Thursday, January 7, 2016

Guest Post: I Can't Accept Matt Walsh at His Worst, and His Blog Posts are Always the Worst.

BFFFL C. Austin wrote this in drips and drabs two years ago, when Matt fucking Walsh had a piece pushed to HuffPo, and it's been showing up in my feed in fairly regular rotation ever since; from people who I adore (and who Matt Walsh would hate - because they're single moms, or atheists, or feminists, or any of a myriad of reasons why Matt Walsh thinks you and your lifestyle are filth) again and again. We finally just compiled Austin's initial response(s), because friends don't let friends repost Matt Walsh's steaming piles of bullshit, at least not without a rebuttal. Thusly:

[Originally posted as a series of Facebook comments, in response to Matt Walsh’s oft-reblogged piece “If I Can’t Handle You At Your Worst, Then Maybe You Should Stop Being So Horrible”]

Gonna do this with cranky bullet points, because I don't want to spend more mental energy on this guy than I have to. Apologies if this is a bit muddled or unclear—but the original piece is meandering as fuck, so the response is gonna be similar. Also, this shouldn't be a surprise, but OH MY GOD THIS GOT LONG ANYWAY.

•First, the common ground: I agree with Walsh that horrible behavior shouldn't be excused, and that horrible people should try to be less horrible. But far from being a brave or honest or novel position to take, this is deep into 'NO SHIT SHERLOCK' territory, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with that basic premise. Much like his pieces supporting breastfeeding and stay-at-home moms, he's making a superficially correct point but connecting it to all sorts of terrible and unsupported bullshit, being intellectually reductive on every conceivable level, and promoting a childish black & white/good & evil/us vs. them worldview—all while congratulating himself for his insight and bravery. Nope nope nope.

•Apart from the obviousness, it's also a useless message to send on purely a pragmatic level. People who are unusually smug and horrible rarely realize—or care—that they're unusually smug and horrible, so any criticism that they're smug and horrible will just be smugly and horrible dismissed. People don’t like being told they’re horrible, especially when that message is delivered in an aggressive and condescending way. This approach never works, and I’ve got a perfect case study: OH HI THERE, LOOKING AT YOU MATT WALSH. When challenged or criticized, does he listen to those who disagree with him, engage in some self-reflection, and try to be more understanding of differing points of view or moderate his tone? Fuck no—he jeers at his critics, sets up countless straw man arguments, and doubles down on his inflammatory rhetoric (his response is usually more muted when challenged by fellow Christians/conservatives, but it’s still defiant, generally some variation of “you just don’t want to face hard truths” or “you didn’t understand my point”). Not once has he ever responded to criticism with “You’re right, I should stop being so horrible”; it’s always “Liberals who disagree with me are selfish baby-murderers who just want government handouts.” It’s the epitome of hubris to expect others to accept a lecture that he himself rejects out of hand.

…so, yeah, this is an approach that accomplishes nothing. It’s purely an exercise in smug posturing, and it’s deeply disheartening to see it resonate with so many people.

•His whole attack on the evils of participation culture is entirely anecdotal, speculative, based on nostalgic fantasy—oh, and undermined by his own personal experience. He asserts that growing up in a culture that awards simple participation either makes people insecure/ashamed or narcissistic/egotistical, and makes it impossible for them for form decent relationships…except for Walsh himself, of course, who grew up in that same culture but has a great relationship and turned out fine. Soooooooo he's flat-out wrong, and/or he believes himself to be the very most special-est snowflake, and/or he’s being disingenuous and vastly oversimplifying. Or all of the above.

•The whole divorce/relationship line of argument is such an ignorant non-sequitur that it makes my head spin, mostly because it's based way more on self-congratulatory moralizing than it is on facts. The divorce rate has actually been steadily *dropping* since about 1980, but hey, don't let data get in the way of being judgmental and wringing your hands over some imaginary moral decline. And of *course* there were fewer legal divorces a few generations ago—because divorce wasn’t legal, and that’s how laws work. Idiot. It sure as shit isn’t evidence that people were somehow “better” at relationships back then. The fact that there were few legal means to dissolve a marriage tells us *nothing* about the quality or health of those marriages. But yeah, whatever, marrying primarily for economic reasons and staying married because there were no other legal/social options—which was the dominant paradigm for marriage until a few decades ago; marrying for love and emotional compatibility is relatively new—*definitely* demonstrates how great people were at relationships, suuuuuuuuuuuure. ::eyeroll:: This supposed "crisis of failed relationships at every level” "appears obvious" only if you're an ignorant f{artcanoe} who doesn't know shit about history or human nature, and who somehow missed the memo that our cultural definition of 'relationships' is dramatically different than it was a half century ago. It's just more of this kind of nostalgic fantasy bullshit:
Inline image 1

•There's a lazy semantic dodge he pulls off here, where he conflates "accepting a person despite their bad behavior" with "accepting a person's bad behavior." The two concepts are quite different, yet he treats them as interchangeable and denigrates both. Not only is this goalpost-shifting an intellectual cheat, it seems particularly odd coming from an outspoken Christian whose entire goddamn religion is predicated on the concept of being accepted by a loving God despite your flaws, hating the sin but loving the sinner, etc. etc. He doesn't specifically bring up his religion here, but the position he's arguing here is 100% at odds with his oft-stated faith. Idiot.

•Speaking of dishonest semantic tricks: "accept" has a dozen different meanings, and he blatantly ignores the one that best fits the speaker's obvious intent, disregarding every definition except for the one that best fits his own twisted thesis. If he wasn't too lazy to read past definition #1 on, he'd see that accept also means "to accommodate or reconcile oneself to," or, even more appropriately, "to regard as normal, suitable, or usual." Traits like selfishness, impatience, and insecurity shouldn't be "received with approval or favor," I totally agree, but that's not what's being requested: the quote is about reconciling yourself to the fact that we're all imperfect, and not treating someone as abnormal, unsuitable, or unusual simply because they have some flaws. It takes a deliberate obtuseness not to recognize that, making his whole line or argument either breathtakingly stupid or monstrously dishonest. Or, y'know, both.

•Also, in his circuitous lecturing, he's somehow staked out this weird position where you can be loved by someone without being accepted by them. Not sure how that works, but it's more evidence of his incredibly sloppy thinking and/or sloppy use of language. Idiot.

•The latent sexism here is a pretty big deal, and it's probably my biggest issue with the piece. It's obvious that this is mostly targeted towards—or at least inspired by—women; the headline practically reads "If I Can't Handle You at Your Worst, LADIES, Then Maybe You Should Stop Being So Horrible." The quote he singles out is attributed to a woman, and the person who reposted it on facebook was a woman; even beyond Walsh's post, I'd be willing to bet that every time any of us have encountered this line, it's been from a woman. {Most of the time I see this reposted, it's by a woman. I can actively recollect only one dude in my sphere reposting it earnestly. ~M'ris} There's a good reason that this sentiment is expressed almost exclusively by women: as a society, we accept (even celebrate!) bad behavior from men, while we traditionally hold women to much higher (and generally unrealistic) standard. THIS LINE IS A PLEA FOR EQUAL CONSIDERATION, NOT SPECIAL TREATMENT. It's pretty much unheard of for a guy to post "Yeah, I can be a fucking asshole, but you need to accept me for who I am!" because there's no societal reason or personal need for a guy to write that—they have that acceptance by default. Women are pilloried for every imagined physical or psychological flaw, but society treats it as a given that men can find someone who will love/accept them despite their imperfections (and, tellingly, society often makes "fixing men" yet another responsibility of *women*, rather than the responsibility of men themselves). Also, lots of men—including Walsh—DO post the equivalent of “Yeah I’m a bitch, but deal with it” thing all the time, but they camouflage it in lofty ideological posturing, i.e. "I don't care if you're offended when I say that Planned Parenthood murders children and nothing else they do matters, I refuse to sacrifice my principles on the altar of political correctness." Make no mistake, the sentiment is exactly the same, and it's just as egotistical and self-involved as what he's piously condemning.

Anyway, the point is that there's a HUGE societal double standard when it comes to negative—but perfectly ordinary—character traits of women, and the whole "if you can't handle me at my worst" thing is a reasonable and understandable reaction to that. Our society has long told women that they must always be on their best behavior if they want to be rewarded with affection/consideration/respect/etc. from men; Monroe (or whoever originally uttered the line) was rejecting that one-sided expectation, making it clear that she was just as much of a mixed bag as men are, and that expecting *only* good behavior is both unfair and unrealistic.

•The headline and article just reinforce all that patriarchal bullshit, and (as I’ve pointed out already) all the arguments he brings to bear can just as easily be used against Walsh himself. What makes him so special that he gets to judge whether or not people are horrible? Is he such a gem that women should change their behavior so that *he* might find them more acceptable, so that they might bask in the glow of his superiority? His whole perspective seems premised on the assumption that yeah, he totally is. Fuuuuuuuuuck that.

•That being said: despite the fact that the meme’s message—given the historical and cultural context of its origin—is wholly legitimate, it's sometimes (often?) reposted these days by immature people as a defense of their own immaturity. And nope, I won't endorse, defend, or cosign that immaturity; it *should* be discouraged, I absolutely agree. It's infuriating when terrible people don't realize they're terrible, right? But here’s the thing: Walsh's piece is written in such a haughty and vindictive tone that it’s clearly NOT being reposted in a genuinely well-meaning or helpful way, but primarily as a way of riding Walsh's self-righteous coattails; it’s less about offering good-faith advice and more about sending a passive aggressive message to the drama queens and trifling bitches on social media. Which, okay, fine, we've all got a few of those on our feed, and they're often aggravating as hell, but you lose any moral high ground when you endorse something this stupid and mean-spirited. It’s a pompous and condescending lecture, not even remotely self-aware or -reflective, written purely as a rhetorical cudgel to be wielded against others. Consider: when you read it, did you think “He’s right, people shouldn’t accept me until I’m less horrible”? Or did you think “He’s right, I know some people I shouldn’t accept until they become less horrible”? I’m guessing that almost all of us thought the latter, because that's the tone in which it was written. That's not a message I want to cosign, not a tendency I want to encourage in myself, not a bandwagon I want to jump on. 

But again, the main thing that bothers me about the popularity of this piece is the gender disparity on display; guys are at least as bad about this kind of “fuck all y’all, I’ma do what I want” strutting as women are, but I've never seen that basic fact condemned and reblogged hundreds of thousands of times. Despite being relatively harmless, this kind of immature posturing is apparently unacceptable from girls, while identical (and far worse) immaturity from guys—on the rare occasion that it's even acknowledged at all—is simply given a pass. This is what Walsh feels is a priority? This is where he sees a massive societal failing? Sorry, Steubenville rape victim, Matt Walsh couldn't take the time to condemn your attackers, or address the entitled bro culture that encouraged and defended your assault: he was too busy writing about a woman who was egotistical once on facebook. His values are awesome, he's such a smart and moral guy.

(Aaaaaand what was intended as a quickie bullet-point rebuttal turns into a sprawling, multi-page comment that's longer than Walsh's original post. This same basic thing happens every time with Walsh’s posts, because there just ends up being SO MUCH BULLSHIT to address. His writing often seems reasonable or innocuous at first glance, but it's like a TARDIS of misinformation: it's way wronger on the inside.)

-- C. Austin, 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment