Saturday, June 10, 2017

On Tactics and Their Acceptability

A well-known biblical precept begins with the words “Do unto others ...”

Context strongly suggests the Lord intended his followers to engage with his teaching actively rather than passively, by performing positive moral acts toward those in need of them.

That said, the negative implication most commonly drawn from his words (“Refrain from doing things you WOULDN’T like done to you”) is not wrong.

Either way, the social justice crowd would do well to pay attention.

Pointing and Shrieking

The “point and shriek” strategy¹ that is SJW Tool No. 1 has been hugely effective in discrediting, publicly humiliating or disemploying a Who’s Who of perceived enemies of the Left, from the late Robin Williams to scientist Sir Tim Hunt, and more recently Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. All had inadvertently wandered into the whack-a-mole minefield of political correctness and found themselves perched atop the proverbial mother of all claymores.

An SJW social media disapproval blitzkrieg can be so overwhelming that its target usually feels he or she has no option but to pick up a microphone and beg for forgiveness or resign in tears, or both. Point is made, fear is instilled, free speech is chilled, and we all have a better idea who’s really pulling the strings in our society.

But it turns out pointing and shrieking works just as well against SJWs as it works for them. Who knew?

Et Tu, Al Franken?

In case you missed it, comedienne Kathy Griffin has lost her job hosting CNN’s New Year’s Eve special and has had her upcoming shows canceled on her. Even mega-progressive Dem Senator Al Franken won’t return her calls. Worse, Buzzfeed called her unfunny. Her crime? A widely-disseminated visual of Griffin holding up the decapitated head of President Donald Trump, ISIS-style.

Wrong choice of target. Trump may be regularly lampooned by CNN and deeply disliked and mistrusted by a non-trivial minority of Americans, but unlike previous administrations, this president never takes abuse lying down. The White House pushed back in a big way, and Trump’s intensely loyal social media supporters (Hillary Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables”) began demanding Griffin’s head instead. The First Lady even informed reporters little Barron Trump had been traumatized by the near-ubiquitous image of his dead dad. THAT’s weaponized rhetoric for you!

The bigwigs at CNN may be entrenched on Griffin’s side of the yawning political divide but they cannot afford to make their allegiance to the Democrats so transparent that it permanently alienates their coveted 25-54 viewing demographic and the advertising dollars it draws. Big problem.

Short story: Griffin gets dumped, a thirty second apology is posted online et voila! — the point and shriek tactic has been successfully reverse-engineered. If you think this is the last time we’ll see that during this administration, you’re dreaming; we’ll see it until several months after it stops working.

Tactics and Strategy

The aggressiveness of the Right’s response to Griffin is unpalatable to some conservatives, who have a proud tradition of passivity in the face of Leftist abuse, and it raises the legitimate question of the appropriateness of such tactics.

To the extent that the political Right can be said to be in any way “Christian”, people like Howard Green protest that getting all up in the Left’s grill is not our way, or at least it shouldn’t be. Green says:
“The past years are replete with instances of ‘Christians’ responding to the culture with the same shrill, vitriolic, angry stance found in unbelievers ... ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.’ ”
Yeah, but I’m not so sure Paul was talking about political debate there.

When Two Sides Go to War

In fact, his comments come out of a discussion of disagreements about authority within the church. Paul is appealing to believers. Your mileage may vary on how to apply what he says, of course, but it is evident that he presupposes: (i) a common authority over both sides of the debate, its rules of engagement and its content; (ii) a common brotherhood in the household of God; and (iii) a common mission to glorify his holy name.

Without these preconditions there can be no civilized debate. It’s not that importing such restrictions into the political realm is undesirable, it’s that it is impossible. Those who want to do so are as misguided as Paul was in trying to address the crowd in Ephesus: his companions prudently restrained him. They were staring at an unreasoning mob that would have torn the apostle to pieces.

It’s like wanting to send David out against Goliath without even a sling or stones, because, you know, violence is not how we Israelites do business.

All Pointing, No Shrieking

Interestingly, Green has no problem with certain kinds of political activity:
“We should vote our conscience, write our legislators, and believe the constitution should be interpreted and employed as the founders intended. We should attempt to vote out rogue judges and legislators who don’t represent conservative traditional values. Moreover, we should earnestly [pray?] for our nation and those in authority, even if we don’t agree with them.”
Here Green is well into the trad-Christian comfort zone: write your congressman, state your opinion in public and use the power of your vote at every level in the cause of good. But perhaps it is not so clear to all Christians at what point precisely this obligation begins and ends.

It would seem to be the shrillness, vitriol and anger that Green is rejecting, not the content of the message these Christian voices carry.

Shrillness is in the Ears of the Beholder

Okay, but we need to remember is that words like shrillness, vitriol and anger are simply statements of opinion, most often from the other side of the debate. A woman who raises her voice is almost guaranteed to be labeled as shrill, even though feminist harpies and concerned mothers are miles apart on the annoyance spectrum. Objective third parties tend to frame such things more reasonably. I wonder, for instance, how the Pharisees characterized the demeanor of the Lord Jesus as he cleansed the temple.

Are the words “CNN should fire Kathy Griffin” acceptable provided they are delivered amiably and with appropriate qualifiers about how terrible it is to be unemployed? Is a certain decibel level the acceptable max? More practically, is it unchristian to blog your moral objections to proposed legislation in ALL CAPS? Or is a message acceptable when delivered via the voting booth but not via social media? It would seem an odd and self-hobbling approach that restricts the expression of opinion to the day of an election, by which time it’s already too late to change anyone’s mind.

Are we okay to join the Left in pointing as long as we don’t shriek?

Acceptable Options

I’m on the fence about a lot of this myself, but what seems clear to me is that Christians who want to tie the hands of the political Right are committing a bit of a category error. When you find yourself in the middle of pitched battle (cultural or otherwise) there are two options: run or fight.

It’s ugly out there, and Christians who beat feet from the culture war because they believe it to be the will of God (rather than because of cowardice) are worthy of a certain sort of respect. They are applying the scriptures as their conscience allows, and God bless ’em. Even hollering “Fighting is bad!” from the sidelines is perfectly acceptable provided you’ve sheathed your own sword, though I suspect such a strategy is more than a little futile.

Likewise, Christians who elect to pick up any available weapon and join what they believe is an existential fight for Western civilization are worthy of another sort of appreciation even if I think they may be misapplying a scripture here and there. There is a certain selfless bravery in coming to the defense of neighbours and families that well merits it. What they will win in the end I’m not quite sure, but personally I’d rather deal with an incoherent and compromised Christendom than with a bunch of unprincipled savages determined to burn the whole thing to the ground. And folks, those seem to be the real-world options. One can criticize the methods of the Crusaders or the Inquisition, but life in Spain after the Reconquista probably beat life during it.

For sure it beat life under the Caliphate.

Less Acceptable Options

What seems less reasonable to me is entering the cultural melee wearing the colors of the Right when you have made it your mission to hack down from behind anyone on your side who is not grappling with the enemy according to your own arbitrary rules of engagement, and to yank the swords from the hands of your nominal allies while the Left still wields theirs. That’s pretty much the current “principled conservative” position.

In this war, it ought to be freely admitted that both sides are mixed multitudes and finding the cause of Christ here is no easy task. But to seek to deprive one army of the weapons already employed by the other side seems like handing the social justice crowd a freebie they haven’t earned.

At the individual level, sacrificing our rights is noble. But at the societal or civilizational levels, victories of moral principle can be awfully expensive. More importantly, it’s almost always somebody else left holding the tab.

  1. Vox Day’s Attack Survival Guide analyzes and dissects the SJW attack strategy and is an invaluable tool for responding effectively when targeted. As best I can determine, Vox is responsible for coining the term “point and shriek”.

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