Sunday, 2 November 2014


I've already been a bit disillusioned by the blog of Scott Adams, the guy behind the classic Dilbert 'toons, but his latest entries make me think Scott's lost the plot. The 'unique and controversial point of view' in question concerns his reaction to a hidden camera video of a woman walking around New York City and being hassled by various 'obnoxious cat-calling men', as featured in the New York Post.
I assume the makers of the video intend me to watch it and conclude "Sexism is out of control! Women can't even walk the streets unmolested! Something must be done!"

Here's my actual reaction: "MOVE SOMEWHERE BETTER, YOU IDIOT!"

Do you want to know why my life is good today? It's because I once lived in a place with no opportunity and many disadvantages but I cleverly fixed that problem by moving somewhere else. And so I reiterate.

MOVE!!! JUST [expletive deleted] MOVE!!!

Okay, I know, your family lives in New York City and your job is there and....JUST [expletive deleted] MOVE!!! MOVE!!! STOP MAKING IT MY PROBLEM!!!
The Dilbert blog 'Feedback for Feminists'

Whoa! Step away from the caps lock, Scott. Now let's all take some deep breaths and try to think about this rationally:

'I once lived in a place with no opportunity and many disadvantages but I cleverly fixed that problem by moving somewhere else.' That is clever Scott, well done you. But your problem, and how you solved it, is not what the film is about.

If somebody grows up in a place with zero opportunities, it makes sense to move somewhere else. But this woman is living in New York and, as Scott admits, 'Okay, I know, your family lives in New York City and your job is there', so the problem isn't lack of opportunities. It's people showing a basic lack of basic respect and civility to another person who is simply going about her business in a public place.

Moving to another place could be a rational way to solve this, different, problem, but it might not be the best solution. If everybody who lived in an area being dragged down by anti-social behaviour just ran away, then you'd be surrendering the place to the minority of noisy jerks and allowing them to dominate the public space, to the detriment of everybody else. Sometimes it pays to take a stand, shame the offenders, engage in activism, rally support and try to reclaim the place for the majority of people who are just minding their own business and trying to get through the day. A public-spirited attempt to make things better for everybody is not necessarily the mark of an idiot.

You could even say that the idiot is the person who just moves, as opposed to getting involved and trying to change things in the city, at least in the original sense of the word, ('idiot is derived from the Greek idiotes, which originally referred to a person who did not participate in the political or public life of the polis, or Greek city-state--in other words, someone who lived an individual life, unconcerned with larger affairs').

But in Scott's world, if you don't just move away when somebody harasses you, you must be some kind of idiot, or loser (he uses this playground bully's jibe to hammer home his point in a follow-up post, titled 'Loser choices').

There's also a bit of over-reaction going on when it comes to how the video's edited:
My first reaction is that editing ten hours down to two minutes is so overtly manipulative of the viewer that I had a bad reaction to it. I understand why they had to edit; no one watches ten hour videos. But while the video clearly states it is edited, the human brain still processes it as if it is in real time. My emotional reaction to the video is a reaction to a woman being harassed every five seconds, and that is not what happened.
Well, the finished video consists of the edited highlights and there's certainly a point of view, but it any more manipulative than, say, a TV news report? A murder, or a horrific multiple car crash on a major route will be reported with long shots of police tape round the incident scene, or the twisted wreckage,or  emergency vehicles with lights flashing, the whole shebang. Is this 'overtly manipulative?' Surely, for the sake of balance, there should be equal, or more time devoted to stock footage of people going safely about their business near the murder scene, not being found murdered, or of traffic flowing safely down the road, with no accidents, deaths or injuries, which is what happens for the vast majority of the time.

Of course that never happens, because the news is about newsworthy events - the vast majority of people who have an uneventful day not being murdered or killed on the road aren't news, and the unfortunate few who meet such a dramatic end, are. Likewise, a woman having an uneventful walk doesn't add up to a film (well maybe, an ambient art house one). The fact that she's being harassed, on average, about once every five minutes over a ten hour period is the dramatic, surprising thing and it would be perverse to expect the film maker to pad out a two minute video about women being harassed on the streets with footage of nothing much happening.

This isn't to say that focusing on violence, conflict and dramatic, upsetting events isn't a problem with the media we consume in general terms - a constant diet of 'newsworthy' disaster and conflict probably does lead to fear, anxiety and cognitive bias among consumers who must feel that the world is a far scarier place than it really is. But that's a problem with every edited highlight of a dramatic, newsworthy event, not necessarily a particular problem with this particular video.

Then, after telling women to stop being idiots, stand on their own two feet and stop making it his problem, Scott suddenly turns all concerned liberal:
1. The video is unintentionally racist as hell, and that doesn't help feminism...
 ... 5. The harassment was mostly in the form of powerless men hurling compliments at a woman that probably has a better job and more education than nearly all of the men in the video. Remind me again who the victims are?
A couple of things.

First, if you're going to get shouty, self-righteous and condescending with one disadvantaged group, at least get consistently shouty, self-righteous and condescending with everyone ('GET AN EDUCATION YOU IDIOT! OR A BETTER JOB! OR JUST MOVE!!! STOP MAKING IT MY PROBLEM!!!'). Otherwise it looks as if you're exclusively concerned about the rights of victims with one particular set of gonads.

Second - OK, many of the harassers were black. Maybe this just reflects what happened, rather than being the result of bias. There might be reasons for this which have nothing to do with racism on the part of the film maker. Scott, probably rightly, assumes that many of the harassers were poor, undereducated and generally socially disadvantaged, compared with the recipient of their unwanted attentions.Given that racial discrimination exists, it might well be that a greater proportion of black men fit that profile, due to lack of opportunity.

That is a problem, and a serious one, but it's a separate problem. And - and this is important- there's no reason to believe that solving one problem (harassment of women) precludes solving the others (racial discrimination, or more general inequality of access to resources and opportunity). This is not a zero sum game, except in the minds of people who want to play one disadvantaged group off against another.

Then there's this:
But in 2014, sexism is not so much the "can't vote" type of problem it once was. It's more of the "Someone is making me uncomfortable" or "I think my gender played a role in a decision" or "I can't tell if this is a business meeting or a date" sort of thing.
Not a smart remark from a man who doesn't want to be seen as sexist, but already has something like this to explain away:
The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don't punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles. 
But don't take it personally, because 'ol Scott's probably just joshin' (but if he is, he ain't sayin'):
Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content. 
Can we just cut to the chase and say 'cop out?' Because Scott knows how to do ironic and funny - he's done it enough times in his cartoons. And this isn't funny (at least not funny ha ha - it is funny peculiar, as in 'please stop, you're starting to creep me out'). This isn't comedy or irony. You don't need a fancy pants disclaimer to say what it is. It's trolling.
  • posting outrageous messages to bait people to answer - check
  • purposely provoking people and pulling them into flaming arguments -check
  • assuming the persona of a genuine sceptic with no hidden agenda -check
  • divisive and argumentative with need-to-be-right attitude - check
...if it looks like a duck troll and quacks like a duck troll... (I've read several versions of The Three Billy Goats Gruff and nowhere does it actually say that trolls don't quack).

And it's trolling of a particularly insidious kind, given the subject matter. Scott's main point, remember, is that if women don't like being in a place where they're being harassed and belittled, they should just go somewhere else. Which is possible, if unreasonable, if that place is New York. But when guys start trolling uppity women on the Internet, what are they supposed to do? Get off the Internet?

What happened to you Scott? You're a talented guy with a successful career - why behave like a real loser, a frustrated Internet troll who can only validate his sad existence by sneers, insults and put downs? I think you could do better than this.