Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Keeping The Little People In Line: How Authoritarians Maintain Dominance



Professional Submissive Rod Dreher wrote that Truth is information disseminated by the authoritarian leadership and whole-heartedly accepted by the authoritarian followers. Authority, like power, is given. One way to maintain authoritarian control is to use appeals to authority to slap down dissent, which can undermine authority if it is not eliminated. Let's watch Megan McArdle, our favorite authoritarian leader wannabe, attempt to maintain her authority in the face of criticism.

The back story: (feel free to skip if you are up to date)

McArdle:
Zosima, let me see if I can put this kindly. Or frankly, let me not. Your obnoxious student crap is getting incredibly old. In fact, it was old when I was ten, because I come from a family of academics, and you're not even very good at it.

Knock it off and talk like an adult rather than like an anxious freshman who hopes that he can use arrogance as a substitute for manners and insight, or get off the board. You never had any realistic hope of intimidating me into conceding to your superior intellect, because as I mentioned, I come from a family of academics who are actually intellectually intimidating. But any hope you had was long ago squandered in our various interactions, where you have demonstrated a tediously mechanical grasp of talking points you've heard elsewhere, an imperfect familiarity with your intermediate coursework, and what seems like some sort of nascent personality disorder.

I've no doubt that you are charming and erudite in person, with many friends who respect your intellect and your deft wit. But for some reason, that is not shining through here. You haven't violated any explicit rule of the board except one, which is that you are annoying the hell out of me, and contributing nothing to the discussion. If this continues, I will ban you.

If you were better at contempt and sarcasm, I might let you stay, but I'm afraid it's just not your metier. You might experiment with respectful interaction, which is always welcome.

Zosima:
That's funny, because I was thinking the argument you're making sound like that annoying kid from the freshman macro class. They're almost completely non-specific(except for the ones you got wrong). That kid is finally coming to realization that economics is imperfect, but doesn't really understand why, or understand the ways by which we would measure how wrong.

p.s. It sounds like I hurt your feelings, if you look back through our comment history, you dish the ad hominem out as much or more than you take it. (Your previous post being an excellent example) But you're perfectly within your rights to restrict who speaks on your blog. I would think it hypocritical, but then, I wouldn't be surprised either.

p.p.s.
I might add that I generally find your posts irritating, as well. What frustrates me is that in the world of internet blogging you have a plethora of excellent resources, and excellent options for arguments, but the arguments you choose are so mind-numbingly banal, that they make me want to bang my head against the wall. Nothing is certain in this world especially in research, and 75% of the points you make boil down to a restatement of this claim. I criticize, because I hope that eventually you'll stop scratching the surface; realize that lack of certainty is not a reason to change anything. But you're right, I can't see that I've made any difference.

Let's look at McArdle's response in detail, to pick out the methods she uses to impose dominance to maintain authority when she has not earned it by virtue of education, self-improvement, or achievement.
McArdle:
Ooooooh, snap!

More-in-sorrow-than-in-anger requires making some point I find at least tangentially interesting.

As brad says, the Lady of the Manor has spoken. The little people are here for her amusement, or she would not bother with them at all.
On a serious note, don't worry that you hurt my feelings. Mosquitos don't need to hurt my feelings to piss me off.

Slap-down number 2: you're nothing compared to me--a nuisance, an insect.
I don't like nasty internet invective.

When somebody else uses it. Only Authoritarian Leaders can use invective to keep the followers in line; when followers use invective it is insolent and shows a lack of humility.
And not because I'm not good at it. Invective is fun, but entirely counterproductive, which is why I deploy it only with people who a) use it liberally themselves and b) have ignored myriad previous warning shots across the bow.

Invective is very productive, which is why McArdle doesn't want it used against her and why she routinely uses it against others.
Contempt is only a good arguing tool if the person you're arguing with wants your respect.

Wrong again. By showing contempt instead of respect, you are refusing to acknowledge the authority of the object of contempt.
And, respectfully, you haven't earned mine, so I don't really care about yours.

To earn McArdle's respect, a person must be either an acceptable Authority of higher rank or a person of lower rank who does not criticize or challenge--that is, question the authority of--McArdle.
Only the very young, the very stupid, or the very insecure are impressed by the condescension of random others, and alas, I am no longer any of those things.

Since McArdle routinely uses condescension, as she does in these passages, she is showing her hand by making this statement. She deliberately insults people to put them in their place and thereby maintain authority.
Had you attempted straight argument, stripped of the attempt to project a superiority you didn't work for, you might have won that respect; there are a lot of liberals whose opinions I do care for.

So much projection, so little time. McArdle will not attempt straight arguments because she fudges the facts to win arguments. She attempts to project an air of superiority by repeatedly telling others she knows more than they. She named her blog Asymmetrical Information, for god's sake--she knows what she's talking about and you don't. And her respect must be earned while she demands that everyone else automatically respect her authority.
You are very welcome to attempt to be one of those liberals; or you can go away. But the very next time you express the merest sliver of contempt for me, or anyone else on this thread, I'll ban you.

Dissent must be banned because it threatens authority. If people start to question authority, authority is destroyed.
Note to others, ideologically sympatico or not: this is one of my periodic housecleanings. Be nice to one another. Both liberals and conservatives have fallen prey to my axe before, and I'm ready to start swinging again. You know I love each and every one of you, but that doesn't mean we can all live in the same house.

She says she loves them yet she demands absolute obedience and insults them frequently. She's going to be one hell of a mother.

Zosima responds:
FYI, the substantive arguments are above, you've pretty much dropped those. Your stated preferences and self-aggrandizing descriptions aside, you demonstrate a revealed preference for content free invective both through the posts you choose to respond to, the relative length of those posts, and your tendency to escalate ad hominem battles rather than defuse them.

p.s. I could care less about your respect. I see mistakes and I correct them. I learned a while ago that it helps to direct your attention to the more consequential arguments if I give you a little prod.

McArdle later says, in response to someone else:
Zosima has been substituting condescension on a near-daily basis for substance since HCR and I've finally had enough.

Correcting mistakes is condescension--that doesn't even make sense in an authoritarian framework. Correcting mistakes is a simple matter of fact, but this is McArdle's authority on the line and she must call it something else to hide her factual mistakes or lies and maintain her manufactured air of authority.
ADDED: McArdle has erased her post. It's not the first time and no doubt will not be the last. (Thanks, brad.)

10 comments:

KWillow said...

Remember a Gene Wilder movie: "Sherlock Holmes SMARTER Brother"?

Well, McArgleBargle is Doughy Loadpant's Smarter Sister, Snippy SoggyPanties. Only she's not 1/100th as funny as Wilder.

Don't worry about her kids: they'll be as bad as her, maybe worse. When she gets old and erratic they'll shove her in a crappy Government-run nursing home, while making condescending insults and laughing at her.

Batocchio said...

Do we need to drag out the 2 x 4 post again?

Megan starts with her conclusions ("Give the rich more money," "Don't give the poor health care,") and then just throws whatever crap she can find or make up to "justify" it. The thing is, she really seems to think she's a wonk, and she's not even a good hack.

Downpuppy said...

If zosima leaves, we just have to take his place.

Pity, because s/he is truly excellent at it.

aimai said...

There are so many "tells" in that exchange--little verbal tics and flat out statements from Megan that are frighteningly revealing. To Megan the source of authority (and power) is not knowledge, or education, or the ability to marshall and deploy the relevant facts and arguments but the ability to be rude to another poster/person unchecked, or the ability to receive the attacks and arguments of another person without having it affect you.

In striking back at Zosima she consistently attempts to gain, as she sees it, the upper hand by dismissing, ridiculing, and attacking Zosima not for the details of the argument ("anyone would know that GDP..." might be the form that would come in) but by attacking Zosima's standing to challenge Megan herself. And its part of Zosima's standing, apparently, that Megan can't be disturbed by comments from such as he. She repeats that over and over, in various ways.

But such argumentation doesn't even make sense in an academic or intellectual setting. There's no such thing as les majeste. The fact that Megan is uncomfortable (or comfortable) when confronted by an irrefutable argument says nothing about the argument, or the opponent in the argument. It tells us how very insecure Megan must be, since she worries out loud about how she feels, and protests over and over that she feels nothing like embarrassment. But, she tells us, she feels no embarrassment at losing the argument because Zosima is the wrong class to make the argument, not because Megan hasn't lost. Zosima doesn't have standing to make Megan look bad, and the proof (the only proof Megan can adduce in the world of blog posts) is her insistence that she doesn't feel bad.

The whole scene looks like some mashed up version of the Princess and the Pea, with Zosima putting more and more rocks in the bed of a pretend Princess and the Pretend Princess, having heard that no real Princess would notice the antics of the lower orders, rolling off the bed continually, covered in bumps and bruises, and rising to her feet saying (through clenched teeth) "why no, there were no rocks in my bed."

Alternatively, I'd say she's a bit like the Black Knight in Monty Python. She's had her legs cut off, and her arms cut off, but she thinks if she keeps pretending not to care she might yet win the battle for public approval. And that's the last funny part about Megan, no body can protest louder that she cares nothing for conventional wisdom, the wisdom of crowds, or what people think of her--all the while keeping one eye anxiously on the mirror of her blog commenters good opinion.

aimai

aimai said...

There are so many "tells" in that exchange--little verbal tics and flat out statements from Megan that are frighteningly revealing. To Megan the source of authority (and power) is not knowledge, or education, or the ability to marshall and deploy the relevant facts and arguments but the ability to be rude to another poster/person unchecked, or the ability to receive the attacks and arguments of another person without having it affect you.

In striking back at Zosima she consistently attempts to gain, as she sees it, the upper hand by dismissing, ridiculing, and attacking Zosima not for the details of the argument ("anyone would know that GDP..." might be the form that would come in) but by attacking Zosima's standing to challenge Megan herself. And its part of Zosima's standing, apparently, that Megan can't be disturbed by comments from such as he. She repeats that over and over, in various ways.

But such argumentation doesn't even make sense in an academic or intellectual setting. There's no such thing as les majeste. The fact that Megan is uncomfortable (or comfortable) when confronted by an irrefutable argument says nothing about the argument, or the opponent in the argument. It tells us how very insecure Megan must be, since she worries out loud about how she feels, and protests over and over that she feels nothing like embarrassment. But, she tells us, she feels no embarrassment at losing the argument because Zosima is the wrong class to make the argument, not because Megan hasn't lost. Zosima doesn't have standing to make Megan look bad, and the proof (the only proof Megan can adduce in the world of blog posts) is her insistence that she doesn't feel bad.

I'd say she's a bit like the Black Knight in Monty Python. She's had her legs cut off, and her arms cut off, but she thinks if she keeps pretending not to care she might yet win the battle for public approval. And that's the last funny part about Megan, no body can protest louder that she cares nothing for conventional wisdom, the wisdom of crowds, or what people think of her--all the while keeping one eye anxiously on the mirror of her blog commenters good opinion.

aimai

aimai said...

Apologies for the double post! Also, the tortured analogies.

aimai

Anonymous said...

Well, now we know what Megan's like with the mask off--arrogant, mean-spirited,and 13 years old, mentally. A bright future in corporate America beckons....

Downpuppy said...

To be an authoritarian while posing as a libertarian is a pretty clever strategy.

As long as your minions are really quite stupid.

brad said...

Sorry about the false lead, I'm still getting used to the newish comment system at the Atlantic.

Susan of Texas said...

No problem, brad.