The Identity Politics Left's Effort to Reshape Their World

March 11, 2015

I noticed the other day on Twitter that someone I had never interacted with—indeed, had never even heard of before—had blocked me. I've seen this happen a couple of times and have never remarked on it because, well, Twitter is a weird place. And it seems even more narcissistic than usual to complain about being blocked by a stranger. But I make a general effort not to antagonize people by tagging them in tweets, so I was kind of curious as to why this had happened.

Turns out, there's a blacklist of people that the social justice warrior left has decided should be shunned. And I was on it. Apparently this is, largely, a reaction to "GamerGate." I've written about GamerGate a couple of times, so I figured that's what had gotten me blacklisted. But no. That wasn't it at all. A bit of sleuthing turned up the truth.

As it happens, I was added to The Block Bot—as a level two offender!—because I had written a blog post. Not because I had tagged a bunch of harassed women on Twitter or had engaged in a witch hunt or set the hordes upon the oppressed. But because I had written a blog post. A blog post that most of these social justice warriors had never seen. And what was the thought crime contained in this obviously dreadful blog post? Why, I had said that it is deeply troubling that certain segments of the left were calling for the imprisonment of a reporter who had, gasp, committed the crime of reporting a story.

Note: This wasn't a blog post in which I suggested that name-and-shame campaigns are a violation of the First Amendment, or that boycotts are unconstitutional. I generally avoid such arguments because such arguments are silly. No, this was a blog post in which I highlighted the fact that a vocal segment of the activist left was calling for the literal imprisonment of a journalist whose source had killed herself. Possibly the suicide was a result of the (entirely legal!) reporting, possibly not (she had a history of mental issues and had attempted suicide previously). Advocates of the Block Bot were very upset about my pointing this out:

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Note the scare quotes around the word "freedom" when it comes to the First Amendment. Note also the invocation of "personal freedom." (I don't even know what that means in this case. Just thought it was amusing.)

What's fascinating here is that the social justice left has created a device to literally cocoon themselves away from the world. This isn't a tool to avoid harassment (or, at least, it isn't in my case). It's a tool to willfully ignore any argument that they disagree with. I mean, let's be honest, the odds of me organically running into a person on Twitter with the handle "SJW Vivian" is very very low. Minuscule. But she can't take that chance! She can't risk hearing someone offer a thought she can't handle! So she must build a wall to keep all impure thoughts out. Her feels, her feels, won't someone think of her feels!

I thought about this today while reading Patton Oswalt's lengthy interview with the editor of Salon. Oswalt has been engaged in a long-running feud with the humorless scolds who run the website because he, a man of the left, thinks the left is best-served when using humor as a tool. Salon, on the other hand, thinks it's more important to make sure that jokes meet the proper ideological standards, and have specifically gone after Oswalt in the past for deviating from these standards.

It's funny reading the interview, because they both desperately want to find common ground—white conservatives are evil and racist—and yet they can't quite do so. Because Salon thinks that when something is problematic it must be excoriated. And that white males on the left are very frequently problematic. They're bad allies. They make jokes about race when they shouldn't. They don't understand why we need to vocally shame late night hosts for their white maleness. They don't understand why pushing the envelope is troubling: THINK OF THE FEELS. You can sense Oswalt's frustration here:

What I’m saying is, that comes down to someone like a Charlie Hebdo, or a Larry Flynt — they are necessary. We need people that will go all the way out on the edge and ask the most disturbing fucking questions that are out there. We need them. Otherwise, if you start having a society where people are policing their own thoughts, now we’re back in Salem, Massachusetts, where literally, they didn’t do anything for fun, and then that pressure built up and they all went nuts. Our society will go fucking crazy if everyone is even policing their thoughts. Are you enjoying this the right way? I’ll enjoy it any fucking way I want to. ... Everyone now has this litmus test, where if you do not agree on every single point, then we can’t talk to you or that guy’s got to lose his job. You’re not going to ever agree perfectly with everybody. You’re just not. That’s another thing with all this shaming where it’s not enough that I disagree.

But Salon, as an entity, is dedicated to naming and shaming, dedicated to enforcing orthodoxy of thought, dedicated to exposing all the ways in which modernity is problematic. It's a website that wants to rejigger your perception of reality, to force you to see the world through a new, identity politics-based lens. Like the devotees of Block Bot, they are creating their own world with its own norms and its own priorities.

And in the world of Salon and other PC scolds, humor is far less important than appropriateness. They are the new schoolmarms. And Patton Oswalt is never going to fit in with them.

Published under: The Politicized Life