What Jerk Wants to Trigger Someone Anyway? Research Time, 10/03/2016

So I was planning to write about the New Democratic Party party in today’s entry. But that seems to be the theme of this week on the blog – and this month in my life, as projects keep getting interrupted by other, equally serious stuff. Something else remarkable happened, and I realized I should say something. 

"Why can't everyone just care about each other?" is the
fundamental question spurring humanity's utopian drive.
I got into a healthy, hilarious Twitter fight with a lot of assholes yesterday morning before I went to work. It was #TheTriggering.

This was a hashtag, clearly. I believe it was organized on 4chan – surprise, surprise. Its mission seems to have been a mass provocation of the people they call Social Justice Warriors by posting as many racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive and horrible memes and tweets as they could, all day long.

I’ve been fascinated by this community for a while now. I’ve spoken about them with Phil Sandifer, in an interview for an article (or likely multiple articles) that I’m still working out how best to freelance. 

They’re a self-organized gang of trolls, but there are actual philosophical concepts behind all this childish bullying and stupidity. We’re not going to deal with these 4chan jackoffs by dismissing them as simply a bunch of jackoffs.

#TheTriggering is an expression of a powerful grassroots reactionary movement, one of the most powerful and seductive in the West today. And here’s two ideas that reading through and engaging with #TheTriggering have helped make clear to me.

1) 4chan reactionaries wildly misunderstand what motivates social justice campaigners and what they actually want. 

My exchange with these people yesterday morning typically went like this. It started with two tweets of my own, basically laying out my thoughts on that whole shit-storm. Of course, they attracted the attention of reactionary trolls. That was the idea.

But they thought that I expressed my disdain for them because I was myself triggered, as if their racist bile actually caused some kind of PTSD-like anxiety attack. Really, I was trolling the trolls with a little of my own ethical philosophy.

They also spoke to me as if being triggered wasn’t actually what it is in sincere discussions of triggering – PTSD anxiety. They seemed to think that being triggered was the same as simply being offended. As in, a haughty exclamation of “How dare you, good sir!” 

4chan reactionaries seem to think that social justice activists – be they for women’s rights, anti-racism, economic justice, whatever – are in the model of Tipper Gore’s disgust and offence at swearing in rap and metal music

Unfortunately, many campus activists against racism and sexism are misguided in their methods of stopping verbally violent behaviour. They actually appeal to university authorities to put restrictions on what speech is allowed for students to say in public forums. 

These kinds of appeals to authority are never effective, because people naturally chafe at having to follow rules with which they don't agree and whose ostensible purpose isn't even adequately explained to them. Forcing authorities to control speech will only encourage those whose speech is being silenced. The examples of authoritarian control of speech only encourages reactionaries to resist by spouting more racism and sexism.

But not all social justice advocates make this mistake. The best of them – the most effective leaders and thinkers – know that engagement and empathy are the true routes to cultural change. The most counter-productive activists try to use censorship.

Robert Nozick was actually such a kind person
that I think he'd actually be quite saddened to see
the kind of spirit and culture his ideas inspired.
Which brings me to my second point.

2) 4chan reactionaries believe moral obligations to be a form of censorship and oppression. 

This is rooted in their errors about what a social justice activist really is – their conception of the activist as Tipper Gore or Mary Whitehouse. They think the goal of a social justice activist is to restrict people’s liberties to speak their minds

That’s another recurring theme in my own Twitter fights with these people yesterday morning. They accused me of wanting to censor their speech, restricting their liberties. But I was actually asking them why they valued their right to speak freely over their moral obligations not to be an ass and a bully to others. 

The response on this issue was the most illuminating of all: that their right to speak freely REQUIRED them to be offensive and cruel to people. A duty to be ethical in their speech and behaviour was actually an assault on their liberty.

So we now have the philosophical centre of the 4chan reactionary social movement. It’s Robert Nozick’s radio show argument: that even basic moral obligations like keeping promises or backing away from cruelty are violent oppressions on individual liberty. 

When someone first said this to me on Reddit years ago, I thought he was out to lunch. But the idea has genuinely impressive philosophical pedigree. This is the ethical centrepiece of the most visible and energetic reactionary social movement of our time.

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