I seem to have missed this in recent days. I was wondering what the sudden popularity of the neologism “incels” (involuntary celebates, or – typically – dateless and un-date-able guys) was about.
I knew that the Toronto vehicle-violence attacker went after mostly women, and seemed to have a beef with them. But I hadn’t heard about “Sex Redistribution Professor.” Apparently, he speculated that society might need to develop social methods of what he called “redistributing sex” – something that, in the dark ages of human history before about 1970, was thought of as regulating it through socially constructive moral attitudes and institutions.
The professor, an economist, doesn’t seem to have offered a moral or social-institutional program to flesh out his musings. He just threw something out there.
“Redistribution” has a well-understood meaning in the lexicon of his academic tribe – and for many vocational economists, I venture to think, the mental feel of it is more statistical than emotional. It’s not about Lenin’s famous “Kto, kogo?” dynamic – “who’s doing what to whom?” – but more about “what does the distribution chart say?” Professors at George Mason University are probably more inclined than others to eschew the Leninist perspective.
I don’t actually think distribution charts are a very useful way to approach human problems. But more to the point here, the modern left sees everything in Lenin’s “Kto, kogo?” terms. And so, of course, when Professor Robin Hanson threw his sparky, half-formed thought out there, the immediate thought-ripples from it were about who would have to do what to whom – let’s be clear: what men would have to do to women – to “redistribute sex.”
It would be possible to toss this idea around and come to all kinds of conclusions about it, including that it’s a stupid and unproductive way of framing a point, and we vote thumbs down. It’s also a very fair point that speculating about “redistributing sex” is a jarring contribution after a guy has just killed 10 people by hitting them with a van.
I can see dismissing such a formulation out of hand, as not worth burdening anyone’s already anguished spirit with. Tuning out people’s jarring, often thoughtless words is a really useful skill.
But that’s not how progressive society rolls. For progressivism, it’s about going after the person who had the unsanctioned thought. Being ruled by “Kto, kogo” means never having to content yourself with arguing against someone’s idea. Countering the idea is secondary to hounding the idea-haver with a catechism, the length of which is proportionate to how hard it is to get the idea-haver to go craven and start back-pedaling.
So Professor Hanson was interviewed for Slate. There are some 4,200 words racked up; this brief excerpt gives just a little of the flavor:
I think that when a lot of people hear the phrase men’s rights activists, though, they associate it with a certain kind of misogyny. Can you see why some people would feel suspect of someone who says hey, “I’m a fan of the men’s right’s movement?”
So, I have a book out recently co-authored with Kevin Simler called The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, which is about why we’re not fully aware of many of our motives. One of the chapters is on politics. …
Do you think the men’s movement has a misogyny problem, and a violence problem, at this point?
I’m not close enough to it to really know much about the different subgroups, and their affiliations, and their pattern. …
But your stance is that when you think they have a point, you’re happy to think about it and discuss it?
In general, as you probably know, people like myself think abstractly and write abstractly. …
So is that what you did here? You saw a news hook.
Right. I said, “Oh, look, here’s an excuse to talk about a subject I’ve talked about many times before because it’s in the news.”
Oof, I gotta tell you man, as a journalist, I understand the impulse. As a reader, it didn’t strike me as the best time to launch into a sympathetic take on sexually frustrated men given that one had just mowed down 10 people with a van.
Alternative headline: “Guy is interrogated at length over why he said something.”
Interesting thought: what if other people don’t owe us exhaustive explanations for every word we disagree with? Imagine a world, at any rate.
A world in which there is a third alternative between (a) agreeing and (b) ginning up 4,200 words of relentless, probing inquisition over unsanctioned thought? That’s the world of (c) tolerance.
It’s also a world in which we can focus on positive ideas, rather than policing the streets for negative ones. We’ll never stamp them all out, after all. In fact, the more brain space we give them, for any purpose, the more depressed and pessimistic we get.
Conversely, nothing drives a bad idea out as effectively as a good one.
I’m glad the Slate writer took the trouble to learn that Robin Hanson doesn’t feel obligated to not speak abstractly because he might be misunderstood. That seems like a step forward. Mind-opening. There’s another way to think, other than going in defensive terror about how others will interpret our thoughts.
The counterpoint that we are wise to consider how other people will react to our words is also valid. But it’s also situational; and human maturity and social peace are about reconciling these two concepts – not about choosing one or the other, and then grilling each other to exhaustion over our situational choices.
The latter is basically playground morality. Remaining under its spell doesn’t have a good record of regulating social interaction. There are better things to do with our hearts and minds.