I spend a lot of time on Quora dishing on conservatives, but here’s something that is absolutely endemic among my fellow liberals that absolutely gets on my last nerve.
Way, way too many liberals are more obsessed with moral purity than any Southern Baptist could ever be. Way too many of my fellow liberals are obsessed with absolute moral purity to the point where any disagreement whatsoever becomes an opportunity to summon the torches and pitchforks.
Liberals, especially in matters of social justice (however variously that may be defined), have an unfortunate habit of seeing anyone who agrees with them 98% not as an ally, but as a 2% enemy. And that 2%? Purge it with fire!!
Actual photo of a typical North American liberal whose fellow liberal has just expressed a minor difference of opinion.
It’s as if we liberals fundamentally do not accept the idea that any disagreement can ever arise from a legitimate difference of opinion, priority, or even fact. No, no way. Any disagreement, any difference however slight, can only be active, willful, malicious evil.
Liberals love the fire of righteous anger. We’re addicted to how it feels. Grabbing the torches and pitchforks and setting off on some zealous crusade makes us feel like we’re doing something. And that makes liberals incredibly easy to manipulate. We all have to virtue-signal and signpost our righteous purity, all the time. The insistence on ideological purity creates an atmosphere of fear and oppression, because at the end of the day nobody is pure enough. This fear and oppression leads to dogpiles and mob rule, because nobody wants that zealous rage directed at themselves.
Conservative authoritarianism is blind, mindless allegiance to a person, however corrupt and obviously self-serving. Liberals sneer at conservative authoritarians, but liberals tend to fall victim to an equally blind, uncritical allegiance, not to a specific person, but to group norms and presumed virtues. One Polynesian person on Tumblr complained once that the hashtag #poly made it hard for her to find other Polynesian Tumblr users because polyamorous people used it instead, and from that moment on it was torches and pitchforks for any polyamorous person who self-described as “poly” rather than “polyam” in any context anywhere, on or off Tumblr, because if you call yourself “poly” you are disrespecting disempowered communities of color.
Marshall University professor Greg Patterson ran into this for talking about filler words in different languages. “Filler words” are words that you insert as pauses in a sentence when you’re thinking. “Uh” and “um” are the most common filler words in English.
A common filler word in Chinese is 那个, pronounced “nà ge”. One group of students complained that this sounded too similar to the English N-word, and that, direct quote,
There are over 10,000 characters in the Chinese written language and to use this phrase, a clear synonym with this derogatory N-Word term, is hurtful and unacceptable to our USC Marshall community. The negligence and disregard displayed by our professor was very clear in today’s class. […] We were made to feel “less than.” […] We are burdened to fight with our existence in society, in the workplace, and in America. We should not be made to fight for our sense of peace and mental well-being at Marshall.
Professor Patterson was removed from the class.
Part of the issue is that Patterson is liberal himself, and as much as liberals love going after conservatives, we save a special and particularly fiery rage for fellow liberals who we believe have transgressed our ideology, regardless of how specious that belief might be.
Part of the issue is that Patterson did not immediately grovel. In liberal circles, it is axiomatic that any fellow liberal accused of any transgression is automatically and self-evidently guilty, always, and the only appropriate response is immediate and unconditional apology.
Any other response is always and self-evidently proof of guilt. Denial? Proof of guilt. Confusion? Proof of guilt. Anger? Proof of guilt.
And part of the issue is that nobody wants to be in the line of fire. Once the torches-and-pitchforks mob has been unleashed, everyone is a potential target. Anyone standing too close to the offender is a target. Anyone who voices any support for the offender is a target. Anyone who fails to denounce the target is a target. Anyone who doesn’t denounce the target strongly enough is a target.
If you’re a faculty member and you get a complaint like this, you damn well better remove the professor, regardless of how you feel. If you don’t, you become the next new target. “Look at this faculty dean, supporting institutions of entrenched racism at our university! We’re going to go to the administration! We’re going to go to the alumni!”
So what happens is you make a reasoned, considered, and perfectly rational decision to do as the mob says, because you come to the reasoned, considered, and perfectly rational decision that you don’t want your own life upended by the mob.
Too many liberals are addicted to the feel of this righteous virtue. It feels good. I know; I’ve been there, I’ve felt it. It’s heady. It’s intoxicating. It lets you feel powerful when you’re confronted with the hopeless pervasiveness of institutionalized injustice.
You can’t stop the structural, institutional racism that permeates the American social fabric, but goddamnit, you can do something about this professor that said something you might’ve heard as a slur! And that feels good. It feels powerful.
In a sense, we liberals sacrifice our own as an antidote to the intractability and powerlessness of the injustice around us. It’s dangerous, especially if you’re part of a disenfranchised subcommunity, to attack the institutional structures of oppression head-on. So turning on your fellows becomes a safety valve, a way to deal with the rage and despair you feel every day.
Recently, a Quora user asked a question about what problems we, the Internet horde, have with leftists.
I kinda wanted to start my answer with “the biggest problem I have with leftists is how easily they turn to being whiny, self-indulgent, virtue signaling pricks too lazy to do the work demanded by the ethics that they so love to pat themselves on the back about,” but Joreth thinks maybe that might not go over so well as an introductory paragraph, so perhaps I’ll start a bit more gently.
Oh dear. It seems I’ve started that way after all. Well then, to arms! Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war! I mean, god knows I spend a lot of time dishing on conservatives, so maybe it’s time for liberals to get some of that attention. You know, in the spirit of generosity and fairness of heart.
Image: stillfx on Adobe
One of the biggest differences between liberals and conservatives centers on social organization, and appears to be a consequence of concrete, identifiable structural differences in the brain.
Conservatives favor vertical social hierarchies divided into leaders and followers, high status and low status. A place for everyone, in other words, and everyone in their place.
Legitimate authority is to be obeyed without question; questioning authority is treason, an offense against all society. People on the bottom of the hierarchy should know their place and not get uppity.
People are sorted by physiology, and presenting yourself outside the accepted norms that communicate your station and position in the hierarchy—men wearing “women’s” clothing, people of one race “putting on airs” of another race (especially one of higher stature), these things are absolutely unacceptable.
Liberals, on the other hand, favor a horizontal, flat social organization. Leaders are not above everyone else, they serve everyone else. Questioning leaders to keep them on the right track? That’s not treason, that’s Tuesday. People who are structurally marginalized or disempowered by social convention? It’s the duty of society to equalize their position.
Which, okay, well and good, but…
Liberals like to ridicule conservatives as delusional imbeciles with their “alternative facts,” weird conspiracy nutters always yammering on about absurd hallucinations like “Jewish space lasers” and Democrat sex-slave rings run from the basement of a pizza shop that’s doesn’t have a basement.
But at the same time, liberals embrace their own delusions, they’re just delusions of a different flavor, and they go right back to that horizontal social structure ideology.
So a couple years ago, this guy:
got into hot water over the N-word.
No, not that N-word. The Chinese word 那个, pronounced something like “nà ge.”
This guy is Greg Patton. He’s a professor at the University of Southern California, where he teaches, among other things, business communication.
He was teaching about filler words—words that lack specific meaning but are inserted as pauses. English filler words include “like,” “uh,” and “um.” Spanish filler words include “pues” and “a ver.” German filler words include “ach so” and “klar.”
Chinese filler words include 那个. And 那个 sounds enough like the other n-word that students complained and he was removed from the class.
This illustrates a problem, absolutely endemic in certain liberal circles, that several people I know call “rounding up to abuse.” Liberals get absolutely giddy over the idea that one of their own turns out to be An Abuser of some kind—a secret racist, a secret homophobe, whatever. They absolutely delight in it, and so will go hunting for reasons to label people atop the current social hierarchy Bad People.
Part of it is personal kudos and virtue signaling. “Look at me! Look at me! I’m not like those others! Watch as I tear down the hierarchy! Watch me stick it to The Man! Hey, everyone, look at me! Aren’t I wonderful? I’m a good person! I stand with the downtrodden! Praise me!”
But that’s only part of it.
Part of it is that a lot of liberals absolutely, positively loooooove being bullies…as long as they can make themselves believe their bullying is in defense of the marginalized and downtrodden.
image: Victor on Adobe
Yes, I’m serious.
I know liberals always whine about what bullies conservatives are. “The cruelty is the point,” we say of conservative policies.
And it’s true. Conservatives love bullying. They’re quite open about it. They get off on it. That’s why they punch down; in the hierarchical order of things it’s acceptable to bully people lower on the hierarchy than you are.
Liberals also love to bully people, but they’re sanctimonious about it. They say they don’t, and one of their favorite pastimes is feeling superior to conservatives because conservatives are so gleeful about punching down.
However, when liberals see an opportunity to bully someone and can rationalize it to themselves, they throw themselves into it with a zest and zeal that puts conservatives to shame. Liberals love bullying just as much as conservatives do, it’s just that liberals lie (and lie to themselves) about it.
Liberals are sanctimonious about how awful it is when conservatives punch down. But the truth is, liberals are better bullies than conservatives are…BECAUSE they’re sanctimonious about it. Far too many liberals believe—absolutely, truly believe—that if they can just find the RIGHT people to bully and harass, they can somehow bully and harass their way to a more just, more equitable, more peaceful and harmonious Utopia.
They look for reasons to bully—they round up to abuse, they get outraged because 那个 sounds like the n-word—because a white dude using the n-word is someone they’re allowed to bully, someone they feel good about bullying.
They wanted Greg Patton to be slinging the n-word around in his class, because it gives them license to let slip their inner bully and feel good—no, feel righteous—about it, and score virtue points with their fellow liberals at the same time. Liberals get off on that.
In short: Conservatives bully because it maintains the hierarchy. Liberals bully because it’s fun, and it makes them feel good about themselves.
The fact that Greg Patton didn’t actually use the n-word doesn’t matter. Liberals wanted him to have used it, because it feels so goddamn good to pick up the torches and pitchforks—it’s a big part of how liberals show themselves and each other that they’re Good People on the Right Side of History.
And if Greg Patton is generally fairly progressive himself? So much the better. Now they can show how fair-minded they are—they even go after the baddies in their own ranks! Not like conservatives. Oh no, we hold everyone accountable! See how good we are? Praise us!
Truth doesn’t matter. Reality doesn’t matter. What matters is that desire to prove your worthiness by attacking the bad guy, whether he’s actually a bad guy or not. (Greg Patton was completely exonerated after an investigation—fortunately for him, he’d recorded the class.)
Image: @anniespratt on Unsplash
This is one thing self-described “social justice warriors” consistently get wrong. Truth matters. There can be no justice without truth. If your “social justice” has no truth-finding mechanism, it’s about conformity and mob rule, not justice.
I feel this should be obvious. Why is this not obvious?
Conservatives often accuse liberals of racism and sexism, in a “you want to keep Black voters dependent” and “you want to tell women they aren’t allowed to be mothers and housewives” kind of way.
This is, of course, absolute bullshit, not even remotely true…
…but it is in the neighborhood of truth.
Liberals often think in terms of archetypes. They’ll say on the one hand that we’re all people—young or old, black or white, man or women, we all deserve equal treatment.
Which is true.
But then on the other hand, they’ll tend to see people in terms of archetypes. oppressor and oppressed.
You see this play out in simplistic, bumper-sticker liberal morality. “Believe women” is an example. Not “support people who say they’ve been abused while also fact-checking,” which is too complicated to fit on a bumper sticker and therefore doesn’t work well with liberal virtue signaling.
Let’s turn that around a bit: “Believe whites.” That…feeeeels a little uncomfortable, doesn’t it?
Why is the one okay but the other isn’t?
Liberals will probably tell you “well, as a historically marginalized group, women have long been accustomed to not being believed, so historically, thee’s an imbalance that needs to be rectified, and and and…”
And and all of that is true. But why “believe women” rather than “don’t automatically disbelieve women?”
Because “believe women” lets you virtue signal while also avoiding, you know, actually doing the work that the ethics you claim to have would require.
If you have two different individuals who say two different things, and your goal is truth, you have work to do. It takes effort. It takes investigation, it takes careful consideration, it takes mental and (dare I say it?) emotional labor.
If, on the other hand, your social group tells you that there’s one side you always and automatically believe—you always believe the white person, you always believe the woman—then you can short-cut all that “truth” and “evidence” and “careful, critical thought” stuff to get to the ‘right’ answer—which is, of course, the one that gains you social standing in your social group.
Different classes of people are not treated as individuals by liberals. They’re treated as a member of their class, with built-in assumptions about who is hero and who is villain based on perceptions of which group is the oppressor and which is the oppressed.
That’s why you’ll see questions like this on Quora:
Actual question on Quora
This question is, of course, utter nonsense. We don’t despise Thomas because he’s black, we despise him because he’s corrupt.
And yet, liberals tend, by and large, merely to wave an airy hand and dismiss questions like this, without ever asking: Why would someone ask this? Where would they get this idea from?
Asking that question leads in some uncomfortable directions. Directions like, might someone who watches the behavior of many liberals each the conclusion that liberals hold double standards, condemning a behavior from someone they might justify or even accept from a different person who belongs to a different social group? (Uncomfortable answer: yes. I’ve witnessed liberals with radically different responses to domestic violence by men against women and by women against men.)
We liberals mock double-standards held by conservatives, while ignoring the plank in our own eye. This isn’t a liberal/conservative thing, it’s a human thing—we all, including you, including me, hold double standards—but goddamn, liberals can be so sanctimonious about our own double standards.
Which brings up another difference between conservatives and liberals: Conservatives attack the Other. Liberals attack their own.
There’s nothing more infuriating to a liberal than a fellow liberal who’s 99.87% in agreement with them—that last fraction of a percent is MORAL IMPURITY that must be PURGED WITH FIRE.
All you liberals who bitch and moan that liberal politicians are so ineffective, listen up: you can’t build your new egalitarian Utopia when you’re preoccupied with knifing your friends in the back.
This is the natural consequence of the horizontal vs vertical social hierarchy thing. In vertical hierarchies, those below always accept any behavior from those above.
Like Trump, for example. Those who accept him as rightful leader excuse his grift, his lies, his incessant self-absorbed pandering, his philandering, because he’s at the top of the hierarchy and submission to rightful hierarchy is a core moral value.
Liberals, on the other hand…if you’re not 100% with me, I will cast you into the lake of fire. Deviate even one iota and you’re gone.
is funny because it’s true. It’s absolutely classic leftist behavior, and it’s one of the things that makes leftists so goddamn toxic.
But I didn’t come here to talk about the movie, or James Cameron. I came here to talk about virtue signaling, and white saviors crusading against white saviors, and offer some hot takes that will almost certainly lead to angry emails in my inbox.
Before we dive in to the rage, let me say that when I talk about “virtue signaling,” I don’t mean Virtue Signaling™, the brand that the American right uses to tarnish any display of empathy or compassion that suggests one is anything other than a complete sociopath. (I expand a little on the distinction between virtue signaling and Virtue Signaling™ over here.)
Okay, let’s do this.
James Cameron and the Synthetic Rage Machine
Back in 2009, James Cameron, of Aliens and Terminator 2 fame, made a movie called Avatar. I watched it, thought it was really good, watched it again, and then forgot about it. It’s showy but, like cotton candy, it melts quickly, leaving nothing behind.
Avatar was fluff. Fluff that was a bit problematic, with its overtones of “white hero saves the noble savages” tropes, but fluff.
However, it made more money than a televangelist with a coke habit, so it was perhaps inevitable there would be a second.
Now the second movie is here, and the liberal internetverse is aflame with acrimony, because if there’s one thing the modern-day liberal is absolutely certain of, it’s that the path to a kinder, more just, more empathic and inclusive society starts with screaming hate.
The issue, which I will confess I haven’t done hours of research about as I don’t actually have much interest in the second Avatar movie, appears to be the issue of cultural appropriation, leavened with a heaping teaspoon of white-saviorism. If you want a dive down the rabbit hole, you can find out more here and here and here and here, and good luck to you.
Predictably, the outrage spread like wildfire on Twitter, where people eager to show other people how much they supported the indigenous without, you know, actually doing anything inconvenient or costly to support the indigenous took to their keyboards:
Oh, no, wait, sorry, wrong Twitter outrage.
Ahem. The outrage spread on Twitter, where one particular Tweet was copy-pasted (not retweeted, not shared, but posted word for word) about 6,000 times, according to Google, not including posts on locked accounts. I won’t bother to link to any of them—you can find them if you want—but I will say they were even copy-pasted by people I once had genuine respect for. People I used to look up to. It’s hard to watch your heroes die.
Now, here’s the thing:
I’m not saying that Avatar isn’t problematic. I’m not telling you to see it…I’ve enjoyed not watching it, and I look forward to not watch it again. This isn’t really about Avatar at all, it’s about public masturbation.
All those thousands of copy-pasted tweets, all those people publicly proclaiming their support for indigenous people in the same way by repeating other people’s words—they’re wanking. “Look at me! Loot at me! Am I a good person now? I’m saying the right things. That makes me a good person, right? Right? Look at me!”
Virtue vs Virtue Signaling
How do you tell the difference between virtue and virtue signaling?
Virtue makes the world a better place. Virtue signaling makes you feel better about yourself.
When I look at Tweets about supporting underprivileged indigenous people by not watching a movie, I can’t help but think, “Point to the person who has a better life because you didn’t watch this movie. Point to a tangible improvement in someone’s quality of life because you didn’t watch this movie. Point to the hungry person who was fed because you didn’t watch this movie. Point to the village that had no water but now has a new well because you didn’t watch this movie. Point to the sick child that now has medical care because you didn’t watch this movie.”
What? What’s that you say? Speak up. A little louder, please, I can’t hear you.
Oh, really? You didn’t actually improve anyone’s life? You just…didn’t watch a movie? That’s…that’s it?
Then shut the fuck up. You’re not supporting anyone. You’re showing off for the other people in your social set.
See, I could understand respecting someone who said “You know what, this movie has problematic aspects. An average theater ticket costs $15. Instead of watching it, why don’t you take that $15 and donate it to this particular fund that serves this particular underprivileged community in this particular way.”
If you do that, at least you’re actually benefitting someone besides yourself, even if it’s only in a small way. You’re actually, you know, making a tiny change in the world.
But if you’re not willing to do that? You’re showing off. Your “virtue” is empty, pretentious posing, benefitting nobody but you, a way for you to brag to people in your peer group without actually expending anything more than the barest minimum effort. You copy-pasted a sentence into Twitter! Ooh, you’re so courageous, posturing to win praise from your friends. Looking at you, making a difference in the world.
Paving the Way to a Better World
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The thing I like about my fellow progressives is that we—well, most of us, anyway—do sincerely want the world to be better tomorrow than it is today. We do genuinely want to live in a world that is more egalitarian, more open, more honest, more compassionate, more fair.
No matter how many “this is the world the Liberals want” memes the alt-right makes.
But too many progressives want something else more than we want a better world: We want to know where the lines are between Us and Them. Why? Because we want—indeed, need—to feel superior to someone. The most right-wing, hardcore Evangelical Baptist has nothing on an average urban progressive when it comes to sanctimony.
(Side note here: the irony of white men riding in to save the day against white saviors by copy-pasting Tweets, rather than, you know, actually saving anyone…well, if there were a Nobel Prize for Irony, I’m not saying it would win, but it would definitely be a contender.)
It cannot, it cannot be okay if the intention of progressives—which I assume it is—is progress forward into a future of more empathy and understanding for more people, it cannot be that the primary mechanism by which we’re going to make that progress is the suppression of empathy and understanding for anyone who doesn’t align with our beliefs. It cannot be that unmitigated expression of furious outrage will somehow alchemize into a future of peace and love.
If you want the world to be better when you wake tomorrow than it was when you woke today, but you want to bask in the warm glow of your own righteousness while you make empty gestures of great vengeance and furious anger those who dare tread too close to the line between Us and Them even more…
The next time you sit down at your computer to blast evil from the comfort and safety of your keyboard, you brave and noble cultural warrior, you, but you cannot point to a single person whose cause you champion who actually ends up tangibly better off for it…mmmaybe don’t, okay?
Merry Christmas. May 2023 bring you less virtue signaling and more virtue.
Today, in The Street Finds its Own Uses for Things:
I noticed something funny when I logged into Facebook last week. My feed, which is normally filled with ads for video games, photography gear, and complicated kits for Stirling engines you can build at home, was absolutely jam-packed with ads for far-right pro-Trump merchandise, antigovernment T-shirts and posters, gun holsters, and “conservative news” sites.
And I mean jam-packed. I’ve never seen this quantity of advertising on Facebook before; literally an ad following every single friend post.
The whole secret of advertising on Facebook is you can target your ads. You can specify exactly who you want to see your ads; for example, when we ran ads for the first porn novel we co-authored, Eunice and I targeted people with an interest in reading who were 35 or younger and lived close to a university, figuring this would likely be the sort of person interested in far-future, post-scarcity science fiction smut.
So why would Facebook, that giant creepy Hydra in the cloud, show me alt-right ads when it knows I’m a lefty Portlander?
Because the advertisers know I won’t buy their products. They don’t care. That isn’t why they’re spending tens of millions of dollars on Facebook advertising.
So first, the ads.
I’ve gotten in the habit of aggressively blocking these ads when they appear, and blocking the companies that place them. Doesn’t matter. There are a zillion other companies placing near-ident0cal ads for near-identical products, and sometimes (this is a telling bit) even with the same stock photos.
The ads look lik e this:
If you ask Facebook “why did I see this ad?”, Facebook will show you the demographic the ad was targeting. And these ads are completely ignoring the laser-focused demographics Facebook likes to brag about. They’re shotguns, not sniper rifles.
So why? What’s the point? Why target so broadly, when it increases your spend without generating sales?
So here’s the thing:
I don’t believe they’re trying to generate sales.
That’s not the point. They aren’t interested in selling you gun holsters or T-shirts. I mean, if you buy some, that’s a bonus, but I believe these ads are a propaganda effort. The purpose is to put right-wing slogans and ideas in front of as many eyeballs as possible. They’re advertising ideas, not T-shirts.
The American political right is very, very good at propaganda. Liberals sneer at “Let’s Go Brandon,” the right-wing oh-so-clever “fuck Joe Biden,” but the thing is, it works. The people who use it don’t care that it’s juvenile. It makes them feel part of something. It’s a tribal identity marker.
And human beings like feeling like part of a tribe.
The hoodie up there that says “Proud member of the LGBFJB” community? It means “Let’s Go Brandon Fuck Joe Biden.” VClever? Not really. A great identity brand for a certain kind of person? Oh yeah.
And this brand is everywhere.
Branding and marketing and propaganda matter in political discourse. Arguably they matter more than policies and proposals and all that other wonk stuff.
They want this branding everywhere, and they’re willing to pay to make that happen.
People don’t make rational decisions. People make emotional decisions and then rationalize them. Often, those emotional decisions are predicated on feelings of belonging and inclusion. The right gets that, in its creepy way. The left? Not so much.
The thing is, the political left is doing nothing to counter any of this.
Do I think this Facebook propaganda is working?
Yes. Yes, I do.
It creates the illusion that right-wing ideas are more popular than they really are. It paints a false picture of what Americal looks like and what Americans want. It lets the right dominate the discourse in ways that the left won’t even try to counter.
The modern American right is intellectually and morally bankrupt, a seething cesspool of reactionary hate. But they get propaganda. They get it on an instinctive level, in ways that confuse lefties.
And that makes them far more effective than their numbers and policies alone would suggest.
As part of the ongoing development of the bionic cock project I’m working on, I’m in the process of teaching myself 3D modeling and 3D printing. We’re using 3D printing to make positives for molding silicone prototypes.
3D printing is amazing. It offers incredible potential for people everywhere to be able to make whatever they want on demand, as long as “people everywhere” means “people with access to computers and the Internet and 3D printers and spools of plastic, and the cognitive ability to be able to design things and operate the equipment.” So not really people everywhere, but no matter, right?
3D printing is also incredibly stupid. The state of the art is so appalling. The software is deplorable–a throwback to the bad old days of obtuse design usable only by the select few.
The first time I tried to make a print, I was horrified by what passes for design in the world of 3D printing. It’s a case study in why Linux has never made significant inroads into the desktop, despite being free. Open source software is still software made by developers for developers, with no thought (or sometimes, with active contempt) for users who either don’t want to or don’t have the time to learn every small detail of the way their systems work.
By way of comparison, if color inkjet software worked the way 3D printer software works, every time you hit the Print command on your computer, you’d be confronted by something like this (click to embiggen):
This…is why we can’t have nice things. The open source community isn’t democratic; it’s elitist.
Some while back, someone on Quora (a question and answer site on which I’m quite active) asked a question about encounters with racism and white privilege.
I told the story of something that happened to me at a Walmart in Florida. We were standing in a checkout line with about five people in front of us, when the cashier pulled us out of line. We thought she was opening a new register, but instead, she just brought us to the front of the line and rang us up. It was a little confusing, and it took a few minutes to register: we were the only white people in line.
This is, I think, a fairly typical example of everyday racism. There’s nothing particularly weird or unusual about it; it’s just part of the background institutional racism of life in the United States, one of the many small acts of racism that normalize racism on a larger scale.
What I didn’t expect, and did find deeply weird, was the way people reacted to this story.
This, I think, is very strange. It’s also very telling.
There are lessons in both the event and the responses to it, I think. I didn’t recognize what was going on at the time it happened. I didn’t recognize what was happening at the time, but we’re now more aware of this kind of thing, and we’re not likely to be taken by surprise in the future.
So that’s the first lesson: sometimes, white privilege means being completely unaware of casual acts of everyday racism even when you’re right in the middle of them.
The second lesson, though, is more interesting: it has become very, very common for people who are confronted with something uncomfortable to deny that it exists. And that’s troubling.
To be fair, this is not limited only to racism. The same thing happened whenever people talk about any kind of topic where there’s likely to be disagreement. I’ve written on this blog and elsewhere about the hysteria around GM food and how the machinery of fear of GM food is totally devoid of empirical evidence, and as sure as night follows day, every time I do, someone will reach into the attic of argumentative fallacy and haul out the tired old “you don’t believe that, you’re just being paid to say it” trope. It’s happened both on Quora and, when a blog post about GM food made it to Reddit, on Reddit:
It hasn’t always been this way. This reflexive, instantaneous denial–“You had an experience that makes me uncomfortable; I will refuse to believe it occurred,” “You hold an idea I disagree with; you do not really believe what you’re saying”–is new (at least to me).
Denial as an argumentative tactic isn’t new, of course, but the fact that so many people reach for it as the very first response is.
This happens in politics (“You support Hillary, that’s the only reason you’re saying Jill Stein is pandering to pseudoscience”), in technology, in everything. It’s pervasive. And it’s gaslighting. It’s built on the assumption that a person can tell you what your experiences were, what you believe or don’t believe, all because he doesn’t much like what you’re saying. (I say “he” because with only one exception, all the responses I’ve screen captured above were from men.)
But when it comes to experiences of racism, it seems particularly deeply rooted.
I’m not sure if that’s white discomfort at the idea of their own privilege, or if it comes from the fact that so many Americans truly want to believe that the election of a black President means we’re living in a post-racial society, or what it is, but it’s bizarre. What happened to me in Walmart isn’t even that egregious an example. It’s not like, just to use a random hypothetical that of course would never happen in real life, an unarmed black man was shot dead by police for doing nothing in particular.
Yet people really, really want to believe that it simply never happened–that it would not happen. They seem incredibly invested in that belief.
I would like to think that, had I been waiting in that line and seen what happened, I would raise a stink about that.
But here’s the thing: I am white. I was born into a system that privileged me. I have never been on the receiving end of structural racism. If someone were to be brought in front of me in line, of course I would raise a stink about it; being able to raise a stink is part of my privilege. Many folks on Quora expressed surprise that none of the people in the line spoke up, but that’s part of the problem. Being allowed to speak up about racism is not a privilege that those on the receiving end are permitted.
On Quora, several folks made exactly this point:
Talking about privilege is difficult, because a lot of folks who hold some kind of privilege (white privilege, male privilege, whatever) take the conversation as an affront. It’s not always clear what we’re supposed to do with the knowledge that we have these social privileges we didn’t ask for, whether we want them or not.
I’ve heard folks become defensive and say things like “are you telling me I should feel guilty for being white?” or “are you telling me I didn’t work for the things I have?”
And the answer is no, of course not. That’s not the point at all. The point is to recognize these structures, so that you can point them out and you can help level the playing field for everyone.
Had someone in that line objected, he probably would have been seen as just another angry black person. Had we objected, that would have been a whole different ball o’ wax. This video illustrates this nicely:
The right thing to do, had we recognized what was happening, would be to say “Excuse me, these people were in line first, why are you bringing us to the front?”
The wrong thing for us to do (which was what we did) was to be so unaware of what was happening that we simply allowed it to happen. The wrong thing for other people to do was to tell us that it never happened at all.
Of course, all this happens because racism is still a real and genuine thing, openly embraced by far more people than we are comfortable admitting (including, it must be said, a certain current Presidential candidate). Not everyone on Quora denied our experience. At least one person celebrated it. I’ll leave you with this gem:
In 1995, writer David Joiner coined a phrase that I think has not received nearly enough attention: “psychic litter.” In an issue of Wired magazine, Joiner defines it this way:
“Psychic Litter” is a term I coined to mean acts of immorality so small as to be below the level of consciousness. One example is wasting small amounts of the time of many people. Bruce Tognazzini, the user interface guru, once opined that by creating a product that wastes a half hour of time for each of 4 million users, you waste 900 work-years of human productivity. That works out to about 12 complete lives.
It seems appropriate that his 1995 example involved user interfaces, as the most glaring examples of psychic litter I’ve personally ever encountered invariably come from tech firms.
Consider this: Last night, I spent some hours combing through my hard drive with a fine-toothed comb in search of some missing gigabytes that, by all rights, ought to have been there. Imagine my surprise when I peeked into my Applications folder and saw this:
Yes, that’s Chrome, the Google Web browser. Yes, it is twenty gigabytes(!) in size. No, that’s not a disk directory error.
Chrome updates itself more or less constantly, all completely silently and in the background, without user notification. That’s fine, but it turns out that every time it updates itself, Chrome (the Mac version, anyway) keeps the old version stashed within itself.
On the Mac, applications are actually “bundles,” special directories that contain the executable code plus all its required libraries. That’s how the Mac has made itself immune to Windows DLL Hell and Linux dependency hell; apps are self-contained.
You can look inside an application bundle by right-clicking it and choosing Show Package Contents from the popup menu.
When you do that on Chrome, you will see a folder called Versions. This folder contains a complete copy of every single version of Chrome that has ever been updated on that computer.
Google Chrome is about 200 MB in size. When it updates, it eats another 200 MB of hard disk space. When it updates again, there’s another 200 MB gone. And another. And another. And another.
In my case, I’d been using Chrome since 2012, and those updates had swallowed up 20 GB of space.
This shows a profound contempt and disregard for the user’s hard drive space.
Right now, by default, a brand-new Macbook comes with 256 GB of Flash storage; an 11-inch Macbook Air, 128 GB. That means my copy of Chrome would devour 15% of a Macbook Air’s standard storage.
By way of comparison, the current Mac operating system takes about 8 GB of hard drive space. That means my copy of Chrome was more than twice the size of my operating system on disk.
The simplest solution is to periodically delete Chrome and download it again, which means you’re swapping prodigious waste of your hard disk space for slightly less prodigious waste of bandwidth. The real solution is for Silicon Valley to become more conscious of the impact of their behavior on their users.
It’s not just Silicon Valley, of course. Yesterday, I had to call Services Canada about getting a social insurance number. The phone number for Services Canada took me to a voice menu tree that had six minutes of talking before the menu options were presented, and did not permit me to skip that six minutes by pressing the right number even though I knew what it was. Worse, hitting the key to repeat the menu choices caused the system to recite all six minutes of recording before offering the menu prompts again.
The design of voice menu systems is a frequent source of psychic litter. The people who record these systems rarely think about how they will be used, and often show contempt for the time of those who use them.
I would like to propose a radical idea: Let us all, every day, consider the implications of all our actions on other people, even the actions that we normally don’t think about. We all often find ourselves doing things that touch large numbers of other people. Even small acts of indifference, when multiplied many times, add up. We can all seek to be more considerate of other people in small ways as well as large.
It’s a comment I see scattered far and wide across the Internetverse. In almost any conversation where some guy is complaining about his wife or girlfriend having male friends, inevitably someone else will ask, “don’t you trust her?” And inevitably, as sure as night follows day, he will say “Oh, I trust her, I just don’t trust other guys.”
Which, as near as I can tell, translates into English as “I don’t trust my girlfriend.” Because the only alternative reading I can see is far more horrifying.
First things first. Let’s call this what it is: an endorsement of the belief that what women want doesn’t matter.
“I trust my girlfriend.” I think my girlfriend wants to be faithful to me, wants to support me, wants to be with me. “I just don’t trust other guys.” Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what she wants. She’s not a man. It only matters what those other guys want.
There are a couple of ways to read this, one of them pretty messed up, the other one even more so.
The first, messed-up reading: My girlfriend wants to be with me and be faithful to me, but other guys don’t want her to be. Other guys will trick, persuade, cajole, or convince her to cheat on me. You know, because they’re guys and she’s a woman. Women are weak of will, incapable of holding out when faced with a determined guy who wants to seduce her.
The second, even more messed-up reading: My girlfriend wants to be with me and be faithful to me, but other guys don’t want her to be. They’ll just rape her. Because, you know, they’re guys, and that’s what guys do.
Regardless of the reading, the conclusion remains the same: Ergo, the thing I must do is prevent my woman from hanging out with other guys. Charmers or rapists, it doesn’t make any difference if she wants to be faithful to me; they want her, so they’re going to fuck her.
And that’s a whole world of messed up right there, it is.
Disempowering and infantilizing on the one hand, or implicitly supportive of rape culture on the other—there’s no interpretation that makes this idea smell any less bad.
So, I would like to have a word with all you men out there who have ever used this reasoning, thought about using this reasoning, or nodded in sympathetic agreement when someone else has this reasoning. I will try to put this as delicately as possible:
Cut it out. It’s bullshit.
“I trust you, but…” is just a way of saying “I don’t trust you.”
Look, I get it. It’s scary to trust someone else. When you do, you’re putting your heart in their hands and giving them a chance to let it shatter on the floor. You’re hoping they won’t drop it, knowing it will hurt if they do. I totally understand how scary that is.
But you can’t have it both ways.
If you trust your partner not to betray you, you have to have confidence that she won’t even if she has the opportunity to. And if you try to control her to prevent her from having the opportunity to hurt you, you don’t trust her.
This is not about other guys or what they want. It’s about her.
If you don’t think she can say “no” to a silver-tongued bloke with a huge, massive, throbbing bank account, you don’t trust her. If you trust her, it doesn’t matter what other men’s intentions are.
And if you assume as a given that other men who take an interest in your girlfriend will ignore her ‘no’ and just rape her, there’s a bigger problem than her fidelity. Perhaps it’s time to stand up, you know? And I don’t mean stand up to control your girlfriend. I mean stand up against the notion that it is in any way, shape, or form acceptable to assume that other men will not listen to her ‘no’ and there’s anything normal about that…because there isn’t.
“I trust my girlfriend. I just don’t trust other guys.” Basically, you’re saying your girlfriend’s desires don’t matter.
Is that really what you believe?
My hunch is that it’s not. My hunch is what you’re really saying is you think your girlfriend will choose to cheat, but you don’t want to say it because you understand what it might mean. You don’t trust her, and a healthy relationship can’t function without trust.
If you trust her, it doesn’t matter what other guys want. If you don’t trust her, have the courage to own it. But listen, all you other men out there, enough with the “I trust her, I don’t trust other guys” already.
Before I can really go into the things I want to talk about, I’ll need to offer you, dear readers, a bit of back story.
As many folks who’ve read this blog over the years know, I am, among many other things, a game designer. I’ve developed a game called Onyx, which I’ve maintained and sold since the mid-1990s. Onyx is a sex game. It’s designed for multiple players, who move around a virtual “game board” buying properties. When another player lands on your property, that player can pay rent or–ahem–work off the debt.
I sell Onyx on my Web site here. It’s lived there for many years, and for the past thirteen years or so, I’ve accepted credit card payments for the registered version of the game via a merchant account provider called Best Payment Solutions.
This past April, I received notification from Best Payment Solutions that they were terminating my account. They gave no reason, other than they “sometimes terminate accounts for risk reasons.” In the thirteen years I’d been with them, I’d only had one chargeback–a rather remarkable record I doubt few businesses can match. Didn’t matter.
I was told that BPS would no longer work with me, but their parent company, Vantiv, would be happy to give me a merchant account. Vantiv’s underwriters, I was told, had looked at my Web site and had no problem with its contents.
So i did the requisite paperwork, turned it all in, and…nothing. For weeks, during which time I was effectively out of business.
Then, four weeks later, I heard back from Vantiv. We’re so sorry, they said, we thought we could give you a merchant account, but we can’t. When I asked why, the only thing they would say was “risk reasons.”
Thus ensued a mad scramble to find a new merchant account underwriter, a process that’s normally very time-consuming and tedious. I finally found another underwriter, which I will decline to name for reasons that will become obvious once you read the rest of this post, and I’m back up and running again…but not before I was out of business for over a month.
Onyx registrations pay my rent, so as you might imagine, this has been a stressful time for me.
Okay, that’s the backstory. A sad tale of a merchant account underwriter that got cold feet for no clear reason, I thought. Annoying, yes, stressful, you bet. But one of those things that just kind of happens, right? Banks make business decisions all the time. So it goes.
It turns out, though, that I’m not the only one this has happened to. Indeed, it’s happened to lots and lots of people. The same pattern, across different businesses and different merchant account providers: A business receives a sudden notification that their merchant account (or in some cases, their business checking account) is being terminated. When they ask why, no answer beyond “risk reasons” is forthcoming. Porn performers, payday loan services, dating sites, fireworks sellers, porn producers, travel clubs…it’s a very specific list of folks who are having this problem. And, not surprisingly, there’s a reason for it.
The reason is the Department of Justice, which for the past couple of years has undertaken a project they call Operation Choke Point.
The goal of Operation Choke Point is to pressure businesses in morally objectionable fields out of business, by leaning on the banks that provide services to those businesses. If you can’t get banking or credit card services, the reasoning goes, you can’t stay in business. So the DoJ is approaching commercial banks, telling them to close accounts for individuals and businesses in “objectionable” industries.
It should be noted that the businesses being targeted are not breaking the law. Lawful businesses and individuals are losing access to lawful services because the government objects to them on moral grounds.
The banks being pressured to close accounts are reticent about talking about it; however, one business owner, whose instincts were in the right place, apparently managed to get a recording of a phone call in which his merchant account processor (EFT) told him they were pressured by the government to close the account. His recording has made it to a Congressional hearing looking into the program. (Some banks have reported being told that they would be investigated for racketeering if they failed to close accounts belonging to targeted businesses, despite the fact that the targeted businesses are acting lawfully.)
There’s a backlash brewing. Congress is starting to hold hearings about businesses targeted without due process. The DoJ has backtracked. The FDIC, which was involved in pressuring banks to terminate targeted businesses, has reversed course. All that is good. And yet…and yet…
I can’t help but think the backlash isn’t because people really believe the program was wrong, but rather because it included one industry that is considered politically sacrosanct by the Obama administration’s opponents: guns.
In addition to adult businesses, Operation Choke Point targeted small gun and ammo retailers. And there’s a small, cynical voice inside my head that whispers, if they had contented themselves with going after people like me–people who make or sell things related to sex–would anyone have cared? The right-wing blogosphere is filled with angry rants about Operation Choke Point, as well it should be…but none of the angry rants mention adult businesses or porn. They all focus on guns. And I just really can’t make myself believe that the people rising up against the program have my interests at heart. If it were just me, I believe we wouldn’t hear a peep out of them.
Don’t get me wrong–for once in my life, I’m glad the Republicans are taking action about something. But I hold no illusions that next time, they will still have my back.
By the time all was said and done, I lost somewhere around $700 from the problems I had. Not a lot, really, in the scheme of things, though I did have to scramble to make rent this month. It could have been worse.
I know there are a lot of folks in various adult-related businesses who read my blog. I’d really love to hear from you guys. Has this happened to you, or anyone you know? What was the outcome? Let me know!
Yesterday, my partner zaiah and I drove her car home. This was a major milestone in a saga that began with Jiffy Lube, a tale of mechanical incompetence, corporate irresponsibility, and a four thousand dollar oil change.
Let’s say you saw an offer on TV: Jiffy Lube will change your car’s oil for a mere $3,975 for an oil change! Before you say “no,” wait! With this special offer, the oil change will only take 46 days! You’ll have your car back before you know it!
Of course, they didn’t advertise it that way. They claimed the oil change would only be twenty-nine bucks.
It all started last August. My partner took her Chevy Tracker, an eminently practical car with plenty of room to take the poodles to the dog park, in to Jiffy Lube because you’re supposed to change your oil regularly. We went to the one at at 10227 NE Halsey in Portland, Oregon. It’s an unimpressive-looking place, even by the standards of oil change places:
Doesn’t really look like the city’s epicenter of gross incompetence, does it?
Changing the oil in a car is not an intellectually challenging task. It’s not like they were trying to, say, land a probe on a comet 317,000,000 miles away or anything like that. The procedure is well-documented and almost simple enough for your dog to do it, if your dog had hands and an attention span longer than five minutes. You drain the oil, put more oil in, take off the oil filter (this is the most challenging part of the whole operation), and replace it with a new one. Cooking spaghetti and meatballs is, in all seriousness, a more cognitively challenging task.
They did this, but got a bit hung up on the last step, the bit where you put a new oil filter on. The person1 who performed this entire challenging operation neglected to notice that the gasket wasn’t properly seated on the filter. That, as it turns out, is kind of important.
For the next couple of months, the Tracker stayed in the driveway, rarely being used except to take the dogs to the dog park. All seemed well, until October 19, when zaiah took the car to Washington State, the first long-distance trip she had made since the oil change.
All was good right up until the moment there was a loud “bang!” and the engine stopped turning. Just like that, in the middle of the road in rural Washington. Naturally, because this is often the way of things, there was no town around for miles.
So she called for a tow, because the car sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere under its own power, and had the car hauled to the nearest small town. She stayed in a cheap motel and the next day had the car brought to a mechanic, whereupon she discovered three rather unpleasant things.
First, there was a hole about the size of a fifty-cent piece all the way through the engine block, where a vital bit of the engine’s interior had decided it was tired of its career as a part of the engine’s interior and it wanted to become exterior.
Second, there was no oil in the car, hence the interior bit traveling from the inside of the engine to the outside of the engine with enough vigor to punch right through the engine block.
Third, well…remember the part where I said the gasket wasn’t seated on the oil filter correctly? The reason that turns out to be kind of important is the gasket is the bit that keeps the oil from pouring out of the engine and onto the road under high pressure.
The mechanic looked at the oil filter, and the telltale smear of oil that had flowed out of the filter all over the engine, nodded, and said “yep, here’s your problem.” He took off the filter and pointed to a trail of little tiny bits of metal under the gasket. “Those used to be part of the engine,” he said. “See how the bits of metal are under the gasket? That’s where the oil was leaking. It’s like a trail of cookie crumbs, from the jar to your four-year-old’s bed. Not too hard to figure out what happened.”
Mmm, cookie crumbs. Honey bits o’ engine part.
She ended up spending two more nights in that town, while the mechanic called around for a new engine and put together a jaw-dropping estimate to replace it. Given that the repair was likely to take a week at the least, not counting the time to, you know, find a new engine on account of ’cause the old one had a hole in it, and given that staying in this quaint and no doubt charming but still quite distant little town was apt to create logistical problems re: the entire rest of her life, she rented a U-Haul with a car carrier to bring the car back to Portland.
I’d say that’s when the fun started, but in this tale the fun never starts.
The first thing we did when she got back home was get in touch with Jiffy Lube Corporate, who handed us off to the local Jiffy Lube franchise owner, the dudebro who owns the rather sad-looking commercial establishment pictured above.
The second thing we did was take the car to a Portland mechanic. He looked at the car, looked at the filter, nodded wisely, and said, “yep, here’s your problem, bum oil filter gasket. See all the little slivers of metal under the gasket here? Those are bits of your engine. You can tell the oil was leaking here because–” and we said “trail of cookie crumbs, four-year-old’s bed, yeah, we know.”
He gave us an equally eyewatering estimate to replace the engine. He also told us he sees occasional cars pass through his shop with engines wrecked by improper oil changes from commercial oil-change places, which is something I would not have guessed. Live and learn, I suppose. Apparently, the training, quality control, and meticulous attention to detail that so characterizes the rest of American industry is conspicuous in its absence from the oil-change trade.
Anyway, he started calling around for a replacement engine, and we started talking to the owner of the Jiffy Lube franchise, a bloke named Shawn Corno. Mr. Corno had us jump through a lot of hoops, sending him a written statement from the mechanic as to the cause of the disaster, an itemized estimate of the repair costs, and so on. Now, from one perspective, this all makes sense, I suppose; it’s necessary to keep innocent oil change places from being hit with false bills from, I don’t know, the roving bands of mercenary con-artists who deliberately wreck engines and then charge other people for replacing them or something.
In any event, after several go-rounds with Mr. Corno, he finally sent us this email:
Thank you for providing the documents I requested in regards to this claim, after digging into this a little bit further there’s a few things that just don’t work out, one if the filter was Miss installed the vehicle would’ve had issues far before the amount of miles and time that have gone bye, based on these facts Jiffy Lube is denying liability of your claim.
All spelling and capitalization verbatim.
In Mr. Corno’s world, it seems, defective oil filters all come fitted with a Mission-Impossible style countdown timer featuring a built-in timer that displays how much time is left before they destroy the engine. In this world, an employee who fits an engine with a defective oil filter starts the countdown timer before he closes the hood, so it just stands to reason that if someone calls with a ruined car after the normal time that one might set this countdown timer for, it must not have been ruined by the oil filter!
This is what a defective oil filter looks like, in Jiffy Lube-land.
Now, in real life, as opposed to the weird fairy-tale world of spies and countdown timers inhabited by Mr. Corno, there are many factors that might influence how much time passes between the moment a bad filter is installed on an engine and the moment when the parts inside the engine become the parts outside the engine. Like, say, the fact that the car spends most of its time parked in a driveway. Or the fact that things went kablooey the very first time the car was taken onto the freeway after the oil change.
I’m not suggesting, of course, that there is anything wrong with Mr. Corno’s calculations about how long should elapse between an oil change and the complete destruction of the engine, oh dear me no. I’m sure they are highly advanced and based on careful research, rather than simply being an excuse not to have to pay for the problem he caused. Perish the very thought that he might have been blowing a lot of smoke because he didn’t want to pay for something. There’s never been a time in all human history that someone has lied to get out of paying for some disaster or other they might have caused, and shame on you for thinking otherwise.
We finally got the car back yesterday. The total repair bill looked something like this:
New engine, plus labor to replace said: $3,100.
Tow from rural Nowherestan to the closest town: $390. (With roadside assistance. The bill without it would have been enough to choke a billygoat at five hundred paces.)
Motel, for three nights: $200.
U-Haul to tow the car back to Portland: $285.
Total cost: $3,975, not including the initial $29 for the oil change and filter.
Jiffy Lube is proving intractable. Jiffy Lube Corporate has insisted the responsibility lies with the franchise owner, but has invited us to fill out a customer care survey to let them know how they’re doing. (Here’s a hint, guys: YOU’RE DOING A CRAPPY JOB.)
Mr. Corno, the franchise owner, is sticking with his Mission Impossible Oil Filter Countdown Timer Scenario, insisting that if the filter were defective it would have shown up sooner, regardless of how often the car was used.
In the meantime, ended up stuck with $4,000 in bills just before Christmas, something that does to one’s Christmas spirit what a pail of cold water does to one’s mood when one is…well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.
A few days ago, this showed up in the mail:
I’ll get right on that, you gormless muppets.
Happy New Year. Fuck you, Jiffy Lube. Fuck you in your stupid ear with a jagged metal dildo. And barbed wire.
If you want to get your car changed. go somewhere else. Anywhere else. Hire Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel to come change your oil for you. Have your car flown to whatever factory it came from. Either of those options will be cheaper than Jiffy Lube.
1 I’m assuming it was a person, and not a trained dog genetically modified to have hands. I have no evidence this is the case.