The Macktivist Paradox
by Mike Crumplar
Macktivist is a great word that refers to a special kind of social justice warrior that contains both its most intense authenticity and artificiality. A portmanteau of “activist” and “to mack [on someone],” the macktivist represents the total inversion of pretty much everything about whatever liberating tendencies we have wrestled from this current wave of feminism. Basically, the macktivist, often appearing to be the model male ally, maliciously subverts and uses the language of social activism to have sex with people who would be into that sort of thing. It is the sort of character that would be perfect in Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno.
This Jezebel article describes the macktivists Hart Noecker, a vegan bike activist known in Portland anarchist circles, and Hugo Schwyzer, a gender studies professor from Pasadena. Both Hart Noecker and Hugo Schwyzer are serial sexual abusers who are well versed in the language-world of social activism, and perhaps most chillingly ironic, the particularities of feminist discourse. And both are archetypal “allies.” Noecker is described as using conversations about consent, setting boundaries, and being open about sexual practices as a means to pressure women into unwanted activities by essentially confusing them (known as “gaslighting”). Noecker’s outspoken role in the Portland vegan-bike-hipster-anarchist community, as classic “Portlandia” as it gets, apparently gave his purported feminism such credit that he was able to lure victims that otherwise would have been put off by some of his creepy actions. Schwyzer taught classes and blogged about women’s issues (both his own blog and sites like Jezebel) while he did things like “fuck porn stars [he] met through [his] classes” sleep with four students on a class trip he was chaperoning, and allegedly tried to kill himself and his wife in a murder-suicide. You can read Noecker’s blog here and some excerpts from a twitter meltdown of Schwyzer’s here. (Schwyzer’s twitter page was publicly accessible as recently as yesterday, although the “meltdown” tweets are surely long since deleted. The twitter page is currently protected.)
Anyway, the article is interesting and well written; you should read it and I shouldn’t repeat it all here. The main point I want to indicate is the connection between the sense of weakness and vulnerability of the “logophobia” ideology of the social activist feminist left, the sense of moral certainty and definite truth-ness that it develops in communities (the activist circle, the university, and so on) and how they work to paradoxically undermine the “safe spaces” they seek to create. In the logophobia-world of the activist left, one really can be included by paying lip service to the right struggles, being conscious and repentant about privilege just enough, by reciting just the right prayers and slogans. There is an orthodoxy that can be learned and navigated, and like any orthodoxy, it can always be performed “inauthentically” or “dishonestly.”
One, perhaps more common, or at least more easily imaginable way for logophobia to break down a safe space into something hostile or toxic is from factionalization—which could take form, for example, from a dispute over orthodoxy between the party’s true believers and heretics of whatever stripe. Within its own logical truth-schema, these sorts of breaks are necessary and inevitable; within the “Marxist Study Group” there are always the quaintest insults hurled around the room. Once the dissidents are shown to have offending views, so egregious as to cause physical harm through perpetuating “neocolonialism” or “heteropatriarchy,” revealed reactionary through a miserable misstep of words, they are cast out to form their own silly little band. This is never surprising, and it can go in any direction with any particular flavor for denouncing the apostates: “non-dialectical” or “non-Marxist” (a good way to dismiss those pesky Spinozists), “reactionary” or “fascist,” not to mention the litany associated with particular identities (one side of the coin: sexist, racist, and so on; on the other side: accusations of appropriation, inauthenticity). This practice reinforces its own truth-schema, along with the ideas that a) opposing views are literally toxic, in that they affect physical harm to the body, and b) there is a sense of belonging, trust, and solidarity with those who perform the agreed-upon canonical prayers. When this whole logophobic process is performed, we feel as if we are participating in the liberating struggle to cast off the yoke of oppression in language, and we access a narcotic, illusory respite from trauma. Therefore, it, and us with it, continues.
On the other hand, the case of the macktivist is almost meta-logophobic in that it breaks down its own internal logic and becomes its own opposite. Even once we have condemned the triggering spaces, denounced the abusers, found alternative inclusive vocabulary for the words in language that give us trauma—once we have formed our linguistic bubble, the “Portland” dialect as it were, the whole process of striving for relief from myriad traumas is itself subject to perhaps the most fundamental trauma it was trying to escape in the first place. It is as if we undertook the spiritual quest to climb the holy mountain and meet the all-liberating godhead and once his face is revealed behind the blinding light we see that it is none other than our rapist. The macktivist represents language returning to its state of original corruption as trauma seeps into the triggerwave slang. Now that “male feminists” can be and are commonly enough the literal embodiment of the oppression feminism struggles against, how can we save that concept from this new extension of trauma? What can we trust now if even a frank, ostensibly honest conversation about sexual consent can be weaponized?
Also worth bringing up is the similarity between this nexus of truth-schema/sexual coercion and recurring trope scandal of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. In both instances, the domination and abuse is concealed by a linguistic-institutional structure that enables its own contradictory relations of control. Noecker’s accusers were afraid to speak up against him because they were afraid that “no one would believe them” since he was seemingly more in touch with an activist community (an institution) that, among other things, claims to be feminist, since he knew how to articulate its language so well that his expert acrobatics could persuasively flip the distinctions between right and wrong, offender and victim. Of course we have seen this before. Beyond the largely aesthetic differences (the priest’s robe versus the feminist fist pin) what these situations of sexual coercion have in common is that they are founded upon and enabled by truth systems that purport to offer moral grounding and clarity that can be completely antithetical to their—ultimately traumatic—lived experiences.