We’re Just Talking!

The dynamic of progressive social dialogue is always a fascinating one, particularly on the Internet, primarily because it rests upon a paradigm of reflexive and cyclical loathing and hatred. In the end most liberal debates devolve into a frothing white hot bitchfest that turns mostly on the question of process: who said what, how, why, when. The particulars of any one issue or topic often end up irrelevant; all that matters is the personal optics at play. If you’re a “cis het white male,” or whatever the latest leftist kulak is these days, then you can be sure you’re going to get raked over the coals no matter what position you take. But wait: if you’re a “cis het white female,” you’re probably going to get it pretty bad, too; and when they’re done with the straight whites they’ll probably go after the gay ones, then the transgenders, then eventually they’ll start transitioning to other races, genders, socio-economic brackets…

Basically, when liberals get together to hash things out, they turn into a tank full of piranhas, except they’re cannibal piranhas that eventually start to consume each other.

I thought about this the other day after famous gangly actor-dipstick Ashton Kutcher tried to broach the subject of “gender equality in the workplace and in tech.” As part of this “dialog,” Kutcher threw out several icebreaker questions for consideration, and—needless to say—they didn’t go over too well:

Actor, venture capitalist, and Uber investor Ashton Kutcher is trying to start a “dialog” aroundgender inequality in tech. Unfortunately, he may be going about it exactly the wrong way.

A post Thursday night on what appears to be Kutcher’s LinkedIn page (we have emails out to his venture firm and publicist to confirm) proposed some questions for an upcoming discussion about “gender equality in the work place and in tech in general.” The post says Kutcher plans to host a “live open dialog” on his Facebook page next week with fellow Sound Ventures partner Effie Epstein.

The end of the post asks, “Are these the right questions?” Spoiler alert: they’re not.

The backlash against Kutcher’s question has been rather fascinating to watch, if still somewhat predictable. Now, on the one hand we might be inclined to feel some sympathy with Mr. Kutcher, because he honestly seems to be trying hard here, and there is a simple sincerity at work in his efforts at “dialog,” one that is commendable if rather pathetic. On the other hand, it is hard to really feel bad for him at all: he should, after all, have known better. His questions were as follows:

The Huffington Post claims that, with the questions on this list, “Ashton Kutcher Illustrates Perfectly Why There’s Gender Bias In Tech.” It is a great example of the resilience of progressive ideology that it can find “bias” in the most innocuous and inoffensive locations. Nobody can claim that this list is elegant or insightful. But for the most part the questions are more or less legitimate and reasonable, even if they’ve already been answered. The first two should be of serious interest to anyone who wishes to set responsible boundaries between colleagues in “the work place.” (Emma Hinchcliffe claims that the “red lines” question is “less about supporting gender equality, and more about protecting powerful men from accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct,” a deeply profound example of incessant feminist paranoia). #3 is a bit of a non-sequitur, but a harmless one at that. The “stop gap” question is worthwhile for anyone who believes that “gender equality” in the STEM sectors is of critical importance.

#4 seems to have gotten more than a few people riled up: “Should investors invest in ideas that they believe to have less merit so as to create equality across a portfolio?” Hinchcliffe, for one, says:

The idea that people underrepresented in tech remain so in part because some of their ideas have “less merit” and that creating diversity would require lowering the bar is incredibly problematic.

I happen to agree. But this is hardly a controversial proposal, inasmuch as “lowering the bar” is a regular part of progressive political goals: think affirmative action quotas at universities and in the corporate world, say, or the mandatory paternity leave policies in many of the Nordic countries, instituted in part to make up for the fact that mothers regularly sacrifice their careers by taking more family leave than fathers. Even the Marine Corps, doubtlessly feeling the pressure from feminist activists to increase the number of women in its ranks, has weighed lowering the bar for female troops. In many areas, as the agitation for this type of “equality” increases, so too does a concurrent agitation for lowered standards. Those of us who believe sincerely that individuals are generally capable on their own merits tend to oppose this lowering of the bar. But the Left is usually all for it, and you would imagine they’d commend Kutcher for figuring things out.

The rest of the questions are throwaways, clearly written in a “this-is-the-last-paragraph-of-my-college-application-essay-and-I-need-to-puff-it-up” vein. In the end this list was pretty shockingly anodyne, which is to say precisely the type of thing you’d expect from a LinkedIn symposium on “gender equality.” I’m not sure what else we’re supposed to expect from Ashton Kutcher, a genuinely unimpressive actor whose last really notable role (for me, anyway) was as “Hank” in 2003’s Cheaper by the Dozen, a role in which he was obliged to act out a gag involving boxer shorts marinated in ground beef. Let’s just assume that, when it comes to pressing social issues, Ashton Kutcher is really not the go-to guy, okay?

In any event, the Left is increasingly incapable of holding these types of discussions with any grace whatsoever. Every debate turns into a Mexican standoff, the participants of which are vying to see who can be the most grievously wounded by the other’s insensitive patrio-hetero-normative remark. In the Age of Trump it is ever-more pronounced. If you sincerely believe that “gender equality in tech” is a serious problem that needs addressing, then go for it. Just be careful what you say, and how—and in particular who you are when you say it.

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