incentives for argument, continued

So it strikes me that these (utterly ridiculous) allegations that Lena Dunham sexually abused her sister are a good example of what I’m talking about when it comes to argumentative incentives. As I said, argumentative behaviors are like all human behaviors in that they are subject to influence through incentives. What types of arguments do we treat as unusually powerful? What arguments do we treat as trump cards which win every time? Those are the arguments that will be appropriated by those we consider our political antagonists. And arguments of sexual abuse are powerful, indeed. It’s not merely that our elites have adopted a general policy of assuming that every allegation of sexual abuse is true, but also that those who express skepticism or even uncertainty about such allegations are subject to very personal and harsh judgment. In fact, such people are often placed on a spectrum with those who commit sexual abuse themselves, such as when people talk about victims being “re-victimized” by doubts about allegations. The result is a rhetorical environment where many people, sensibly, have adopted a policy of simply accepting any given allegation as true. The risks that come with expressing skepticism or doubt are simply too high.

So of course conservative news sites have taken those arguments and applied them to a prominent feminist woman. It was inevitable, just as it was inevitable that a self-defined group like gamers would adopt the rhetorical tactics that have been used by legitimately-oppressed minorities. As I do with the allegations against Dunham, I find equating the condition of gamers with the conditions of black people crazy and offensive. But rejecting both of them requires arguing — making claims and using evidence to rebut the other opinion. In contrast, the strategies that are being co-opted draw their power from their ability to¬†preempt argument. They work by preemptively asserting the immorality of anyone who would oppose them. This is what has made them so dangerous even when wielded in causes that I support.

The implicit complaint, of course, is one that we know better than to make explicitly: we are us and you are them, and you do not get to use our magic words against us. But that’s not how the real world works. You live in the rhetorical environment you create, and we are.