Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Not All Men": The Birth of a Sophistry, and The Long, Slow Death of Feminism

Wow, these people are despicable.

If you've had to spend any time around hard-left feminists, you know that it's not terribly uncommon for them to attribute the bad characteristics of the worst subset of men to all men. I'm the kind of retrograde pig that insists on pointing out this error in the most egregious cases. This response is so hated that it's now spawned the newest crazy fad in far-left feminism--a movement given to crazy fads--freaking out in response to such points. Most recently I was in an online discussion (at the sadly ever-more-politically-crazy Metafilter...) in which someone claimed that "men" were socialized to view women as objects (or some such). I pointed out that this wasn't true--that I certainly hadn't been, and, in fact, didn't know anybody who had. The response was, basically NOT ALL MEN! NOT ALL MEN! HAHA I CAN'T BELIEVE HE DID THE NOT ALL MEN THING!!!1111  You can probably imagine the rough nature of my response...

Of course this out-freaking is utterly irrational. Not only is it a crazed sophistry in defense of falsehood and sexism, but--in case that doesn't move you--it violates one of the soundest bits of advice from old-school feminism. That is: rational, pre-freakout, egalitarian feminism. Roughly: throttle back on the universal generalizations about either sex. Some such universal generalizations are true, of course...but fewer than you think.

Internet echo chambers tend to breed craziness, and political extremism breeds craziness, and infection by the toxic sludge of postmodernism and poststructuralism breeds craziness, and, sadly, all of these things have come together to drive a vocal segment of contemporary feminism over the edge. This latest attempt to provide some kind of generic, institutionalized rhetorical cover to those who want to make patently false generalizations about males is just a particularly clear sign that extremist internet feminism has gone off the rails. I'd kind of like to see sane feminists call bullshit on this stuff...but I'm kinda not holding my breath. Though I'll add: the more tolerant sane feminists become of this kind of nuttiness, the less sane feminism overall becomes, and the more the entire movement becomes radicalized and irrationalized. There is, after all, a reason that the vast majority of Americans identify as egalitarians about sex, but do not identify as feminists...


Blogger The Mystic said...

The weirdest part about this garbage is that these people seem to actually think they make sense...and it's not like they just have a passing interest in the subject matter so they can't be held to too rigorous a standard. They live and breathe this trash and they think it's legitimate.

Looking at travesties such as these rarely serves in any way other than to cause me to question my own sanity.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless a person's argument does actually imply that all men are such and such, then the "not all men" counter is just non-responsive. Even on the internet, you don't see much of the 90s style radicalisms that rest upon men being bad by some kind of conceptual necessity. (Or biological. Remember "testosterone poisoning"?) A charitable interpretation of "men" in most cases would be "men, all too often..." Countering with a non-responsive counterexample does look like an attempt to change the subject from social institutions to that of your* own personal guilt level, which suggests that you would rather focus on not feeling bad than on getting to the truth.

It's also true however that people who make lists of phrases (or bingo sets!) that mean you are automatically wrong if you utter them, whatever the context, just don't have arguments (all too often). I see this style of non-counter argument pretty often from theists actually, when confronted with some of the old, nettlesome arguments against theism. The standard practice when confronted with the problem of evil, for example, seems to be to role your eyes, sigh, and otherwise act as though you have already refuted this argument a dozen times and simply do not have the patience to do so yet again. That's no substitute for even attempting to engage with the problem, but it does do well in changing the subject to your opponent and their supposed lack of sophistication. "Not all men" I'm sure is effective in the same way.

* Note: generic "you".

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I call shenanigans. I will invoke the "not all feminists" counterargument. Tu quoque is a fallacious appeal no matter who makes it.


4:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoops, tu quoque isn't what I mean. It's a reflexive fallacy.

First, Let me qualify my defense: "Not every feminist" thinks like the crowd you ran into that day. The correct application of the "not every man" argument occurs during a general bitch-session about some really fucking annoying behavior by some stereotypical category of men. Then some guy jumps in and says "not every man." Dude. So annoying. However, I believe there is a more general argument here. It has been made before, very eloquently indeed.

I believe we should stop calling it the "Not every man" argument. The general philosophical term of art for this category of behavior is: "What? Do you want a cookie?"



5:13 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

A: "Unless a person's argument does actually imply that all men are such and such, then the "not all men" counter is just non-responsive."

Not true! The ploy used by the far-left feminists in question is, roughly, to make sure their claims are ambiguous as between 'all men' and 'some men.' Add to this their attempt to rule out explicitly specifying the existential quantifier, and what they mean is very clear.

Look, "not all men" is perfectly compatible with "men all too often," or "many men." If they did *not* intend to suggest the universal quantifier, they wouldn't object to the "not all men" correction. The obvious response would be "right, not all men, but too many of them."

Also: this is the the price we pay for progress. Sane, liberal, reasonable, old-school feminism taught us to be very hesitant to make such assertions about sex without specifying a quantifier explicitly. It also taught us to be wary of such universally quantified statements. And what's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

mac: "I call shenanigans. I will invoke the "not all feminists" counterargument. Tu quoque is a fallacious appeal no matter who makes it."

You *could* if I hadn't carefully specified that I'm talking about hard-left feminists, not all feminists, so I've already constricted by universe of discourse. Furthermore, to the extent that I haven't restricted it enough, I'm happy to concede your point. Indeed, not all feminists do this, I have no doubt that normal, sane, liberal feminists don't think this, etc.

That's a crucial difference between (a) me (and the sane, liberal feminists I tend to agree with) and the loons on the left that I'm talking about. I'm willing to admit error, if it's there.

Call shenanigans on me, will ya...

7:11 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

'tu quoque' *is* what I think you wanted, mac...though see my response...

That's a funny clip. Chris Rock never fails to crack me up...though having grown up around a bunch of racists who invoked that same distinction in a much less funny way, it's hard for me to enjoy that bit as much as I might... Still..."do you think I've got three guns in my house because I'm afraid of the media? Run, it's Mike Wallace!" Damn...that's gold, baby...gold!

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um.. Chris Rock is making fun of white racists more than he is making fun of anyone else. His comparison of
"niggers" to "trailer trash" makes it as clear as the nose in the middle of your face.

And your post is titled, in part, "long slow death of feminism." Again, tu quoque: it's exactly what you accuse the other side of doing. You are blurring the line between a group of feminists you don't agree with, and feminists in general. It is probably not intentional. But it is what you are doing.

Anyway, in (somewhat) common parlance, "What do you want? A cookie?" is used for making fun of someone who is bragging for basically behaving with a minimum level of decency. "Not all men" is too often just that.


3:13 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Meh, you're not right (see above).

But even if you were, that would just mean that I'm as bad as the lefty feminists who refuse to acknowledge that it's wrong to attribute the bad characteristics of some men to all men, and then complain when someone points out the error.

The best your tu quoque can do is criticize me; it can't constitute a defense of the target of my criticism.

Again, though, it's not even a very good criticism of me, because I acknowledge that, if I didn't narrow my universe of discourse enough, then I should narrow it more.

8:29 AM  

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