As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t done any posting for a couple of months now. (Though I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest if you hadn’t noticed because hopefully I’m not that important/arrogant). I’ve recently resumed my love-hate relationship with trawling through the cesspit that is gender politics on the Internet, and I must say the hiatus from writing has led to me gazing upon this quagmire with fresh eyes. It’s raised a lot of new and exciting questions in my tiny woman’s brain, but the one that keeps cropping up again and again is “How are people this fucking stupid?”
OK, perhaps that’s a little unfair. Far be it from me to arbitrate what is and is not a stupid opinion. A better way of putting it would be “How do so many people manage to convince themselves of the rightness of their own perspectives in the face of overwhelming opinions and evidence to the contrary?” You know the type of thing I mean. People who still think that climate change is a leftist conspiracy; or that white people are actually biologically superior to people of other races; or that women are incapable of rational thought; or that the only men who are ‘real’ men are those who pop bottles, fuck models and hate the gayz. Some people manage to maintain these beliefs in spite of the fact that the vast majority of popular opinion – and quite often a wealth of scientific proof – suggests that those beliefs are batshit crazy at worst, and worthy of rethinking at best.
Now I’m a big fan in believing in your own convictions, of not having your values and opinions dictated to you by your peers or by what’s popular. But if I was repeatedly hit with the message that my opinion on something was wrong, I would at least take the time to evaluate their criticisms and my own beliefs. I might not change them in the end, but I wouldn’t clap my hands to my ears and run away screaming about how everyone else is a big fat liar with cooties – which is basically the equivalent of what many people on the Interwebs seem to do. But strangely enough, there is method in the madness; or rather, there’s a few clearly identifiable phenomena which can help explain how these people are able to maintain that their beliefs are not only right, but also rational.
Ever heard the quote “One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic”? Well, I stole it from this awesome Cracked article, which does a great job of explaining how much of the shittiness of human behaviour can be put down to something called the Monkeysphere. If you can’t be bothered reading the article (I mean, it is two whole pages), the basic idea is that humans have a finite number of people whom the can actually think of as ‘people’ – real people with emotions and needs and personalities and valid thoughts. For most of us, that number is about 150; everyone outside of that is kind of a blur, they don’t rate as real human beings to us. This is why we grieve for months when a relative dies, but often don’t shed a tear when we hear of the deaths of hundreds of strangers – the relative is ‘real’, the strangers don’t truly exist for us. It’s not a question of being an asshole, it’s just that our evolved monkey brains literally cannot cope with caring about the lives and thoughts of more than 150 other human beings.
There is, however, a distinctly asshole-ish dimension to the Monkeysphere. Because the fact is, the 150 people you care about as real people are also the 150 human beings whose opinions you’re likely to listen to. Now in the ye olde days, the 150 people in your Monkeysphere were most likely to be your family and the people who lived close to you. Even if you lived in a very homogenous community, you probably had a reasonable diversity of perspectives. And if you started doing or saying something that almost everyone else told you was stupid, then you would probably listen to them because you valued their opinions as the constituents of your Monkeysphere. You didn’t have the capacity to easily reach out to other perspectives that reinforced your own, so you were more likely to listen to opinions that contradicted your views because you literally had no other option.
And then, there was the Internet. With the touch of a button, people around the world are able to connect instantaneously, share ideas and feel like they’re part of a like-minded community. For the most part this is great, but sometimes it’s kind of really awful. Why? Because it means you can easily cultivate a Monkeysphere filled entirely with people who agree with your views. Imagine that you are the only one in your circle of friends and workmates who thinks the Jewish Conspiracy is a real thing. Rather than listening to the people physically around you who contradict your opinion, you can dive head-first into the Internet and you are dead set certain to find at least a few other people who share your ideas. The more like-minded people you find, the easier it is for you to replace the members of your Monkeysphere who don’t agree with you with new people who accept your views. This doesn’t mean that you turn into a sociopath who doesn’t care about friends and family. It just means that when it comes to a particular issue, you stop thinking about people who disagree with you as real people. Their opinions are less worthwhile, their perspectives less real, because you are surrounded by an online community of people who constantly reinforce that your own view is the right one. To quote this radsauce article by another brilliant Cracked writer, Soren Bowie…
“Their online communities have acted as breeding grounds of misinformation, turning the private suspicions of a few idiots into full-blown beliefs. They aren’t communities so much as they are just wads of people all perpetuating each other’s unhealthy mentalities.”
See, it’s fine to discuss an issue with people who share your opinions. But if the views of those who agree with you are literally the only opinions you listen to, then we have a problem. You don’t get any diversity of viewpoints, and more importantly you don’t get any alternative information. It breeds the tendency to ignore or distrust ideas and evidence that contradicts your beliefs, and that process is made infinitely easier when you have a whole online community of people reinforcing that your suspicion is valid and your beliefs are righteous. However, completely writing off alternative viewpoints is not a simple matter of refusing to read comments by people you don’t like. There are a couple of commonly (and often unconsciously) employed tactics that people use to ‘legitimately’ disregard the opinions of others.
The Galileo Complex
“While Galileo was a rebel, not all rebels are Galileo.” – Norman Levitt
This is probably one of the greatest quotes of all time, and it perfectly sums up one of the most face-palmy, cringeworthy behaviours on the Internet. When an individual holds one view and the majority of society holds another, most rational people would take that as a sign that perhaps their own ideas could be at least partially wrong. But some people appear to have what I like to call the ‘Galileo Complex’ – they think that society telling them they’re wrong is irrefutable proof that they are, in fact, right. The logic behind this is that various famous people (most notably Galileo Galilei) have held beliefs that have utterly contradicted the status quo, and that such people have often been punished and ostracised for maintaining their convictions in the face of societal opposition. But in the end, of course, they were proved right – they were men (and women, but strangely enough women are usually omitted from this rationale) who were ahead of their time, visionaries who could see the truth that others were too blind and obedient to notice.
There are a few problems with this one. The first is that, assuredly, there have been men and women throughout history who have been trailblazers of thought and innovation, and who have suffered as a result. And yes, sometimes the ideas and beliefs of these people have fostered widespread social change that has ultimately had positive consequences – think Martin Luther King Jr., Eddie Mabo, Emmeline Pankhurst and, of course, Galileo. But for the hundreds of people throughout history who have stood against the majority and been proved right, there are millions who did the same and were proved wrong. Medical history alone is littered with individuals who believed they had found a ‘miracle cure’ for various illnesses. A great recent example is the controversy over the supposed links between vaccines and autism; individuals such as former surgeon Andrew Wakefield and self-styled “mother warrior” Jenny McCarthy (vomit) continue to insist that vaccinating children can cause autism, despite the fact that there is no conclusive evidence to support this and a wealth of studies to contradict it. They and others insist the lack of evidence is a combination of stubbornness and conspiracy from the medical-industrial complex, and in doing so have caused considerable harm to countless children who have since succumbed to illnesses that could easily have been prevented by vaccination. If everyone is telling you you’re wrong, then there is of course a slim chance that you’re actually right – but it’s far, far more likely that you are not. And interpreting widespread opposition as proof that you are definitely right is just too fucking stupid for words.
The flip-side of this, of course, is that if what is unpopular is good, then everything that is popular must be bad. Any belief that is held by the majority of people must be wrong, either because everyone else has been brainwashed or because anyone who doesn’t think like you is just stupid. This is particularly prevalent in certain parts of the manosphere; there’s reams of comments from guys lamenting how every aspect of modern culture is totally rubbish, and how things were so much better “in my father’s day”. Apparently there are scores of men out there wanking themselves into a coma over their own refusal to be ‘brainwashed’ by mainstream culture. There is, of course, absolute validity in the desire not to conform, especially for the sheer sake of conforming. But it’s rather different to act like anyone who does conform to what’s widely socially acceptable in any way, only does so because they’re too stupid to know any better. Just because lots of people like something, that doesn’t preclude that something from also being good and valid. And banging on about how everyone else is just “too mainstream” to deal with your radical beliefs makes you sound like the kind of gloomy teenager who jacks off to ‘Catcher in the Rye’.
Another problem is that some people with a Galileo Complex don’t really seem to understand the concept of innovation. See, the thing about a lot of these trailblazing individuals was that the ideas the fought and sometimes died for, were new. They were different, they raised concepts that had been previously unheard of (such as racial equality); or else those that had been lost centuries ago (such as democracy). The novelty of their ideas made them frightening, but society inexorably changes and (for the most part) moves forward – and this is why these people were ultimately vindicated. They were genuine visionaries, it just took a while for everyone else to catch up. But most people using this rationale today are the complete opposite – their ideas are not new at all. Nor are they so ancient that they have been lost and forgotten. For the most part, they are the beliefs of 40, 60 or even 100 years ago – beliefs in racial superiority, in the ‘rightful place’ of men and women, in government and ethnic conspiracies that have been around for decades. Their only claim to rebelliousness lies in their flat refusal to let go of these ideas. I’m no fan of progress for its own sake, but I also don’t believe in the maxim of “We should keep doing this thing because it’s the thing we used to do before.” Their beliefs are rejected not because they’re new and frightening, but because they’re tired and outdated. They often claim that the masses aren’t ready for the truth they see, but the fact is that society left their ideas behind a long time ago.
But perhaps my biggest problem with this is the sheer arrogance of it. How far up your own arse do you have to be to think that you, and perhaps a select few other special individuals, can see through the matrix when nobody else can? That only you and your compatriots can see the lies and manipulations that all the other sheep are subjected to, and that you alone have the solution? Self-belief is a great thing, but one of the smartest things anyone can do is realise that they’re not any smarter or wiser than most other people on the planet. If you’re sufficiently conceited to refer to yourself as distinct from “the masses”, you’re officially a colossal fucking asshole.
No True Scotsman
Ah, the last and in many ways the greatest. The ‘No True Scotsman’ technique is a logical fallacy, in which one constantly shifts the goalpoasts for what constitutes a ‘true’ or ‘pure’ example and thereby avoids having to deal with the flaws in their own argument. The original example is as follows:
“No Scotsman likes sugar on his porridge.”
“I’m a Scotsman, and I like sugar on my porridge.”
“No true Scotsman likes sugar on his porridge!”
It’s the ultimate way of getting out of the fact that your own logic has just been proven totally wrong by a real-life example. Often it’s not done in quite such a direct way. Perhaps my favourite example is one I see often on ROK; some bloke will put up something about how men don’t like women with short hair or tattoos. Then a woman will post up that she has short hair and/or tattoos, and also has a male partner. The man (or often numerous men) will respond that her boyfriend must be a ‘beta’, or secretly gay, or pussy-whipped, or that he has some other sort of ‘un-masculine’ flaw that makes her own example invalid. Her partner is not a ‘true’ man, so the argument stands in spite of blatant evidence of its inaccuracy.
But you see this sort of shit all the time. Real men like curves. Real women have curves. Real men open doors. Real gay/lesbian people can’t be bisexual. Real women want children. Real men love sports. Real women want careers. Real men don’t eat quiche. On a larger scale, it makes the validity of a person’s opinion and their relevance to the discussion conditional on fulfilling the criteria for what is ‘true’. Criteria which are set entirely by the person who made the original assertion, and are frequently backed up by the fact that most other people in their aforementioned Monkeysphere probably hold similar prejudices about what makes someone ‘real’ and valid. In this way, people are able to dismiss the perspectives not only of individuals but of whole groups that they have never met, solely on the basis that they don’t meet their utterly arbitrary standards for what is ‘true’. And what if someone pops up in your own little online Monkeysphere who disagrees with your views? Even better! You can just come up with a completely random reason why they’re not a ‘real’ man, a ‘true’ feminist’, a genuine believer in whatever the hell you’re all supposed to be fighting for. You can make your Monkeysphere even more exclusive and insular, whilst keeping up the pretence of rational discourse and clear-headed evaluation of opinions that differ from your own.
Why Does It Matter?
At this point you may be saying “Well, that’s great but…we knew there were stupid people on the Internet. What’s the big deal?” But the point is, you see, that these people are not necessarily stupid people at all. And it is, in fact, both arrogant and dangerous to assume that people who manage to maintain such controversial beliefs in spite of societal disapproval are unintelligent. We don’t just fall out of our mother’s vaginas full of opinions – our views are formed throughout our lives by teachings and experiences. Even the most seemingly ludicrous idea has a certain logic behind it, and while that logic might not make it sensible it is important to understand why people think the way they do. It’s arrogant to assume that people who have beliefs that you think are ridiculous are automatically ridiculous people. And it’s dangerous, because in making that assumption you write them off as being incapable of empathising with you or wanting to understand your own ideas. A huge part of what makes any movement successful is its willingness to be inclusive, and to reach out to people who might otherwise have greeted it with apathy or aggression. I really think this is a crucial part of achieving gender equality, because there are still many people in the world who don’t believe that gender equality, or breaking down traditional gender roles, are good ideas. By understanding why and how they form and maintain such beliefs, hopefully we can do a better job of addressing them and try to dismantle their opposition through discussion, rather than dismissal.
But this stuff is also really important for understanding our own failings, regardless of what we believe in. Which of us has not waved aside another person’s views because we considered them ridiculous? And how is that any different to some bloke who rails against women in the armed forces because it seems ridiculous to him? How many of us associate primarily with friends who share our social and political views? And how often to we avoid discussions with people we know to be critical of our own ideas? It’s not enough to understand these phenomena and recognise them in people whose opinions we dislike. We also have to recognise them in ourselves, and in those who support the same ideals as we do. Of course its frustrating, and we don’t all have to be saints and extend the olive branch to every bigoted douchecanoe on the Internet. But we do have to be aware of our own behaviour, as individuals, and make sure we’re not mirroring that which we criticise in others. Humans may be a diverse bunch, but nobody likes a hypocrite.