They will pathologize you, whilst having their entire worldview ultimately born out of self-loathing… -Milo Yiannopoulos
What is less often noticed is the regressiveness of popular religion in the Age of Enlightenment…I am inclined to conclude that one effect of the Enlightenment was to provoke in the second generation a revival of magic. That is not so paradoxical as it sounds: has not the breakdown of another Inherited Conglomerate been followed by similar manifestations in our own age? -E. R. Dodds “The Greeks and the Irrational”
I relish a good argument and enjoy the opportunity to think out-loud, pour my heart out, play devil’s advocate, or generally be a contrarian. I just love sharing and expanding my mind. However, there is a certain kind of interlocutor that will take advantage of this, while never really addressing my ideas or engaging with me as a person (other than to sling insults), and who is actively stalking the social landscape for opportunities to feel morally superior–so feeble is their sense of dignity that it can only be won at another’s expense. This is the emotional terrorist. I apologize that the following is a rather analytical, dense, and relentless polemic, but to be perfectly honest, I’m too nervous–or rather cautious of expending my emotional energy–to fully share my heart here. This post has been brewing for years now, so I do apologize for only offering the head, and not the body, of this frothy distillation. The reasons for my diffidence will be clear in what follows, I trust.
Pt 1 of this series focused on emotional terrorism in romantic relationships, because the closer we are to someone, the more they can mess with our heads. As we noted, emotional abuse is not necessarily emotional terrorism, which is a specific subset. This post will deal with gaslighting in arguments, debates, and simple conversation–something that comes out most in discussions of sex, religion, and politics. Again, we are not talking about intellectual bullying or just being a jerk; we are talking about gaslighting: the undermining of someone’s faith in their own rational and intuitive powers. Just because someone is so weak-minded that they fall apart with the first criticism or disagreement doesn’t mean we’ve gaslit or abused them (something more resembling the behavior of just those who so easily take offense or fall apart). So it is our challenge here to shine a bright light on what gaslighting actually looks like. The one secure boundary we can draw, however, is friendship and the expectation of trust and intimacy: what might be emotional terrorism to your best friend, is probably just “trolling” to a random Facebook acquaintance.
An Example To Get Us Going
If you could boil my basic concern down to one sentence, it would be: “we chronically overuse the word ‘crazy’ in arguments.” Though this is not technically gaslighting, because I didn’t know the opponent and had no expectation of trust, the following example from a recent FB thread will at least convey the gist of our current subject–the general form (viz Kafkatrapping):
I suggested that in scores of debates, internet threads, etc, I was meeting with a particular strategy, which was to be dismissive, mind-reading, then emotionally manipulative, implying that I was crazy for presenting a certain idea. Low and behold, the very next response implied that this idea of mine (that people use “crazy” too often) was in fact crazy: “if you keep running into assholes everyday, maybe there is another explanation than a vast, coordinated conspiracy designed to persecute you.” Stunning. It is both dismissive, caustic (it implies I’m an asshole), and emotionally manipulative (it suggests I have paranoid delusions of persecution). Just…adorable.
While it might be a good policy to simply avoid such people, online or otherwise, I tend to follow Joe Rogan’s policy of getting material out of anybody–even abusive prigs (though, fair warning, if you behave like Joe in today’s climate, you’ll likely get sued). Anyway, if I’m going to have to suffer through someone’s caustic screed, you better believe I’ll find a way to benefit from it, at the very least by way of understanding various modern pseudo-religions, crafting counter-strategies, etc. Really, every religion gets rather authoritarian as it dies–think Socrates in the twilight of Greek religion, or Christianity just before the Enlightenment, with its Inquisitions–so we should expect no less of “social justice,” with its ever-weakening mandate of widespread racism and sexism. The caustic SJW reaction should not surprise in the least, if you’ve read E.R. Dodds “The Greeks and the Irrational“:
But the most striking evidence of the reaction against the Enlightenment is to be seen in the successful prosecutions of intellectuals on religious grounds which took place at Athens in the last third of the fifth century…the evidence we have is more than enough to prove that the Great Age of Greek Enlightenment was also, like our own time, an Age of Persecution, banishment of scholars, blinkering of thought and even…burning of books.
…we have still to explain why at this period a charge of irreligion was so often selected as the surest means of suppressing an unwelcome voice or damaging a political opponent. We seem driven to assume the existence among the masses of an exasperated religious bigotry on which politicians could play for their own purposes….
If we allow for the fact that wars cast their shadows before them and leave emotional disturbances behind them, the Age of Persecution coincides pretty closely with the longest and most disastrous war in Greek history. The coincidence is hardly accidental. It has been observed that “in times of danger to the community the whole tendency to conformity is greatly strengthened: the herd huddles together and becomes more intolerant than ever of ‘cranky’ opinion.” (p.189-191)
The Three Levels of Taunting
Have you ever observed that as children grow older their insults tend to change from physical, to intellectual, and finally psychological slights? In my experience, this happens pretty reliably, where “poopy-face” gives way to “dummy,” but are both later eclipsed by “mental patient” or “you need serious help.” There is either shit on your face, between your ears, or shit from childhood you haven’t solved yet. Obviously the late-blooming affronts are closer to emotional terrorism than mere bullying, and their over-application is really the subject of our post here. While they appear in more senior children, what we should expect from adults is a de-escalation as much as possible to level two insults, or the rejection of the ad hominem argument entirely. Sadly, just as soon as culture discovered the study of psychology, it’s results were immediately misused–and now today, illiberal progressives, for instance, seem to have (unconsciously) reverse-engineered every single “cognitive distortion” from CBT into a political bludgeon of some kind, as famous social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has pointed out.
Because humans have no “ear-lids,” there are only two ways of mitigating the pain of an insult: to gain some physical distance or to undermine the critic’s character in your own mind (that is, insult him!). So insult naturally leads to insult. Violence, whether physical or rhetorical, springs from powerlessness, so the more someone is insulted and stripped of self-worth, the more they will desire to do the same to others. However, the stronger someone’s mind, the more that insults can be used in entirely different ways. Friends routinely use ribbing and jest as a means of bonding; displaying esteem for a friend’s admirably thick skin, trust that he’ll understand the joke, and a faith that he knows what you really think of him. So we have this gradation, with good-natured ball-busting on one end, bullying in the middle, and emotional terrorism on the other end. However, context and intention can dramatically change the meaning and effect of the exact same rhetorical salvo. When MMA fighter Conor McGregor conducts nothing short of a psychological crusade against his opponents, both before and during a fight, he is not being an emotional terrorist: these opponents know this will happen, would never confuse him for a friend, and have no reason to let their emotional guard down or take any of McGregor’s rantings seriously. I’m not saying that Jose Aldo wasn’t legitimately frazzled and off his game, but that Conor’s behavior should not qualify as gaslighting, simply because there is no element of surprise and certainly no tinge of betrayal–he’s just being mean, which is literally his job.
Can Society Gaslight Us?
As a poet, there is only one political duty, and that is to defend one’s language from corruption. And that is particularly serious now. It’s being so quickly corrupted. When it’s corrupted, people lose faith in what they hear, and this leads to violence. -W. H Auden
Now, here is where it all gets really confusing: what about journalists, activists, and politicians that are “corrupting” our language, sowing seeds of fear, division, and misunderstanding; are they not emotional terrorists? According to Rollo May:
the antonym of symbolic is diabolic, ‘to tear apart.’ The ‘devilish’ functions are thus separating, alienating, breaking relationships, in contrast to bringing together, connecting, uniting. Ancient peoples knew as well as modern ones do of the dangers of the corruption of language. As Plato has Socrates say in the Phaedo: ‘The misuse of language is not only distasteful in itself, but actually harmful to the soul.’
Anybody succeeding in a process meant to obfuscate the truth and stymie discussion is dangerous, but I’d put them more on the level of an actual terrorist or saboteur. If you are reading the NY Times and feel gaslit, stop reading that article or grow a spine. This sounds overly harsh even to my ears given the sheer volume of propaganda, click-bait, and total horseshit that surrounds us, while I grant that in a sense, our collective grasp on reality is being loosened and enfeebled. However, that is why we have education, which should (ideally at least) allow someone to cultivate a buffer of skepticism, form a coherent worldview, etc–after all, what exactly is stopping you from reading some Plato right now? Of course modern education is failing everyone here, but my point is that (given the internet) there is nothing stopping people from finding the resources necessary to develop a sane perspective on the world and we can’t just throw our hands up and paint everything with the “emotional terrorism” brush just because we’ve read some Baudrillard. “It’s all phony–it’s all bullshit!” we want to cry, with Holden Caulfield, but let’s grow up, shall we, and admit that we do have the ability to reject this bullshit, think for ourselves, and on rare occasion, even find others of a similar persuasion to converse with. Again, I write this with trepidation, because modern education does involve a lot of propaganda and political brainwashing–and we do place some faith in our teachers to be mentors of some kind! My point is simply that if that bothers you, what is stopping you from criticizing that propaganda and forming your own views–is the anger not fuel enough? Society is not gaslighting you, because you should hold little expectation of implicitly trusting these people in the first place.
So we are back to our original clarification: emotional terrorism must involve a pre-existing relationship and essentially take hostage in some way the good-will, trust, and desire for affirmation natural to such a friendship. Anita Sarkeesian cannot gaslight me simply by putting up some YouTube videos. While many social justice warriors promote gaslighting and demonstrate how to do it, we are the one’s actually doing the gaslighting to our friends and family. When she says “It’s all sexist, it’s all racist, and we have to point it aaall out!” (strangely enough with a prideful smile on her face) she means that we the people should devolve into a bloody moral panic, pay her homage and coin, and yet do all the work of policing the masses for her (I’m sorry, how is this not Papism??)!
We have every advantage over our friends and loved ones: they will take us seriously, lending a certain self-fulfilling quality to any of our criticisms. When you ask a child “are you anxious; is everything ok?”, he might ask himself “is there a reason why I shouldn’t be ok?”. When you accuse someone of being paranoid, this might make them feel rather paranoid–like, “Why would my friend say that? Does he have an issue with me he’s not bringing up? Is he really my friend? Am I paranoid?”; a line of thought that is riddled with anxiety and paranoia. This self-fulfilling aspect to our stated opinions of friends and family makes certain manipulative insults unusually effective. We have so much more information about such people at our disposal, allowing us to brandish the strongest form of lies: those buttressed on all sides by truth. If our friend is depressed and venting about such n such, it is rather freakin evil to squash his healthy expression of anger, which is a good sign in terms of recovery, and suggest to him, “oh, that’s just the depression talking.”
Everyone gets angry and emotional. Perhaps you know your wife is slightly more spirited than most–the best kind!–and is a little insecure about this fact. Want to mess with her head? Just claim that she’s furious all the time and when she gets upset at this hyperbolic accusation, smugly back off with the retort, “I rest my case.” I’m sure you can divine that this is not merely being mean, but rather evil. Anyway, we will get to the more pertinent examples at the end, but for now, let me try to explain this mess, as well as how we found ourselves here (though Dodds has done much of this for us already).
Rise of the Prig
Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. -Steven Weinberg
There have always been prigs, puritans, moralizers, but things have gotten rather complicated as traditional religions have declined. Politics is the new religion and makes ample room for every moral busy-body and self-righteous crusader. In fact, my new definition of ‘religion’ is simply any ideology that justifies your behaving like a prick to other people. (If you are a narcissistic prick, then your religion is simply a monotheism where you are god, the world revolves around you, and you can treat people according to your divine whims.) If your religion is “social justice,” then anyone who opposes your views is obviously against society and justice, so let them have both barrels! Do you see what I’m saying? Any such pseudo-religious ideology fails to understand the basic fact that morality has more to do with how we treat people than the thoughts we might entertain or beliefs we may espouse. If you walk around acting all superior to people because of your views on Israel or gay marriage, I’m sorry, but you have lost the moral plot and become a prig.
You can learn pretty much anything online these days. If you really want to take a look in the mirror, you don’t even have to read books on psychology anymore: Judgement Day is upon us. In that post, I was concerned about early exposure to theories in psychology via movies, YouTube, etc, but that was a concern over true theories being absorbed too young–what about half-baked theories, or good theories crafted into weapons? I could have just as easily titled this post “Judgement Day Pt 2,” for we are currently enduring another round of puritanism along with our web-enabled enlightenment. Just as YouTube can teach someone virtually any martial art, but might equip them to be effective bullies absent the guidance and discipline of going to an actual school, so too can it teach strategies of winning arguments and humiliating opponents. Even I like to indulge in a highlight reel of “Hitchslaps” on occasion. Anyway, even before YouTube, high schoolers were already equipped with a veritable “urban dictionary” of psychological insults to hurl at each other, from “narcissist” and “drama queen” to “delusional” and “paranoid.” Terms from psychology have been seeping into the broader culture for over a century, often leading to abusive drugstore psychologizing and the routine pathologizing of contrary opinions, but this has accelerated and warped as the internet age matures. It is far easier for concepts to “creep” these days:
Many of psychology’s concepts have undergone semantic shifts in recent years. These conceptual changes follow a consistent trend. Concepts that refer to the negative aspects of human experience and behavior have expanded their meanings so that they now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before. This expansion takes ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ forms: concepts extend outward to capture qualitatively new phenomena and downward to capture quantitatively less extreme phenomena. The concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice are examined to illustrate these historical changes. In each case, the concept’s boundary has stretched and its meaning has dilated. A variety of explanations for this pattern of ‘concept creep’ are considered and its implications are explored. I contend that the expansion primarily reflects an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm, reflecting a liberal moral agenda. Its implications are ambivalent, however. Although conceptual change is inevitable and often well motivated, concept creep runs the risk of pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood. -Nick Haslam
The “liberal moral agenda” here is pretty obvious: with overt racism and sexism steadily declining for decades, one must expand these terms (dilating their meaning) to renew the progressive mandate, fostering the very authoritarianism Dodds warns us to expect from any dying faith. When existing concepts can’t creep any further, new words must be coined: what used to be mere “leering” is now “stare rape,” and so forth. When this isn’t enough, smash all manner of exhausted creeds together and peddle it as “intersectional:” the “mortgage-backed security” of political bigotry. Both ends of the political spectrum mess with language, from Righty “Patriot Acts” to Lefty “social justice,” but clearly the scales tip heavily to the left, hitting regressive apotheosis upon adding the “communion wafer” of leftist religion: Black Lives Matter (the most loaded phrase in human history).
You might have noticed that my use of “religion” and “faith” involves a semantic shift, but is exactly opposite to “concept creep:” it tracks a real decline in traditional religion and the use of politics as an outlet for the unspent religious sentiment. Leftist concept creep aims to obscure changes in society instead of highlight them. Anyway, the internet is hardly the source of the problem. Just as children move from the insults of “poopy-face” and “dummy” to “insane person” as soon as they learn about the psychological level, so too did adults begin misusing its findings as soon as the study of psychology was firmly underway. The whole point of psychology/psychiatry is to strengthen a person’s mind; build faith in their rational and intuitive powers. It is the literal antithesis of our subject, emotional terrorism. Yet, by mid-century, some Frankfurt School thinkers were already deploying the insights of Freud, for instance, as political bludgeons–effectively gaslighting their unsuspecting opponents. For some 2500 years philosophers have known that ad hominem arguments are invalid, but somehow, this small group of thinkers revived it into a respected means of undermining someone’s position. Have you noticed this as well? In arguments about the three main subjects you are not supposed to discuss at dinner parties, it is not only that people tend to throw rhetorical shit at each other in these exchanges, but that this is no longer seen as childish or bestial; the ad hominem argument has been revived from fallacy to effective salvo or clever, Jon Stewart-like quip, thanks in part to the Frankfurt School and “critical theory” (whatever that is–for there are only interpretations, right?).
…historian Christopher Lasch criticized the Frankfurt School’s initial tendencies towards “automatically” rejecting opposing political criticisms on “psychiatric” grounds:
The Authoritarian Personality had a tremendous influence on Hofstadter and other liberal intellectuals, because it showed them how to conduct political criticism in psychiatric categories, to make those categories bear the weight of political criticism. This procedure excused them from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation. Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds.
If emotional terrorists had a “Koran”, it would be the above school of thought. Now, obviously there have always been intellectual bullies, and just as apes throw real shit, I’m sure humans have always flung the rhetorical variety at each other. Timothy Leary suggested that “the only intelligent way to discuss politics is on all fours.” My point is that people even 200 years ago didn’t have nearly the ammunition that we can muster today–if you like, we are comparing musket-based warfare to satellite-guided drone-strikes.
Now, it is not irrelevant to investigate the ad hominem level of an opinion, but one commits a serious fallacy when this totally eclipses the object-level. Even a child knows that just because someone was drunk, or angry, or totally bonkers doesn’t simply invalidate everything that they say. Given the correlation between madness and genius, this would force us to throw out the better part of all culture, goddammit! The most frustrating aspect of this kind of gaslighting is that the claim of “crazy” from (often rather deranged) individuals strips one of the opportunity to call them on their particular brand of crazy, on pain of hypocrisy. Because they say it first, they sort of own the “crazy” space, and make you defend yourself or devolve into worthless character attacks.
Listen, I have some respect for many postmodern or Frankfurt School thinkers–exponentially less for their “followers,” I might add–but there is a very important point that needs to be driven home here: there is a difference between applying “critical theory” to a paper you are criticizing in “Critical Inquiry” and applying it to the face of an inebriated dinner guest! The latter has some presumption of friendship, generosity, benefit of the doubt; some expectation of conversation, or perhaps argument, but is actually being abused if all he meets are character attacks, niggling objections, and strategies meant to derail the “conversation.” Critical theory is meant to be applied to papers, perhaps to formal debates by political pundits, but if you are using these all-too-clever, but intellectually dishonest tactics on your friends and family, you are an emotional terrorist–not just a jerk. Entering into a debate when really you don’t believe in truth, the individual, or objective reality–harboring no desire to persuade, only shame–is incredibly disingenuous, but really just makes you an intellectual bully. Doing this to your unsuspecting friends, family, or acquaintances can be gaslighting. Anyway, back to how we got into this mess…
The fact that I hesitated for more than a minute before starting this paragraph is revealing in itself. I’ve attacked a foundation of modern leftism, and plan to add more attacks still. Already, having criticized “critical theory,” which dominates most of the humanities departments in the western world, I’m feeling uneasy. It is simply rational to be a little paranoid when you are rather certain that your opponents are entirely paranoid! But then I have already played into their hands, haven’t I!? Doesn’t matter: these folks will find you psychologically crippled regardless of what you actually say. Afraid of Islamic terrorists? Well then, you are “Islamophobic,” etc. For the record, I am not “Islamophobic,” but “theo-phobic:” rather terrified of most religions, not least of all political ideologies that involve just as much magical thinking. Modern neo-progressivism, for instance, is just such a bizarre, aimless cauldron of incompatible philosophies, smashing together (the feeble specter of) J.S. Mill, postmodernism, the Frankfurt School, Chomsky, etc, with such abandon I honestly wonder how much of this stuff any of them have even read. Fan of postmodernism and Chomsky? Might want to rethink that one son:
Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse, including the assertions that postmodernism is meaningless and promotes obscurantism. For example, Noam Chomsky has argued that postmodernism is meaningless because it adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge. He asks why postmodernist intellectuals do not respond like people in other fields when asked, “what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn’t already obvious, etc.?…If [these requests] can’t be met, then I’d suggest recourse to Hume’s advice in similar circumstances: ‘to the flames’.”
Seriously, Chomsky is on the same page as the New Atheists here:
“Postmodernism, the school of ‘thought’ that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.” -Dennett
But you can’t, can you? They just offer such great rhetorical strategies! Plus, those French names are gorgeous and just excrete sophistication. Recall from Pt1 that central bit about “intentional vagueness”? Well, look no further than postmodernism. The following is basically the equivalent of an MMA fighter holding his opponent on the ground or against the cage, wearing him out, but not throwing any significant blows—just trifling, annoying rabbit punches. This stalls the competition, tires both people, but much less the one doing the “holding.” Thus, they win a rhetorical war of attrition at best, a stalemate at worst, but have nonetheless derailed the other person’s attempt to express an idea. I’ll call it the “lay and pray” or the “dump n hump” strategy.
The postmodernist will start big and gradually reduce their line of questioning to the very granules of which an argument is made, until the target is unable to provide adequate detail or is simply exhausted from explaining each and every stage in their argument. Put simply, postmodernism is deliberately designed to win a debate without actually having the debate. It is self-evident that this is intellectually dishonest and it is the shield upon which neo-progressivism prevents, diverts, or deflects any legitimate criticism of its precepts. It is the result of critical theory… (quote from minute 9 of the video in the last link)
Given my love of Bruce Lee, perhaps you were wondering why I do not admire this as a way of “fighting without fighting” as per the scene in Lee’s last film. Answer: In the scene, Lee is escaping a violent assault by means of his intelligence, while the postmodernist is pretending to be in a fight, and just stalling–something Lee would disdain. My god, one can always say “mind if we change the subject?”. Anyway, a related source of the problems of ubiquitous and malevolent psychologizing must be mentioned, regardless of the character attacks on me that might follow: Stalinism. Here is an interesting introduction; an interview between Elizabeth Wasserman (in bold) and Christopher Hitchens:
You write a lot about the intense bitterness that the left still harbors toward Orwell. I wonder whether you think this is something typical—leftist intellectuals today are often accused of intolerance of criticism, especially from within, and of intellectual bullying and censorship in the name of political correctness. Do you see their Orwell-bashing as a manifestation of that, or as something more profound?
I think you’re right—it’s an aspect of that. I think Hannah Arendt said that one of the great achievements of Stalinism was to replace all discussion involving arguments and evidence with the question of motive. If someone were to say, for example, that there are many people in the Soviet Union who don’t have enough to eat, it might make sense for them to respond, “It’s not our fault, it was the weather, a bad harvest or something.” Instead it’s always, “Why is this person saying this, and why are they saying it in such and such a magazine? It must be that this is part of a plan.” Some of that mentality is involved, certainly, in the way the old left people like Raymond Williams write about Orwell. They never lose that habit of thought.
Political correctness, by the way, is a very mild form of this. I mean, people who talk about political correctness as being a kind of thought police have no idea of what a thought police is. But political correctness does have the same mentality. It means that intellectual argument is doomed. Objective truth simply becomes a thing to jeer at, because obviously there’s no such thing as objectivity—unless of course you’re politically okay, in which case you can be objective. Any child can see through that, but many adults can’t.
Wow: “replace all discussion involving arguments and evidence with the question of motive.” Motive! True, PC is a mild form of thought-policing, but Hitchens died before seeing the Left utilize far more authoritarian tactics. It is almost as if Hitchens was single-handedly holding at bay the more extreme or radical of the leftists, who waited until his own cancer took him out of the game before spreading to the cultural lymph nodes, metastasizing into SJWs of all stripes. The reason I’m so reluctant to mention the above is that it is technically called “Cultural Marxism,” which though a legitimate term, is also attached to a so-called “conspiracy theory.” Therefore, if you suggest, as Arendt and Hitchens do, that Stalinism really did change the way we communicate–and intentional (conspiracy) or not, might have disrupted western civilization in this manner–you must be a paranoid schizophrenic. Do you see how clever this is? The strategy is to call any political opponents crazy, but if these opponents suggest that you are being disingenuous and just trying to destroy the conversation, they are proving to be crazy and paranoid “conspiracy nuts”! Do recall the example that got us going in this post.
Anyway, Stalinism, critical theory, Cultural Marxism, these things are difficult to untangle, but whatever the ultimate source of the rise of the priggish age, what is clear is that it affects our personal relationships just as much as stymie our political progress. We must relearn how to talk to each other.
End of Conversation
As Jonathan Haidt and others have noted, political discourse in this country has now become impossible–both sides hate each other too much and don’t even seem to be speaking the same language. Concept creep and the politicization of language have undermined our shared lexicon; “socialist” and “republican” have become dirty words perfectly suitable for invective; and what would otherwise be unthinkably horrible speech and action are somehow acceptable against “the other.” The far Left has been using gaslighting-like strategies for ages, but the really scary thing is that the Right has figured out that there really is no talking to such people; that if you must debate them, you should use the very same tools of insult and character assassination, only pre-emptively. Ben Shapiro advises conservatives to hit first, hit hard, and make sure they don’t get up. You can see him deploy that strategy in this video. Well that’s it folks: all-out war; the death of conversation, debate, and compromise. While bullies and obfuscators are terrible for society at large, this gets downright emotionally abusive when deployed around the dinner table.
Strategies and Counter-Strategies
Sadly, Shapiro is right that the best counter-strategy to the rhetoric we have been discussing is to never engage with such people, but with friends and and especially family, that is not always possible. So let me first reiterate my concluding advice from Pt1: the emotional terrorist is most often simply projecting, so while one finger points at you, four point back at them; giving you a road-map of their psyche and potential weak-spots. Here’s the rub though: this drags you right down to their bloody level! When an SJW tells you to “check your white privilege,” they are judging you based on your skin-tone, which is technically racist, but to call them out on it is essentially pointless–you are now just flinging poo with the rest of them. This is part of the genius of identity politics: they refuse to interact on any other level but identity politics–and bait you by violating their very own principles! I suspect that, having run out of targets, they mean to scare some out of the woodwork by acting like authoritarian bullies; they intend to manufacture some racists and sexists by being unbelievably nasty and driving a wedge between various groups. There really is no talking to such folks–believe me, I’ve tried. Some of us try to adopt the strategy of the enemy, which is incredibly tempting given that many SJW’s and so forth display clear signs of mental illness, but this is only a way of battling them, not winning them over or winning over the third side! The Defeat of the Left is a good example of an article that flirts with this strategy, using language like “Paulin’s language (is) almost psychotic”; or “behind the nervous breakdown it reflects” or; “leftists can only turn in on themselves in a frenzy of rage.” Simply put, the author Geoffrey Wheatcroft is not a freakin psychologist! While his adoption of leftist gaslighting strategies is rhetorically effective, it is so only to his base: anybody on the left will be entirely alienated. It might be good for this author’s career, but it is terrible for the country.
It repays the effort to consider Shapiro’s strategies, like changing the frame, and so forth, but honestly I’m kind of despairing at the moment that there really is no way to break through and have a real dialogue. So, just like having a crazy girlfriend, the best move is to simply move on! However, you might need some tactics to cover your retreat, so that’s what we’ll explore by way of a conclusion.
Here is the gist of an encounter with abusive, neo-progressive rhetoric of the strongest possible variety; far subtler than mere cry-bullying because it is defensive in nature: As you try to introduce an idea, you are interrupted with all manner of niggling objections, questions about minutia, and a general attempt to compromise the flow of your thoughts. You likely will never be able to finish said thought, even in a 30 minute discussion. You are treated with contempt and disdain, but very very calmly, so that any hint of emotion, sarcasm, or any other sane response to this treatment can be written off as “oh, look at the little kiddy losing his cool!” It is a strategy of “getting your goat” and holding it hostage. The treatment is inhuman–as if you were a dissertation or paper–and so any human response will be attacked as emotional, and thus lacking of objectivity (even though postmodernism itself rejects objectivity!!). Perhaps before, but certainly after you respond with anger, sarcasm, or just a “wtf dude!”, the specific ad hominems will be leveled at you: you don’t have enough experience to comment, you’re the wrong gender to comment, or the old stand-by’s: “that’s crazy;” “you are off your rocker;” “unhinged.” Because of concept creep, you really can’t call them on gaslighting, for they can just claim that they were using ‘narcissism,’ ‘paranoid,’ or ‘crazy’ in their new, loose, every-day versions. Your opponent has plausible deniability. If you really press him, he can always just say he was kidding: “stop being so sensitive.” I’ve personally lost my cool before in this situation and was met with “I’m rather disappointed that you took this to the personal level.” Astonishing, truly astonishing: an entire argument of calmly uttered ad hominem, mixed with prickly contempt, and I’m the one “taking this to the personal level”?…just…(*sigh). Cunning worthy of a 16th-century French courtesan.
Now, the simple fact is that if some dude tried to pull this stuff among exclusively male friends, he is likely to get slapped in the mouth–he deserves as much–so the craftiest of such people will make sure that this is done in mixed-company, making any display of emotion (especially aggression) all the more impolitic. This is why that scene in Crocodile Dundee is so pleasing (and wish-fulfilling): the caustic boyfriend is distracted then punched in the face.
“He said you hit him. You’re not in the pub at walkabout creek anymore!”
“Ee was beinna pain.” -Dundee
Lol. Sadly, we should be so lucky to get such a slow pitch, such an overt jerk. Be prepared for the one that has “the third side” with them, remains calm and unflappable, and can get away with aggression by being passive about it. A dude-bro, or just a sane man, would laugh this off and just think the other person a “pussy,” because it is slightly more often women who are passive aggressive like this. But because it involves insults and direct disagreement, which usually women avoid, I’d call this the “unflappable vagina” offense. Though it stinks, I can’t even call it a “libtard” strategy, because it is so damned clever!
You may choose to point out that it is rather paranoid of them to be psycho-analyzing their dinner guests instead of listening to and engaging with them, but again, this sucks you right down to their level. It would be better to reply to “that’s paranoid” with “and I’d care about that opinion if you were a psychiatrist.” This response is ad hominem, but a valid one. You see, you can’t abandon all ad hominem in an argument, lest you jettison the invaluable charge of “hypocrisy” as well. My point is that you shouldn’t merely fling turds. Make sure the ad hominem is pointed: if he questioned your credentials for offering up your point, then it is fair game to call his into question. Oddly enough, it is less manipulative, and truly generous and sane of you, to de-escalate from the gaslighting to the bullying type of insult here; the level of “that’s dumb” or “you’re not getting it man.” This entire rant is about the total eclipse of stage 2 insults: instead of being ignorant in this instance, wrong, or too dense to see the truth, you are “delusional,” “off your rocker.” My whole point is to warn of the dangers of this armchair psychologizing. Something like “and if I need a therapist, I’ll make sure to give you a call” is the closest you can get to a solid counter-argument that calls out the game being played without fully stooping to their level.
Another response that might expose the game would be to shift the frame to the conversation itself. You could try to do this sincerely, by saying for instance “hey, take it easy on me man…can I finish this point please?” but that is pretty weak. Sadly, a stronger reply is really what is needed; something like the following:
“(after hearty laugh) Man, this is the first time I’ve ever felt like I was in that Monty Python skit where the guy pays for an argument, except, instead of just having a room for arguments and one for abuse, there is a third, ‘all-of-the-above’ option called ‘critical theory.'”
“Has anyone you know ever admitted that arguing with you is like being interrogated by a KGB officer who was ordered to break you using nothing but passive aggression?”
“Let’s change the topic. What do you want to talk about.” This might sound weak, but the simple truth is that the sorts of bullies we are talking about don’t really have much to say: they are all about opposition, not proposition; criticism, not syllogism; progressivism, not historical reality; sophistry, not philosophy. They were probably just thankful that you gave them material to criticize, rescuing them from revealing that they don’t have any true beliefs or opinions of their own, just various “narratives.” You can usually tell that an SJW, for instance, is full of it when they talk about racism or other atrocities while grinning–“omg, that is SOOO problematic!” (said with a slightly manic and prideful exuberance).
So, we have learned that what otherwise might be considered bullying can turn into abuse simply by adding the element of trust and expectation of friendship, where the target’s heart is invested in good faith–and in more than a “gee, I hope people on the playground like me” kinda way. Emotional terrorism, or gaslighting, is basically just undermining someone’s faith in their own reason and intuition. The best of such attacks are those that are slightly true, or beyond the target’s current attempts at introspection (I mean, do you really know that you for sure don’t harbor racial prejudices!?). The emotional con artists will most likely have taken these attacks from things they’ve noticed about their own psyches, so you can be relatively sure that they are essentially projecting: four fingers still point back to them if the mark isn’t rattled enough by the one finger not to notice. And this is the point of gaslighting: trip them up, rattle them, get their proverbial blood up and cloud their reason so that you can get what you wanted, whether that is the pride of the victor, social proof, compliance from a lover, or what have you.
After I wrote nearly this entire article, I attended a party of some 20-30 people–one of the funnest parties I’ve been to. Sadly, there must always be at least one SJW killjoy. I listened very sympathetically to this rather brilliant preacher for about an hour and a half, without much chance of getting a word in edgewise, let alone corralling him into actually making a point. Finally, sensing I was getting restless, he turned to the subject of the Armenian Genocide and was overjoyed to hear that I had heard of it but didn’t understand it. Moral superiority at last! He implied that I was crazy and I warned him that I’d accept a charge of “ignorant,” but not “crazy.” Instead of explaining the subject to me, despite my frequent questions, he danced around the topic until he could extract from me something he could criticize: I asserted that the US was not “exceptionally good,” but hardly “exceptionally bad” by historical standards; at which point I was called a “genocide apologist,” “totally insane,” and so forth, while this tool leaned in towards me aggressively, unaware of the fact that my right hand could switch off the lights in less than a quarter second. Instead, I so totally destroyed his little world, in less than three sentences, that he not only spazzed-out, looked down and couldn’t talk, but also left the party. What did I calmly utter? “Oh, I know what you are doing. You’re gaslighting. CBT therapists call what you just did ‘mind reading;’ often simply projecting onto your opponent. Yeah, I’m not having it.” That’s all it took. His girlfriend earnestly apologized, explaining that “he does this to people, including me all the time–I don’t know why.” Well, we all know why, don’t we? Brilliant, and extremely well-read as this person was, he is deeply insecure and was merely using his knowledge to establish a moral high-ground and pontificate as long as he could–bullying or baiting any dissenters into crestfallen consent. Well, the joke was on him–completely exposed and unable to face himself, he had to leave in disgrace. It’s easy to bully people who are either less intelligent or less well-read, but don’t try it with those who are neither, suckah–you’ll end up the “underwear bomber” of emotional terrorists. This kind of person “preys on the good will of strangers,” as Sargon explains in his video, but unfortunately for them, not all of us will be stuffed into their “trick bag,” as Mr. Black calls it. Bulverism and Appeal to Motive can take such a con artist a long way, but I’m not having it and I encourage you to calmly call out this kind of game whenever you might encounter it. I assure you, it totally evaporates when brought out into the open–the light of Reason casts a sort of spell all it’s own.