The First Step is Dialogue

This past week, content creators and community members descended on the Anaheim Convention Centre for VidCon, the annual convention for vloggers and YouTube personalities. Something really interesting happened this year, which I’d like to highlight below:

The two people pictured are Laci Green (a feminist YouTube personality and sex educator) and Sargon of Akkad (a provocative and ruthlessly sarcastic YouTube personality often critical of social justice causes). For the most part, their relationship has been adversarial: in particular, Sargon has been openly critical of Laci Green’s feminist content, and often brutally so.

For many years, Laci Green’s outspoken position on feminist issues earned her the label of “social justice warrior”; Sargon is often lumped in with the “alt-right”. In today’s political climate, one wouldn’t expect them to be friendly in person. But somehow, they seemed to have been able to resolve their differences enough to share a hug at VidCon. How did this happen, and why is it important?

How this happened

Well, on one hand, Laci Green has spent the last few months speaking with a number of “alt-right” personalities, exploring the arguments for and against nonbinary gender identities. The most well-known of these explorations was a two-hour conversation with a vlogger called Blaire White, something that a lot of people involved with trans issues online thought “would never happen”. It has since racked up over 500,000 views.

Seeking out dialogue with ideological opponents has been a mixed bag for Laci – historically, she has received heavy criticism for her coverage of social justice issues, and doubly so for engaging in dialogue with “alt-righters” like Blaire White. For people who are familiar with both YouTube personalities, it might have seen like it was only a matter of time from Laci’s perspective.

To his credit, Sargon must have acknowledged on some level that his treatment of Laci Green was… less than kind, especially considering his massive following and influence. You can look up specific examples for yourself, but needless to say that Sargon’s tone and delivery are two things that would discourage me from syndicating his content in my PoMo Roundups.

Anyway, I can only speculate how this meetup happened, but it seems that both Sargon and Laci were willing to have a conversation. Sargon apparently apologized for several hurtful comments he made throughout his criticism of Laci, and then it seems they were able to relate to each other on a human level (shocking!).

Why does it matter?

The reconciliation between Laci Green and Sargon of Akkad helped remind me that although this website is called Fighting Postmodernism, postmodernists are not the enemy. The goal of this website, and the ideal anti-PoMo movement, is not to tear down the people who are driven by postmodernist ideology, but to defeat the ideology itself.

Bad ideas and bad speech can only be defeated by better ideas and better speech, and dialogue is the vehicle by which better ideas are collaboratively communicated. Because of this, we all have a responsibility to do our absolute best to respect people with whom we disagree, and being willing to give credit to good points regardless of their proponents’ political affiliations. This is why, for example, I personally support the legal existence of a third gender while rejecting the postmodernist claim that gender is an infinite continuum.

Postmodernist activists don’t believe in dialogue – they see conversations as language games between groups jockeying for power. But I think Sargon and Laci have demonstrated that conversations are a win-win, even if both parties disagree.

In their own way, I think both Sargon and Laci have demonstrated something really important for both “social justice warriors” and “alt-righters”: Laci’s recent conversations have been a perfect example of the value of hearing out the other side, and Sargon’s apology has highlighted the importance of kindness and respect as a basis for dialogue.

There’s an excellent blog post on Slate Star Codex called “In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization” that seems very relevant to this situation. I’ve included a quote below to end off this post. Best wishes to both Sargon and Laci!

The early Christian Church had the slogan “resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39), and indeed, their idea of Burning The Fucking System To The Ground was to go unprotestingly to martyrdom while publicly forgiving their executioners. They were up against the Roman Empire, possibly the most effective military machine in history, ruled by some of the cruelest men who have ever lived. By Andrew’s reckoning, this should have been the biggest smackdown in the entire history of smackdowns.

And it kind of was. Just not the way most people expected.

Mahatma Gandhi said “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” Another guy who fought one of the largest empires ever to exist and won resoundingly. And he was pretty insistent on truth too: “Non-violence and truth are inseparable and presuppose one another.”

Also skilled at missing the obvious: Martin Luther King. Desmond Tutu. Aung San Suu Kyi. Nelson Mandela was smart and effective at the beginning of his career, but fell into a pattern of missing the obvious when he was older. Maybe it was Alzheimers.

Of course, there are counterexamples. Jews who nonviolently resisted the Nazis didn’t have a very good track record. You need a certain pre-existing level of civilization for liberalism to be a good idea, and a certain pre-existing level of liberalism for supercharged liberalism where you don’t spread malicious lies and harass other people to be a good idea. You need to have pre-existing community norms in place before trying to summon mysterious beneficial equilibria.

So perhaps I am being too harsh on Andrew, to contrast him with Aung San Suu Kyi and her ilk. After all, all Aung San Suu Kyi had to do was fight the Burmese junta, a cabal of incredibly brutal military dictators who killed several thousand people, tortured anyone who protested against them, and sent eight hundred thousand people they just didn’t like to forced labor camps. Andrew has to deal with people who aren’t as feminist as he is. Clearly this requires much stronger measures!

Liberalism does not conquer by fire and sword. Liberalism conquers by communities of people who agree to play by the rules, slowly growing until eventually an equilibrium is disturbed. Its battle cry is not “Death to the unbelievers!” but “If you’re nice, you can join our cuddle pile!”

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