Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Clash of Worldviews: The War for Social Justice

MODERATOR: Good evening and welcome to another Clash of Worldviews. Tonight we have with us to discuss the topic of social justice warriors: Adam Garnett, noted secular humanist author; Heather Fogarty, hypermodern gadfly and cynic; Frank Gulpa, popular alt right blogger; and Queeneta Woods, feminist author and activist.

Queeneta, would you like to start us off by telling us about the war for social justice? Who are these warriors and what is their goal?

QUEENETA: Thank you, Mr. Whitey Moderator, for your biased introduction. Progressives don’t call themselves SJWs. That’s a pejorative label applied by the hillbillies and troglodytes who oppose progressive views, including feminism, multiculturalism, and civil rights for minorities. Our enemies mean to use that label ironically, to contrast leftists with the fascist superheroes who figure so prominently in the comic books that constitute the sole reading materials for these basement-dwelling right-wingers. So we feminists, for example, are supposed to be “warriors” fighting for “justice,” even though we don’t wear capes or leap tall buildings. Instead, we’re just ordinary people who welcome what the modern world has to teach us. We don’t retreat from the lessons of science and rationality or accept traditional rationalizations of oppression and social inequality, including the white supremacist myths you find in the reactionary alt right. But we do have the courage to stand up publicly to oppressors instead of tolerating their bigotry.

FRANK: The moderator’s white, so he must be oppressing you, right Queeneta? Watch out or he’ll blow away this little snowflake just by breathing heavy! Oh no, I just committed the felony of a microaggression against her by saying a few unkind words! Call the police, someone! I just verbally harassed Little Miss Snowflake. Heaven forbid this Millennial child should feel the least bit uncomfortable anytime during her whole life. After all, she’s entitled to everything she could ever want because her African ancestors were conquered and enslaved by Europeans a few centuries ago. And somehow Reason is supposed to license her slave morality? I don’t think so.

QUEENETA: Excuse me, fascist troll, did you just call me a slave? [Queeneta rises from her chair and wags her finger in Frank’s face.] I won’t sit idly by while this pig means to insult me for being a descendent of slaves. Yes, slaves have morality because they were the victims of a systemic evil, which still benefits all white men in America, because racism hasn’t gone away. It’s still with us every moment, so I’m not going to let this Trumpist hillbilly spread his degenerate rhetoric. No, not on my watch! I’m here and I’m queer and I’m proud of it. What are you going to do, Fascist Frankie? Are you going to call upon the ghost of Hitler to save you? Too bad for you, the real Americans put the Nazis in the ground where they belong.

ADAM: Actually, I think Frank was just alluding to Nietzsche.

FRANK: But look at that: she betrays the weakness of her gender too, by revealing her hysteria. She boasts about progress from science and rationality, but she can’t keep her emotions in check. You push a button or two and out flows the chaotic fervor that should have been harnessed by a strong male presence. Of course, she lacks that because she’s a lesbian feminazi. What a shame.

QUEENETA: “Harnessed”?! So now I’m a horse that needs to be ridden by a strong male? Is that it? Is that the sexist fantasy that pops into your otherwise empty head, because you’ve been neck deep in porn flowing into the computer in your mother’s basement? Someone bring me a sword so I can slice this ogre in twain.

MODERATOR: Uh, I fear we’ve let the quality of the discussion slide a little into undignified personal attacks. I’d like to get us back on track. Frank, would you care to tell us what you meant by “slave morality”?

FRANK: Adam was right, of course. It means so-called progress is all about the weak and the oppressed channeling their resentments and obtaining power in an underhanded fashion. Women and inheritors of inferior cultures who are minorities in America can’t take power openly, because they’re not strong or clever or ambitious enough, so they try to guilt-trip white men into sharing the power that built modern America in the first place. 

HEATHER: The North American continent was inhabited before it was colonized by Europeans. The Spanish committed genocide against the natives, and the early modern Americans then built the United States on the backs of an African slave population.

FRANK: Irrelevant! The United States is culturally superior to the indigenous blood cults that existed here before the Europeans conquered this land—in the name of progress, I might add. And Africans couldn’t have built anything as great as the United States by themselves. They had to be led by some of the greatest minds to emerge from the European Enlightenment. Native Americans and Africans were inferior not because of any genetic difference, but because the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment were unique events that happen not to have occurred outside of Europe.

ADAM: We’re not here to talk about American history. But a lot of hostility was apparent in that heated exchange between Frank and Queeneta we just witnessed, and I think I can explain why this issue is so controversial. It goes back to a dispute between feminists about so-called intersectionality and the oversimplification of how oppression occurs even in a democracy. By fighting for women’s civil rights, early feminists ignored how personal identity is formed at the intersection of certain traits. Thus, black women are different from white women, and lesbians are different from heterosexual women. Moreover, lesbian black women are different from heterosexual black women, and so on. Narrower personal identities are formed within the social subclasses that are often ignored by the wider public, which allows those subclasses to be oppressed with impunity. Thus, many progressives came to believe it’s incumbent on everyone to assert the uniqueness of their identity, to avoid being left out of the Overton Window, that is, of the limit of what the public deems to be acceptable discourse. Is that about right, Queeneta?

QUEENETA: Yes, we need to fight for our share of the pie instead of being brushed aside or demonized. You can see how multiculturalism fits with intersectionality. Within a culture, there are many subgroups and each has equal validity because everyone’s personal identity is formed in the same ways. It’s not as if Caucasians descend straight from Heaven or anything like that. Similarly, each entire culture is equally valid and shouldn’t be forgotten in the global discourse.

ADAM: Right, then the reason for the controversy is that we’re dealing with identity politics. People are basing their political views on the way they see themselves, instead of objectively thinking through the issues.

One problem, then, is that the more we search for uniqueness in political categories, the less meaningful becomes any judgment of their so-called equality. Equality requires similarity or sameness of properties. The finer our distinctions between sub-groups and between sub-sub-groups, to let every conceivable personal distinction count as politically relevant, to prevent any basis for oppression, the fewer means we have of comparing individuals. For example, first there were gay rights, and then eventually there were rights for lesbians and then for bisexuals and transsexuals. Then LGBT became LGBTQ, adding so-called queers to the aggrieved parties, and now intersexuals have been added so the label is LGBTQI. There’s also talk of adding asexuals, polyamorous/polygamous, and kink to the list, making the label LGBTQIAPK. These different groups naturally thought the pioneering label “gay community” overlooked important differences between the other sexual minorities, so each subgroup wanted to be recognized. But the more we divide, the less grasp we have on what we’re talking about, because we deprive ourselves of the generalizations needed for thinking. The result isn’t social justice so much as confusion. The alternative of picking a label that covers all of these minorities, such as “deviants,” obviously runs the risk of being pejorative.

QUEENETA: There’s no confusion. The oppressed are simply rejecting the biased labels that have been used to keep the minorities down. We’re taking the power back by taking charge of the discourse. It turns out that being able to name something does give you power over it.

ADAM: But there’s a slippery slope here. Why not just speak neutrally of “minority sexualities” instead of obsessing over the need to give everyone their separate positive recognition? Conservatives say that pedophiles and zoophiles (those who practice bestiality) will eventually be added to the list of those who likewise demand their sexual rights, following from the extension of liberties to gays, lesbians, and the rest. Of course, progressives say the line is drawn at the point of consent. Animals and children don’t consent to the sexual activity, so those sexual practices shouldn’t be recognized as being based on sexual orientations. But the appeal to consent is really an appeal to autonomy and personhood. Animals and children aren’t full-fledged people. Once you have the concept of a person, though, all the talk of intersectionality and sub-identities seems superfluous. Transsexuals, queers, and so on are all people, so they should have full rights to do whatever they want as long as they don’t deprive other people of their similar rights. How, then, is progressivism any different from libertarianism or classic liberalism? There must be something else going on with identity politics.

FRANK: Yeah, virtue signaling. It’s all about getting your fifteen minutes of fame in the celebrity-obsessed consumer culture. Those shouting for the rights they deserve for their special qualities, like the little snowflakes they are, are just clamoring for attention. “Look at me,” they say, “I’m not like you. I’m proud of what I am and you’ve got to tolerate me because I’m not going to hide anymore; I’m going to get right in your face.” The cry for limelight in the culture of spectacle signals that the precious minority is heeding the call for almighty political correctness. To overlook someone’s uniqueness is now supposed to be oppressive. But Adam is right: surface features are irrelevant to personhood. The reason for equal rights would be that the members of all these subgroups are roughly equal in their mental powers. That’s why they have human rights. All the other privileges they’re fighting for—special access to washrooms, forcing everyone else to call them by their preferred labels, punishment for “hate crimes”—is itself oppressive. Public space should be neutral, not slanted in favour of the groups who whine the most.

HEATHER: I suspect there’s a generational factor too. It looks like Millennials have been spoiled by their parents and so they feel entitled to a life without hardships. When they were kids at summer camp, there were no winners and losers since everyone got a trophy just for participating. When they grow up, they still crave special recognition just for being themselves, even if their deeds aren’t extraordinary. The internet and communications technologies also contribute to this celebrity culture, since anyone with a smartphone, Twitter or Facebook can broadcast every thought that pops into their head as well as what they look like or what they’re eating on a moment-by-moment basis. All of that provides the illusion that they’re special, that they matter, and perhaps even that they deserve to be famous.

By contrast, Generation X, for example, is more concerned with humility and honour. With power comes responsibility, so if we can create our webpage and tell the world what we think about everything under the sun, we should first ensure that we’ve worked on making ourselves worthy of those privileges instead of complaining that we’re not respected just for the minimal accomplishment of being ourselves. Respect should be earned by what we do, not extorted as recognition of what we are, especially since we’re not responsible for our genetic components. You’re inclined to be a lesbian? Congratulations, but why should I care? As a lesbian you’re going to feel sexually attracted to women, just as natural selection is going to compel the majority to prioritize the act of sexual reproduction and thus heterosexuality. True, heterosexuality has been glorified by religious myths for thousands of years, but a nobler attitude would be to take values out of what happens in any case by natural necessity or probability. Right and wrong have to do with what we choose, not with what we are.

QUEENETA: Sorry, but minorities aren’t going to leave civil rights to chance anymore. Certainly, we’re not going to trust in the fair-mindedness of white, straight men, since they’ve been the culprits for too long. Even if the majority felt compelled to oppress minorities, that wouldn’t mean the minorities shouldn’t try to modify that behaviour. You say Millennials are overindulged, but I’d rather see excess rights than too few. And Millennials know how to organize because they’re native users of the new technologies, so expect much more progress in the near future.

FRANK: I’ve already pointed out that early-modern white European males have triumphed on the world stage. Granted, they weren’t saints. Millions of others suffered or were killed in the pursuit of modern progress. Science and technology empowered modern Europeans, and power threatens to corrupt the user. But instead of wallowing in autocracy, as happens in Africa, South America, and the Middle East, some of those “terrible” white males set up a progressive society in the New World, reining in themselves with the American Constitution. There’s a real question, then, whether rampant egalitarianism will prevent the sort of personal greatness we may need to solve our complex, global problems. As we learned from the collapse of the Soviet Union, when everyone’s treated equally, there’s no incentive to excel.

In any case, let’s shift to some concrete examples of how so-called fairness and equality play out. Recently, the feminist agenda penetrated the gaming and comic book industries, and feminists faced a backlash from male enthusiasts who objected to the overt politicization of games and comics. Game programmers and mainstream comic books creators are overwhelmingly male, so the contents of those products reflected male interests. Women’s interests in those markets have grown, but women have difficulty convincing anyone they can be genuine nerds. They’re not diehard, obsessive fans the way men are; they don’t dedicate their life to these forms of entertainment. For decades, men created these industries, but now women want to piggyback on that labour and twist games and comics to suit their cringe-worthy notion of fairness, thusly depriving nerdy male fans of their refuges, their fortresses of solitude. The worst of this happened in Marvel Comics, which awkwardly wrote some male heroes out of the narratives, abruptly changing Iron Man to an African-American teenage girl, Captain America and Spiderman to African-Americans, Thor to a woman, and Hulk to an Asian. Sales of these comics plunged or at least there was no surge in sales as might have been expected; that is, there was no influx of female or minority buyers of Marvel comics who had previously been put off by the books that catered only to white males. In any case, many longtime male readers stopped buying these comics, not because they’re racist or sexist, but presumably because those nakedly political stories are off-putting. And then there was James Damore, the Google engineer who was fired for writing that women aren’t as cut out as men to be computer programmers.

MODERATOR: Lots to chew on there. I suppose the question is whether greater diversity of outcomes is always fair. If women play computer games and read comics, they shouldn’t have to be subjected to so many depictions of scantily-clad female characters, and maybe they’d prefer for these outlets of geek culture to be more uplifting and less focused on violence. If men dominate the industries, they’d have to adjust their products for purely business reasons, to sell more products. But if the products don’t sell, either women aren’t so deeply into this culture as might have been thought or else artists should focus on aesthetic standards rather than leapfrogging them in the pursuit of improving their bottom line. Are women biologically different from men in relevant ways? These are quite the conundrums! I don’t envy you four for having to try to sort this all out for us.

HEATHER: Well, I don’t back down from a challenge. But I think we should stipulate that political correctness is an obstacle to philosophy. I understand that subgroups might want to fight for their fair representation, but we’re here to have a meta-discussion to find out what’s true in the first place. The fact is the truth may be politically unpopular. Whether a subversive truth should then be broadcast to the public is a separate, political question.

For me, the issue with so-called nerds or geeks is that they’re what ethologists might call omegas, meaning that they’re losers, at least in certain respects. I know that nerds, meaning those who excel in math and science and who used to prefer obscure subcultures to mass-marketed entertainments are now paradoxically thought of as cool, but this is the problem. Take the TV comedy, The Big Bang Theory. Despite its tremendous popularity, it’s commonplace to hear that real nerds don’t watch that show, because it prettifies nerd culture for popular consumption. The four main nerdy male characters who used to be sexually awkward now all have wives or girlfriends, which means they’re on their way to beta status, to fitting into society in conventional terms and thus to losing their nerdy bona fides. The upshot is that a counterculture or an underclass can’t become normalized without losing its integrity and perhaps the very qualities that make it a worthy corrective to the flaws of pop culture. All the recent great movements in Western music, from jazz to punk to industrial to grunge began as undercurrents, some of whose enthusiasts sold out and thereby virtually killed the movements precisely by dragging them into the spotlight. In the same way, the funniest stand-up comedians typically have to languish in obscurity before they can use that suffering to temper their perspective and fuel the bitterness that gives them their comedic edge. They need a chip on their shoulder, since no one thinks the prom queen, for example, can afford to skewer the social system in which she excels. This is again why men have dominated comedy, because, on average, women can’t afford to sacrifice years of their life for their art.

To turn to Frank’s examples, there’s effectively a culture war between real and fake losers, as unlikely as it may seem. Can women on average be real nerds by way of having an obsession with video games, comic books, or computer programming? Or are apparent female nerds more likely to be mere tourists, slumming in the underground before ditching such dreary, pathetic amusements for a more professional hobby? This amounts to asking whether women have more opportunities to win, economically and sexually speaking, than do men. The answer is arguably yes, because men are more aggressive and thus competitive, and women are pickier than men in choosing sexual partners, because women bear the biological brunt of potentially carrying the child to term and thus have much more to lose. Granted, men are more likely than women to be multimillionaires or billionaires, but I’m talking about winning in terms of an avoidance of a total loss in life, about pulling yourself out of omega status. It’s no accident that most losers or omegas, including homeless individuals, are men.

So when genuine nerds complain that feminists are ruining computer games or comics, and these nerds are low in the social hierarchy and thus are likely male, they may be protecting the primary reason for them to go on living. They have no real women in their life, so they need the sexy pop cultural substitutes. Of course, their chance of attracting a mate decreases the more they dedicate themselves to such soft core porn, but perhaps that ship has sailed for them and they’ve made their choice. In that case, feminist intrusions into these subcultures become obnoxious, because the feminists are punching down. Sure, the nerds lash out, as in Gamergate when hackers doxxed the feminist journalists for their political reviews of computer games. But maybe we should pity these trolls and leave them to their obsessions, because if they become monsters, it’s their lack of a worthwhile life that’s made them such.

Ironically, then, the ruthless pursuit of social justice in the sense of balance or fairness may prevent the rise of triumphant giants, whom we might call alphas or Ubermenschen; moreover, forcing everyone to be recognized might undermine art by emptying the underground incubators. Maybe we should let some minorities stew in obscurity, since suffering is the mother of art.

FRANK: There may be something to that, but I’d just ask the simpler question whether it’s in the interest of justice for depictions of sexy women to be removed from pop culture or for more feminist characters to be included. There’s art and then there’s commerce. Computer games and comic books are big businesses, now that comics are tied to the movie industry, although computer games dwarf Hollywood. Anyway, we need to ask merely who forms the market for these products, and what those consumers want to see. Comic creators have typically targeted teenage boys, exploiting their raging hormones, so of course the female superheroes are sexy. The male superheroes are also bursting with muscles, and in both cases this is also for the practical reason that skintight costumes are easier to draw. Violence sells in comic books and in games because, again, young males make up the bulk of the audience and they prefer action, say, to romance. Social justice doesn’t really enter into it; if the market changes, so will the products.

QUEENETA: You’re missing the deeper problem. Consumers don’t occupy some neutral standpoint so they can freely decide what they want, without being influenced by their environment. If all the women around them on billboards, TV, movies, and computer games are airbrushed, with plastic boobs, pouting lips, and empty heads, young impressionable males are being trained to accept that as their ideal, and that affects how they treat real women outside their fantasies created by the entertainment industries. The prevalence of violence in computer games trains American boys to cheer the military in its jingoistic escapades, and the very idea of a superhero carries the subtext that mighty individuals, such as you might find in the richest one percent of Americans, are above the law. This is why there’s been a surge of nonsuperheroic stories in the alternative or indie graphic novels and comic book presses, because female readers are more interested in sophisticated dramas and ideas. In any case, progressives want to humanize our environment to stop our minds from being polluted by toxic hegemonic signals.

ADAM: I can appreciate what you’re saying, Queeneta, but radicalism is illiberal. For the most part, artists and businesspeople should be left alone to decide how to express themselves or what to attempt to sell. The market logic of supply and demand does mostly dictate the results, and that’s for the best since the government hasn’t any crystal ball in these matters.

QUEENETA: So you’re the sort of liberal, Adam, who stood with Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders—am I right? How did that gutlessness and trust in the technocrats work out for you? You and the other centrists have gifted us all with Mister Apocalypse, President Donald Trump.

Who’s trusting in the American government? Not I! It’s up to NGOs to take over when the government has been overrun by plutocrats and neoliberal technocrats who seek to preserve not just social systems that entail vast inequalities in the future, but the particular ongoing distribution of power that’s already eliminated the conditions for a stable middle class like the one created by the New Deal. You trust in capitalism even as it trashes the planet and thrives on our vices, like greed and gullibility. Have you so little spirituality that you could be swayed by the economic myth of the invisible hand? It’s all about managing the status quo for you, isn’t it? If Heather’s trying to speak for the nerds or “losers,” and neofascist Frankie is hot for macho leaders, you represent the followers, the betas in Heather’s ethological terminology. Above all, you don’t want to rock the boat, because you’re a professional who depends on the systems that are already in place. That means you’re not a progressive. The call for social progress makes sense only when there’s much that needs fixing; otherwise, no one could be expected to take a chance on tinkering with a system that works well on the whole. Progress requires radicalism.

FRANK: Your radicalism is bogus, Queeneta, because you wouldn’t last even five minutes without your smartphone. But I agree with you about the neoliberal bureaucrats, whom we in the alt right call the elite defenders of the establishment: these are the globalists who mean to sell out American sovereignty to form a world government. What you don’t realize, though, is that strong leaders will be needed to protect the American ethos against the consumerist monoculture, whereas feminists insist on feminizing our men and sissifying our children. The American settlers had to be tough to tame the land, our greatest generation had to be brutal to fight the Axis powers in WWII, and now we’ll have to be brave again to protect our nation from the global elites. Alas, we’re cursed with a generation of infantilized weaklings.

HEATHER: I don’t know which American values you’re talking about, Frank. Our country prizes capitalism and debased Christianity most of all. Globalization is a racket that protects the interests of big business against those of the little guy. How is that un-American? Again, American wealth was produced initially by an enslaved workforce, and today millions of wage slaves have to work multiple jobs in the gig economy or the service sector, in the likes of Walmart or Amazon. The growth of our middle class in the last century was an exception that proved the rule. And Republican policies enforce only those same self-serving biases of the richest one percent—who are now transnational. But that’s your political party. So what are you complaining about?

Oh, and in the 1930s and ’40s, the alt right would have been right there beside the isolationists, Allen Dulles, and Rockefeller who either resisted the effort to join the war against the fascists or who actively supported the Nazi military-industrial complex. You talk about the need for strongman leaders, but look what happened the last time they lost control of their testosterone and rampaged across the planet. They had to be defeated by the Allies. How can you sit there with a straight face, wrap yourself in the American flag, and cover your face with apple pie while also spouting neofascist principles? Do you not understand that late-modern America defined itself by opposing fascism?

FRANK: Only on the surface, in conventional history books’ propaganda did America stand against fascism. Sure, we opposed the Axis powers, but as you implied, Rockefeller and the Fed were transnational, as is all global big business. The double-dealing American robber barons and bankers were puppet masters, pitting nations against each other and profiting from the bloodshed. Animal populations are always divided between the weak and the strong. The difference is just that big bankers can afford to exercise their wealth without honour. These bankers are largely the treacherous Jews you hear about from white supremacists. Like the American feminists and minorities, Jews are bound by slave morality. Their ancestors were antisocial and beaten down by the rest of the world for thousands of years, so now powerful Jews have no culture left to prop up their self-esteem. Thus, they’re superficially sophisticated while secretly plotting to avenge their tribe by buying up the world and renting it out to the rest of us. The plutocrats today may be outwardly mighty, but they have no spiritual depth, so they’re forced to rule from the shadows since no one would be inspired to follow such conniving aristocrats were they to reveal their intentions for world domination.

QUEENETA: Spare us your odious conspiracy theories, Frank! You say progressives prevent men from being masculine, so I take it you’d defend that Google programmer who said women make for inferior scientists and engineers.

FRANK: That’s not what Damore said. Of course women could be taught to excel in those fields. If you put enough effort into it, you could train women on average to master math, engineering, or any other discipline currently dominated by men, such as cuisine or comic books. Indeed, maybe with enough resources and training, in theory, you could teach a chimpanzee to be a first-rate engineer! The question isn’t whether women have the potential, in principle, to master certain intellectual fields. No, the question is whether women, on average, are interested enough in certain disciplines to dedicate themselves to that training so that they can master them. Yes, culture plays a role here, since boys and girls are taught at a young age in our culture to develop gendered interests. But there’s no reason to think culture alone dictates the vast differences between male and female behaviour. Boys may be encouraged to pick up toy cars and soldiers, while girls are handed homemaking toys and Barbie dolls, but they also gravitate to different kinds of pursuits so that training can go with or against the grain, as it were.

Picking up on Heather’s account of geeks and losers, I’d add that male and female losers have different outlets for their survival. Socially awkward and isolated boys at the bottom of the pecking order escape to fantasy worlds, like comic books, science fiction, and Dungeons and Dragons, which lead naturally to the study of science and math. The spare time in which they’re not partying with their clique they use to learn programming languages, to design games and apps to amuse themselves. By contrast, outcast girls often find themselves preyed upon by popular or dangerous boys who get them pregnant and hooked on drugs, so the girls drop out of school and turn to stripping, prostitution, or sales (if they’re luckier). In short, omega males fall back on their brains and become nerds, while outcast girls exploit their bodies to get by.

You might think this dissimilarity is entirely cultural, but that would be shortsighted. The omega males are typically shy, cerebral, and unattractive, so girls aren’t socially interested in them. The market for male strippers is miniscule compared to the one that showcases women’s bodies, and that difference is informed by biology: male brains are geared to thinking visually and spatially, females’ to thinking intuitively and socially; men are interested largely in the look of things, and women care more about relationships. This is because men instinctively needed to pick up on physical clues of women’s health and fertility, whereas women are genetically driven to divine the long-term potential of a relationship, based on emotional connections and mental compatibility. Women can’t relate well to socially-awkward men, and since women don’t care much about how men look, these male outcasts are forced to pursue brainy activities to salvage their dignity. Instead, women are liable to fall for the cockiness of sociopathic men who only pretend to want a longer-term relationship—which the woman instinctively wants, to support her during her nine months of vulnerability carrying the child in her womb. Once she becomes an outcast, the market dictates her best career path, but only because of the biological reality that men are easier to please than are women: she need work only on her body to get by, whereas he must develop his intellect to overpower nature through science and technology. Only when nerdy men’s minds have thusly dominated nature may they indirectly attract the sort of women who spurned them growing up, since by that point the nerds will have enriched themselves to some degree and have built a formidable nest. Again, these are commonsense biological realities which underpin what that Google martyr wrote. But go ahead and castigate the messenger; reality will still bring your “progress” to ruins.  

QUEENETA: You admit that women have the mental capacity to excel in science or engineering, and also that we can conquer natural forces with technology. So remind me again what stands in the way of perfecting our instincts and even our genes, to eliminate sociopathy, for example, or to develop men’s latent femininity.

HEATHER: But to what end, Queeneta? Isn’t there some wisdom in the dictum that opposites attract? Would you want to live in a world in which everyone thinks and acts in the same ways, in which there’s no masculinity or femininity?

FRANK: Sure she would, because she’s a lesbian, so she happens to be attracted to people with her body type. She’s a double threat, since the self-directedness of her sexual orientation exacerbates her Millennialist habit of acting like a selfish child.

QUEENETA: I don’t want to talk to this troll anymore. But Heather, I want to go back to what you said about political correctness. You said that philosophical truth can be unpopular. But that assumes philosophers are objective. Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and other postmodern thinkers showed otherwise, that the philosophies that become conventional wisdom tend to reflect the presumptions of certain social classes. There’s no apolitical, ahistorical, transcendental starting place of inquiry. So you can pretend you’re all just neutrally discovering the truth, but you’ll only be projecting your biases or rationalizing your nonrational preference for certain beliefs. We progress not by arguing over academic issues, but by taking a stand against what we already know is wrong.

ADAM: Well, science does supply us with objective knowledge, and philosophers just extend that knowledge by analyzing potential answers to the most general questions that arise from scientific theories. You seem to want to drag everyone into politics so you can dismiss their beliefs by associating them with some unpleasant political machinations. But that would likely be fallacious. This is the great error of so-called postmodern thought, which is that a belief reduces to its psychological, social or historical origin. If you can’t abstract from that background to consider what use you can make of a thought, by reflecting on its semantic and more immediate content, you’re disabling your mind. Granted, objectivity isn’t easy and we do need to overcome our tendency to submit to our more self-interested thought-patterns, but the success of science proves that objectivity is possible.

QUEENETA: So what unpopular truth are we supposed to have learned here? That progress is counterproductive and progressives are childish Millennials? Who cares about such academic pronouncements? The fact is that if a teenaged girl commits suicide because she's been body-shamed on the internet, you’ll likely conclude after consulting your intuitions, that this rise of trolling as a side-effect of internet anonymity is regressive. If you’re not locked up in some ivory tower, you should get up off the couch and help improve conditions on the ground by solving the troll problem, for example.

HEATHER: Not so fast, Queeneta! Of course, no one would argue against the platitude that we should all try to make the world a better place. But we’re talking here specifically about progress in the form of equality or “social justice.” One question we’ve been raising is whether some upbringings are better than others. Perhaps progressivism is a form of naivety to which Millennials especially are prone.

So take your example of cyber bullying. I wouldn’t want to associate with someone who bullies a girl on the internet. But isn’t there something to be said for toughening up these teens, so they don’t falter and turn to suicide at the first sign of negative feedback? Contrary to what Frank said, the overarching danger may be that technology is weakening us, making us less self-reliant, because obviously we depend more and more on machines for our survival and our pleasure. What’s infantilizing us isn’t feminism so much as our luxury of being able to outsource the many jobs we used to have to perform ourselves. If you firmly say “No” to a child, chances are she’ll cry and think her world is ending. But a bullied teenager needn’t act like a child who hasn’t yet formed any inner basis for her self-worth. She should be able to ignore or to shake off the trolls. Oddly, our reliance on technology is supposed to be progressive, and yet it dehumanizes us. What good is social equality if it means we all become equally childlike and thus vulnerable to being wiped out or replaced by machines?

MODERATOR: I’m afraid we’re close to the end of our scheduled time this evening, but I wonder if you could each summarize your take on so-called social justice.

HEATHER: Well, we need to reflect on what we mean by “progress.” It’s a tautology to declare merely that we should try to improve the world and that improvement counts as progress. The question is about the kind of world we really want to live in. We might presume technology is good for us, but it may have these deleterious side-effects, one of which is that techno-progress may be distorting our ideas about social progress, because our overreliance on machines may be making us naïve and fragile, so we come to oversimplify these philosophical issues as though we were children. Instead of persuading conservatives with logic, progressives shout them down in the name of political correctness. And while I may agree with progressives on certain social issues, such as equal pay for equal work, I don’t see the wisdom of striving for social equality in all respects, to the point of eliminating gender or class altogether.

QUEENETA: It’s easy to criticize progressives if you’re a well-off white person who hasn’t been oppressed or who isn’t on the front line against the oppressors. As I said, technology has at least the one advantage of allowing us to organize efficiently to deal with threats to progress. I agree we should reflect on our values, but certain modern ideals have long been established by Enlightenment philosophers and by the feminists and other progressives who clarified the scope of those liberal principles, during the woman suffrage and civil rights movements. We needn’t reinvent the wheel. The point is that everyone should be treated fairly in accordance with our human rights. Unfairness is discrimination, which sets up a kind of inequality. That’s what we have to guard against, by almost any means necessary.

ADAM: As a liberal, I too will likely agree with Queeneta on many social issues, but I suspect our reasons for holding those views may differ. I also take solace in reason and the Enlightenment, but I have less confidence that radical feminists were on the same page as those early modern thinkers. Of course feminists will criticize philosophers like Locke, Mill, and Kant for being privileged white males, so early modern philosophy doesn’t make for such a sturdy foundation for radical “postmodern” thought. We need to grapple with the extent to which capitalism conflicts with the interest in social justice, because capitalism creates inequalities and we know that communism doesn’t work as an alternative economic system. Communism would have been the rational ideal, but we’re stuck with capitalism, with a way of doing business that hones our selfish impulses. The result of competition is the gap between rich and poor, and while it may logically seem fair to correct the outcomes for equality, there’s no way to do so without violating the principles of capitalism. This is the sticking point for neoliberals who regard progressives as unrealistic.

FRANK: I agree that we may be destined for progress, but progress is unnatural and we need to come to grips with what that entails. We seem headed for a transhuman future as we merge with technology, thanks to innovations generated by capitalist competition. The fair world Queeneta wants is unnatural, and while she hinted at the need for an inner, tech-driven transformation, we shouldn’t naïvely assume that we can achieve justice without suffering any growing pain. What is justice for rational creatures? Not Borg-like or communist equality, but perfect individual sovereignty. Justice is ensured when technology empowers each of us to be godlike so we can create and rule over our own worlds, whether in cyberspace or literally throughout time and space in the far future. Only then would we have the freedom to be ourselves without the risk of infringing on anyone else’s rights, because we’d each be invulnerable. But we can’t achieve that goal just by Millennialist fiat. We shouldn’t pretend that we can undo natural processes just by speaking magic PC slogans. Someday, social progress should follow from the technoscientific kind. In the meantime, we need to man up to endure the inevitable fallout from the clash between nature and the preferred, artificial world we’re building.  

MODERATOR: You’ve all left us with much to ponder, I’m sure. Thank you all for being here, and stay tuned for sexist beer commercials and the depressing daily news.

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