I once had a bougie, white, left-liberal feminist girlfriend(well, more than one, but that’s a whole ‘nother tragic story) who loved discussing politics, economics, feminism, etc. Now, I didn’t and don’t agree with much of what she believed in nor did she believe in much of what I believed, but I also don’t view differing political ideology as a sticking point in my personal relationships, it’s just one input into the relationship function. In the end, the relationship didn’t work out, but that was due to more quotidian concerns than our disagreement on whether Teh Patriarchy or Teh State was the root cause of all evil in the world.
During one of our discussions about this, that, or the other, I mentioned to her about some of the rhetorical excesses of a certain subset of online/campus feminism,
“How is that [X rhetorical excess] supposed to advance your stated goals?”
“There are always the fringe elements in every ideological group. They don’t represent me.”
Anyone who knows anything about libertarianism knows this sidestep; there is no true Scotsman, other than I. Now this, depending on the context, is obviously true or obviously false. Under the tent of self-described libertarians, you’ve a wide range of disparate and, at times, contradictory beliefs. Cato vs Mises Institute, Conservatarians vs Left-libertarians, AnCaps vs Constitutionalists, Consequentialists vs Deontologist, Brutalists vs Humanitarians, and on and on and on. This is essentially true of any group that has no effective means of exclusion. I cannot meaningfully exclude neoconfederate goldbugs from using the label libertarian any more than my ex-girlfriend can meaningfully exclude Critical Theory-spewing campus feminists or All-PIV-Is-Rape feminists from using the label feminist. In an ideological world where Second Wave vs Third Wave vs Sex Positive vs Radical vs Intersectional feminisms is a thing(obviously there is overlap and certain redundanies), when does critiquing become cherry-picking and when does differentiating become evasion?
One favorite pastime of a large segment of politically-loud internet people is to seek out the more ridiculous ideological opponents and mock endlessly. This, while, at times, entertaining, is really just ideological candy, tasty, but unfilling. Of course, to extend that analogy a bit more, one can certainly find their fill of candy on a regular basis, but then they usually find themselves with ideological diabetes, unable to control their own ideological blood sugar, and end up getting into interminable twitter arguments with two-follower eggs as a form of ideological insulin.
There is some inflection point, however, where this sort of activity actually becomes a flashlight, illuminating on a particular ideology’s shortcomings. The questions is where does this actually occur, and how do we know when we’re actually engaging with others rather than scoring points because someone on the internet is wrong, or worse, when obvious trolls are taken seriously because of our skewed understanding of those we seek to critique? As an example, I fully, well and truly, believe that the state is just legitimized violence, and that there’s an inevitability to the second-order(and sometimes first-order) effects of well-meaning public policy. Pig heads need to be decapitated for you to enjoy your pork chop. This doesn’t necessarily preclude government actions as a legitimate answer to a legitimate problem, just that we acknowledge that it is the gun in the middle of the room. So, my pointing out some of the rhetoric of what some call Carceral Feminism, to showcase the callousness of certain preferred public policies, isn’t cherry-picking, in my point of view, but as central to my argument(or so I think).
Rhetoric is srs bzniz, but I understand the telos of sites like Twitchy and Salon and the political operatives who work for them, but for those who consume what these sites are producing, we should recognize the kayfabe for what it is. Also, when we engage with those we disagree with, or even just form an opinion on something we’ve no stake in, we should try to differentiate between the straw and steel(wo)man versions of what’s presented and act accordingly, with #phronesis.
We have to ask ourselves, are we really engaging with others and their ideas, or just masturbating in real-tweet-time?