On “elitism”, real life, and having “too much education”

I wanted to pull together some threads of animosity in today’s multi-polarized climate over many issues, with all the rancor surrounding Donald Trump’s election and presidency.

A key concept seems to be resentment of “elitism”. David Masciaostra has a piece in Salon on Nov. 20, “’Real Americans’ v. ‘Coastal Elites’”. The tone of the piece reminds me of a drill sergeant, when I arrived at Tent City at Fort Jackson SC during 1968 Basic Combat Training, saying I had “too much education”. Others in the barracks regarded me as a “do nothing” or dead wire when it came to risk of pain and sacrifice. Salon mentions people wanting a leader who can talk in middle school language, or “talk that way”. Voters want respect for “real life” (as my mother called it); they see elites as spectators and critics who don’t put their own skin in the game. And some voters seem way to gullible in their response to authority that can get them what they think they want, whatever it costs others; and these voters actually believe that everything that matters in life happens through a chain of command, even within a family.

I could mention a related issue right away: modern society’s unprecedented dependence on technological infrastructure. Trump hasn’t talked about it this way, but Bannon ought to be paying attention to taking care of the power grids, especially, as I have often written here before. Along those likes, I thought I would share a New York Post piece on teen digital addiction. Remember 60 years ago, middle school teachers screamed, “Read, don’t watch television”. And in those days we had only black and white.

The “real life” person doesn’t trust what disconnected intellectuals write, so the “real lifer” doesn’t think it’s important to listen to arguments about pollution or climate change. The lifer knows that she can’t afford Obamacare premiums, but has no concept of how the policy changes promised to her by huckerizing politicians could make things worse for her or for a lot of other people. Lost. By the way, in the argument about health care, is the total lack of transparency in pricing (the GOP is right about this). But the “lifer”, with her anti-intellectualism, ignores a moral precept: that looking after the planet for future generations matters. Yet, it’s only been the last few decades that we’ve come to see that as a moral idea, even given our preoccupation with “family values” – and lineage. It’s ironic that the cultural, even gender-sexist moral arguments of the past flourished in a time of higher birthrates and shorter life spans, when filial piety and taking care of our elders hadn’t become the issue it is today.

Policy problems are often presented in moral terms, but we actually tend to get used to a status quo without asking why things need to be the way they are. If we did have single payer health care (like Canada), it would become the expected public safety net, and unreasonable demands on families or of volunteerism would no longer have a place at the “morality” table. Bernie Sanders is right about this. But other status quos in the past have been “bad”. We accepted homophobia without understanding why other adults’ private lives needed to be our business. We had a male-only military draft, and a hierarchy of forced risk-taking for the country. It took a long time to change these.

We also get used to begging from politicians in terms of groups and identity politics. That works better with “vertical” groups – long, well-established common identities that policy is used to addressing. These include nationality, religious affiliation, and race, and sometimes economic groups like labor and workers.   Groups associated with gender issues and sometimes disability tend to be more “horizontal” as members appear in all the vertical groupings, causing divided loyalties. They intrinsically take longer for partisan political processes to handle. Differentiating “chosen” behavior and inheritance (or immutability) becomes much murkier. “Middle school kids” have a hard time disconnecting this from religion because of “anti-intellectualism”.

We also see appeals to become personally connected to people, as online, as transcending the barriers of the past, but still colored by “identity politics” and a tendency to entangle legitimate individualism with a sense of automatic entitlement to attention from others. We gradually learn that as we distance ourselves from our groups of origin (often families), we find their replacements (even a “resistance”) just as demanding in loyalty and obedience.

All of this leads me to pose the question, “How is the individual who perceives himself/herself as different really supposed to behave?” Maybe not the Pharisee that I became, who wants to be recognized for his original content, but doesn’t seem to care “about” individuals who can’t distinguish themselves.

Here are a couple of other perspectives on elitism: the New York Times on liberal bubbles; The NYT on leaders needing meek little followers; and a (real) “rude pundit” blogger.

(Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)de

Does quoting and analyzing “provocateur” speech (like Milo’s) make more extreme ideas become acceptable to the mainstream?

Does a pundit or columnist or quasi-journalist (and now blogger) like me “do harm” by repeating (in quotes) partially reasonable but hate-motivated arguments made by political, religious or social “enemies” of people in various marginalized groups?

The basic point made by minority activists (usually but not always on the Left) is that repetition of these kinds of points tends to make them sound more mainstream.  So more moderate politicians (elected, administrative, and judicial) are more likely to believe them, resulting in more harm to the people in the groups.

I’ve always questioned the overuse of “immutability” arguments to support “gay equality”, focusing more on libertarian paradigms, emphasizing individualism and harmlessness.  But of course hyperindividuaiism runs into bigger problems with essential inherited inequality, sustainability, and human need for cohesion (starting in the family and moving out).

I have indeed played “devil’s advocate”, to the dismay of some conventional gay activists.  In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before HTLV-III was identified, I actually communicated by letter to some “enemies” who wanted to use AIDS as an exclusion to strengthen sodomy and gay-exclusion laws.  I was very concerned about the “chain letter amplification” theory that they had (an admission of herd effects, posting Jan. 4).  In these pre-Internet days, I developed a reputation with the Dallas mainstream media and medical community for being willing to even discuss these arguments as if they had a chance of being “truth” – I felt that they could have, even though history (fortunately, for “us”, didn’t turn out that way).

The comment is often made that “well-intended” commentators have made the supposed hate speech of provocateur (“@Nero”) Milo Yiannopoulos “credible” by even answering some of his more notorious comments with contextual analysis.  Most of his more “renowned” statements are intentionally hyperbolic, satirical, and with “grains of truth”.  Some of his statements seem like legitimate reactions to protective campus speech codes, “safe zones”, media-free zones, “trigger warnings” and the idea of “microaggressions”.  It’s gotten so “bad” that I would wonder if I could talk about White and Black as opposing forces in a chess game, when writing a metaphor, without sounding like I was race-baiting.  (Chess has been important in my life, but that’s another narrative.)   Of course, Milo has gained even more notoriety when his campus events are forced into cancellation by a “heckler’s veto” as recently happened in Berkeley.

But some of his statements also seem directed at “less competitive” people in society, especially with respect to physical or biological issues.  One of the more provocative concerned fat-shaming (as here on Breitbart).  The statement suggests that being in the company of an unattractive person lowers his own testosterone.  Maybe marginally true.  I’m reminded of how the Family Research Council made a point about lower testosterone levels in heterosexually married new fathers in trying to rebut gay marriage!

The Inquisitr tried to “mainstream” Milo’s quotes with some contextual analysis, that will work with “intellectual” people but that won’t hold on the streets.   Another more leftist site was less kind, but sill provided some background (although all of it rebuttal).   I showed this second article on my phone to a young white gay man at a social event (someone lean and “attractive” by modern gay norms), and he said the found the aggregation of them in an article just to refute them itself to be offensive.

But logical conclusion from some of the posts would be, to put it mildly, to reinforce CNN’s Don Lemon’s “pull up your pants” advice.   People from marginalized groups (or marginalized further within these groups by physical issues) presumably have some responsibility to deal with the expectations of others  on their own.  That’s not directly hateful, but it putatively does set up a social climate where people will get “left out”, even eventually in being able to find and form relationships.

But provocative speech often gains more attention because of coincidental circumstances at the time it is published or disseminated.  I found this out with a major incident when I was substitute teaching bacj in 2005 (see July 19, 2916 pingback).

We’re left, of course, with the observation that authoritarian people (Donald Trump) rally their support bases around slogans and misleading half-truths, and have no use for context.

Let us remember that Lyndon Johnson made rather disdainful remarks about “the Negro” on some of his tapes.  Times do change.

Link for review of “Real Time with Bill Maher” session including Milo on HBO.

(Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 8:30 PM EST)

Update: Feb. 20, about 8:30 PM EST

There was a lot of news about Milo today, not good.  I’ll have to sort this out.  The Associated Press has a succinct summary on Bloomberg here.  The book deal was canceled (I FB-ed to him that he should self-publish), and a speaking engagement at CPAC was removed, and his future at Breitbart may be compromised.  Milo has suggested that sometimes teens (while legally below the age-of-consent of a particular jurisdiction) provoke encounters with adults to have power over the adults.  That same idea is mentioned in my DADT-III.  Yes, it does really happen in rea life.  That statement does not promote pedophilia (but maybe “ephebophilia”).

Update: March 5, about 11;30 PM

Here’s a controversial link by a University of Chicago professor (Rachel Fulton Brown); a reply on Patheos and a blog post on “loving Milo”.

Charles Murray has had a similar problem at a college in Vermont, story.

Women and most minorities don’t participate as well in online speech as well as “white men”

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The Center for Innovative Public Health Research in New York City has published a study “Online Harassment, Digital Abuse, and Cyberstalking in America” here (58 pages), by Amanda Lenhart and Kathryn Zickuhr, link.

An article on Quartz by Alice Marwick says “A new study suggests online harassment is pressuring women and minorities to self-censor.”

The Internet, most of all modern social media, was built largely by economically advantaged white and Asian men, the article goes.  It also says “straight”, but there is “masculine gay” (mirroring straight values about power and success) and there is, well, “queer”.

The people who built social media they way it is are personally not very vulnerable to harassment or risk.  (Imagine who invulnerable the young Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”, even as played by Jesse Eisenberg, looks – as well as his dorm buddies (one or two of whom were gay).   But people in various “groups” often are, and that includes most women, except for the most competitive or individually successful.  Women may be less likely to share because of fear or retaliation or stalking.  And in some families, individuals have to be concerned about bringing harm upon other family members (besides spouses and direct children).

Personally, I don’t like to share events I am going to on Facebook ahead of time, for security reasons.  Yet some people run events and organizations in such a way that they expect others to “play ball” in the way they use social media.  That works better with people who use Facebook with full privacy settings.  I do use Facebook as a quasi-publishing tool.  That has its own risks, which are more connected to politics than directly to personhood.  But that’s become my life.

Because I use these platforms now as a publishing too, I am fully empowered as a participant in the debates and resent others trying to claim I need to support their speaking for me.  But the study indicates that online self-censorship, out of security concerns, limits the participation of minorities even in debates, in the ability to speak for themselves, with the effect of democratization the Internet is supposed to offer everyone in the West.

Another issue of self-censorship, though, is many college campuses, with their trigger warnings and speech codes.

(Published: Monday, Nov. 28, 2016 at 9:30 PM EST)

Is citizen journalism too much a spectator sport?

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Is citizen journalism a spectator sport?

I could embed this in a broader question, is journalism itself a spectator sport?

It’s pretty well established in major media circles that the top journalists have “paid their dues”, often with conflict reporting, and sometimes with prior work experience as grunts themselves.  It’s easy to come up with a hall of fame:  Anderson Cooper, Sebastian Junger (at one time seriously injured when working as an arborist), Bob Woodruff (who recovered miraculously from head wounds in Iraq), and more recently, OAN’s Trey Yingst.  Stuart Lee of the BBC has an article, “War reporting is not a spectator sport.”

One can add another level: sport’s reporting.  Not everybody is “good” enough to play professional baseball, football, basketball, hockey, etc. or to swim or cycle in the Olymics (many of us would not like the peaking). But others make their way as sports agents (playing “Moneyball”), or as reporters and broadcasters.  And sports journalism is very exacting, requiring constant attention to the detail of everything going on, on and off the field.

Sometimes we wonder about reporting on disasters.  I recall Anderson Cooper’s wading in flood waters in East Texas in September 2008 to report on Hurricane Rita, only to miss the financial crisis to erupt the next day in his own home town.  But with most disasters, journalists get to go home soon and resume their lives.  I wondered this with my last posting on disasters, where an OAN journalist reported on Red Cross volunteer efforts to rebuild the lives of people in eastern Louisiana after the floods, with people apparently willing to come from hundreds of miles away to give time and effort.  Some of the same effort was reported after a major apartment gas explosion near Washington DC.

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That’s where the citizen journalism issue starts to get dicey.  “Amateur” journalism does tend to perform a function that Anderson Cooper calls “Keeping them honest” and that I would term “Do Ask, Do Tell”.  It puts ideas in play that establishment media and especially politicians find hard to deal with, and it tends to confound the organizational discipline of “identity politics”.  But it can also seem nosey or intrusive, and self-indulgent (even in a “feminine” pursuit of “truth”).  Why won’t you “join” us and learn “what it’s like”?  Why won’t you walk in our shoes?  Instead of photographing the flood or fire damage, why won’t you stay and help us rebuild. You know you are more fortunate than us.

That sort of mentality is particularly well dramatized in the Netflix thriller “Rebirth” (review where a particular community enforces a rule “No spectators”.  Indeed, with topics of high security (and sometimes with political campaign events), it’s hard for people without “press credentials” to get in.  In some communities (such as those involving certain immigrants, like those seeking asylum), “curiosity” reporters could inadvertently out the clients in danger, so communities don’t want people without “skin in the game” looking on (that is, willing to take unusual risks to help).

This touches on an area already visited, the campus speech codes issue (May 14), particularly at the University of Missouri, as reported in the Columbia Spectator in an article by Caroline Lee April 4.  If marginalized groups are already demanding “media free” zones with respect to the established press, imagine how they feel about the Fifth Estate (May 30).

I’ll close by mention a Guide by Cordelia Hebblethwaite, “The Social Media Reporter”.  Note the technical knowledge involved in fact-checking social media leads to stories.

(Published: Sunday, August 21, 2016 at 11:15 PM EDT)

Students need to accept free speech from others on campus, and not expect to feel “safe” all the time

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Michael Bloomberg (former New York City mayor) offers an important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Friday May 13, 2016, “Why Free Speech Matters on Campus” with a subtext “’Safe spaces’ will create graduates unwilling to tolerate different opinions – a crisis in a free society”.

Bloomberg spoke at an annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign a few years ago (I think in 2013).  His article makes the point that free speech an open debate makes ideas offensive to many in earlier generations mainstream today.  Now this includes marriage equality;  a few years ago it was the service of gays in the military, and a dozen years ago it was taking down sodomy laws.

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The debate is amplified by user-generated content on the Web (most of all in social media, but also in person-owned websites and self-published books).  Even if most people get the bulk of their news from establishment sources, the bulk of views that is “out there” to be found has a big impact on changing attitudes.  Likewise, the possibility of accepting different points of view on a campus is a major way of opening the next generation of adults to ideas that may be necessary for a society to sustain its freedoms.  (How about the science of climate change and green energy?)

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But, it is true, most of the concerns about speech codes have come about from left-leaning campuses concerned about protecting select groups because of the specific histories these groups have with past antagonism from society.  There is a tendency to portray some people as victims, and to coerce others to join in with propagating or even sham-experiencing the victimhood.   The controversy has included insistence of having “media free zones” for campus protests, even on publicly-owned property (the Melissa Click firing from the journalism school at the University of Missouri) and also the notion of defining certain insular personal behaviors as “microaggressions” that can lead to some sort of campus sanction or discipline. I’ve covered this on Blogger in numerous postings, by label, here.

On the other hand, there is plenty of intolerance on some conservative and sectarian campuses, too.  My own expulsion from William and Mary in the fall of 1961 can be viewed as the result of a speech code cast upside-down.

The video below notes that many students have been reared to expect to be “safe” from being made “uncomfortable” and that its odd to see the speech codes from the students themselves.  (Somehow I think of the line “Is it safe?” from “Marathon Man“.)   There is mention of the “Seahawk Respect Compact”  at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and of the “Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression”.  I think another possible interpretation is the converse;  some more radical students may want to see others walk in the shoes of the dispossessed before they are heard from.

The group FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) offers its own Guide to Free Speech on Campus.

(Published: Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 3:15 PM EDT)

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Update: Nov. 17

Watch this short film “The Yak in the Room” by Nathan Gelfand-Tourant.  Now, saying you’re not attracted to the opposite race is itself hurtful racism. Maybe this little movie is the antithesis of “Loving“.