Perusing the social media of a past publisher this week, though, I was struck by something that's had me shaking my head all week. I really like this journal. They publish interesting content, they try hard to be relevant rather than purposelessly unapproachable, and they're fun. This social media post from them this week, though, seemed to me an illustration of a rampant liberal intellectual ill:
It was an angry re-post of an editorial by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke about the #metoo movement. The editorial by Haneke this post was replying to was saying what a lot of other writers--mostly men--have said: the movement risks becoming a witch hunt, puritanical and anti-erotic. I've posted something similar, although I didn't go nearly as far as Haneke. My point was more that I'm uncomfortable with liberals (like me) being the voice of morality and right sexual conduct. It's a new role for us, and I'm not sure we'll be up to the challenge. I don't agree that #metoo has yet become a "witch hunt." I have reservations about it, such as what the repercussions should be for public figures who have committed sexual misconduct. Should they lose their livelihood, when a plumber for Roto-Rooter would be able, after paying whatever legal penalties he owes, to go back to work?
But it wasn't the fact that the editor disagreed with Haneke. It was that she didn't even disagree. She just said "Look, Michael...shut up." I find this to be a liberal fall-back far too often. I don't even want to discuss it. We're right, you're wrong, so stop talking.
I hesitated to post a reply, because, as I said, I really want to say good things about them, but eventually I decided that the whole point of being part of an intellectual community is to be part of discourse. If our relationship can't handle disagreement, what kind of relationship is it? So I let fly:
I hoped that wasn't too condescending. I understand that responses can be emotional, so I don't fault her for being upset. It's just that an emotional response should still be a response. Her response to me was a little more verbose than her answer to Haneke:
As you can see, she got more likes than I did.
|It's okay. I don't need the love anyway.|
The more I think about this response, though, the more flabbergasted I am by it. "I don't think there's any discourse worth having." There are a few things I see wrong with this:
1) Any discourse she'd have had wouldn't have been with Haneke. I mean, it would have been with him in a virtual sense, but really, the people participating in the discourse would have been the people reading her post there. It would have been people like me, who think the article had some points and some weaknesses. She's saying anyone who is reading her posts isn't worth having discourse with. That's incredibly pessimistic. The notion that discourse cannot improve the outlook of others is inimical to centuries of liberal belief.
2) I don't think #metoo has become a witch hunt yet. I can't think of any instances--except perhaps the Aziz Ansari thing--where a man has suffered for something he didn't do. But it will happen. So it's worth talking about. Otherwise, when the first case finally goes too far, and a man really is crucified without deserving it, it may derail all the progress the movement has made. It's worth preparing for.
3) Worry about witch hunts is a natural liberal instinct. We've kind of been bred to react that way.
4) I don't know what kind of personal interactions she's had with those who think #metoo threatens to go too far, or that it might be in danger of becoming about more than just taking men to task for their bad behavior. But I can't believe she's spoken with enough people who hold that view to constitute meaningful data. It can't be that it's such an unreasonable view to take that only unreasonable people hold it.
5) Haneke's opinion is less uncommon in Europe than in America. For decades, we liberals have been lauding Europe's relaxed mores surrounding sex, claiming theirs is a more natural and healthier approach to human sexuality. So should we be surprised if some Europeans are mystified by this attempt of our society to correct the ills our sexual practices have caused? Now, these Europeans may have a completely wrong idea, and may be trying to judge a movement in our society by their own standards. In their (presumably) sexually healthier society, it may be that this movement really would be draconian, because it isn't needed any longer. It may be that it really would seem like trying to do away with the joy of sex. It might also still be needed in our society. We might both be right. But that's a nuance that only careful argument can reveal.
I'm sure I'm making far too much of a social media post done with little consideration. When people post stuff like this, they're really not thinking too much of how what they post fits into larger social narratives. But this attitude--shut the fuck up, there's nothing you can say that's worth saying, so I'm not going to say anything worth saying either--is far, far too common among people I agree with on most political issues.
I'm not the first to realize this, but I have to wonder why Donald Trump's election has done so little to wake us up. I became a liberal because that was the side where I saw the most going on intellectually. We have gotten lazy, though, from assuming we're always the smart ones in the room. I really don't want liberal rabbits to suffer two decades of losses to conservative turtles before we wake up.