Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Thinking harder: defund the pleasure police, pt 3

The series of posts that continues here constitutes a sequel to a previous entry I wrote about the LaVeyan principle of “Indulgence, not abstinence.”  Similarly to that entry, it too is about the further implications of that principle - specifically, the idea that the free pursuit of pleasure, defined in whatever manner suits the individual, is a fundamental good of life that therefore ought to deserve more respect than it sometimes gets.

The central argument of this series of posts is that inasmuch as indulgence is of the significance that it is, people ought not to police pleasure unless engaging in it is causing a clear-and-present identifiable harm.  Among the things this specifically means are:

  1. Do not police pleasure on the basis of accusations of falsity.
  2. Do not police pleasure on the basis of supposed awkwardness.
  3. Do not police pleasure on the basis of it allegedly revealing something one ought to feel guilt or shame over.

Observing these rules re: not judging other peoples’ pleasure makes life a more pleasurable experience for everyone.  Doing the opposite creates situations in which people are garbage toward one another for no good reason, all-too-often toward the end (whether intended or not) of promoting herd conformity.  The overarching sentiment can be summed up briefly as "just let people like what they fucking like."

This series is already-written-and-complete, but is being split into three entries spaced over several months, because i) it’s long and ii) then I don’t have to put my blog on hiatus due to being busy.  Editing it after the fact, I'm realizing that some of it is toward the extra-bitchy end of stuff that I post on this blog, but that's how it goes sometimes: I have opinions, and you can enjoy them... or not. ;)

This particular entry is especially on the longer and bitchier side, but you folks who actually like hearing me rant about politics should at least enjoy it.

* * *

Guilt / Shame

This one I could marshal a very large number of examples for if I was so inclined.  For consistency with the above, though, I’ll limit it once again to two… sort of.

1) People who act as if enjoying objectionable themes in media automatically means someone is an objectionable person.

This is a matter of judging people based on what they consume.  It is evident in assumptions such as “this porn seems misogynistic to me, therefore anyone who enjoys watching it is probably a misogynist,” or “this song’s underlying implication is ‘might makes right,’ so fans of this band are probably all assholes.”

My issue with this kind of thing is that it amounts to a blanket demand for ideological purity.  It assumes, in short, that thought crime is a thing.  Adults capable of nuanced thought typically recognize that both themselves and other people are capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality.  People are also not required to endorse all aspects of a thing before concluding that they “like” it, and it is then presumptuous for other people to jump to conclusions about why exactly someone likes what they like.  It follows from considerations of these kinds that liking media need have nothing to do with real-life moral behavior.  

Re: the pornography example, a person could have a fetish for something abhorrent while at the same time having a rock-solid morality forbidding them from acting upon that fetish in real life.  If someone does not have that morality, then the lack-of-morality is where the problem lies, not in the having-of-the-fetish.  It should be at the point where actions harm an actual other person that a transgression is recognized and dealt-with-accordingly, not the point of theoretical harm to hypothetical imaginary victims in the abstract. 

Re: the music example, some music fans barely care about or notice lyrics, and it is not then reasonable to presume that problematic content in the song is the reason why someone likes said song.  If the person who likes a song like that also goes around being an asshole in a manner that their liked lyrics seem to have predicted, that’s obviously not cool.  Here too though, the point is that it’s when actual harm to others occurs that there’s an issue.  Yes, I grasp the argument that “that very thing existing gives assholes permission to be assholes,” but I would nonetheless insist that it is only when actual people go around actually being assholes that this is a problem.  Vs. inasmuch as people may like the song for other reasons, or see something different in the offended lyrics than the judger does, or etc., it seems mighty presumptuous to go around issuing blanket statements of the “everyone who likes or supports that thing is equally bad” -kind.

I hope it’s understood here that I’m not saying problematic media shouldn’t be criticized at all, or that systemic effects stemming from it can’t possibly exist.  I’m saying, rather, that we should not judge people based on their consumption of the media in question, and should judge them, instead, on how they actually act toward real people in their actual lives.  My view is thus that there is an abstract level on which injustice can be fought as a systematic problem through criticism, and there is also a concrete level on which injustice manifests from actual actions that people take.  Both are valid battlegrounds to fight injustice on, but they demand different techniques, and the use of tools intended for one field on the other one can produce perverse results.  Condemning people for what they like, even when no actual people have been harmed by anything they’ve done, would be judged by many people as this kind of perverse result, i.e. the pursuit of justice creating a new injustice instead.  I do not deny that some kinds of media consumption aggravate real life problems, e.g. exploitation in porn production, nor do I deny that there is a systemic aspect to injustice.  I just think that making moral pronouncements about what people should or shouldn’t enjoy in the privacy of their own homes and minds is not a good way to target and fight actual injustice.

A common response I hear when raising this kind of issue is “but this whole issue is fake news, because actually the left says it’s OK to like problematic things.”  My impression, however, is that this is an entirely empty assertion.  Here are three reasons why I say this:

  1. If it’s OK to like problematic things, what is with all the fervor to cancel anything that falls short of so-called “progressive” expectations?  Like, doesn’t the volume of clamor people put up in that direction kind of obviously put across the message that it’s not OK to like problematic things?

  2. Why is it that when these people like things that are problematic (real example I’ve run across: feminists enjoying trashy discussion of which actress wore what at the Oscars) they refer to this as a guilty pleasure instead of just as a pleasure?  Where’s that guilt coming from if it’s really so OK to like problematic things?

  3. Why do these people arbitrarily exempt certain “classic” things that they and their friends like from criticism (e.g. “we can’t talk about transphobia in the Rocky Horror Picture Show because it’s a pillar of queer culture”) instead of just submitting it to the criticism because it’s OK to like problematic things?  Could it be because stating something is problematic is, in fact, tantamount to a statement that that thing is not OK?

Due to considerations of these kinds, the overall experience I’ve had in this quarter is such “it’s OK to like problematic things” honestly seems to me like people just outright lying to themselves, in a vain attempt to hide the fact that they adhere to an unsustainable ideology that imposes unrealistic standards of purity re: what people are “allowed” to like.  They say that it’s OK to like problematic things, and then they turn around and go straight back to shit-talking and hounding people on Twitter for not liking the “right” (meaning left) things.  If other people have had less negative experiences with that end of the political spectrum, fair, but I personally am tired of seeing this same bullshit over and over again in places where the far-left is ascendant.

2) People who think everyone that doesn’t notice the same things in media as they do, and moderate their enjoyment of said media accordingly, is a bad person.

As distinct from the above discussion of judging people based on what they consume, this is a matter of judging people based on how they consume.

My top example of this comes from a tumblr post I once stumbled across, on which the author was all in a huff to the effect of “How could anyone read Lord of the Rings and not notice the racism?”  To which my response (not actually given, but thought) was: i) your blog entry here is about unnamed side-characters who are easily lost amid everything else that Tolkien has going on; ii) this question is answerable via your own ideology, namely white privilege, i.e. why should people notice it if it’s not an issue that affects them directly; iii) hello bitch, I read it when I was twelve.

A similarly alienating dynamic I’ve encountered is when people talk as if the only aspects of media worth discussing in connection with liking it are those pertaining to social justice considerations, e.g. if a film fulfills those considerations but people don’t like it, the only possible explanation is “haters are racist/sexist/etc.” and not, maybe, the film is disrespecting fans by trashing previous canon, or the film does a poor job of fleshing out its characters, or the film is more preoccupied with shoving messages down your throat than actually telling a story, or other such possibilities.  I have, in recent years, met more and more people who are getting super frustrated with how they feel they are not allowed to express any opinion along these lines online without getting dismissed as “yet another neckbeard man-baby who feels threatened by progress.”  

I have also witnessed the opposite side of this kind of thing, wherein someone writes an article with a really tortured, convoluted rationale for some character’s sexuality being boundary-breaking, and it really seems like this is the product of them having been made to feel like they are not allowed to just like the character without at the same time putting forth a social-justice-based rationale for their passion.

I feel the need to point out - though I feel like a broken record doing it - that this is not to say that it is not valid to criticize media along these lines, or that it is not a good thing to have more representation of marginalized groups in media.  The point, rather, is that the ideologically-oriented individual has no warrant to demand that people not of that ideology care about the same things in media that they themselves do.  Certainly, you are free to argue with people as to why they should care about such things in an intellectual sense.  At the same time though, I think the fact of the matter is that some people just do not find that the checking of diversity checkboxes is relevant to what makes them like or dislike a given work.  You can, for example, intellectually assent to the idea that positive representations of immigrants’ contributions to America are a good thing, and still not like Hamilton because you just don’t like musicals.  

Something I want to strongly emphasize, in connection with this point, is that I do not think that all people who dwell upon diversity-checkbox-type issues are ideology robots who process things solely in accord with ideology and do not actually feel any genuine enjoyment of the media they consume in the process.  To assume this would be to commit the same infraction as was discussed in my first point re: policing falsity.  I assume that for at least some of these people, this mode of media enjoyment is genuine for them.  My request is just that they in turn recognize that the mode of enjoyment genuine for them may feel forced to others, and consider that maybe, just maybe, there could be reasons for this that don’t boil down to “because that person is racist/sexist/etc. and unwilling to check their privilege.”

Example 1) in this section pertains to the issue of guilt, i.e. assuming that a person has committed or wants to commit specific transgressions.  Example 2) pertains to the issue of shame, i.e. assuming that someone is bad in terms of their personal character.  Both examples boil down to the same problem though, namely that they involve leveling moral judgment at people for something that i) isn’t necessarily consciously-chosen, and also ii) is really more a matter of taste, inasmuch as it does not entail the actual harming of actual specific real people.  Again, it is not that I do not understand theories of systemic injustice, or that I entirely reject them.  Fundamentally though, I object to the concept of thought crime, and I object to it all the more strongly inasmuch as it is leveled against people just for liking what they like in whatever way they like it - i.e. is tantamount to condemning them for being who they are.

Some people will respond to this by asserting that I am failing to hold people responsible for choices that they in fact do make with regard to what they enjoy.  Closely tied to this is an assumption that, inasmuch as everything to do with the way people are is culturally-constructed, in theory it could be changed for the better if people would just work on this.  

Now, what I want to say about these kinds of things is hard to say in a way that doesn’t seem instantly attackable via “you cannot just arbitrarily say some things are not political, because actually everything is political and to deny that is to support the status quo,” and/or “you are some kind of naive idiot for not recognizing that everything humans say and do is conditioned by culture, including any possible idea of human nature you could propose.”  

But inasmuch as that is so, I guess I will just have to go ahead and say it:

As a Satanist, I am a strong advocate of self-understanding and self-reflection.  And inasmuch as I am myself left-leaning politically, I do understand this as a process that includes recognizing that we are socially-conditioned beings, and then attempting to overcome that social-conditioning inasmuch as it is holding us back or failing to serve our best interests.  

Nonetheless, I think that there comes a point where an individual has earnestly engaged in introspection as far as they can, and is allowed to conclude that at least some of their desires are genuine, flowing from hardwired instinctual and emotional impulses and/or personal values authentically-held.  

To confront a person who has reached this point with “no no, that desire is surely something you were brainwashed into by culture, and if you were more woke you would realize that,” amounts to a form of gaslighting: the person is made to feel that they are not supposed to trust their own judgment about the matter in question, and can only instead trust that of their woker peers.  

In my past experience, I cannot bring this point up without the woke reacting as if it constitutes a refusal to engage with marginalized positions at all, which is to massively miss my point.  I am not saying that peoples’ self-insight is always perfect and that one can’t/shouldn’t learn from people coming from different perspectives.  I am saying that there is a problem when you are not allowed to ever say “I have genuinely thought about your analysis as thoroughly and in good faith as I possibly could, and I just do not think it is true in my case, sorry.”  Life should not be an eternal struggle session.

The point I am making is relevant in the case of, for example, a man who just is not attracted to heavier women.  He has, let us say, familiarized himself with feminist writing on this front and sympathizes with women having been made to feel worthless over their bodily attributes and etc.; nonetheless, he’s just not into it.  I - and also, in my opinion, most reasonable people - would at this point say that’s just how this person is, some people are not compatible with one another, oh well, that happens, that’s life.  I like to think that most left-leaning people would say this too.  And yet, the way I hear some of them talk about desire, and about the conclusions they draw based on peoples’ desires or lack thereof for certain kinds of partners, the more it seems to me like they do in fact feel it is justifiable to condemn people over just not being attracted to that particular body.  I struggle to see what benefit there is to framing this in moral terms that demonize this person, instead of just accepting that they are not into it and moving on.  

An additional facet of “sometimes people just like what they like” that bothers me pertains to what I call the self-falsification of indulgence.  What I mean by this is best illustrated by considering this example: someone really likes a metal song; they subsequently find out that the artist is a Nazi asshole; now they claim that they do not like the song anymore.  Now, I can grant that some people are wired in such a way that their preferences really do operate in this fashion.  But I think there are also people - quite possibly many more of them - who do not experience a necessary connection between the politics of the artist and the way the music sounds.  After all, the riffs and chords and so on were the same before and after you found out about the person’s politics!

It seems to me that in a politically-functional world, this person would be allowed to like what they like without apology, it being understood from they themselves not being a Nazi asshole that they do not support the artist in that respect.  In our increasingly-politically-dysfunctional world, though, people are made to feel like anything less than total disavowal is equivalent to supporting the problematic artist, and are thus pressured to say they do not like the song anymore, regardless of how the music nonetheless affects them on the emotional, aesthetic and etc. level.  

Put another way: they are feeling compelled to lie to themselves about what they like, and cultivate self-alienation in the process, on account of their opinion being deviant from the Herd’s opinion about the artist.  

As I have said before regarding other matters of this nature, I feel the need to stress my conviction that this behavior, and the promotion of it by the ideologically-strident, is against my religion.  With regard to a matter as significant to human flourishing as indulgence is in LaVeyan belief, I believe that the onus should be on the group to respect individual differences in their manner of indulgence, instead of the onus being on the individual to conform to the group.  And inasmuch as I feel that the woke-left violates this principle, by turning questions of pleasure into inescapably political questions, and then socially punishing people for failing to derive pleasure from that which the Herd defines as “correct” to derive pleasure from, I find myself unable to support that ideology.

If this has not been your experience of the far-left, great.  Respect, though, that it is my experience and that of many other people besides.  Alienation could have been avoided here via a more positive approach, i.e. if the whole diversity-in-media were spun in terms of “look at these cool things!” instead of “OMG look at all this stuff that people are doing wrong!”  My previous indulgence-not-abstinence post already explored that issue though, so I won’t add more to it here.

*  *  *

A closing thought that unifies this series as a whole: I contend that people seriously need to psychologically defund their mental pleasure-police. 

Stop wasting those psychological resources on an institution devoted to the bolstering of dominant ideologies and the conformity of people to them.  Stop writing tickets for alleged falsity infractions, awkwardness infractions, and political-incorrectness infractions.  Stop supporting that which does not actually foster your flourishing or anyone else’s.

Reinvest those psychological resources in institutions that demonstrate actual care for your fellow person.  Expand your conception of diversity to include people who like things that you cannot fathom.  Value emotional genuineness instead of turning your nose up at it.  Rehabilitate thought criminals into the community.  

No, the moral order will not break down as a result of defunding the pleasure police.  You will, in fact, be better off.  And so, too, will everyone else.

I do not, in any way, intend to take attention away from “more pressing issues of the day” by putting my thoughts on this topic in these terms.  Rather, I use this phrasing solely because the parallel struck me as interesting.