The latest satanic panic — rape

Fredrik deBoer gainsays Adam Kotsko‘s assertion that the left‘s response to the right‘s outrage against Lena Dunham‘s supposed molestation of her sister is a symptom of an irresolvable intra-progressive problem. Here’s what deBoer quoted from Kotsko:

I have started to notice how often politically-charged online memes open out onto a “no-win vortex.” Take the example of the cat-calling video. On the one hand, it calls attention to street harrassment, which is a very real problem. On the other hand, it was edited in a racist way in the service of a gentrification campaign. How does one respond? It seems that no matter which direction you go, someone loses — you either wind up downplaying the destructiveness of racism and gentrification or dismissing the seriousness of the atmosphere of harrassment that women have to navigate.

The same goes for the Lena Dunham affair. On the one hand, I’m shocked that anyone on the left would buy into the framing of a right-wing smear campaign that is structurally identical to the “moral panics” that legitimate homophobia (and, even worse, that trivializes real child sexual abuse). On the other hand, though, I don’t want to dismiss black women’s very justified critique of white feminists who claim to speak for all women while ignoring black women’s very existence. They may be jumping on this because they previously disliked and distrusted Lena Dunham — but we can’t ignore that they had excellent, indisputable reasons to dislike and distrust her. And much of what they’ve said about how Dunham gets the benefit of the doubt while a black child would be painted as a monster is sadly true. Simply responding that no child should be painted as a monster seems a little too easy.

I have genuine progressive sympathies. It’s pretty easy to miss – progressivism is hip and I love playing the devil’s advocate. Just like progressives, I want to live in a more just, more inclusive world where less people get hurt and more  people see a rise in quality of life. The distinction between myself and progressives is the is a distinction between things that lead to good results, the truth, and things that sound good, the narrative.

Being a white male sends deBoer into that kind of nebbish, sweaty hand-wringing. He points out the folly of white male social justice types:

But we also have the hammer, and it’s pretty much the only one people like Kotsko have to wield: my opponents are White Dudes! Now, the shrewd type might point out that, contrary to the cultural expectation in the Grand Progressive Mutual Admiration Society in the Cloud, saying “you don’t have the credibility to argue that” is not actually an example of rebutting that argument. And a really observant soul might notice that Kotsko himself is a White Dude. (I would actually increase the number of capitals for Kotsko, like, WhItE DUde, personally.) Ah, but you see, when Kotsko critiques White Dudeism, he does so from the premise that he is exempt from that critique. He is writing about Those Other White Dudes. Actually, it goes further than that: he is critiquing white dudes precisely because, in so doing, he sets himself outside of that group. It’s an act of pure preemption. The same old question applies: if engaging in these political discourses didn’t end up with you positioned as the righteous exception to the immoral rule, would you bother? If your arguments didn’t amount to a wriggling out of the very critique that you’re making, would you still make them?

Seems about right. There is bound to be endemic grandstanding in the circle that is the confluence of radical chic, academia, and Hollywood. With no apparent self-awareness, deBoer, who just spent one thousand words slamming Kotsko for playing that tired progressive signaling game, is now doing the exact same thing. He uses the term “white dude” in various ways, all of which are supposed to appear endearing, so as to signal that he is higher in the progressive pecking order because of just how savvy he is of the “white dudeness” of others and himself. Where normally the best move would be stating a good progressive opinion, the winning move here is to not play. By recusing himself from weighing in on certain issues that white dudes shouldn’t be allowed to weigh in on, he separates himself from Those Other White Dudes that don’t know when to shut the hell up. Winning points has nothing to do with dialogue. It has everything to do with the shutting down of dialogue.

I think I have stumbled upon what must be the original meaning of “political correctness.” Today’s usage usual means “oversensitivity,” but that’s not the usage that is meaningful here. More in line with the actual two words,  the relevant usage is when it refers to something that correctly fits a political narrative. White males can, perhaps by accident, make insightful and factually correct commentary on progressive issues. But, as deBoer explains, they cannot make politically correct commentary on such an issue. The practical truths of reality and the political truths demanded by the progressive narrative are two very different things.
What made this all the more interesting was the recent doubt cast on Lena Dunham’s rape claims by Breitbart. Just as with the UVA rape hysteria, every single dominant cultural institution assumed that it must have been true. That’s just the proper way to do things; desire for a clear picture of facts borders on rape apologia. According to those who don’t understand that the world operates by the machinery of incentives, there’s no reason that a woman would claim to be a victim of rape when no such rape occurred.

From the actual facts that have surfaced, there was no mustachioed white male Republican with a deep voice that raped Lena Dunham. That it never occurred happens to be irrelevant – the facts only makes it factually incorrect. The character in the story being a mustachioed white male Republican is politically correct.

After all, WhItE DUdes, (LOL) particularly the ones of the Republican strain, are evildoers – but it’s not exactly their fault. Rather than having indeterminate chains of circumstances causing their individuals actions, the the behavior of White Dudes comes as aggregates of a power and privilege. To put it another way, there are no individual rapists, there is only oppression, and oppression can only be expressed by the right kind of person.

If we cut through this nauseating dance-off of white guys tripping over each other to appear the least-white-or-maybe-just-the-most-aware-of-whiteness, a system of ideas comes into focus.  Fredrik deBoer explained that the wrong kind of person isn’t allowed to talk about certain things. Social justice progressivism operates under a system of non-dialogue permissions of which voices have authority, moral or otherwise:

  • Breitbart is a right-wing news source. Zero moral authority.
  • Adam Kotsko is a white progressive that isn’t like those other ones. Some moral authority.
  • Fredrik deBoer is a white progressives who isn’t like those ones that claim to not be like the other ones. Moderate moral authority.
  • Lena Dunham and “Jackie” are women that claim to be victims of the Great Enemy as identified by progressivism. Inexhaustible moral authority.

People with such authority need to buy into the correct kind of smear campaign. Recall the quote from Kotsko. He uses the term “moral panic” to describe the Lena Dunham molestation freakout:

On the one hand, I’m shocked that anyone on the left would buy into the framing of a right-wing smear campaign that is structurally identical to the “moral panics” that legitimate homophobia (and, even worse, that trivializes real child sexual abuse).

Kotsko, our second-tier white male progressive, is shocked that the left would buy into a moral panic! Maybe he missed the memo, but there is currently a moral panic about rape in the United States reminiscent of the satanic panic of the 80s. You know, when confused kids were egged on by paranoid, agenda-pushing parties to tell ludicrous stories where satanic cults ritually molested them. For a time, everyone believed the children, because children don’t lie about being victims. Similarly, the left is reluctant to ever believe that a woman would trivialize real rape by telling falsehood, even when a less-than-stable person could be pressured by activists to for the expediency of a political movement. Add the politically charged points of campus rape, white male rape, and fraternity rape, and you have yourself a bowl of moral panic soup. Fact checking doesn’t make sense here, since there are already fact-shaped grooves that the story details merely need to lock into: privileged white males have power. Therefore, they commit outrageous acts of rape. Women don’t have power, so when they talk about instances of power manifesting as rape, you don’t even need facts to know that it’s true.

So, which instance of rape hysteria is  “structurally identical” to moral panics? When the right accused Lena Dunham of raping her sister? Or when Breitbart (read: the right) found the facts of Lena Dunham’s rape accusation against a white man to be lacking? We’re supposed to forget about one but not the other. The former is the right being crazy again and devaluing genuine instances of rape in the process. The latter is an unexplainable anomaly that seems to defy the laws of reality, so we should just forget about it. Non-dialogue is necessary when facts complicate the world.

This disjunction of narrative truth and practical truth led to a media fiasco, but the narrative won’t change. Progressivism has pathological blindness to facts depending on the identities of the involved parties, including those making commentary. The important thing about getting people to believe your story and getting ahead in the progressive signaling race is being savvy to the system of permissions. False rape accusations are insidious moral panics when white males say a female is lying about rape. False rape accusations are neutral at worst when a female falsely accuses a white male and then freaking Breitbart sounds off about it.


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