Fox News and Jean-Paul Sartre and the Anti-Semite and the Jew

 

This quote from Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay The Anti-Semite and the Jew, written in 1944, is remarkably relevant today – and I think provides a way forward for political discourse in the current era.

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.

I’ve recently, out of a sense of perverse rubbernecking, taken to reading Fox News Facebook page thread comments.

Where it might be tempting to dismiss them all as Russian Trolls – this would be to ignore that a significant chunk of people really do say and act the way they do – without being part of a concerted, organised effort.

Reading the comments – you get a sense of the leaps in reasoning people make to  justify the double standards required to hold two simultaneous positions.

For example:

  • Sarah Sanders being kicked out of a restuarant is uncivil and discrimination, but a baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding is ok, because the cake is a ‘custom job’.
  • The shooting of journalists at The Capital newspaper is the fault of Maxine Waters, for here recent remarks about uncivility, (and just ignore Trump’s remarks about journalists being the enemy).
  • It’s ok to hold off confirming Merrick Garland because that was a presidential election, but this one is a mid-term election.
  • Name calling and violence and uncivility is bad, but ignore it when Trump and the alt-right do it.
  • Criticise any suggestion that left should push back, but ignore Trumps calls for ‘bomb their families’, ‘bring back waterboarding and worse’, ‘don’t treat them too gently’ etc.

Reading these comments can be disheartening, knowing that there are apparently lots of real world people that genuinely think this way.

It can therefore be tempting to want to jump into the comments section to point out the flaws in their thinking – in an attempt to change their mind, and change the way they think.

However – as the Sartre quote suggests – anti-Semites, and if we extend this to the modern equivilent of anti-Semites, are aware that their their arguments aren’t consistent. They don’t care, and infact they relish in it, winning by dragging the people into what was a mud fight from the start.

The solution then – is not to completely ignore them – but to not play on their terms. Keep focused on what the truth of the matter is – and make sure that narrative is onmipresent (it’s when the objective truth of a situation is hidden from a good chunk of the population, that a 1984 style dictatorship is possible).

This perhaps does mean that posting in Fox News threads is a good idea – but not as a response to commentators narratives – but just reminding everyone what the context is.

 

 

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Progressives and SJW-critics alike should be aware of Russian efforts to amplify extreme voices on the left.

As a starting point – check out the Wikipedia page for Foundations of Geopolitics .

The book is used in many Russian institutions and proposes various Russian geopolitical strategies.

Relating to the United States, there is this paragraph:

Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”[1]

It is generally accepted by the media and political establishments that Russia did indeed play a role in the 2016 US Election – with reports of paid trolls and bots.

For a progressive then – it is easy to dismiss or be wary online that some pro-Trump twitter person may infact be a bot or paid troll.

And pro-Trump talking points is part of the strategy – normalising an opinion by making it seem like many others hold it.

But the other side of the coin – that I think many progressives have a blindspot to – is the liberal agitation from Russia.

Reports are coming out that Russia paid for ads supporting Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders as well as Donald Trump. There are reports that Russia paid for geographically targeted ads supporting Black Lives Matter. There’s also the now suspended @bostonantifa Twitter account that recently posted a tweet geotagged in Russia, whatever that means:

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This image shouldn’t be taken seriously. This Buzzfeed article has a pretty good summary. 

This highlights the need for two things:

  • Progressives need to apply critical reasoning to all political actions, and not blindly go along with, or tolerate any political activity just because it’s anti-Trump. For example, in the wake of Charlottesville there was a wave of doxxing coordinated by the Twitter account @YesYoureRacist,    that did end up doxxing someone innocent. 
  • There’s a brand of ideology I’ll call SJW-critical Trump apologism. While not explicitly #MAGA Trump supporters – these people tend to be critical of progressives (and often with well founded criticisms), but also turning a blind eye to Trumpism, or selectively applying different standards of proof or reasoning as needed.
    This ideology often points at anti-free speech or fascist tendencies among the left, with the unsaid

Now to be clear – this isn’t to say that every example of extreme behaviour on the left is the work of Russian agents. I don’t think that Zara Joshi of Hugh Mungus fame is a Russian agent, nor do I think the 2016 Dallas cop shooter  was. Similarly – I don’t think all the people who marched in Charlottesville were Russian agents.

But – we should all be aware that while some people genuinely do hold extreme views – often the prevalence of those views are being amplified by the internet, to make them seem like they are more prevalent than they really are. (I think too the media plays a role – as controversy sells while more moderate, and likely more common views do not).

In short:

  • Progressives shouldn’t be tempted to adopt anti-liberal tendencies, because the extreme political climate warrants it. They should be aware that a lot of the extremism is manufactured.
  • SJW-critical Trump apologists should be similarly aware that a lot of the liberal extremism is manufactured, and also that – just as Trump supporters can be duped – so can liberals.