February 04, 2015

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But the cost of the NFL’s pretend war is more affordable than a real war. Losing fans don”€™t have their daughters abducted; they just get interested in hockey a little earlier this season.

Similarly, the vast to-do over, say, gay marriage is mostly a struggle for cultural dominance, with strikingly few real-world applications. For example, last October CNN ran a listicle entitled “€œBy the numbers: Same-sex marriage“€ that detailed 18 stats about gay marriage”€”none of which, though, specified how common it is where it’s legal … because it’s not. The issue exists mostly as a popularity contest that distracts from old-fashioned working-class politics.

But this example raises a question: What do you do when you win?

In sports, they start afresh with a new season. In identity politics, however, after a victory you have to gin up a new battle by pushing the envelope further. In democratic Israel, for instance, the majority usually triumphs, so new affronts to the Arab minority must be dreamed up. In post-democratic America, however, the majority is automatically on the defensive.

O”€™Brien conceived of new manifestations of Big Brother’s power as “€œsubtler,”€ but in 21st-century America, “€œsillier”€ might be a better term for Big Sibling’s muscle-flexing. For example, World War G over gay marriage was immediately followed by World War T. That the struggle for transgender rights to, say, beat up women in mixed martial arts fights has always been on the verge of collapsing into Bruce Jenner farcicality is part of its appeal. WWT offers a new opportunity to uncover the wreckers who can”€™t help but smirk.

In Jim McKay’s narration for the Wide World of Sports, “€œthe thrill of victory”€ was immediately followed by “€œthe agony of defeat.”€ Sports are arranged so that contests are as evenly balanced as possible. A Super Bowl that goes down to the 1-yard-line is ideal.

A decade-and-a-half-long struggle between Brady and Peyton Manning for quarterback supremacy is even better. Sports fans enjoy a good argument, and Brady v. Manning has been the best debate since Mickey Mantle v. Willie Mays.

By contrast, political correctness struggles are all about rigging debates by ruling out opponents”€™ best arguments ahead of time.

Thus, an inevitable difference between sports and identity politics is that competition encourages excellence in sports, while political correctness dumbs down debate. There’s much about professional football that deserves criticism (the brawl at the end of the Super Bowl was especially embarrassing), but you can”€™t say the Patriots and Seahawks aren”€™t good at football.

Identity politics discussions in the United States, on the other hand, tend to decline quickly into tantrums, as members of what Jonathan Haidt terms sacralized groups become outraged when anybody notices that reality doesn”€™t conform to their claims.

The bullying behavior of social-media justice warriors is partly due to lack of reciprocity. Raising official victim groups above criticism is like a football game where the Seahawks would get to throw that final one-yard-touchdown pass without the Patriots being allowed to try to intercept it: i.e., boring and pointless.

If your group can be criticized for your stereotypical faults, you are less likely to obsess over the mote in your opponent’s eye, because you can be called out for the beam in your own. Thus, a culture of open debate leads to more civility than the current rules by which the rhetorically privileged”€”such as blacks, women, Jews, gays, and miscellaneous”€”can demonize white men qua white men without fearing verbal pushback for their own faults. Rhetorical aggression is inevitable in a culture without reciprocity.

By contrast, a rhetorically armed society is a polite society.


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