm fine with "house rules" like this, in the context of political spaces. Everyone needs a little peace and quiet now and again.


Now here's the part I don't really agree with:
If the overwhelming majority of people in a particular community agree that transphobic speech ought to be rejected, they have every right to prohibit and suppress that kind of speech.
When a community (or an "overwhelming majority" in the community) decides to ban a category of speech, that's cause for concern. Not on free-speech grounds per se; though that's an issue that might arise. Rather, the problem comes from the nature of categories as conceptualized by humans: categories are fuzzy. Humans tend to invest categories with a central prototype, against which every candidate for membership in the category is compared.

As a canonical example, those of us who grew up in northern-latitude cultures might have a songbird (say, a robin or a sparrow) as the prototype for the category «bird», and then would describe a noncentral example (say, an emu) as "technically a bird" or "sort of like a bird" if you saw one without context. Certainly if asked to draw a bird, a European or American child doesn't usually tend to draw emus.

It's the same with, say, «transphobia». There's a prototype for what it looks like when someone's spewing hatred against trans people: I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader to think about your own prototype. But there are plenty of noncentral examples too, that may or may not fit inside the fuzzy boundaries of «transphobia». For example, is misgendering someone on the Internet transphobic? Maybe! What about in real life? Less clear! What about suggesting that gender-nonconforming people stop making up pronouns like "fae/faer/faerself" and use something more reasonable to remember or pronounce, like (singular) "they" or "ze"? More controversial!

There might be some reasonable disagreement on the margins, because those margins are fuzzy. (I mean that asserting that there can be no reasonable disagreement is absurd and overcommitted.) Calling down the banhammer for fuzzy infractions (rather than prototypical infractions) has a much greater risk of driving away useful allies. This, in turn, might lead to a shrinking of the space of acceptable speech, leading to more fringe-infractions... the overall result could be an evaporative cooling effect.

The other danger comes from exporting these private norms into the public sphere. In a different post, "Neo-Nazis and Free Speech," Asher writes:
I am not particularly invested in the free speech rights of neo-Nazis. The purpose of white nationalist speech is less to advance ideas and more to intimidate and threaten already marginalized groups. It is not political speech; it is harassment. Now, I’m not advocating for a sweeping, McCarthyist censorship campaign against racist fascists. I am suggesting, however, that white nationalist “speech” probably shouldn’t be something that free speech advocates and First Amendment lawyers rush to defend.
Here, the arena is not someone's Facebook page or blog, it's American society. And the suggestion is that maybe we just shouldn't care when neo-Nazis' speech is curtailed, because, I mean, neo-Nazis you guys! Sure, when arguments are soldiers, and any perceived aid and comfort to the enemy is a betrayal, this feels like a natural course of action to take.


Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex notices a weird fact about his life:
I inhabit the same geographical area as scores and scores of conservatives. But without meaning to, I have created an outrageously strong bubble, a 10^45 bubble. Conservatives are all around me, yet I am about as likely to have a serious encounter with one as I am a Tibetan lama. (Less likely, actually. One time a Tibetan lama came to my college and gave a really nice presentation, but if a conservative tried that, people would protest and it would be canceled.)
I went to quite a liberal school, enough where a few students complained that even being slightly conservative was a losing social proposition. And it's true that the College Republican club dissolved for lack of membership, for example; yet I don't think WWU is utterly devoid of politically conservative students. They just don't speak up.

I have a friend who's currently student-teaching in a small town in Missouri. Naturally, that community is far removed from her natural habitat (so to speak) of the Bellingham or Seattle areas. And yet certainly there are non-trivial populations of conservatives in Bellingham and Seattle.

My parents aren't religious, so we didn't live in a very religious social sphere. I've been to a few church events over the course of my life; they've all felt weird. I can't even conceptualize what it feels like to live in a church community where that's the central focus of daily life. The Monday-Wednesday-Friday-and-twice-on-Sunday kind of churchgoing is just alien to me, and yet lots and lots of people do it.

I've said before that justice requires closeness. Now I should stipulate that I mean closeness in the full sense of the word; not just existing near different people, but knowing that you exist near different people, and knowing what those differences are. Civilization isn't very civilized if it's disconnected; yes, my vision of justice is topological.

But even more pragmatically, we should feel very anxious that we aren't connected to big chunks of society, because they might have a good and worthy idea that we haven't even conceptualized. How confident can we be that our social-ideological bubble covers the totality of good-idea-space? And how confident can we be that, even if we can think of all the good ideas, we can even think of all the best reasons for those good ideas?
There are things in this world that are worth praising greatly, and you can't flatly say that praise beyond a certain point is forbidden.  But there is never an Idea so true that it's wrong to criticize any argument that supports it.  Never.  Never ever never for ever.  That is flat.  The vast majority of possible beliefs in a nontrivial answer space are false, and likewise, the vast majority of possible supporting arguments for a true belief are also false, and not even the happiest idea can change that.
Here is what I'm going to call rhetorical imperialism. Much like Eddie Izzard's fictional conquistador declaring ownership over inhabited land with a smug "Do you have a flaaaaaag?" the rhetorical imperialist sharply proscribes the conversation space, claiming it entirely for their Side in the ongoing ideological battle. Again, there are pragmatic considerations here: the anti-fascist's "no platform" strategy is, however they may justify it, censorship, and even knowing about censorship can raise its favorability rating among people.

And again we encounter the specter of fuzzy boundaries. Neil Gaiman said it very well, in a post about defending freedom of "icky" speech:
The CBLDF will defend your First Amendment right as an adult to make lines on paper, to draw, to write, to sell, to publish, and now, to own comics. And that's what makes the kind of work you don't like, or don't read, or work that you do not feel has artistic worth or redeeming features worth defending. It's because the same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions, and because you only realise how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.
This is true even for thing as "obvious" as underage sex—not child pornography, that's very different—yes, it can be "icky," but other people probably find stuff you like "icky" too, so unless there's some other tangible reason to crack down on that sort of material you can't ban one "icky" thing without risking that banhammer being used against your favorite things in the future.

The "anti-fascist" line seems to be that fascism literally is violence, that there's a sharp memetic gradient between fascistic thoughts and violent actions against the outgroup. Oddly enough I think this is dangerously close to viewing certain people as sub-human: that is, sub-humanly capable of owning their thoughts and actions. There are individuals and groups whose humanity I tend to discount—neo-Nazis, for example. They represent such an abortion of empathy that sometimes I do wish they could be locked away from decent people forever. And yet if I started a campaign of harassment and violence against those people, would I really be better than the fascists


Consider another example. From SkepChick, regarding advice to avoid "feeding the trolls" by not publicizing online harassment:
The abuse will continue to come, because they don’t want attention – they are bullies. They want power over you. They want your silence, and they got it. If you think that ignoring assholes and bullies makes them go away, you are wrong, and you are only making shit worse by running around being a patronizing prick who tells victims to shut up.
This is rhetorical imperialism at work. Gone is any room for hashing out a policy, for the policy debate has been decided for you (which is not all that much of a good thing). Now the discussion space has been sharply bounded, and the only acceptable discourse revolves around How should we properly publish abuse?

Moreover, this particular quote is rather interesting in its logic. "Don't publicize abuse" isn't that loaded of a policy statement, and Skepchick isn't misrepresenting the (in their eyes, "apparent") message either:
What you think it means: Just don’t reply to people or publicize their insults and they’ll go away! All they want is attention.
Right. But then, if that's the silence they want... that means people are bullying other people on the Internet and expecting no response at all. Um...?

Sort of related is Bruce Schneier's sort-of-famous essay, "Refused to Be Terrorized":
But our job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show's viewership.
The unifying theme here is that it's very natural to try to make an end-run around a scary problem, and (figuratively) nuke it from orbit rather than deal with it on its own terms. Humans love to make rules, and humans also love to cheat, so the method becomes obvious.

But this way lies disorder and perverse incentives that nobody actually would claim to want, if you asked them.

When urban centers faced an epidemic of crack cocaine and drug-related crime, almost everyone was glad that mayors started getting "tough on crime" and that the Federal government declared a War on Drugs. Now we have no-knock raids, and civil asset forfeiture, and SWATing, and military-grade vehicles driven by small-town cops, and on and on.

When 9/11 happened almost everyone was glad that Congress "did something" and passed the Patriot Act and declared a War on Terror. Now we have terrorism charges getting thrown around in order to circumvent Constitutional due-process rights, and "enhanced interrogation," and rendition (well, we were doing that for a while), and on and on.

Can anyone guarantee that they're so enlightened that a true "war on fascism" wouldn't have similar unpleasant and anti-civilization badstuff consequences? What about a "war on harassers"? War is, after all, hell. Specifically, a duchy of hell in service to Moloch:
The idea of liberal strategists sitting down and choosing “a flagship case for the campaign against police brutality” is poppycock. Moloch – the abstracted spirit of discoordination and flailing response to incentives – will publicize whatever he feels like publicizing. And if they want viewers and ad money, the media will go along with him.

Which means that it’s not a coincidence that the worst possible flagship case for fighting police brutality and racism is the flagship case that we in fact got. It’s not a coincidence that the worst possible flagship cases for believing rape victims are the ones that end up going viral. It’s not a coincidence that the only time we ever hear about factory farming is when somebody’s doing something that makes us almost sympathetic to it. It’s not coincidence, it’s not even happenstance, it’s enemy action. Under Moloch, activists are irresistably incentivized to dig their own graves. And the media is irresistably incentivized to help them.
Lost is the ability to agree on simple things like fighting factory farming or rape. Lost is the ability to even talk about the things we all want. Ending corporate welfare. Ungerrymandering political districts. Defrocking pedophile priests. Stopping prison rape. Punishing government corruption and waste. Feeding starving children. Simplifying the tax code.

But also lost is our ability to treat each other with solidarity and respect.

Under Moloch, everyone is irresistably incentivized to ignore the things that unite us in favor of forever picking at the things that divide us in exactly the way that is most likely to make them more divisive. Race relations are at historic lows not because white people and black people disagree on very much, but because the media absolutely worked its tuchus off to find the single issue that white people and black people disagreed over the most and ensure that it was the only issue anybody would talk about. Men’s rights activists and feminists hate each other not because there’s a huge divide in how people of different genders think, but because only the most extreme examples of either side will ever gain traction, and those only when they are framed as attacks on the other side.
As Ginsberg wrote: Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments! Nothing pleases Moloch more than doing something that ends up being worse than if you had done nothing. And this is exactly what rhetorical-imperialist tactics are. To paraphrase Thor in The Avengers, it signals to the universe of discourse that you're ready for a higher form of war.

Rhetorical imperialism is a sort of double standard. One lays down some very strict rules against enemy ideologies, and then decides that the rules are a sufficient guide to future police actions; moreover, that anyone guilty of rules infractions must be an enemy. Yet it assumes that the rules themselves need no policing; that, as in olden times, they are given by divine right and revelation.

(Look up religious debates with presuppositionalist apologists and you'll see what I mean.)

It becomes a sort of sick irony if the imperialist believes their enemies to be conspiring to attack from outside the bounds of discourse—fascist rhetoric as a smokescreen for physical violence, say—and therefore conclude that the proper course is to just shrink the bounds of discourse and start playing outside them anyway. How else can you enforce "no platform"?

(And yes, there's a difference between legislation and direct action. In this case though, I'm not convinced that the difference is meaningful enough for direct action to avoid all of the problems I considered in the post.)