THE LOGIC FETISH: Performative Intellectualism as Taught By High School Debate Class, Kept Alive by White Dudes in Tech

Back in high school, whether in English class or Social Studies, usually around one election or another, we learned about “debate,” and one other term: “logical fallacies.” It was a great time, and as we were all young and on the Internet, we started applying them to various topics of discussion, declaring ourselves “winnar!” over our perceived intellectual inferior, as anonymous as they may be. We started to internalize these rules of Internet arguing, and priding ourselves on being “logical,” well reasoned beings. Incorporate this with a media that loves to show angry white men giving long, hateful monologues as they fill rooms and airwaves with blood boiling rhetoric, portrayed by the language of film in a heroic manner, saving the day - and you have a recipe for madness.

From Network to Keith Olbermann to Fox News to Sam Waterson to Jack Nicholson to Mel Gibson to Jean Claude Van Damme to Viggo Mortensen to Clint Eastwood to Charlie Chaplin to General Patton to Al Pacino to Brad Pitt to Gerald Butler to Robin Williams to Sean Connery to Bruce Campbell to Gene Hackman to Bill Pullman, we have been ingrained with an onslaught of angry white men speaking up and heroically speaking “truth.” We learned that these are the heroes, these are the “leading men,” and as white dudes, we learned that we knew to be the truth about the world by following in their footsteps. 

Throw in a little Morgan Freeman and Idris Elba, and that picture gets a little less whiter - but it’s still men, highly perched above all, leading and spitting the “truth” about the way the world is. 

Tie this in with the rules of debate, which is a competitive practice of “scoring points” by forming the most “logical” arguments, and calling out our opponents “logical fallacies.” The act of debate was never intellectual inquiry or finding out “the facts,” wiping away distortion, or practicing any sort of empathy. It’s preformative intellectualism at it’s finest, and figurative dick waving with zero substance. Thank You For Smoking, a brilliant 2005 film starring Aaron Eckhart, was a brilliant takedown of this bizarre practice, in how the objective was to convince other people, not the person you’re arguing with. 

Hell, just look at this last Presidential election, where Tumblr had an official team to “.GIF” soundbites out of context, where both sides could “reblog” and share in their supposed intellectual supremacy. 

What’s amazing is how the fetishization of “logic” in tech and science communities became mutated through the Internet into a totally bizarre, irrational beast of emotion and again, figurative dick-waving, between mostly men. There’s no self-criticism, no moments of stepping back and questioning one’s own beliefs and just why they might have them or learned them, no real intellectual inquiry. 

Yet they wrap themselves in words like “uncomfortable truths,” “reality,” “logic,” “facts,” already assuming that the world exists by the rules they declare, spewing their opinions in a horde of endless, self-righteous crusades, without the courage of empathy, sympathy, listening, or even self-questioning. It’s a purely intellectually dishonest premise to start from, that would make the likes of Plato and Socrates roll in their fucking graves, you fucking embarrassments to scholardom. 

It’s simply a defense mechanism to reinforce one’s own bigotry, mainly from getting to benefit from a horribly bigoted and fucked up society simply because they were born male with white skin. Of course, as minorities start to speak up and make their presence known, men so used to the status quo start to get afraid, start losing ground, start getting upset that the status quo they benefit from is being shifted - and turn to attack. 

Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Tropes vs. Women and Feminist Frequency, talks in the most patient, reserved, completely palatable tone that doesn’t look down on anyone, in any real regard - is faced with an onslaught of gendered hate and harassment, from death and rape threats to interactive flash games allowing you to physically assault her. People have accused her of being “clever,” supposedly avoiding “valid criticisms,” stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a public that just won’t listen to “logic,” from mostly white dudes on the Internet who speak primarily in “ragefaces” and slurs. 

Yet Anita soldiers on, relentless in her cheerful, rather polite criticism of an artistic medium’s sexist practices - she’s more heroic and “badass” than any actor on a big screen, regardless of what you’ve been taught by the media. 

Of course, gender criticism goes both ways, and Tropes vs. Men was a competing project that raised a little over three thousand dollars in funds, which is proudly debating against Ani- no, wait. The creepy, gross men took the money and vanished into the night, with no consequences - not even a single rape threat! 

These scoundrels, they never cared about “debate” or “being right,” they quite simply stole from a bunch of creepy males whose brows were so furrowed by their precious artform of videogames being criticized by “feminazis,” a totally fictional boogeyman that again, makes zero logical sense. Again and again you see men riding under the banner of “logic” time and time again being completely illogical and overemotional, spewing hate faster than they can piss. 

This is the beauty of performative intellectualism - it’s nothing but self-serving masturbation. Bring in a bunch of other angry men on the Internet, and it becomes a circle jerk. That’s the beauty of a circle jerk - being around other men, doing this thing we’re typically shamed and told to do in privacy, alone - it’s acceptable, it’s great, it’s fun, and maybe some of these men are turned on by the sight of other men in self-serving pleasure, whether it be their technique or the sounds they make. 

Now, that’s perfectly acceptable, as circlejerks usually happen in private places - when you’re getting together and celebrated your supposed intellectual superiority, harassing women and racial minorities, throwing around slurs, trying to hinder groups working towards equality - that’s completely unacceptable, something worth scorn, or “shame tweeting” as poor, oppressed white male Steven Wittens writes on his well designed, yet piss poorly written blog:

What’s amazing is how searching for that article on Twitter leads to almost all white dudes praising it’s “refreshing,” “brilliant,” “great,” “interesting,” “considerate,” “documented,” “provoking,” “beautiful” take on “the bullshit of the ‘social justice’ warrior culture.” Yet it’s a white dude, writing a hilariously long winded jerk off session where he starts off with, and I quote, “I’d like to reflect on the bigger picture instead, and talk about some uncomfortable truths.”

You hear that? That’s the same sound you hear when King James got the wise idea that he was going to guess what God meant to say, and release the international bestseller “The Bible: King James Version.” At least King James had to assume a throne, this pasty white dude just automatically assumed his authority above all his subjects before speaking “uncomfortable truths” - that Steven cannot see himself as something other than what media has taught him - the all knowing leader above the masses, who takes time out of his busy day to bring enlightenment to those “whining” about “storms in teacups,” declaring this problem already irrelevant without actually listening to women, at all.

That kind of self-assuredness sound familiar? Not even considering the possibility they might be wrong? That’s because it’s faith - not in religion, but the status quo that they don’t even realize they benefit from. Obviously if I don’t see anything wrong with it, those speaking up are just “whining,” right? That devotion runs deep, driving someone’s assuredness to  everything from lashing out with rape and death threats, to both online and offline stalking, to writing long, masturbatory blog posts calling women “whiners” and “social justice warriors” and using “logic” to try and speak “truth” on the matter.

So now, we have a very loosely held together cargo-cult of horseshit where the only key to entry is subscribing to an utterly nonsensical set of values, and to vocally defend them to the death of their online reputation. This is the thrill of being a white dude growing up drowning in America media - we learn to empathize with nobody except people that look like us - so of course we learn to make excuses for even the most awful of men, lacking the ability to at least attempt the perspective of someone else. 

This is the reality of our society, the complete disconnect from the heroes we claim to look up to. We fail over and over again to live up to such fictional ideas, and instead of rethinking our goals, we insist on doubling down becoming monsters. There’s no good monologues for hurting people, as hard as dudes like Wittens want to try. There’s no medal ceremony for carrying the battle standard of bigotry. There’s no dramatic full circle camera turn where you and your fellow programmer stand back to back and you shout that shit just got real, surrounded by legions of feminazi harpies, armed to the teeth in 8 foot tall fusion-powered battle suits with portable artillery handcannons, as much as you may delude yourself typing an “epic logic burn” to some “uppity slag” on Twitter. 

How utterly illogical. 

How an abbreviation of brother became a word-forming dynamo. 

I’ve mostly heard “bromanteau” as the term for words like bromance, brotp, brogrammer, etc, sometimes also extended to words without “bro” proper, like manscaping, murse, guyliner, and so on. I think bromanteau is a slightly better fit than “portmanbro”, because most of the combinations that it refers to contain the bro portion at the beginning. 

Nonetheless, the blog post from Oxford Dictionaries has a nice history of the expressions bro and brah, their social meaning (“by being the sort of person who says “bro,” a person becomes a bro. In the immortal utterance “don’t tase me, bro” it is not the person doing the tasing who is the bro, but the person being tased.”)and the way they’ve combined with other words. 


Sexism and ‘brogrammer’ culture in Silicon Valley

From tech reporter Jessica Guynn’s story about the troubling perseverance of sexist culture in the nation’s most forward-thinking technological hub:

It’s no secret that the tech industry has a shortage of women. What’s less well known is that the industry famous for its bravado about changing the world still lags decades behind other industries in its treatment of women, many of whom say they routinely confront sexism in the companies where they work and at the technology conferences they attend.

Many blame the industry’s growing gender gap on a “brogrammer” culture, a hybrid of “bro” and “programmer” that’s become a tongue-in-check name for engineers.

Read the fully story here.

Photos: David Paul Morris, Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg, Glenn Chapman / AFP/Getty Images

Sexism In Gaming: A Response To Gabrielle Toledano

Yesterday, a woman by the name of Gabrielle Toledano – evidently a human resources manager for EA games – wrote a rather confusing and deeply problematic op-ed for Forbes outlining why, in her estimation, sexism isn’t responsible for the dearth of women in gaming. To quote her opening remarks:

 It’s easy to blame men for not creating an attractive work environment – but I think that’s a cop-out.  If we want more women to work in games, we have to recognize that the problem isn’t sexism.

…The issue I have is that the video game industry is being painted as more sexist than other male-dominated workforces.  I know sexism exists, but the issue isn’t just in video games.  And it’s not what’s holding us back.

Nonetheless, there are still too few women working in my company, so it’s clear there is an issue to fix. Rather than blame the majority just because they are the majority, I believe the solution starts with us – women.

Which is, frankly, one of the most flippant, useless and blithely ignorant summaries of the problem I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. For one thing, Toledano manages to contradict herself magnificently within the space of three paragraphs: because surely if sexism exists in gaming – which, as she plainly admits, it does – then it must constitute at least a part of the reason why women are so conspicuously absent. Instead of conceding this point even slightly, however, she dismisses it out of hand, and for no better reason than her dislike of the implication that gaming might be more sexist than other industries. This, at least, is a reasonable point: game developers are hardly alone when it comes to dealing with sexism, which problem is self-evidently one that affects the whole of society to varying degrees. But to say – and worse, to say casually – that such sexism as does exist in gaming must necessarily be either benign or irrelevant simply because it exists more prominently elsewhere, or because the extent of the problem is popularly overstated, is as irresponsible as it is inaccurate. This blithe attempt to handwave a serious problem is further compounded by Toledano’s assertion that sexism effectively constitutes “blaming the majority just because they are the majority”, a sentence nobody could write without having first elected to ignore the glaringly obvious: that the majority isn’t being blamed for being the majority, but for maintaining a culture of prejudicial dominance, whether due to ignorance, malice, laziness or a combination of all three. To summarise Toledano’s argument, then: sexism exists in gaming, but doesn’t impact negatively on women, because criticism of the majority is really only resentment of their status as the majority, and therefore disconnected from any rational complaint about their actions.


What, then, does Toledano see as the root cause of female under-representation in gaming? Her argument comes as a triptych: firstly, that female gamers have failed to identify themselves as such (which is both ludicrous and insulting); secondly, that the industry wants to hire more women (though how this admission constitutes a reason for their absence is anyone’s guess); and thirdly, that there aren’t enough women to hire (which is a partial explanation for her second point, but which nonetheless doesn’t explain why there are fewer female STEM graduates to begin with, which point she glosses over with a simple call for their being more widely encouraged).

Her closing remarks only serve to cement her total misunderstanding of the problem:

If women don’t join this industry because they believe sexism will limit them, they’re missing out.  The sky is the limit when it comes to career opportunities for women (and men) in games. If we want the tide to turn and the ratio of men to women to really change then we need to start making women realize that fact…

Sexism is an unfortunate reality of our times, but as women we must seek the power and ability in ourselves to change the dynamic.  Cast aside the preconceptions, and look for the opportunities and places to make an impact.  And I can tell you firsthand that in the video game industry women are not just welcome, we are necessary and we are equal.

From beginning to end, the piece reads as an oversimplified, insipidly cheerful and woefully pat exhortation for women to simply wade on in – you’ve only yourselves to blame if you don’t! Sexism exists, but you can overcome it with gumption and elbow grease! Follow your hearts, my darlings! Follow your star! Never mind that Toledano offers notone single fact in support of her claim that sexism isn’t so much as a tiny part of the problem despite acknowledging its existence, nor cites any specific policy, testimony or other useful data that might bolster her argument. Neither does she respond to the wealth of evidence and arguments which directly contradict it, despite linking to an article which lays out a detailed opposing case; instead, she leaves it totally unaddressed. Add these deficiencies to the self-contradictory and wholly unsupported nature of her assertions, and it’s hard not to wonder if her belief in the benevolent non-existence/unimportance of sexism as a factor stems entirely from not having experienced it herself, or from believing such sexism as she has experienced to have had no detrimental effect on either her wellbeing or career. That, of course, is only conjecture on my part; but if untrue, the only viable alternative would seem to be that, having suffered sexism in the past but subsequently overcome it, Toledano has elected to use her own success as a yardstick against which to gauge the determination and worthiness of every other woman in her industry, which is hardly reasonable. Whatever the case, the implication is equally unsatisfying: that as sexism hasn’t impeded her, it must therefore be incapable of impeding anyone else.

Allow me, then, to provide the evidence that Toledano does not. In November last year, under the Twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy, women employed in gaming collectively shared the myriad instances of sexism they experienced at work in order to highlight the extent of the problem, with multiple accompanying conversations about problems in the industry following soon after. Around the same time, a Penny Arcade report based on actual data showed howthe dearth of games starring female protagonists has become a self-fulfilling prophecy: such games, it was found, were given smaller budgets by publishers and marketed far less extensively than their male-lead counterparts, leading to critical neglect and low sales, and therefore contributing to the outdated notion that women don’t play games, and as such aren’t a viable demographic. There’s any number of prominent accounts of women in gaming being dismissed or discriminated against on the basis of gender; this Christmas, headlines were made by the presence of topless women at Gameloft’s holiday party; and though they point more to problems in the culture of game consumption than creation, it would be foolish to view either the infamous Aris Bakhtanians incident or the experiences of Anita Sarkeesian as irrelevant. As for the comparative absence of women in STEM fields, this is hardly a problem without a cause: brogrammer cultureentrenched academic gender bias and subconscious bias in hiring practices, to name just three of the major issues, all affect female participation.

Because what Toledano fails to comprehend is that gaming, like everything else, is an ecosystem – and right now, at every single level of participation, women are feeling the effects of sexism. Female gamers are sexualiseddemeanedand assumed to be fakes by their male counterparts; those who go into STEM fields despite this abuse frequently find themselves stifled by the sexist assumptions of professors and fellow students alike; they must then enter an industry whose creative output is overwhelmingly populated with hypersexualised depictions of women and male-dominant narratives, and where the entrenched popularity of these tropes means their own efforts to counteract the prevailing culture will likely put them at odds with not only their colleagues, but also the business models of the companies and projects for which they work; as the #1reasonwhy discussion showed, many will experience sexism in the workplace – hardly surprising, given the academic correlation between the acceptance of misogyny in humour and culture and real-world tolerance for sexism and rape culture – while others will be excluded from it completely. All this being so, therefore, if a single progressive HR manager at a comparatively progressive company looks around and finds, despite her very best intentions that, there are few or no women to hire for a particular position, then the problem is not with women for failing to take advantage of a single company’s benevolent practices, but with the industry as a whole for failing to create a culture in which women are welcome, and where they might therefore be reasonably expected to abound.

In her excellent book Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine documents a phenomenon whereby some progressive parents, determined to counteract the sexist influences of prevailing culture, found themselves adopting a ‘biology as fallback’ position when, despite their best efforts at promoting equality, their children still conformed to gender norms. “Believing that they practiced gender-neutral parenting,” Fine writes, “biology was the only remaining explanation.” But as she goes on to point out, the actual explanation is far more complex: not only were such parents still prone to promoting unconsciously absorbed gender roles, but when ranged against the ubiquitous sexism promoted by wider culture, even their best efforts were overwhelmed in the child’s experience – no matter how many pink clothes and dolls a son was bought, if the majority of his peers were playing with trucks and dressing in blue, and if every presentation of normalcy he absorbed through stories, clothing, culture, advertising and other children suggested he should do likewise, then his experiences at home would still read as anomalous. Unable to accept this, however, parents persisted in blaming biology: their failure could only have been predestined, and not the result of wider social and cultural factors beyond their individual control, let alone indicative of a flaw in their methods.

Toledano, it seems to me, is committing a similar fallacy, adopting a fallback belief in female disinterest in order to explain the lack of women in gaming, and thereby discounting the impact of more pervasive and difficult issues, never mind her use of faulty logic. And the thing is, it matters: not just because of her status as a representative of a major gaming company writing in a prominent publication, and not just because it betrays exactly the sort of misunderstanding of sexism that inevitably helps it perpetuate itself; but because she’s created a cop-out piece for sexists and those who doubt their influence to wave about as definitive proof that really, the problem is women themselves – and, more specifically, feminist women, or women who demand change. By claiming to speak definitively on the matter – unveiling the “dirty little secrets” of women in gaming, to use her phrase, as though she’s boldly daring the wrath of some secret feminist conspiracy in order to say openly what sensible women have always known in private, but been too scared to admit in public  - Toledano is using the supposed authority of her gender to claim, on the basis of not a single shred of evidence, that sexism isn’t an obstacle, because look! Here she is, a woman, admitting as much! And if a woman says it, it must be true! Which is, presumably, why she’s felt no need to sully her case by supporting it with facts; because surely, the act of merely presenting it must be evidence enough. Only, no, that’s not how it works. To modify a Biblical phrase, the greatest trick the patriarchy ever pulled was convincing women it didn’t exist – and in Toledano’s case, all too lamentably, it seems to have succeeded.

The brogrammer is always someone else—he is THOSE Facebook guys who yell too loudly at parties and wave bottles in the air, he is not the nice, shy guy who gets paid 30% more because of his race, gender and appeal to the boy-genius fetishes of VCs. The loud and tacky ‘brogrammer’ is a false flag—if you are not a brogrammer, the logic goes, you must be an outcast genius who has suffered long and would never oppress a fly. The industry is full not of the former but the latter— programmers who are smart and may present as harmlessly ‘nerdy’ but whose sense of themselves as being ‘the underdog’ means that it is very hard to see the ways in which they participate in unconsciously but potentially harmful ways in an industry that has coded them as kings. In reality, programmers in Silicon Valley can be fully and invisibly privileged without ever touching a Grey Goose bottle-service setup or a tube of hair gel.
—  Kate Losse

Worst Facebook ad ever:

1) Being a brogrammer is awesome. It’s like being a programmer but staying in shape, having social skills, and breaking stereotypes.

2) Why would anyone be enticed by learning Python “the hard way”? Wouldn’t you want to learn it the easy way, or at least the best way?

3) What kind of cockamamie discount is 34%? Who would pick such an arbitrary number?

Many of the dozen or so people I interviewed for this story pointed to the rise of the brogrammer—a term that seeks to recast the geek identity with a competitive frat house flavor. The essence of it comes through in comments on the question-and-answer site Quora. “How Does a Programmer Become a Brogrammer?”: Brogrammers “rage at the gym, to attract the chicks and scare the dicks!” They “can work well under the tightest deadlines, or while receiving oral sex.” And they have their priorities straight: “If a girl walks past in a see-through teddy, and you don’t even look up because you’re neck-deep in code, expect to spend a lot of time celibate no matter how bro you go.”

The phenomenon has drawn media coverage and generated a Facebook page, a satirical Twitter persona, and YouTube videos demonstrating the Natty Light-loving, popped-collar-donning lifestyle. Some developers insist that it’s all just a big joke and doesn’t represent any actual streak in tech culture. But apparently it’s real enough for social-media analytics company Klout: The high-flying Silicon Valley startup came under fire last month for displaying a recruitment poster at a Stanford career fair that asked: “Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring.”

But recruiter beware, warn some veteran observers: A bros-only atmosphere will hurt no one more than the startups that foster it. “We simply cannot afford to alienate large chunks of the workforce,” notes Dan Shapiro, a tech entrepreneur who sold his comparison-shopping company to Google and now works there as a product manager. Shapiro, who has blogged in the past about sexism in the tech industry, notes that “it is a widely understood truth that the single biggest challenge to a successful startup is attracting the right people. To literally handicap yourself by 50 percent is insanity.”

As it is, women remain acutely underrepresented in the coding and engineering professions. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, in 2011 just 20 percent of all programmers were women. A smaller percentage of women are earning undergraduate computer science degrees today than they did in 1985, according to the National Center for Women in Technology, and between 2000 and 2011 the number* of women in the computing workforce dropped 8 percent, while men’s share increased by 16 percent. Only 6 percent of VC-backed tech startups in 2010 were headed by women.