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The wisdom of thugs

Mentioning The Catcher in the Rye is sort of like putting on high-end polarized glasses – it clarifies and contrasts. I knew a kid in middle school, for example, that really identified with Holden Caulfield.

* No, not me. And no, not everyone does. Even if we all rebel in some fashion, and even if some of us act that insufferably, not everyone thinks that he’s an example, much less a brave hero of sorts. In fact it’s an open question whether Salinger himself thought much of Holden, or if he wrote him in order to hold him up for ridicule in comparison to his younger and far-more-competent sister.

I’m thinking of this in light of Catcher’s inclusion in one of those “have you really read it?” lists that goes around the Web occasionally. (For the record, Catcher is one of the eleven books out of the twenty that I have read.) It’s also something of kismet since the Wil Wheaton flapdoodle about his “Hillary’s Harpies” tweet and subsequent cringing obeisance before crybully mob. What happened to Wheaton is actually a lot like what happened to Caulfield in his physical confrontations… which is depressing, because a Holden Caulfield who never grows up is truly sad to contemplate.

That all brings us here, and to this comment by e-migo Nate regarding bullies. Now, they’re bad, mind you. And bullies who never outgrow it are just as depressing as Holdens who never do. They become quite dangerous – in fact, the bullies and the Holdens grow in many ways to resemble each other. But when they come into conflict, well… as they used to say on the nature shows, “Sadly, there can only be one outcome.”

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So the fur continues to fly over the puppies of the world, sad and otherwise.

The insularity of the TrueFans, the Gatekeepers, is no accident. The thing they truly love is not scifi itself, but the Status of True Fan – and the more-closely held that status is, the smaller the Inner Circle, then the greater is their own self-assigned status among the great unwashed.

Honestly, this almost isn’t even about whose thinks are thought properly or who’s having “wrongfun” (to use Larry Correia’s delightful coinage). It’s all about who gains access to the outer courts, where dwelleth the official adoring masses of the Inner Circle. The criteria used are just a convenience that serves all needs: it’s the natural creed of the SJWs, so they don’t have to stop and think about who qualifies; nebulously-defined so accusations based upon them are impossible to truly refute; full of jargon to flatter their flabby and under-exercised minds. But it could just as easily be about anything, as you can see from all the times when they all dart off in a different direction like a school of fish: “THIS is the true definition of what we believe – do the opposite of what we did last Thursday and never let it be remembered among us (or mentioned to us) that it was ever otherwise.” And of course anyone slow to that change proves they aren’t Inner Circle material, so this habit makes the necessary purges much simpler.

It explains so much. It shows why they are forever accusing others of behaving the way they do – they behave in no other way and can’t even begin to imagine that someone else could ever have a different motive. It’s why splits in the ranks take on the fervor of holy war – schisms in a church are always among the bitterest of quarrels. It serves as a suitable pretext for thinning the ranks when they get too large to properly manage – again, the fuzzy borders of the definition gives them almost the obligation to clarify that when they said DO THAT, it didn’t mean YOU could. It explains why such groups are generally so hostile to other people’s accomplishments, especially through unapproved channels – it robs them of their precious control while simultaneously exposing how they’ve rigged the system to reward flattery of the Gatekeepers, rather than real skill.

NOTE – this is NOT to say that some of the Gatekeepers aren’t skilled themselves; they often are, and use that fact to reject accusations from outsiders that they are merely interested in maintaining the clique – valuing control of the subject rather than the subject itself. But true lovers rejoice to find one who also truly loves; they do not and this gives the game away. They have lost the good in exchange for some illusion of controlling who gets to enjoy that good. Whatever robs them of that illusion becomes the enemy that must be destroyed and banished at all costs.

It doesn’t just hold for scifi, of course. It can happen in churches, in companies, in local homeowners’ associations; it can and has permeated hobbies of all description from gaming to sports; it’s greatly affected what we’re allowed to do in our leisure time and what we see in movies and television; and of course the politics of the land are infested with this kind of lousy behavior.

This is a bell I was ringing last year, and the only thing that’s changed is that this time, the Gatekeepers noticed how many more people were ringing along, and they want to shout down the bells.

The Ministry of News Reporting

Via MSNBC.com:

A Kuwaiti man was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday after he was convicted of endangering state security by insulting the Prophet Mohammad and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on social media.

Sometimes we in the U.S. seem shrill about our own problems, such as the people getting spamblocked on Twitter, Obama’s infamous “truth teams,” and the conformist mentality threatening many of our institutions.  And there’s an important distinction between those things and what has happened to Hamad al-Naqi with this ruling: as horrible as those three above examples are, they are still (for now) the free actions of free people.  It’s not welcome for them to merely shout down others, but in itself it’s not the same thing as active State interference in our ideas and opinions.

The problem is that it never just stops at that.  If it did, it would be inconvenient to the one side, but eventually futile for the other.  Those who have been “twitmo’d” have their accounts restored; “truth teams” meet with the approbation and scorn they deserve; the conformists eventually get out into a real world that they have yet to succeed in silencing.  Ultimately those things hurt professional lives and reputations, but in the States, at least, you don’t yet go to the pokey for merely insulting someone.

But it’s worth saying that all those things lie on the same continuum that gets us to the criminalization of thought.  Those who are comfortable with those acts are usually also comfortable with the next step – from insult, to dirty tricks, to getting people in actual trouble with authority for daring to say such things.  In Canada and England people have gone to jail for expressing unapproved opinions, under their hate-speech legislations.  Mark Steyn was called onto the carpet by Canada’s Orwellian Human Rights commissions for article he wrote that appeared in Maclean’s, and he’s only the most prominent example.  (You’ll all have seen the clip of the unhinged high school teacher insisting that her student can be jailed for speaking out against the President’s policies and qualifications.)  Most recently, Robert Stacy McCain was forced to relocate his entire family because of the “lawfare” tricks of Brett Kimberlin, while Aaron Worthing has actually been jailed (hopefully temporarily) through Kimberlin’s legal bombardment – more a wearying of opponents rather than carrying the day with actual proof of tangible harm.

These are dangerous precedents, and not to be encouraged.  There’s no guarantee that Western governments won’t simply ignore the Constitution and rule rather than serve.  We could fall into the worst trap of all – so thoroughly internalizing such onerous rules that we become our own thought police, denouncing ourselves to our betters, or not speaking when challenged.  Every time someone says something that “requires’ one of those “public apology” statements, a part of me sickens worse.  Often, the opinion itself is misquoted or not all that objectionable; even if offensive, well, again, there’s no law against that.  But even if it’s appropriate to apologize, shouldn’t that be something the person does unprompted?  By forcing the apology, we tend to rob all such statements, however heartfelt, of sincerity.  “Oh, he did that for the PR,” we say, because half of the time it was just for the PR, just to fulfill that part of the cycle of theater that passes for too much public discourse.

Imagine a world where those momentary affronts stood.  Wouldn’t that be a world in which we could judge for ourselves if an apology was genuine, rather than assume it was a sham?  For that matter, wouldn’t it also be a world in which we could judge for ourselves if the affront was actually all that offensive?  Could we not, in this world, pick and choose our protests, and have the other party pick and choose what they are and aren’t sorry for? I think I find even the possibility preferable to the endless parade of off-the-cuff comments leading to ginned-up “controversy” followed by routine “outrage” and automatic statements from “representatives.”  Hell, we might just run the risk of not being so darned thin-skinned all day long, thinking a little before reacting, and maybe getting along better in the long run.

A world where everything triggers a quick, automatic (and completely predictable) reply is not a world where people are really thinking and interacting.  It’s replacing the effort of human relationship with the simple stimulus-response of animals or machines.  It can’t be healthy.  We’re not to the point, quite, where we do risk a jail cell for protesting our leaders, or our religious figures.  However, I don’t want to risk getting there.  I also want you to actually read the article and note three things:

  1. This was a Kuwaiti man jailed, in part, for protesting OTHER governments, not his own.
  2. al-Nagi’s defense was that his account was hacked, not that the statements weren’t made.
  3. We’re told he insulted Mohammed, but the Reuters reporter does not repeat what was actually said.

This last is key.  We are not Kuwaiti; why can’t we read for ourselves and make up our own mind about the statements?  They wouldn’t warrant a prison term in any case, but really, what was written?  Why did Reuters neuter its own report and deny us a key piece of information in the story?  The piece had an author, two additional reporters, and two editors, and none of them felt it was worth the trouble of repeating the statements.  It’s entirely likely they were expunged to “avoid offense” to anyone’s delicate ears.

“This verdict is a deterrent to those who insult the Prophet Mohammad, his companions and the mothers of the believers,” civil plaintiff Dowaem al-Mowazry said in a text message.

It worked on Reuters, anyway, and I’m not OK with that.  We have every good reason to resist any hint of such a thing happening where we live.  On with the truth, and up with the volume.