Slate Star Codex said some interesting things about dog-whistles yesterday, and you you should read the post (actually, you should pretty much always read Slate Star Codex), but I think he missed something. Since I’ve been spending my time making grand pronouncements on how to understand everyone’s behavior on the internet, let’s see if these pronouncements can help fill in the gaps.
SSC writes about Ted Cruz and Ken Livingstone making anti-Semitic, and Donald Trump making misogynistic, comments. These comments, he asserts, are boorish or stupid, but don’t really qualify (with various degrees of certainty) as representing anti-Semitism or misogyny; so we have had to kabbalistically interpret them as coded anti-Semitism or misogyny.
This interpretation would suggest that people still have ideologies, which thesis of course I reject. I would suggest instead that when Ted Cruz says “New York values” he is signaling his demographic. To his demographic (who are Republicans and probably not New Yorkers) this signals that he’s “one of us,” a salt-of-the-earth red-tribe American. To New Yorkers, this signals that he’s “one of them.” And “one of them” is a tangle of stereotypes that includes anti-Semitism. It doesn’t really matter if Cruz is anti-Semitic, any more than it matters if Jack Chick is racist; what matters is that Ted Cruz is the type of person who we tend to think of as anti-Semitic.
If Ted Cruz had an ideology then we could dig into his beliefs to determine whether anti-Semitism was a part of it; since he doesn’t then digging up his pro-Jewish statements as a counterargument (as SSC does) is a waste of time. Cruz is an other, and we can project our fantasies upon him; some of those fantasies may even be fair or true. Quick, who’s more anti-Semitic—New York or not-New York? Cruz chose to be not-New York, man. That’s hardly pro-Semitic.
(The malleable nature of demographics is highlighted by the fact that many people who call (or who would call) Cruz out for anti-Semitism are far, far more anti-Israel than Cruz, or at least some of the demographics he has to pander to. HuffPo, for example, linked to on SSC, often gets called out itself when it tries to signal to the progressive, pro-Palestinian demographic of its readership.)
Thus is all accounted for.
I think that went pretty well, so let’s see if these pet theories can explain anything else today. Here’s an article people have been sharing around, calling for us to stop attacking the parents of that alligator-child. It’s a nice article, and its heart is in the right place as it suggests we all “put down [our] pitchforks” because the parents did everything they could (including wrestling an alligator, which is more than I’ve ever done for a child).
If anyone attacking the parents was attacking them for the traditional motives of concern for children, etc., then the article should be persuasive that they should stop. These are not parents who left an open bottle of bleach in the playpen. If you hadn’t thought about it before, all someone should have to do is point out that no human can thwart the feeding instincts of a prehistoric reptile with a mammalian four-chambered heart! Even if you were the Crocodile Hunter, and could fight off this one beast, a stingray could still take your child and you’d have no defense, etc. This is all pretty clear, and the pitchforks would go down.
But I hope it’s no surprise that no one who has ever said “bad parents” about an alligator attack has meant to be helpful. Every “watch your kids better” tweet is simply an assertion of power, an attempt to dominate someone while being self-righteous, which, as I say so very often, if what we want to do most of all.
We all know, in our heart of hearts, that we could not save our child from a predator that really wanted that tasty morsel. We feel powerless before the natural world, and so we keep our children imprisoned in a nightmarish Orwellian surveillance state, punishing them for our own fears; but the fear does not go away. It is unendurable to us, until we see an opportunity to prove to ourselves that we do have power. And so we call for other parents to be punished, or we assert, childishly, as though the words had magic, “I would never let that happen”; but the magic doesn’t work without power, so we make sure we add our voices to the chorus of hate aimed at two people who have just lost a child.
(Those rarer people who ascribe the tragedy to “white male privilege,” etc., are clearly just signaling their demographic; more on them at a later date.)
So those are two good articles that nevertheless miss the larger point because they fail to acknowledge our true motivations. You might say they are insufficiently cynical, but I prefer to imagine that I am not in fact cynical but rather perspicacious.
I cannot deny that I am signaling every time I post something like this; I also cannot deny that I am (unintentionally) self-righteous; I am trying, though, trying not to hurt people.
All will be revealed.
I am in a killing field.
-Frederick Seidel, “Kill Poem.”