Recently there’s been heightened attention to calling out microaggressions and giving trigger warnings. I recently speculated that the loudest voices making these demands come from people in categories that have gained in power but are still not dominant, notably women at elite universities.  What they’re saying in part is, “We don’t have to take this shit anymore.” Or as Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning put it in a recently in The Chronicle:

…offenses against historically disadvantaged social groups have become more taboo precisely because different groups are now more equal than in the past.

It’s nice to have one’s hunches seconded by scholars who have given the issue much more thought.

Campbell and Manning make the context even broader. The new “plague of hypersensitivity” (as sociologist Todd Gitlin called it) isn’t just about a shift in power, but a wider cultural transformation from a “culture of dignity” to a “culture of victimhood.” More specifically, the aspect of culture they are talking about is social control. How do you get other people to stop doing things you don’t want them to do – or not do them in the first place?

In a “culture of honor,” you take direct action against the offender.  Where you stand in society – the rights and privileges that others accord you – is all about personal reputation (at least for men). “One must respond aggressively to insults, aggressions, and challenges or lose honor.” The culture of honor arises where the state is weak or is concerned with justice only for some (the elite). So the person whose reputation and honor are at stake must rely on his own devices (devices like duelling pistols).  Or in his pursuit of personal justice, he may enlist the aid of kin or a personalized state-substitute like Don Corleone.

In more evolved societies with a more extensive state, honor gives way to “dignity.”

The prevailing culture in the modern West is one whose moral code is nearly the exact opposite of that of an honor culture. Rather than honor, a status based primarily on public opinion, people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others. Dignity exists independently of what others think, so a culture of dignity is one in which public reputation is less important. Insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery. It is even commendable to have “thick skin” that allows one to shrug off slights and even serious insults, and in a dignity-based society parents might teach children some version of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – an idea that would be alien in a culture of honor.

The new “culture of victimhood” has a different goal – cultural change. Culture is, after all, a set of ideas that is shared, usually so widely shared as to be taken for granted. The microaggression debate is about insult, and one of the crucial cultural ideas at stake is how the insulted person should react. In the culture of honor, he must seek personal retribution. In doing so, of course, he is admitting that the insult did in fact sting. The culture of dignity also focuses on the character of offended people, but here they must pretend that the insult had no personal impact. They must maintain a Jackie-Robinson-like stoicism even in the face of gross insults and hope that others will rise to their defense. For smaller insults, say Campbell and Manning, the dignity culture “would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue,” which still keeps things at a personal level, “or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.”

In the culture of victimhood, the victim’s goal is to make the personal political.  “It’s not just about me…”  Victims and their supporters are moral entrepreneurs. They want to change the norms so that insults and injustices once deemed minor are now seen as deviant. They want to define deviance up.  That, for example, is the primary point of efforts like the Microaggressions Project, which describes microaggressions in exactly these terms, saying that microaggression “reminds us of the ways in which we and people like us continue to be excluded and oppressed” (my emphasis).

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So, what we are seeing may be a conflict between two cultures of social control: dignity and victimhood. It’s not clear how it will develop. I would expect that those who enjoy the benefits of the status quo and none of its drawbacks will be most likely to resist the change demanded by a culture of victimhood. It may depend on whether shifts in the distribution of social power continue to give previously more marginalized groups a louder and louder voice.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Reddit’s co-founder Steve Huffman, who is currently taking over CEO responsibilities in the wake of Ellen Pao’s resignation, has started doing these Fireside AMAs where he makes some sort of edict and all of the reddit users react and ask clarifying questions. Just today he made an interesting statement about the future of “free speech” in general and certain controversial subreddits in particular. The full statement is here but I want to focus on this specific line where he describes how people were banned in the beginning of Reddit versus the later years when the site became popular:

Occasionally, someone would start spewing hate, and I would ban them. The community rarely questioned me. When they did, they accepted my reasoning: “because I don’t want that content on our site.”

As we grew, I became increasingly uncomfortable projecting my worldview on others. More practically, I didn’t have time to pass judgement on everything, so I decided to judge nothing.

This all comes at the heels of some interesting revelations by former, former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong saying that Ellen Pao was actually the person in the board room championing free speech and it was Huffman, fellow co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and others that really wanted to clamp down on the hate speech. So that’s just a big side dish of delicious schadenfreude that’s fun to nibble on

But those quotes bring up some questions that are absolutely crucial to something Britney Summit-Gil posted here a few days ago, namely that Reddit finds itself in a paradox where revolting against the administration forces users to recognize that “Reddit is less like a community and more like a factory,” and that the free speech they rally around is an anathema to their other great love: the free market.

What structures this contradiction, what sets everyone up at cross-purposes, also has a lot to do with Huffman’s reticence to ban people as the site grew. After all, why would Huffman feel “increasingly uncomfortable” making unilateral banning decisions as the site grew, and why was his default position then be “to judge nothing”? Why does it, all of a sudden, become unfair or inappropriate to craft a community or even a product with the kind of decisiveness that comes with “I just don’t like it”?

The answer to all of this comes out of two philosophic ideas: One is the Enlightenment model of reason that we still use to undergird our concepts of legitimacy and rhetorical persuasiveness. That big decisions that effect lots of people should be argued out and have practical and utilitarian reasons and not be based on the whims of an individual. That’s what kings did and that sort of authority is arbitrary even if the results seem desirable.

The second is relatively more recent but still fundamental to the point of vanishing: the idea of the modern society as being governed by bureaucracies that have written rules that are followed by everyone. The rule of law, not of individuals. Bureaucracies are nice when they work because if you look at the written down rules, you have a fairly good idea of how to behave and what to expect from others. It’s a very enticing prospect that is rarely fully experienced.

Huffman doesn’t say as much but this is essentially how we went from fairly common-sense decisions about good governance to free speech fanaticism: not choosing to ban is the absence of arbitrary authority. When you have a site that lets you vote on things it feels like a decision to stop imposing order from the top is making room for democratic order from below.

But this is closer to the kind of majoritarian tyranny that even the architects of the American constitution were worried about. Voting in the 1700s was something that only aristocrats were qualified to do. Leave it to rabble and you would have chaos. That’s why they built a bicameral legislature that originally featured a senate with members appointed by state governments.

It should also be said that one of the oldest laws in the United States is that Congress can’t make laws that specifically target a single individual or organization. That’s why those efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011 were immediately dismissed as unconstitutional. Laws have to apply to everyone equally.

And so what Huffman is presently faced with is a problem of liberal (lowercase L) and modern state governance. How do you write broad laws that classify r/coontown without just saying “I ban r/coontown”?  Unfortunately, this is also the biggest fuel line to the flames of fear that banning even detestable subreddits are a threat to free speech in general. This is, fundamentally, why it even makes sense to argue that banning an outwardly and explicitly racist subreddit can threaten the integrity of other subreddits either in the present or sometime in the future. Laws apply to everyone equally.

So if Reddit wants to get itself out of this paradox, I say dispense with liberalism all-together. At the very least come up with some sort of aspirational progressive vision of what kind of community you want to have and persuade others that they should work to achieve it. This sort of move is the biggest departure that anarchist political theory takes from mainstream liberalism: that communities can agree on the features of a future utopia and govern in the present as if you are already free to live that future utopia. Organizing humans with blanket laws forces you to explain the obvious, namely that hateful people suck and should be persuaded to act otherwise if they wish to remain part of a community that is meaningful to them.

Right now Huffman and the rest of the Reddit administration have come up with some strange and inelegant ways of dealing with the present problem. They make all these dubious distinctions between action and speech; between inciting harm and just abstracting wishing it on people; and lots of blanket “I know it when I see it” sorts of decency rules. Under liberalism redditors would be right to demand very specific descriptions of the “I know it when I see it” kinds of moments.

But if prominent members were to just be upfront in stating what sort of community they would like to see and then acting as if it already existed, discontents would have to persuade admins that they were acting against their own interests and propose a more compelling way to achieve the stated utopia. If they don’t like the utopia at all, then those people can leave for Voat and new users who like that utopia might come to replace them. At the very least, if Reddit were to take this approach, users might actually start answering the question that is at the heart of the matter but is rarely stated in explicit terms: who gets to be a part of the community?

Cross-posted at Cyborgology.

David Banks is a PhD candidate in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Science and Technology Studies Department. You can follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.

For many Reddit users, these are dark times indeed. With the banning of r/fatpeoplehate and other subreddits that did not curtail harassment and vote brigading, followed more recently by the sudden dismissal of Reddit employees including Victoria Taylor, many users are criticizing the increase in top-down administrative decisions made under the leadership of interim CEO Ellen Pao.  Alongside these criticisms are accusations that the “PC” culture of safe spaces and “social justice warriors” has eroded the ideological foundations of Reddit culture–freedom of speech, democracy, and the right to be offensive under any circumstances. Meanwhile, Reddit’s biggest competitor voat.co is having a hard time keeping their servers functioning with the massive influx of traffic.

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The abrupt and unexplained dismissal of Victoria Taylor has become a particularly vivid rallying point for disgruntled users. Many moderators set their subreddits to private or restricted submissions, effectively making Reddit unusable and invisible for a vast majority of visitors. “The Blackout” (aka #TheDarkening) lasted from late Thursday (7/2) until Friday afternoon when most subreddits came back online; it is one of several tactics used so far in the “Reddit Revolt.” At this time a change.org petition calling for Ellen Pao to step down is nearing 200,000 supporters.

One of the more confusing elements of the revolt is the target of redditors’ anger. Who is to blame for this perceived assault on liberty and the free exchange of ideas? For now, two seemingly opposed forces are bearing the brunt of accusation. These are Ellen Pao, under the influence of commercial interests, and social justice activists who criticize Reddit for tolerating and perpetuating hateful discourse. No one is speaking up on the cause of Taylor’s dismissal, which has led to speculation that she was fired for refusing to comply with the increasingly commercial motivations of Reddit admins, that she would not relocate from New York to San Francisco, or that she did not sufficiently manage the controversial Jessie Jackson AMA. Without more information, and in the context of other recent changes to Reddit, users alternate between blaming encroaching corporatism or PC freedom police who are finally ruining the internet.

So, how can these two forces both be responsible for the changes taking place on Reddit, and in other media such as television and gaming? Consider that a cornerstone of the Gamer Gate fiasco has been the assertion that market forces, not SJW activism, should determine the content and character of video games. Opposition to greater inclusivity in games, such as more central female, minority, and queer characters, has often been justified through free market rhetoric; the assertion is that men are the primary consumers of games, and that their demographic preferences do – and should – determine content. Any other force driving game design is perceived as ideologically motivated, propagandizing, and an assault on liberty.

If video game production companies are acquiescing to the demands of activists, they have not been forthcoming about it. Instead, they claim to be adapting to a marketplace in which women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals occupy an ever increasing consumer base. Perhaps the activist/consumer dichotomy is more distracting than useful, given that the voices most critical of capitalism’s ability to turn identity into a commodity are also the ones advocating to see a bit of themselves in their beloved games. Here again, people are caught between wanting to see their values and identities reflected back at them in the media that they love, and coming to terms with what capitalist logics do to those values and identities.

On its face, the simultaneous blame directed at SJWs and commercialization seems at odds. But given the ability of neoliberal late capitalism to commodify identity and the self, and to turn nearly any element of culture into a profitable enterprise, this muddiness is a logical outcome of the contradictions of capitalism that Marx believed would be its downfall. Instead, neoliberalism and identity politics send capitalism into overdrive as the need to colonize ever expanding markets and commodify even the most absurd abstractions turns anti-capitalist ideology into easily packaged products. Rather than disturbing the supposed working-class false consciousness, the contradiction has accounted for it and marketed it back to the very people it exploits. It’s only a matter of time before Walmart starts selling a t-shirt that reads “Social Justice Warrior!” in yellow glitter.

Also central to the Reddit Revolt are discussions of labor and exploitation. Many on Reddit have remarked on the betrayal of moderators by the admins. Mods develop and manage Reddit content on their own time and for no compensation, a service admins rely on for the site to function and be profitable. In exchange, mods have historically been given relative freedom within the subreddits they moderate. Now that this freedom is being restricted or, as in the case with Victoria Taylor, decisions are made at the admin level without consulting or even informing mods, mods and users are taking the opportunity to air more general grievances, like the lack of investment in the site’s infrastructure.

Here is the centerpiece of the Reddit Revolt paradox: what is a redditor relative to the admins, or to the site itself? Redditors perceive themselves as members of a community, or perhaps as customers of the site. In many instances they even see themselves as workers generating content for the site to the benefit of the admins. But redditors are not customers, nor are they simply workers — they are the product.

To complicate this further, the Reddit Revolt requires all of us to grapple with digital and affective labor, and its tendency to blur the categories of workers, products, and consumers. Ellen Pao’s job is not to make Reddit a happy community, it is to sell the attention of redditors to advertisers. And even as users begin to understand that Reddit is less like a community and more like a factory, they seem less clear on their position within this factory. Redditors are not so much customers engaged in a boycott or even laborers on strike, they are products. As products, the only effective protest movement redditors could possibly engage in would be to remove themselves from the market. Hence, the blackout.

But the fact is, Reddit admins can shoulder the brunt of a couple of blackout days. Given how quickly the front page returned to normal it seems unlikely that any sustained movement will take hold. And while they may make promises to users about changes to come, Reddit admins will continue to do what all successful corporate entities require — turn a profit, often at the expense of those who use, make, or even are the product.

It’s to be expected that redditors feel betrayed by the powers that be for undermining the perceived ethos of Reddit as a community in which ideas — any ideas — can be freely exchanged. But there is perhaps a deeper betrayal that has not been articulated in the dominant narrative of the Reddit Revolt. That is the betrayal of western rationalism itself, and the notion that free markets and free speech are two articulations of a deeper, natural order that ultimately works in favor of the masses. The rhetorical relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of markets performs key ideological work for the perpetuation of an American-flavored narrative that capitalism is the great equalizer. While events like the Citizens United Supreme Court case occasionally highlight the absurdity of this argument, it is pervasive and often unseen. That cornerstone of western rationalism that so many redditors love is playing out in ways that they really really do not love. And the rupture will require more than dank memes and mental gymnastics to reconcile.

Cross-posted at Cyborgology.

Britney Summit-Gil is a graduate student in Communication and Media at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She tweets occasionally at @beersandbooks.

A new tumblr titled Every Word Spoken posted a quote from George Gerbner that goes like this:

Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.

It’s the rallying cry for writer and performer Dylan Marron, who runs the tumblr. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a movie cut down to feature just the lines spoken by non-white people. He’s just getting started, but it looked to me like so far the longest clip is less than 1 minute long, most are around 30 seconds and this includes a few seconds at the beginning of each where they show the title.

In addition to showing us that people of color with speaking roles are almost non-existent — symbolically annihilated — the roles they play tell disturbing stories. Overwhelmingly, in the videos he’s picked so far, they are in service occupations (500 Days of Summer); literally maids (Enough Said); or with stereotypical accents (Wedding Crashers). And, oh hey movie people, making the only person of color with lines a doctor (The Fault in Our Stars; Black Swan) gets you no bonus points in my book. Nice try.

But THESE. These were the best ones…

Noah:

Into the Woods:

This project is calling out the movie industry in a simple, powerful way. Just the facts, ma’am. Time for change.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

There is a whole social science to the optimal balance of victory and defeat in social movements and social change. Consider two political cartoons by Mike Luckovich. This from June 21:

Luckovich-slider

And this one from June 25:

luckovich

Did he really just demand the removal of the Confederate flag and then mock people who would celebrate its removal? Is that how much things change in a week? But in periods of social change, moving the goal posts is what it’s all about. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Charleston massacre was a horrific reminder of how it seems some things never change. But they do change. Dylann Roof was caught and may be put to death, legally. And it turned out that, not only had the Confederate flag only been flying at the South Carolina capitol for a few decades, but it actually could be taken down in response to public outrage. And yet, that’s not the end of racism.

Anthea Butler, a religion and Africana studies professor at Penn, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, was on the On Point radio show. She was talking to host Tom Ashbrook, when she got this:

Tom Ashbrook: If you ask me, I understand that feeling and that vivid response. At the same time, I, and maybe you, Anthea Butler, Dr. Butler, don’t want to lose, or not recognize, or lose the progress that has been made. And this is nowhere near paradise…

Anthea Butler: But what kind of progress? What kind of progress? This is what we keep talking about. And I don’t understand, when you say, “We’ve made progress.” How have we made progress when the president of the United States has been constantly questioned because he is partially a Black man? And so you talk progress — and this is the kind of talk we’re going to hear all week long after this.

TA: But he’s president, madam.

AB: He is president.

TA: Well, that’s a pretty big deal…

AB: That is a big deal, but to some people in this country, like Dylann Roof, that is the end of this country. That’s why you had the kind of phrase that he said, that all your politicians, the right Republican politicians have been saying, “Take our country back.” And so, I want to talk about the rhetoric that’s happened…

Ashbrook has a point about progress, of course, but it’s just the wrong time to say that, days after a racist massacre that seems as timeless as a Black-churches burning. At that moment there could be no progress.

For whatever reason, Ashbrook turned to progress on the interpersonal level:

TA: We did see White people in South Carolina, in Charleston, pour into the churches alongside African Americans over this weekend.

AB: Yes we did. But you need to understand the distinction here. I don’t doubt that there are well-meaning, good White people, good White Christians, who are appalled at this. I understand that. But when you have a structural system that continues to do this kind of racial profiling, the kinds of things that are going on with the police in this country, the kinds of issues that we’ve had. The problem becomes this: you can talk about progress all you want, but reality is another thing altogether.

Again, it’s progress, but focusing on it at that moment is basically #AllLivesMatter. President Obama also tried to keep his eyes on the prize, in his appearance on the WTF podcast:

Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say “nigger” in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.

Outrage ensued about his use of “nigger,” but White House Press Secretary Josh “earnest non-racist white guy” Earnest doubled down:

The President’s use of the word and the reason that he used the word could not be more apparent from the context of his discussion on the podcast.  The President made clear that it’s not possible to judge the nation’s progress on race issues based solely on an evaluation of our country’s manners.  The fact is that we’ve made undeniable progress in this country over the last several decades, and as the President himself has often said, anyone who lived in this country through the ‘50s and the ‘60s and the ‘70s and the ‘80s notes the tremendous progress that we’ve made.  That progress is undeniable. But what’s also undeniable is that there is more work that needs to be done, and there’s more that we can do.  And the fact is everyone in this country should take some inspiration from the progress that was made in the previous generation and use that as a motivation and an inspiration to try to make further progress toward a more perfect union.

Now is no time to talk about progress, some say. With Black church members being gunned down and churches burning, and one appalling, outrageous video after another showing the abuse of Black citizens by police, having a Black president is not a victory. So much so that maybe he’s not really Black at all. Frank Roberts writes of Obama’s “Amazing Grace” moment:

With Obama … blackness has been reduced to a theatrical prop; a shuck-and-jive entertainment device that keeps (black) audiences believing that the President “feels their pain” — at precisely the same time that he fails to provide a substantive policy response to black unemployment, over-incarceration, and/or racialized state violence.

The social scientist in me objects, because the rate of progress is not determined by the victory or tragedy of the moment, or by the blackness of a man. And Obama probably has done more than any other president (at least recently) to address Black unemployment, incarceration, and racialized state violence. That’s not a moral or political statement — and it doesn’t imply “enough” — it’s an empirical one.

Movements use good news for legitimacy and bad news for urgency.  When something goes well, they need to claim credit and also make sure their supporters know there is more work to be done. When something awful happens they place the troubles in the context of a narrative of struggle, but they don’t want to appear powerless because that saps support and undermines morale.

An extended version of this post is at Family Inequality.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. He writes the blog Family Inequality and is the author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

A new survey of 557 female scientists found widespread experiences of discrimination and alienation in the workforce that varied in interesting ways by race.7

While all types of women reported experiencing these forms of discrimination in large numbers — and 100% of a sub-sample of 60 interviewed for the study reported at least one — the race differences are interesting:

  • Black women were especially likely to need to prove and re-prove competence.
  • Asian and white women, especially, received pressure to withdraw from the workplace after having children.
  • Asian women were most likely to be pushed to perform a stereotypically feminine role in the office, followed by white and then Latina women. Black women rarely reported this.
  • Latina and white women were most likely to feel supported by other women in the workforce; Black women the least.
  • And almost half of Black and Latina women had been mistaken for janitors or administrative assistants, compared to a third of white women and a quarter of Asian women.

The study, by law professor Joan Williams and two colleagues, can be found here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

All eyes are on the Confederate flag, but let’s not forget what enabled Roof to turn his ideology into death with such efficiency.

From cartoonist Jonathan Schmock3Visit Schmock’s website here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

On June 26th, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. This is your image of the week:

5Source: Slate.

 

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.