April 22, 2024


In social media, “dive” means mentally destroying an opponent. The metaphor conjures up an image of a basketball player mercilessly humiliating a defender. But, as on the basketball court, internet diving can alternatively represent counterproductive or counterproductive showboating — a display short-sighted vanity by a player too tempted to roust the fans from their side of the stand.

All too often, that last image most aptly captures the kind of dunks my fellow lefties post on the internet. Take, for example, the recent one unrest around Lavern Spicer, Republican congressional candidate from Florida, on Twitter.

Earlier this month, Spicer posted some now-infamous tweets claiming that pronouns do not appear in the Bible or the US Constitution and that “Jesus Christ was never introduced using pronouns.” Given the truth that pronouns are a ubiquitous part of speech, this alleged slip of the tongue presented many online liberals with an irresistible opportunity to take down a conservative opponent.

The dunk contest that followed saw users prove—in various ways and memes—that the Preamble to the Constitution begins with “We” and that Jesus properly refers to himself as “He,” while others went so far as to count the pronouns in each text.

In a 2012 blog post, theologian and cultural critic Adam Kotsko offered a proactive criticism of this liberal urge to point out the superficial hypocrisies and contradictions that dominate the stated rationales of conservatives. Such compulsion often manifests itself in self-righteous quips like “Conservatives claim to be pro-life, but support such malign politics,” or, as on Twitter last week, in “gotchas” that label conservatives as illiterate or spoiled. the Bible and the Constitution.

Kotsko notes, however, that the “rational liberals” behind such assumptions wrongly argumentative inconsistencies, while conservative messages are not perceived to be remarkably coherent strategically—with the ultimate goal of “strengthening[ing] and, if necessary, reconfirm[ing] “traditional” power structures’.

Something apparently lost on those who only saw in Spicer’s tweets an open drive to the basket and an opportunity to rally is that she knows what a pronoun is. (If he didn’t learn this in high school, he certainly did last year when he posted this the Bible itself tweets verbatim and copiously corrected).

As noted by The few who deftly looked past Spicer’s apparent ignorance, her tweets regularly squared within the right anti-transgender agenda. However logically incoherent, Spicer’s words serve to promote the idea that the identities of transgender and non-binary people are unaccepted by traditional texts and therefore illegitimate.

The haughty grammar police missed this most egregious point. Spicer’s pronoun debacle highlights a limitation in the dunk metaphor: someone who dunks on a political opponent is not necessarily aggressive.

The surface contradictions in Spicer’s tweets served as a Pavlovian bellwether for liberals who reflexively corrected her tantalizing semantic errors ad nauseam—and who will likely do the same the next time the right trolls them. And so, for the left, dunking epitomizes a kind of short-termism identified by the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher as “endemic in the age of Twitter,” which perpetuates the sad tendency for “reactionary political forces to be proactive and progressives to be reactive.”

But repeatedly engaging in “reactionary battles” on conservative terms is worse for the left than just a time-sucking waste of energy. In social media, where content-neutral algorithms are built to maximize user engagement and thus make attention a currency, even dismissive responses to our ideological opponents can counterintuitively amplify their messages.

The right slyly capitalizes on this through attack bait and trolling—Spicer’s momentary tenure as the centerpiece of Twitter is a testament to that. And last week, after bursting the waters with several incendiary tweets, he managed to provoke a engagement frenzy so coveted that other conservatives sought to chip away at her influence with their own copy posts.

We on the left would be remiss to play into it. Whether the urge to pounce on engagement bait like Spicer’s is a symptom of online attention-seeking, an overconfidence that opponents can be defeated by projecting their hypocrisy on the “Marketplace of Ideas,” or gross underestimations of the conservative social agenda, it is ultimately a wrong one.

A short-sighted preoccupation with the intellectual inconsistencies in conservative ideology misses the true extent and nature of the struggle before us as the country endures wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Plus, he takes the bait of right-wing trolls like Lavern Spicer, for whom the reins of power are too close.

In other words: it’s worth thinking twice about diving in when there’s a game to be won.


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