A photo op for a fake demonstration, as reported on American Everyman.
I already discussed gatekeepers and how they operate (see the second half of this entry). In an ideological movement, a gatekeeper is a person who is in charge of some organization or group, or perhaps some well-known figure, who can delimitate the acceptable margins of discourse within the movement. Usually this is a spokesperson or a public figure, someone who has a wide reach and who can mold public opinion within the movement in question.
The kind of person I want to talk about in this entry is also a role within a movement, but a different kind of role. On his epic blog Once Upon a Time, Arthur Silber calls it “the Obedient Dissenter,” and, using the example of such a dissenter (journalist Matt Taibbi, “dissenting” against the upcoming war in Iran) identifies two main traits of Obedient Dissent:
1. “[A]ccept[ing] all the assumptions and premises of those [they say they are] criticizing.”
2. “[L]ack[ing] even the faintest understanding of the false set of beliefs to which [they cling] so desperately.”
To which I would add:
3. Because they fail to criticize the premises of those they claim to criticize, their dissent is wholly superficial and contradictory.
I call them Fake Dissenters because they make the claim of being dissenters when in fact they are merely reinforcing the premises enforced by their supposed enemies. In the case of Matt Taibbi, he claims to be a dissenter towards the American government, but he reinforces the prejudices that the American government uses to demonize its chosen enemies and he reinforces the myths used to prop up American imperialism. While Taibbi may be against the upcoming war in Iran, he fails to question American terrorism, American prejudices against Iran, or claims of American exceptionalism. That’s not dissent, that’s just a normal disagreement that lies well within the margins of discourse set by the American government and American journalism (although when the war in Iran drumbeat gets going for real, it will become unacceptable).
You can observe this fake dissent in all areas.
* No one is for abortion, but we should allow women to choose whether they want an abortion or not.
I already discussed that one in the entry on gatekeepers.
* People who have children are doing a wonderful service to us all. But the Duggars are just ridiculous, am I right?
The Duggars, and the Quiverfull movement in general, are easy targets because they represent excess and the objectification of women. But if we start from the premise that having children is a wonderful service to society, it’s not clear how having nineteen is more or less excessive.
* Radical feminism is totally crackpot, but we should give women the same opportunities we give men.
I’ve already written about how equality of opportunity is an elitist conceit which seeks to amplify existing oppressive institutions. Radfem provides the systemic investigation which is lacking from “equality of opportunity” rhetoric, so radfem must be demonized.
* We must respect religious freedom, no matter the religion, but group X is corrupting the true religion.
I refer you to my entry on religious freedom as to why this is a terrible idea. Saying that a certain group X corrupts “true religion” assumes that “true religion” actually exists and that it’s somehow different from the religion people actually practice. Furthermore, there’s no reason to believe that this “fake religion” is any less valid as a form of “religious freedom” than the “true religion.”
* After every new example of police abuse is unveiled: the police is here to protect us, this is just the work of some bad apples.
It is not the job of cops to protect us (for more on this, see The Enterprise of Law, by Bruce Benson), and we know they lie to obtain convictions. The rhetoric of “bad apples” is used to perpetuate institutions which systemically, through noxious incentive systems, makes people act in an evil way, like the police.
* We respect the military and the sacrifices they make for us, we just think this war is unjust…
The job of soldiers is not to protect us but, like cops, to enforce the interests of the power elite. Also, the way in which people argue that a war is unjust is almost always by supporting some part of the apparatus that makes war possible (such as some part of the government which is supposed to provide checks and balances).
Fake dissenters are utterly unable to make the simplest observations about social institutions (e.g. the basic nature of the work of cops and soldiers, the basic nature of religion, the existence of the patriarchy, the lack of justification for breeding, the fact that some people are pro-abortion and that compromised children provide an obvious basis for such a position). This is because doing so would force them to question the core premises of their beliefs about those institutions. The principle at work for these people, whatever movement they are a part of, is: ignorance is bliss.
There are gatekeepers in all movements, and there are fake dissenters in all movements. So yes, there are gatekeeper atheists and fake dissenter atheists (although these have been rather less visible than the very real dissenters such as the Four Horsemen), there are gatekeeper Anarchists and fake dissenter Anarchists (like “anarcho-capitalists,” or pseudo-Anarchist State-supporters), and so on.
This fits within the mainstream media’s control of the margins of discourse, because any movement will inevitably vie for the attention of the mainstream media. Therefore gatekeepers will endeavor to cut dissent’s legs to fit in the Procrustean bed of the media’s margins of discourse, and fake dissenters will slavishly follow these operations. As long as it’s acceptable to criticize a war, they will criticize it; as soon as it becomes unacceptable, they will stop. As long as it’s acceptable to criticize a government program, they will criticize it; as soon as it’s under attack, they will start supporting it.
Fake dissenters often use tactics similar to those of gatekeepers. You will sometimes hear both use sentences like “can’t we all agree that X?” or “no one really believes X” as a way of narrowing discourse and keeping core premises out of the discussion, while blowing the existing debate out of proportion. The difference is that when a gatekeeper does it, ey is also sending a message to eir followers to limit discourse in this manner, and that’s where the fake dissenters get their marching orders.
I know this sounds conspiratorial, but there’s no conspiracy involved. It’s just part of what people naturally do when they’re in a movement.
I may be accused of not distinguishing between fake dissenters and moderates. The difference is that a moderate may take various positions which are not considered a completely coherent set, but that doesn’t mean they act as fake dissenters on any single issue. A moderate can be a fake dissenter on any issue, but ey doesn’t have to be. Unlike moderates, fake dissenters buy into the premises of their movement wholesale and want to be good followers to further the aims of the movement.