My wrong prediction
The other day my friend Ken asked me (and the other Popehat contributors) for feedback on his idea of blogging about his depression. He specifically wondered if various folks on the net would attack him for it.
I'm not a personal friend of Vox's, but I am an acquaintance (I have roughly as many political points of agreement with Vox as I do with Ken, so we run in the same circles, even if I'm not a card carrying member of the "Dread Ilk"), and I thought the idea that Vox would attack Ken for the post was a bit far fetched – I thought Vox wouldn't stoop to that level.
So I responded:
As someone who wrestled the black dog for a decade or more (thankfully, tho, not in the last 15 years or so), I'm a huge fan of your posts on this topic.
The cost of writing is centralized (your effort, your potential embarrassment (not that I think there's anything remotely embarrassing about it)) , and the benefit is widespread. Which is to say, in pure market terms, it's "not worth it" for you to write on the topic.
…but it makes the world a better place.
Re Vox: he's not a friend of mine, but he is an acquaintance. If he says shit, I'll rain hell-fire on him.
And then, after Ken put up his great post, I tweeted
and I stand by that.
And now it turns out that Vox has – exactly as some expected, and exactly contrary to my own predictions – attacked Ken for the contents of his post.
The raining of hell-fire – a desire I don't have at the moment
I told Ken I'd rain hell-fire on Vox, but now that it comes down to it, I realize that I'm not angry – I'm sad. I'm not sad for Ken's sake – Ken is a big boy and can take a bit of name calling on the net. I'm sad because I thought Vox was made of better stuff.
Actually, I still do. Vox is a performance artist par excellence, but he's also a crisp thinker, and usually not a name-caller. He understands that the effect of deflating someone's argument through logic and facts is a thousand times better than calling them names.
…which isn't to say that Vox doesn't call names. He does. He often does it in a cutesy way where what he says is – technically – not name-calling. "I was just stating a fact – the guy is short, given the median height of Canadians, which is 5' 9.8" according to a UNESCO survey I'm linking to."
Vox does this, I think, because years of playing war games and fighting MMA has taught him a fair bit about tactics, and he realizes that these feints lead his opponents to – well, I could invoke some phrases from Clausewitz or Jomini, but, in the parlance of our times, "lose their shit" is appropriate and isn't overstating it – and then he can step back and point, shrug, and say "see what I mean?"
This may be good tactics, but I'm not in love with it, and – as someone who's got a decent measure of respect for Vox – I wish he wouldn't do it.
So, anyway, I'd like to explain why I respect Ken, why I respect Vox, and why I think that the politics of personal attack are uncool, and why I wish both my friend and my e-acquaintance wouldn't do it.
My friend Ken
I'm proud to call Ken a friend, and I only hope that I've earned enough of his respect so that he chooses to use the same word for me.
I've met a lot of impressive people in my time on the planet, and Ken is near the very top of the list. He's whip-smart, he's compassionate, he almost always sides with the underdog, he started out as a federal prosecutor but had the strength of character admit that maybe the other side had the better ethical argument, he built a law firm from scratch, he's a great family man – basically, I haven't come across an area where Ken is not devs above the mean.
– and, on a personal note, when I was deep deep in the shit once years ago, he answered the proverbial 3am phone call and saved my ass (full details some other time, but, if you think "subpoenas, a briefcase full of money, and expert advice on how much lime to use to dissolve a body", you're off in the right direction).
You can't buy loyalty like that, and if you could, you couldn't afford it.
And even I, who sing Ken's praises, was a bit surprised by his blog post the other day. Not surprised, overly, at the contents, but surprised at the balls he had to publish it, knowing that people would use it against him.
There's the old saw that bravery isn't the absence of fear: bravery is being afraid and doing the right thing anyway.
Ken's posts on depression help people – the most vulnerable and despised people out there: the sad sacks, the "slackers", the people who "just need to buck up and start getting shit done".
As I said in my forum post, quoted above, when Ken does one of these posts, the benefit accrues to dozens or hundreds of nobodies, and the the costs all land on Ken's shoulders.
And Ken does it anyway.
I'd like to be half the man Ken is some day.
My acquaintance Vox Day
Popehat.com is a civil liberties blog, and because Ken is fashionably, but discretely, left of center, the entire tone of the blog and of the readership averages left of center.
So, when I say "I've got a lot of respect for Vox Day", I expect to be met with hisses and boos.
Well fuck that shit: listen up, people.
Vox, like Ken, is a thoroughly impressive person. Back when most of us were farting around in college, Vox managed to bootstrap a band that cranked out some top-40 hits (amusing note: I actually picked up one of his band's CDs used about 20 years ago, a decade before I ever encountered the modern incarnation of Vox). Aside from music, Vox is also a very good fiction writer, putting many of his more respectable peers to shame. His organizational skills are fantastic, and he's bootstrapped not just his own online brand and followers, but mobilized them in a culture war against the SJWs for the control of the Hugo (a large blog post on this topic is half written, by the way). He's launched a science fiction publishing company seeming in his spare time, he's edited books, he's recruited top authors, and more. …and all of this in his spare time between doing game design, raising a family, and playing in a soccer league.
You can say that Vox's political opinions are terribly wrong. You can say that Vox is mean. You can say that he's cruel.
…but anyone who says that Vox is stupid, illogical, or lazy is just revealing themselves as either ignorant (the best case) or dishonest (the worst case).
If anyone hear thinks that Vox is dumb, I encourage you to hold your nose, read his blog for a week, and actually think about his arguments. You might think his axioms are wrong, but if you're honest with yourself, you won't think that his logic is flawed.
The Ken and Vox slap fight
I'm not exactly sure when the Ken and Vox started going at it, but my hunch is that Ken started it. I know that at least a few years ago Ken said something along the lines of "Vox looks like he gets his haircuts at the same place he got his lobotomy".
I really wish that when Ken wanted to attack someone's ideas, he just attacked their ideas, instead of making fun of them personally. But, as a wise man once said
Maybe that was the first slap in the fight. Maybe it was the 400th. But, yeah, my money is that Ken started this. And then Vox responded in kind.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Vox started it, and Ken responded in kind.
Anyway: I respect both of these guys, and I wish they wouldn't be dicks.
I'm going to respond to Vox's post, because it's handy.
First, I think that Vox is honest when he says:
Now, I don't wish disease of any kind on anyone. I never have and never will. I would very much like for everyone, even those who most hate me, to be healthy, happy, and well.
…but this is part of Vox's standard style, where all of the words of his posts are calm and unobjectionable, so when they're quote later they look like the most innocent things…but the overall gestalt is carefully engineered to provoke at an emotional level.
I admit that I've used exactly the same technique in my time. It's effective, it's clever – and on my better days, I think it's a bad thing. So, yes, I think Vox is telling the truth when he says this…but when this is sandwiched into a post that starts with the subject line "What part of 'cruelty artist' don't you understand?" and ends with the advice for Ken to get off the internet because, presumable, Ken is too fragile and delicate to handle the manly give-and-take of no-holds-barred intellectual action…well, I don't think one is really going out on a limb when one declares the whole bit of performance art a carefully designed bit of cruelty.
What is Vox trying to achieve with this post? What do we monkeys ever try to achieve in our social machinations? We intend to increase the status of ourselves and our teams, and we intend to mock, ridicule, and degrade the status of the opposing team.
So when Vox writes
When I read Ken's post about his breakdown and his struggles, my overwhelming impression was sheer bewilderment. He might as well have written it in Chinese for all that I related to it.
he's saying, translated into monkey code: "Sad pink Ken SJW team: girly, weak and uncool. Awesome blue Vox PUA team: benchpress, squat, awesome awesome hoo-ah!"
Well, I call bullshit.
Vox is pretty awesome (sorry, SJWs) in a bunch of ways.
…and Ken is pretty awesome in at least as many.
So I'm not buying into Vox's narrative. It takes a certain kind of moral strength to fight when outnumbered, when scorned by the establishment, when mocked by all the cool people (hat tip to Vox). But it takes a different and at least equally good kind of moral strength to voluntarily expose personal weakness, for no better reason than because the act of exposure helps others (hat tip to Ken).
And you know what? Ken isn't lacking in the first kind of bravery either. Look at him wade into the Vox's lion den.
A call to slap no more
All men are mortal. Socrates is a man.
– wait –
What I meant to say is: All human are sinners. I'm a human. Therefore I'm a sinner.
I've gotten catty on the internet. I've name called. I've mocked people for their personal traits instead of engaging with their arguments.
I think this is a crappy way to behave, and at least every now and then I promise myself I'll do better in the future.
Ken and Vox also get catty and engage in name-calling.
I wish they wouldn't.
I'm not going to call on either of them to apologize. Not only because I don't know who started the spat, but because "calls for apology" are a bullshit SJW tactic: they're a power play, implicitly promising absolution and forgiveness and return to the fold in return for ritual humiliation.
Neither Ken nor Vox need absolution from me, because they haven't sinned against me.
…and neither needs to, nor should, apologize to each other, because given our current caustic culture war, apologies are just status lowering struggle-session rituals.
Here's what I do suggest, not just for Ken and Vox, but for all of us:
That we examine our behaviors with regard to name calling, and that we examine our motivations.
For those of us who identify as Christian, I further suggest that we reflect on the definition of cruelty – "pleasure in causing pain and suffering".
I suggest that it is entirely reasonable for a Christian to engage in rigorous ideological warfare, even if this accidentally causes butt-hurt and bruises when pretty lies are destroyed.
…but it is not, I suggest, What Jesus Would Do, to take active delight in causing pain or suffering.
In my ideal world, ideological antagonists would fight bitterly with each other, but they would do so virtuously:
Prudence (φρόνησις, phronēsis): also described as wisdom, the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time.
Justice (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē): also considered as fairness, the most extensive and most important virtue.
Temperance (σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē): also known as restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention, and moderation tempering the appetition.
Courage (ἀνδρεία, andreia): also named fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.
This is my modest proposal.