In Rage Against The Outrage Machine, published by The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf industriously picks apart the umbrage taken against an article by George Will published in The Washington Post titled, “Colleges become the victims of progressivism.”
In his article, Will puts forward the notion that colleges are “conferring privilege” (Will’s words) – perhaps in the form of delayed deadlines, etc – not just to people who have been subject to victimization, but also effectively what amount to “victimization fraudsters.” (my choice of words).
Friedersdorf’s follow up is in response to the blowback Will received – requests that he be fired, have his column dropped, amongst others. His article is a technical critique of the blowback, which he claims mischaracterized Will’s argument as an accusation that people are desirous of becoming victims (of rape in particular) in order to gain “privileged status.” This would be a shocking and base argument, and Friedsersdorf attempts to tease apart the article to show that this was not what Will said, with the caveat that he still disagrees with much of what Will does say.
I recommend reading the linked articles, as their reading serves as a good backdrop for the rest of this post.
I have obvious problems with the first article, but the second article initially just stirred a sort of unease. I knew there was something wrong, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was. In the course of trying to compose a tweet, then two, then five in response to the person who linked the article, I started to figure out what the problem was, and that turned into this blog post.
Friedsersdorf’s article is an excellent reference illustrating how people (including myself) are confused and frustrated at much of the related dialog occurring in the tech industry (for the last few months in particular), and also how we basically “don’t get it.”
The most obvious problem in Will’s article is that it leaves no reasonable solution to this supposed victimization fraud. Victims of abuse are both vulnerable and afraid, complete and unquestioning support is the only reasonable thing to offer, and placing any roadblocks in front of that may be extremely damaging to the majority who need real help.
Much of the rest of Will’s article largely boils down to wry invective, the thrust of which is either directed at Big Government or the usual, dismissible, finger wagging of a curmudgeon at the youth of today.
However, there is an insidious vein running through these sorts of screeds that raises suspicion about women’s motivations (what in other scenarios might sound like a fundamental attribution error) which fails to account for the broader social context they exist in.
Friedersdorf too, while well intentioned, fails to grasp that the offense is not at this particular article, but at all articles like this that scrutinize red herrings while neglecting the epidemic. It is the frustration that every single mind won over is a long uphill battle against deeply entrenched biases whose owners are frequently completely oblivious of them.
That Will chose to enter a powder keg discussion waving a match of sloppy prose, and thereby encouraging misreadings, is his own fault.
This leads to the critical thing missing in much of the “rational”, can’t-we-just-be-friends-and-talk-about-this-without-shouting? camps of discussion around equality and diversity. It is that they are either unaware or have not entirely grasped the concept that equality is a movement, not a debate.
Not only is it a movement, but it is a movement whose goal is to equalize the imbalance of power between genders that has existed since, well, forever. That is a radical shift in human society. Some people are, pretty understandably, getting sick of waiting for the wheels of civil discourse to fix things when things are untenable right now.
In this light, it’s easy to see why people are angry. In this light, people like George Will look like someone mooning at trench soldiers from the sidelines. If they get hit in the crossfire, so be it.
This also helps to explain why positions like Friedersdorf’s are often either ignored or treated with exasperation by the equality movement. If you’re not on the receiving end of a persistent injustice, it is difficult to truly empathize, even if you sympathize. When it comes to a movement, you’re sort of either in or out.