Discussions of Motivation And Moral Vanity, Shaded In Chartreuse

James Poulos has a post of his tweets:

Test of new era: clustered riot police having rendered physically mass politics impossible, ‘cloud’ politics succeeds

Thought: above all, solidarity with the Iranian opposition has been *inspired* (not justified) by their *fashion*.

Thought: we secretly feel it more possible to be a fundamentalist Muslim and cool (taking ‘cool’ SRSLY) than to be a cool fundst Christian.

Thought: ‘Platonic’ Islam vs. ‘Homeric’ Islam: which more fully captures the West’s imagination in a half-Christian vs. post-Christian age?

Freddie at The League responds:

Now, James has thought up a plausible illegitimate reason for people to demonstrate solidarity with these protesters; I imagine there are people just like that. But it really is imagination when I think so, and so with James. Indeed, there are lots of plausible reasons to imagine any particular beliefs, stated or felt, to be motivated by illegitimate impulses. I could imagine that James’s refusal to show solidarity with the protesters (or at least his discomfort in the same) is the product of apathy or fear of the other. I think, applied generally and not specifically, that’s a plausible reason for anyone to not be proclaiming solidarity. With James, I just don’t think that it’s true. Just like I don’t think the fashionista impulse is overly important in widespread support for Iranian reformers.

It’s tricky business, but I find that to be a recurring (though tacit) thread in James’s work: plausible illegitimate motives imagined, so illegitimate motives proved.

Meanwhile, Wilkinson expresses doubt about turning your Twitter green:

So folks on Twitter have been turning their avatars (little profile photos) green to show solidarity with the protesters in Iran. There are websites to help you do this. But why do this? How does it help? I want the Iranian people to live in freedom, just as I want all people to live in freedom. But the point of the gesture eludes me, unless the point of the gesture is to be seen making the gesture by others who will credit you for it. Like so many political gestures, it is vanity dressed up as elevated moral consciousness.

[…]As every salesman knows, getting someone to make a big, costly commitment is best achieved by getting them to first make a tiny, costless commitment. The tiny, costless commitment of turning Twitter avatars green is thin edge of the persuasive edge for the neocons who would like to sell the public a war in Iran. Since I would rather not be Bill Kristol’s useful idiot, I will conspicuously leave my avatar as is, and continue hoping for the best.

A couple posts arguing with Wilkinson. Mike Rappaport at The Right Coast:

Wilkinson also argues that turning the avatars green has no benefit, but is just self indulgent moral vanity.  Wow.  He does not know that.  Those symbolic actions could have significant effects.  Iranians may see the twitter avatars from the US and feel the solidarity of the American people.  Those symbolic actions might increase the chances that Americans and others throughout the world will protest the Iranians in various capitals.  Or those symbolic actions might demonstrate support for the Iranian protestors and convince moral and spiritual leaders to support them as well.  And so on.

Craig Yirush:

Wilkinson is opposed to all of the twitterers who are sporting green in solidarity with the Iranian people. Why you ask?  Because it plays into the hands of the evil neo-cons! No, really.

UPDATE: Poulos responds to Freddie:

Other commenters at the League agree that I must be snarking. Well, it’s a tricky business, but aphorism’s always in fashion. Freddie is right that something tacit is afoot, but it’s not strawmanning, it’s suspending ‘judgment’. I recognize that it might be easy to impute snark to the following –

Thought: above all, solidarity with the Iranian opposition has been *inspired* (not justified) by their *fashion*.

– but the point is that this thought could just as easily, and should, be taken at its word, no irony or sarcasm implied. I could have written lines like these:

Look at them! They wear what we wear. They dress like we dress. They can dance to music we can dance to. They wear their hair like we do; they wear makeup like we do; they like discos and read bestsellers and when we look at them, we look at us, only a little different, no more different, really, than we are already from one another. This isn’t mere cosmetics. It’s the foliage of freedom. When they shout, when they cheer, when they are shot, when they are killed, we see don’t see Them. We see Us.

A love letter to cosmopolitanism, that — and no more or less than a dramatization from the heart of a characterization from the head. Too long for a tweet, or an aphorism, and inappropriately ‘in character’ too. Inspired, not justified! I warned. But that’s what was read: here James is mocking people for standing in solidarity for no reason beyond taste. The accusation of illegitimacy, simply read in. Interpretive rule of thumb: criticize it, yes; but ask first how seriously it could be taken.

UPDATE #2: Wilkinson responds to critics:

Some people were really ticked off by my Twitter avatar post, and I can see why. I guess it’s bad enough to accuse people of empty moral posturing. It’s another thing to accuse people of empty moral posturing that helps the people who worked like crazy to start an unjustified war in Iraq. So let me say that I completely understand the impulse to express solidarity with Iranians who seek freedom. I feel it very strongly myself, but I also don’t trust it. Why not? Because I realize that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t understand Iranian politics very deeply.

[…]I’d like to see the whole theocratic structure of Iran fall. I’d like to see the whole country radically liberalize, but I think that’s unlikely, largely because I doubt very much that that’s what most Iranians want. I want Iran to be free, and I want Iranians to want to be free. And I’m quite willing to cheer for freedom. Go freedom! But given my ignorance of exactly what and who I’d really be cheering on should I alter my Twitter avatar to reflect the campaign color of the former PM of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I think the intellectually and morally responsible course of action is to watch with colorless hope.


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Filed under Go Meta, Middle East, New Media

One response to “Discussions of Motivation And Moral Vanity, Shaded In Chartreuse

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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