On social media, “dunking” means intellectually destroying an opponent. The metaphor conjures up an image of a basketball player mercilessly humiliating a defender. But just like on the basketball court, online dunking can also mean unproductive or counterproductive showboating – a display of short-sighted vanity by a player who is overly tempted to wake up the fans on their side of the stands.
Too often, this latter image better reflects the kind of dunks my left-leaning fellow travelers post online. Take, for example, the recent commotion surrounding Lavern Spicer, a Republican congressional candidate from Florida, on Twitter.
Earlier this month, Spicer published some now infamous tweets claiming that pronouns are not found in the Bible or the US Constitution, and that “Jesus Christ never represented Himself using pronouns.” Given the truth that pronouns are a ubiquitous part of speech, this supposed language flaw presented many online liberals with an irresistible opportunity to defeat a conservative adversary.
During the ensuing dunk competition, users demonstrated – through various ways and memes – that the constitution’s preamble begins with “we” and that Jesus canonically identifies 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 far-sighted critique of this liberal push to point out the superficial hypocrisy and contradictions that exist in conservatives’ stated motivations. Such compulsion often manifests itself in smug quips like “Conservatives claim to be pro-life but support this and that evil policy,” or, as on Twitter last week, in “gotchas” that portray conservatives as illiterate or ill-versed in the Bible. and the Constitution.
Kotsko notes, however, that the “reasonable liberals” behind such humiliations are inappropriately fixating on argumentative inconsistencies while not realizing that conservative messages are clearly coherent strategic—with the ultimate goal of “reinforcement”[ing] and, if necessary, reconfirm[ing] ‘traditional’ power structures.”
Something that was apparently lost on those who only saw an open route to the basket and the ability to push – please, in Spicer’s tweets, is that she knows what a pronoun is. (If she didn’t learn this in high school, she certainly did last year when she published same bible tweet verbatim and has been extensively corrected).
As noted by the Couple of who skilfully looked past Spicer’s apparent ignorance, her tweets fit neatly into the anti-transgender agenda of the right. As logically incoherent as it may be, Spicer’s words serve to advance the idea that the identities of transgender and non-binary people are not sanctioned by traditional texts and are thus illegal.
Haughty grammar police missed this more pressing point. Spicer’s pronoun debacle highlights a limitation in the dunk metaphor: One who dunks a political opponent isn’t necessarily on the attack.
The superficial contradictions in Spicer’s tweets acted as a Pavlovian bell for liberals reflexively correcting her seductive semantic errors to nausea– and who is likely to do the same the next time they get trolled by the right. And so, for the left, dunking embodies a kind of short-term thinking, identified by the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher as “endemic to the age of Twitter,” which reflects the deplorable tendency for “reactionary political forces to be proactive and for progressives to be reactive.”
But repeatedly participating in ‘reactive battles’ on conservative terms is worse for the left than just a time-consuming waste of energy. On social media, where content-neutral algorithms are built to maximize user engagement and turn attention into a currency, even dismissive responses to our ideological opponents can counterintuitively amplify their posts.
The Right is cleverly capitalizing on this via outrage and trolling – Spicer’s temporary stint as Twitter’s focal point is testament to this. And last week, after lapping the water with countless incendiary tweets, she managed to provoke a frenzy of engagement so covetable that other conservatives tried to wrestle her power with their own. copycat messages.
We left would be remiss to act on this. Whether the impulse to dip into engagement bait like Spicer’s is a symptom of online attention-seeking, exaggerated belief that adversaries can be overcome by venting their hypocrisy in the “Marketplace of Ideas,” or vast underestimations of the conservative social agenda, it’s up to you. ultimately misguided.
A short-sighted preoccupation with hiding the intellectual inconsistencies in conservative ideology misses the true scope and nature of the struggle ahead as the country undergoes a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Plus, it grabs the bait of right-wing trolls, like Lavern Spicer, for whom the reins of power are far too within reach.
In other words, it’s worth thinking twice about dunking when there’s a game to be won.