Yesterday, ambulance and not for the first time, refractionist a person with whom I am unacquainted rebuked me less for my views (‘her arguments aren’t new, and sometimes they’re not even wrong’ ) but for my (a) ‘venomous’ language and (b) failure to perform approved charitable acts. Like beauty contestants, writers must speak modestly and act benevolently if they are to have hope of a tiara.
That my preference is, apparently, less for Good Works than it is pooing from an elite stay-at-home fundament directly onto the heads of the intellectually deprived disqualifies me from competition. Anyhow. The pageant judge seemed pretty cross at me; not my argument.
‘Toxic’. ‘Combative’. ‘Scathing’. Personally, I find these descriptors better left for a DC supervillainess than a stringy old chook whose mild despair for the left’s flopsy repertoire of meh-awareness is vented every other month in formats for which one must usually pay. But, you know. Such critique is not new for me as I am about 85 and have functioned as inferior chum to the nation’s frailest sharks since I were a minnow.
Some of us are just like that.
I think the first time a stranger scolded me for inappropriate public language was back in 1990. I then presented a heavy metal radio program and expressed the opinion that I would like to be “joined at the dick” to Slayer’s Kerry King. A prison official from Goulburn Gaol wrote to me advising I was a “bad influence” on the inmates with whom my broadcast was almost uniformly popular. Of all the critique I have borne in the ensuing quarter century, this from a maximum security screw remains my favourite; a bad influence on murderers. Well, it ties for first place with “low-born shock jock” by the Hon Paul J Keating, “Please. Move away” by John Howard and from Bob Ellis, “I don’t know if I’d bother to have you”.
But, I’m boasting again. That’s so Razen.
There are those of us who are doomed to please our class. Then, there are sows like me gifted of the power to shit. I suspect the ability to aggravate is both genetic and incurable. So, I now expect—and am even sometimes flattered by my ability to elicit—a response. Occasionally, I think it might be nicer and more profitable to provoke support. But, if it is a choice—which most often it is for a regularly published writer—between reflecting the standards of an audience and interrogating the standards of an audience, I will crap on your ancient grain loaf every time.
I’ve just never seen the sense in giving a market what it wants. I’d rather incite an urge to loot than an urge to buy. So, to be clear, I know that my peculiar labour has earned me critique. I am not saying this is a good thing. I am just saying it’s a thing. I am woefully incapable of telling folk what they want to hear.
I won’t say that I enjoy being called, as I have been this past year, disdainful or eviscerating or mean or deranged or vituperative or ignorant of corporate anti-sexism strategy (actually. Scratch that last one. I am pretty pleased to be ignorant of any corporate strategy). Nor will I say that it is unprecedented. This sort of stuff is said about every ancient grain defecator. I don’t enjoy but I do anticipate it.
However, I will disclose that I am made partly of human and so am troubled by that critique made publicly by people who know, and claim to like, me privately. And in a small nation that happens, although not on this latest occasion, quite a bit. I mean. Why tell the internet you hate me when you can reform me more effectively to my face? The rest of you can knock yourselves out as I’m assured by my publishers that this is Good For The Brand. Just as writing Helen Razer Is A Lazy Nasty may be good for yours. It must be profitable for the rarely trafficked Overland which has published four-or-so pieces on my questionable character this past year.
And I will also disclose that I am really very tired of argumentum ad hominem. Clearly, I am least fond of this logical brutality when I am its object. But I am tired of its use more broadly as I believe (and this idea isn’t new; but neither is it wrong) it does nothing but obstruct the development of ideas.
My Feels aside—anyone who reads me will know that I cheer the elimination of Feels from debate and my own have no place here—FFS. You just can’t keep calling someone a nasty, lazy, elitist, narcissistic hypocrite who Fails to Grasp corporate anti-sexist strategy and expect this will shut them up. With ad hominem comes no hope of progress.
And even if you think that my arguments tend to ad hominem—and a reading of them may reveal to you that they are not—your only hope for victory is to rise above my muck. Be the better man. Not like the fictional Helen who does nothing but assassinate character instead of poor ideas and capital.
Helen is a Nasty has as much force for change as Tony Abbot is a Cunt or John Pilger is a bore. These claims may be true. They may be fun to utter. But they are, particularly when they happen publicly, an act with a form and function akin to bukkake. It’s a dirty, pluralistic act of ignorant self-embrace that ends only in an instant of guilty satisfaction.
Of course, this is The Internet Age and I have neither interest in or hope for ending its ‘He’s a Rich Prick’ and ‘She’s a Dumb Bitch’ splash-fest. I am no Lewinsky and I do not believe in laundering ‘online bullying’ from the blue dress of a soiled dignity. But what I do believe is that the only productive route to discussion of ideas is to kill the author.
We must not assess an argument based on its author; not, at least, with faith in our success. Of course, the exception to this would be an argument to which highly specialised knowledge in a particular field is crucial. Like vaccination. You can say that Jenny McCarthy is unqualified to prosecute this case. But you can’t say the view that well-formed ideas have a more significant impact than those that are formed in haste and passion requires my attendance at your rally. What are you? Elite? Do not read the author. Read his ideas.
I thought the author was dead. Like Lazarus, Gandalf or that hot little brunette from The Abyss, the author has risen. He is no longer dead but wedded to his meaning as surely as flatulence to kohlrabi. Or ancient grain.
One does not interpret an argument based on the biographical details of he who made it and not just because Roland Barthes (ooh. There she goes again with her faux-elite sphincter) says so. But because it is totally logically munted. You cannot undo an argument with a “you are wrong because you don’t volunteer at an abortion clinic” with any more veracity than you can claim “you are wrong because you’re fat”.
Argument doesn’t work that way. Reducing thought to the stuff of identity resolves nothing but your itch to call me a bitch. It may work to discredit me or whomever is making the argument with which you disagree. It may even harm us. You can certainly kill a career by piling-on but what you cannot kill by this method is the argument itself. Kill the author and revive the argument.
I do understand that you are frustrated with things generally and possibly my argument in particular. But the way to win is not to attack me personally. The way to win is to understand the intellectual process that made you sufficiently emotional that you called me names On Internet. And, really. That’s all that writer did.
This heat of perished logic recalls an interview I recorded a year or so ago with Chris “Jesus” Ferguson; five-time winner of the World Series of Poker. Unlike most other No-Limit Holdem champs, Ferguson, a PhD in applied mathematics, bases his extraordinary play on a little game theory and a lot of algebra. I asked this Pure Reason guy about the great Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson—the man responsible for bringing this Cadillac of card games to the masses. In his poker book Super System, Brunson talks, as many do, of “ESP” and intuition at the table. What did the game theorist think of that?
“Instinct is what happens when your brain reaches a conclusion but is too lazy to see how it got there”. I was reminded of my terrible trigonometry homework and my teacher’s pleas to “show your work”.
So. You might be right in your conclusion that my argument is wrong. But your emotional response of “you’re an arsehole whom I did not see at the abortion rally” just won’t do if you want to win a bracelet at the World Series of Poker or an argument with Helen. What you did win was the pleasure of bukkake.
Wipe me down then show your work.
Here’s how not to show your work. Helen writes for Crikey’s Daily Review. She makes the point that there is broad and clearly uttered disdain shared by many feminists for critical theory. She does not make the point that all feminist persons were required to read and create critical theory. She makes the point that many feminist persons are openly hostile to the production of critical theory.
In yesterday’s Nailed-It Glory, this only repudiation of the argument itself is that the techniques for social change Helen says are impotent are, well, just “good” (original emphasis). All efforts to end injustice are, in the author’s view, worthwhile as expressed by the syllogism: Something must be done; This is something; Let’s do this.
Then, there is some attempt to counterfeit a distinction between theory and practice. Helen did not make this distinction. Helen said that good ideas, or theory, takes time and thought. Helen said that good ideas can lead to good practice; that the two are intimately connected. Helen advocated for a climate in which good ideas could be considered so that good practice might follow. Something must be done; This is something; Let’s challenge its effectiveness.
A few years ago, I argued publicly against the proposed Australian internet filter. I argued in the Sydney Morning Herald and on ABC1’s Q and A. Then Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy was of the Something Must Be Done view when it came to distribution of child pornography. Well, good intention. Only a fool would agree that government has no role in control of such criminal material. I am not a fool and this is why I listened to people who explained in plain English why the web-only cleanfeed would, quite simply, not work to do anything but block harmless sites and curtail internet freedom. For this, I was called, publicly and often, a paedophile-apologist. Not only is this the world’s second or third-worst charge, it did nothing to advance debate.
Fortunately, on this occasion, the relentless efforts of a handful of people who chose logic over ‘Let’s Do This’ stopped the transition to radical censorship. I do not include myself in their number as I gave up after a while; being called a kiddie-fiddler was actually too much. Thank goodness there are people immune to ad hominem attacks. They don’t always get their way but they always win an argument.
‘Let’s do this’ and ‘You’re a bad person’. This is the substance of the writer’s lauded argument. She holds that Helen is an inert old fuck who is only arguing in favour of theory because she is (a) pretentious and (b) can’t be arsed doing anything more taxing and valuable than pretending to read and be important and why isn’t she doing the same things I am doing at the abortion rally.
Now, these biographical details are potentially true. They are also irrelevant and their disclosure does nothing to challenge the core argument that (a) many feminists are openly hostile to the production of critical theory and (b) critical theory is one of the things that can be a boon to large-scale, world-changing action.
There are arguments that could work to fell mine. Try riffing on ‘one cannot calculate the effectiveness of any action or inaction when it comes to untangling an immeasurable system like patriarchy’ or ‘feminism is by origin and necessity a folk-theory whose rules cannot be academically professionalised without risking its assault to the system it seeks to overthrow’ or ‘the time for all theory is gone in an era of instant opinion’. Not: Helen is a total shit-box and people who think so are good.
The author may have succeeded, as have her predecessors, in injuring my Feels. She has not succeeded in dousing the idea that much popular progressive discourse and action is achingly kneejerk, anti-intellectual and possibly hopeless. This writing grows apace; with or without this bitch. The ideas aren’t new. Nor are they wrong.
Here is Tom Scocca on the eclipse of reason by smarm. Here is Michelle Goldberg and Some Dude In The Guardian interrogating the now broadly accepted idea that This Hashtag Kills Fascists. There are plenty of good pieces written by potential fuckwits along similar lines. We do not undo these people, much as we might disagree with them, by resort to personal derision. And we do not do this not because it’s rude but because it doesn’t always work.
How did your brain get to the conclusion that I am—or anyone is–wrong? The answer is probably in your head. And it’s not that I am a nasty bitch who blocked you on Twitter. Try writing it down. And try a little harder than, ‘anything that opposes sexism is good’. If that is the case, Immanuel, then anything can be good. So long as it is well-intentioned. Here’s a poo on your head for feminism. It is opposing sexism and if you oppose its effectiveness, you’re Part of the Problem.
If, as has been declared in some of the aforelinked critique, I am a “disappointment” and a force-for-good-gone-wrong, then the way to reform me to functional leftism is not by writing my biography. The way to improve my argument is by argument. Show your work.
That’s how argument goes. Or, how it should go. And it works sometimes; even, for narcissistic hypocrites whose pretentious bungholes discharge reeking faux-elitist gobs into the innocent mouths of her betters.
Now fuck right off. I really don’t like the cut of your giblets. I can’t say why. I just feel that you are not good.