2014-01-29

Shamey

I think I have found a new hobby horse in complaining about the juvenile, shrill, passive-aggressive, mildly effeminate language deployed by modern "progressives" against their opponents.

The kind of language to which I refer is typically spoken as though it were a bored response to a tired trope, but it always belies a level of irritation that goes far beyond what the literal translation of it would have you believe. That is, the speaker wants to sound unfazed, bored, condescending, almost sleepy, but instead ends up sounding extremely vexed. Before I venture any further here, I should provide some examples.

Examples
In a recent comment on Stephen Williamson's blog, Noah Smith writes:
In any case, we should not be dismissive of what Prescott is saying. [Ed: Smith is quoting Williamson here.] 
I think, actually, we kind of should.
"Actually, we kind of should." This is a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about (and Williamson offers the perfect response), but I'm not content to leave it at that. Let's take a look at additional examples.

Writing in response to a passage in this book (I am not endorsing the book, please note), an email correspondent of mine says:
I don't agree with any of this and find that it somewhat feels like it's justifying behavior that is violent, mean, and rapey.
Here the offending word is "rapey." There is absolutely nothing cute about rape, but adding "eee" to the end of it makes the description vaguely insulting and highly childlike. Like "meanie."

A similar phrase - one that you'll often read on Slate or Jezebel is "That is not okay." And typically the last two words are emphasized: "...not...o-KAY!" It's the kind of thing you'd expect a mother to say to a toddler. "We do not hit people. That is not... o-KAY!" Compare this to a far more disciplinary phrase like, "If you continue to hit your playmates, I will take away your toys and make you sit in the corner."

Saying that something is "not okay" is a far more effeminate, passive-aggressive way of disciplining a child. It assumes the role of a parent is to instruct a child as to what is "okay" and what is "not okay." It's Orwellian; we can draw close parallels to "good" and "un-good." As if a child's life is governed by what is understood to be "okay!" Children respond to incentives and consequences - just like the rest of us - not social conformism. But I digress.

Anyway, speaking of Slate, Amanda Marcotte writes, "All jokes aside, Hannity's boo-boo here was the result of a larger lie..." Boo-boo; infantile language; we can contrast it to the words gaffe or mistake. Understand, there is a reason Marcotte says that Sean Hannity made a "boo-boo," and the reason is to infantilize him and dismiss his position. But if what Hannity says is erroneous to the point of being childish (and believe me, I have no reason to believe that Sean Hannity has ever said anything worth defending at Stationary Waves), why would Marcotte write in the same article that "Sean Hannity found himself getting aggressive with a woman who called into his show"? Women accuse men of being aggressive toward women when they want to shame the men in question. And, however much Hannity may deserve to be shamed for the things he says - and whatever it is you may personally believe about any related issue - shaming is not an activity reserved for people about whom we feel blase.

...unless, of course, our passive-aggressive attitude and language belies a heightened level of shrill indignation.

The Point
Through it all, it is important to keep one thing in mind at all times: Those who rely on this kind of "shamey" language (get it? I'm doing it to them now...) are not actually responding with sound arguments. Consider each of the examples above.

First, Noah Smith argues that "we kind of should" dismiss a claim by Ed Prescott, but offers no substance with his comment. Williamson rightly calls this kind of comment "blather" and advises Smith to write about what he knows. Without argumentative substance, it's all just kind of "shamey," isn't it?

Second, my email correspondent could not credibly accuse the author of a 19th century book on gender relations of the crime of rape, so instead the correspondent simply accused him of being "rapey," i.e. offering an argument that resembles rape in some unspecified way. Rape is, of course, a terrible and inexcusable crime of hatred. What is "rapey?" It is something that the correspondent wishes to attach a similar level of shame, but without any sort of fact or reasoning to merit the claim. "Rapey" is "shamey."

Third, as discussed above, attaching negative consequences to unacceptable childhood behavior is called discipline. It is concrete, specific, and enforceable. But simply declaring something to be "not okay" and frowning furtively at a child (or an adult, please note) is synonymous with the act of declaring an action to be socially frowned-upon. The point is that those children (or adults) who engage in that behavior should be ashamed of themselves. It's shamey. But there isn't any specific reason why people who say "not okay" are saying what they're saying. The best you'll ever get from them is "we don't do that." It's an act of shaming someone by attaching social unanimity to whatever the speaker has deemed to be "not okay."

(More on this in a forthcoming post about use of the word "we," by the way.)

Finally, Marcotte's shaming of Sean Hannity for being "aggressive" (toward "women") and making a "boo-boo" is one last example of an argument made without facts. We are simply told to accept that Hannity is aggressive; we are simply told that his mistake is a juvenile one (because it is a "boo-boo," not an error).

And what was Hannity's error? It was the suggestion that women who care passionately about access to birth control ought to form a private charity to supply it for the less fortunate, rather than demand a government mandate and pass the cost around to every American taxpayer, regardless of whether he or she philosophically agrees with the mandate. That's not an error, it's an opinion.

Marcotte, by the way, goes on to say that such a private charity is exactly the same thing as both health insurance and ObamaCare, a claim I have endeavored to shame a bit myself (see "Error #8 in this response to David Simon's having said something similar).

Conclusion
Being "shamey" is not the same thing as being correct; but above all, being "shamey" is actually the exact opposite of having the better argument. Each and every case of a person's being "shamey" is an example of their having no concrete defense for his or her position. Of course, not being able to offer a good argument doesn't mean that one is wrong, it just means that one cannot legitimately claim to be more right than those who one is shaming. "Shameyness" is not merely a bad way to respond to an argument, it is not a rhetorical response at all. It is nothing more than immature, effeminate passive-aggression bereft of facts or reasoning.

So, rather than attempting to shame those who disagree with you, why not respond with facts and reasoning? You'll end up looking a lot less ridiculous.

I plan on following up on this issue when I notice particularly egregious examples. Thus, I've created a new label, "Shamey," by which to track the matter on Stationary Waves. For now, I wanted to introduce the issue, especially since it provides a good set of background information for a forthcoming post about use of the word "we."