People get all fuckin’ flippy when you start talking about gender or sex –Marcus, otherwise known as EpicNameBro.
In September 2015, the Youtube user known as EpicNameBro was asked this question through a comment:
‘Are there any female Japanese role models for your daughter?’
EpicNameBro responded by spending half an hour of video time explaining his view on the role of gender itself in society. For the record, EpicNameBro tends to play videogames and discuss in-world videogame lore – his channel is not a regular stop for questions of this magnitude, and his comments on this matter were by no means a fully formed, well structured, or incisively detailed answer.
In reply, another user answered:
‘You took a simple question and made it too complex. Lol.’
It is this final response that I wish to look at, because it is a wonderful example of a strategy employed by many a rhetorician, one which I believe holds little value but is overwhelmingly difficult to avoid. I do not know if this has a formal name, but regardless, I think of this technique as an inverted mereism:- where mereism calls an argument too lowbrow (your argument is a mere statement, it is too simple to be right), this technique calls an argument too highbrow (your argument overcomplicates an actually much simpler answer unnecessarily).
The reason this style of rhetoric is so proliferate in the online sphere (and in my experience, amongst secondary school students as well), is because it is a fantastic armour against arguments which are intellectual in style. Where the intellectual who attacks a lowbrow argument using mereism appears a scornful, and pretentious-to-the-point-of-vulgar elitist, the humble unintellectual commentator appears the noble debunker of the argument which pretends to false sophistication, the underdog tearing down the bastion of snobbery from which the supposedly intellectual argument speaks. With a crowd behind him, it is very hard for the user of the unintellectual argument to lose, employing this strategy – after all, the more an underdog is kicked, the closer it is to victory. Harnessing the force of the blogosphere echo chamber (or the high school clique) to assault a position deemed intellectual and hence condescending, this strategy is excellent for circumventing the need to actively dismantle the rhetoric of an interlocutor, allowing it instead, to be dismissed out of hand as the bluster of a high and mighty snob without any actual content to her thought.
This idea appeals to a kind of false democratism; ‘the truth belongs to the many, it is not the complex and convoluted machinations of the few’. It is, in fact, closer to a kind of Marxism; ‘tear down the walls of the ruling elite, we the proletariat, rule the world now’. The substitution being that it is not the Czars being assaulted by the workers, but the intellectual overthrown by the anti-intellectual.
Of course, thus far I have been using a false binary. There is no true division between the intellectual and the anti-intellectual, the high and the low, here. I would not describe EpicNameBro as an intellectual, and I would not think it a demerit to him if I didn’t. His argument became the intellectual half of this opposition because it was more complicated in character than those which opposed it. If EpicNameBro had decided to answer in such a fashion, the opposing arguments would have fallen on the side of anti-intellectual by dint of appearing the more ‘merely simple statement’ of the two. Some lines of thought are, of course, more complex than others, while some really are mere statements – the reason that I approve of neither mereism nor its opposite, is that pointing out the complexity or simplicity of a position does nothing to actually discuss, examine, engage with, or truly argue against that position.
Aside from purely formal questions of rhetorical strategy, what undergirds the user’s choice to employ inverse mereism against EpicNameBro here, appears as a deeper reluctance for or even hostility towards engaging with questions of gender, sex, and education in a meaningful way. Where EpicNameBro, to his credit, dedicates time, and not inconsiderable effort into elaborating exactly why he believes gender is a dispensable category, even if sex is physiologically definite, the user who critiques him chooses not to discuss at length the place of gender, preferring instead to dismiss the possibility of conversation entirely. This is a much more discomfiting notion than the use of weak rhetorical strategies, since it suggests that amongst communities across the nebulous zones of social media, there exists an overwhelming hostility towards speaking about sex and gender in fora which may not agree with you. EpicNameBro himself, as quoted above, feared speaking about this topic, concerned about generating hate and speaking controversially at all (though I don’t think his sentiments were actually controversial, and it is again much to his credit that he did choose to speak on this subject despite his misgivings). EpicNameBro’s delivery was riddled with hesitation and overwhelmingly apologetic currents which are the only thing I take away from him in this instance – what both his, and his critic’s unwillingness to talk about gender speak to here, is the almost taboo nature that speaking on gender and sex in public is beginning to accrue. This is something that, to my mind, should absolutely not be allowed to persist. Once upon a time, the idea of questioning gender roles as separate from biological sex was largely unheard of – it did not exist. Yet now that the cards are on the table, it seems that those on all sides of the argument are being pushed from all angles to fold their hands and keep their chips in their pockets rather than showing down in the honest, open, and unafraid conversation which will really begin to institutionalise change on a larger scale. It is imperative not to fear speaking to your interlocutor, to challenging him or her in deliberate and open confrontation, especially if you disagree on a subject such as this. It is certainly no place for mereism, upright or inverted, though a suggestion of the proper way of engaging such a topic will have to wait for another time.