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>Paul Elam’s Evasive Pseudo-Eloquence

>

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

patron saint of terrible,

terrible writers

There are all kinds of bad writers. Some can’t string simple sentences together; others spew thick clouds of incomprehensible jargon. But in some ways the most annoying bad writers of all are those who are bad writers because they think they are great writers.

Paul Elam is one of those. An influential blogger, at least within the marginal mini-world of the Men’s Rights Movement, Elam writes polemics for The Spearhead and his own web site, A Voice For Men. His topics range from the evils of chivalry to “Death Row and The Pussy Pass.” And they’re full of sentences like this:

[G]ender feminism is not the light of reason, but much more like a burning cross, issuing a grotesque, dystopian glow; a suitable backlight for an Orwellian nightmare.

Or this, from an essay about the dilemmas of young men today:

[T]hey are suffering from the loss of things never held, from things missing but never known. They are, quite literally, a lost generation of the walking wounded, wandering blindly from a battlefield on which they never knew they stood.

Yeah, except that the only battlefields most of these guys have seen have been the multiplayer maps of Halo or Modern Warfare 2. 

As you may have already gathered, Elam’s flights of literary fancy are invariably hokey and melodramatic. And they’re essentially meaningless. They say absolutely nothing, while giving the impression that they say an awful lot. Indeed, when you try to nail down the meaning of any of his not-so-fine phrases, they simply fall apart.

In the first quote above, he attempts to smoosh together the KKK and the world of George Orwell’s 1984 into some strange symbol of feminist awfulness. Huh? The KKK is a vigilante group; the villain in 1984 was a totalitarian government. They’re both bad, to be sure, but different kinds of bad. Big Brother wasn’t a Grand Kleagle. It’s a sloppy mix of metaphors that represents some pretty sloppy thinking.

So why am I picking on Elam’s writing style? Shouldn’t I be focusing on the substance of his argument? My point is that you can’t separate the two. Elam’s style is designed to conceal his lack of substance.

Ironically, the person who provides the most insight into what Elam is trying to accomplish with his purportedly elevated prose is none other than Orwell. In his classic essay on “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell took a look at some typically terrible political prose of his day. The two qualities that united all his examples in awfulness were a certain “staleness of imagery” and a “lack of precision.” His analysis fits Elam’s essays to a T:

As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

George Orwell, being Orwellian

And why is this? Orwell concluded that the airy abstractions, the mixed metaphors, the grand prefabricated phrases all worked together to conceal the true meanings of what was being said, to offer “a defence of the indefensible,” whether one was a Communist defending the Russian purges or an American politician defending the atom bomb.

With Elam, though, we see something slightly different. He’s not defending the indefensible so much as trying to disguise the sheer insubstantiality of some of his central arguments, which would be simply laughable if he hadn’t gussied them up with ponderously “fancy” prose. Consider this passage, describing Elam’s thoughts after discovering that his spellchecker didn’t recognize the word “misandry”:

A culture that refuses to acknowledge that a perfectly legitimate word exists on paper, is in effect denying its existence to the collective consciousness. … It is like trying to describe a cloud without being able to use the word itself- to a world that does not believe in clouds. We are limited to talking around the subject; we present our meanings in metaphors and similes and anecdotes.

Reduced to its essence, though, Elam’s claim here is simply absurd: Because “misandry” isn’t a common enough term to include in his computer’s dictionary, our culture has no way of expressing the notion that certain people and ideas are man hating.

Really, Paul? We’re “limited to talking around the subject?” I really haven’t noticed much of that. The term “man-hating” gets the idea across fairly bluntly, and has long been popular with a certain sort of man, often in conjunction with words like “bitch,” “cunt,” or “feminazi.”

In the crowd you hang with, I imagine you hear this kind of talk all the time. Surely you’ve noticed it.

Elam doesn’t always write in such a stilted, evasive style. Sometimes he butches it up a bit, launching crude tirades against “mangina morons,” or telling a woman who was sexually harassed as a tween and an early teen that “guess what, cupcake, when you start growing tits, men start looking at them.” In a recent piece about the impending execution of a female murder-plotter with an IQ of 72, he wrote of his desire to “throw some burgers on the grill, crack open a few cold ones, and watch them ice this murdering bitch on pay-per-view.” (This despite the fact that he actually opposes the death penalty.)

Stick with this style, Paul. It may not be pretty, but at least it’s true to your nature. You’re not a grand philosopher; you’re not a literary lion. There is nothing smart or sophisticated about anything you ever write or think. Basically, you’re a dick. So write like one.

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Daran
11 years ago

>Thanks for counting us among your friends."So why am I picking on Elam's writing style? Shouldn't I be focusing on the substance of his argument? My point is that you can't separate the two. Elam's style is designed to conceal his lack of substance."I disagree, in respect of this piece:Death chambers have taken the lives of many men of low intelligence and who were highly impressionable. But there is not a penis pass, so they get the needle anyway.Indeed as gendercide.org notes:The bias against men carries over to juveniles and the mentally handicapped. Here, in fact, it is exclusively underage and handicapped males who are killed by the state: "There are presently 58 inmates, all male, on death row for crimes committed while juveniles. … As of year-end 1997, 31 mentally retarded men had been executed in the U.S. since 1976." (Source: Justice Center Website.)Teresa Lewis' recent execution renders the "exclusive" part outdated in respect of the mentally retarded, but the overwhelming gender-bias remains."Pussy Pass" is a trivial and perhaps offensive term for "female privilege" and has as much substance as the latter term. Elam's deplorable (and inconsistent, given his professed opposition to the death penalty) applause for this woman's execution does not invalidate his argument.

Fidelbogen
11 years ago

>"Yeah, except that the only battlefields most of these guys have seen have been the multiplayer maps of Halo or Modern Warfare 2."This is, of course, merely a "cheap shot" — not only at Elam, but (more importantly) at the young men he is describing. And if Elam's sense of metaphor seems a tad strong, well, I reckon that is a matter of taste. Evidently he feels it is about right. De gustibus non est disputandum. (Ahhh… a Latin Tag, spotted in the wild. Go to town with that one! 😉

Anonymous
11 years ago

>I object to the hatred of men and the cheapening of men in our culture. TO AN EXTREME EXTENT.I believe that women enjoy "female privilege".I strongly object to the angellification and pedestalizing of women in our culture.That said, I dislike Paul Elam.Men like him are the reason myself, and everybody I know detest MRM cause.The MRM will do for men what feminism did for women – it will make them climb all the way to the top of the stupid tree – and hit every branch on the way down when they fall from it.This will happen to women eventually.It will happen to these MRM nuts too – I hope they do not drag the majority of men with them.

Rob
Rob
11 years ago

>An influential blogger, at least within the marginal mini-world of the Men's Rights Movement…One wonders how to classify a person who sets up an entire blog aimed at criticizing said marginal mini-world. If the MRM is so insignificant, then you must be only 10% as significant, being as your claim to fame is being a critic of this insignificant segment of society. One wonders why you even put effort into creating a blog and writing at all. Perhaps you should switch to criticizing something a bit more significant then – like aliens using spray cans is the cause of Mars warming 1/2 a degree over the next 500 years.Thanks for the link, btw.

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>"One wonders why you even put effort into creating a blog and writing at all."Well, everyone needs a hobby.

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>Daran: the post about executing Teresa Lewis is actually one in which he generally avoids the "fancy" style I'm criticizing. He states his argument plainly. I disagree with it, but at least he's not trying to fudge anything with fancified prose. I quoted from it mainly as an example of dickishness: here's a guy who says he's opposed to the death penalty cheering on the execution of a low-IQ woman. As for the more substantive issues, well, I will deal with the whole "pussy pass" thing in a future post. It's complicated. FWIW, I'm opposed to anyone getting executed, man or woman. Thanks for a substantive response!

ScareCrow
11 years ago

>How come my blog isn't on your "Enemies List"?Do I not offend you enough?I can try harder!

Fidelbogen
11 years ago

>@ScareCrow: Hey, how ya doin'? I am still working on an answer to your question, by the way. Hang tight…@Futrelle:My impression is, that you are unaware of Paul Elam's CV.Paul has spent years as a 'counselor' helping troubled young men (drug issues, life issues, etc). He has been in the belly of the beast and seen a few things firsthand. Or you might say, he has been in the trenches. So if he likens the lives of many young men to a "battlefield", then I am inclined to suspect that maybe, just maybe, he knows what he is talking about.And that he formulates his analogy not idly, but from a place of knowledge.

Paul
11 years ago

>Laughing my ass off here. This "critique" is of my writing style, not the content or meaning of my work.In other words, it is a precise, hypocritical example of what Poor David is complaining about. It's simply a dressed up spelling flame, and in a bargain basement suit at that. And it reeks of someone seeking attention.And now you have it, sir. Good for you! Too bad most of it is in dissent.Oh well, bad breath is better than no breath, as they say.

Denis P
11 years ago

>David, It's just ad hominem, I'm not aware that Paul Elam is associated with the words bitch, cunt and feminizi.As I've told you before, insults are not substitute for intelligence, although they happen at times. Remember, "intellectual honesty". Are you disproving Paul's assertions or are you attacking the messenger.It's too bad that you failed miserably at debating the facts about domestic violence. Come back anytime to debate on an intellectual level.

Denis P
11 years ago

>That's a good set of links, I suggest any man should fully explore the range of opinions and facts.But you forgot the most important one of all:angryharry.comThink for yourself.

Fidelbogen
11 years ago

>"Men like him are the reason myself, and everybody I know detest MRM cause."Anonymous, I hate to break this to you, but based upon the first three paragraphs of your comment, it is clear that you are a PART of the so-called "MRM cause", whether you like it or not.Please don't let semantics muddle your understanding. "MRM" is only an umbrella term, and the umbrella spreads for miles and miles and miles. So why not get under it yourself? But of course, you already ARE under it! You have made that clear by your very own words.You have made it clear that you detest feminism. So how do you realistically plan to take the initiative against it, without forming an "MRM" of one sort or another — under one name or another?Hey, here's an idea: why not form an "MRM cause" all your own, and invite your friends, and then it will just be you guys together so you won't need to talk to all those "nuts". Think that'd work out for ya? 😉

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>Thanks Paul, for a completely substance-free response to my critique! Your use of meaningless pejoratives ("bargain basement suit," "bad breath") actually helps to reinforce the points I was making. Actually, though, my bargain basement suit is at the cleaners. Dennis P: I didn't suggest that Paul personally used those words (Cunts, etc). But as a matter of fact, he does use the word bitch — see the quote in the penultimate paragraph of the post. Also, I am working on a detailed post about DV; it will be posted, well, whenever I get done with it. Beyond that, you seem to have completely missed the point of my post (and Orwell's classic essay as well). Scarecrow: Good news! You made the list!Also, angry harry. Not sure how I forgot to include him.

Paul
11 years ago

>@ DenisOh yes, that David. Hard to imagine someone being so butt hurt over getting thrashed in the DV debate that he would make a blog to go after revenge. But hey, it takes all kinds to make this wacky world go round. LOL!!Have a good life, David.

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>@ Paul. I'm pretty sure I've never actually engaged in a debate over DV with you. So at least one of us is delusional here; unless you're got a link, I'm thinking it's you.

Daran
11 years ago

>"Daran: the post about executing Teresa Lewis is actually one in which he generally avoids the "fancy" style I'm criticizing."OK, let's look at one which you quote specifically for the "fancy" style:[G]ender feminism is not the light of reason, but much more like a burning cross, issuing a grotesque, dystopian glow; a suitable backlight for an Orwellian nightmare.is substance-free I agree, but look at the immediately preceding paragraph:By valuing power over principles, and unity over legitimacy, they coalesced around malevolent elements that would ultimately define, and disgrace, their cause. Rather than remaining true to an ostensibly reasonable call for inclusion, they mutated into a bald faced grab for female centricity. They became the very sexist louts they claimed to abhor.There's rhetorical fluff here too, but there's also substance. Feminism, according to Elam, failed to adhere to its ostensibly reasonable call for inclusion, and instead seeks to centre women. That's a substantive point. Whether you agree with it or not is a different matter.He goes on to argue that the Men's movement should take care to avoid making the same mistake, by excercising "due diligence", and, to illustrate it, he points an Ebook, ostensibly advocating men's rights for exhibiting this flaw.Based upon this admittedly limited (but chosen by you) sample of Elan's oeuvre, I find the claim that "[His] style is designed to conceal his lack of substance." to be unfounded. Rather, I would argue that his style obfuscates the substance of his arguments.

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>Actually, that paragraph you cite is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Again, it's all abstractions — we don't know who he's talking about, what time period, what on earth he means with any of these terms. And he carefully elides the fact that the feminist movement has never been a monolithic thing. Let's go through it in detail:>By valuing power over principles, What does this mean? Say what you will about the radical feminists of the 70s (I'm assuming that's partly who he's talking about, but he doesn't specify so I don't know), they were principled. Their principles were crazy, but they weren't simple power-hungry opportunists. >and unity over legitimacyWhat on earth does this mean? Unity? There have always been different factions in feminism. Legitimacy? Huh? I honestly haven't the foggiest idea what this is supposed to mean, or how "legitimacy" is inherently opposed to "unity." "Legitimacy" according to whom? And if unity = illegitimacy then does disunity = legitimacy? By that logic, feminism as it exists in the real world (as opposed to Elam's mind) is perfectly legitimate, because lots of feminists disagree with one another. >, they coalesced around malevolent elements that would ultimately define, and disgrace, their cause. Again, I have no idea who he's talking about. Andrea Dworkin and pals? Feminism definitely didn't coalesce around her; other feminists fought her bitterly, and ultimately, they basically won the argument withing feminism. Dworkin and friends are not actually very popular in feminism today. >Rather than remaining true to an ostensibly reasonable call for inclusion, they mutated into a bald faced grab for female centricity.Who are we talking about here? What time period? If we're talking about the 2nd wave, yes, some feminists were "woman centric" from the start; others weren't. But the more radical "woman centric" wing had its heyday in the 1970s and 80s; you don't find many lesbian separatists today. If he's talking about the 2nd wave — and again, he doesn't specify, so I don't know — he's got his history backwards. >They became the very sexist louts they claimed to abhor.Who, again? Certainly the "woman centric" faction of feminism did see men and women as different, and sometimes saw woman as more caring, or whatever. Is that sexism? By some standards, I suppose, but most with these views don't see women as superior, just different. I would hardly call Carol Gilligan a "lout." And again, there are plenty of feminists (like me) who disagree with this ideology.

Daran
11 years ago

>I've already agreed that there was a lot of fluff in that paragraph. Your last comment make a good case that his argumentation lacks rigor.That doesn't mean that it lacks substance. There's a kernel of substance – which you won't find by focusing on the fluff – in the claim that feminists go beyond mere advocacy of gender-equality. Their advocacy has the practical effect of centering women.Here's an example:Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away.Why? Because they are our sisters and children–the victims of sexual abuse who don’t have the means to ask for help. We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we’re able to speak for them. I’m asking all of you–bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens–to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.Question. How does it further the goal of gender-equality to raise awareness of only half of the adult victims of sexual violence in Liberia? Specifically, the half that already has the greater share of public awareness?Kirshenbaum isn't Dworkin. Nor is she a lesbian separatist. She is, I suggest, very typical of moderate, mainstream feminism today.

Daran
11 years ago

>This is weird. My comment timestamped 7:03 PM is a reply to yours timestamped 7:39 PM which appears below it.

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>Not sure what you're talking about. My post timestamped 7:39 is a reply to yours timestamped 7:03. I go through the paragraph from Elam you quoted.

Daran
11 years ago

>I wrote a lengthy reply to your comment timestamped 7:39. I thought that I saw it come through at 7:03, but clearly the one at 7:03 is in fact the previous one.The most likely explanation is that my last comment having gone AWOL, I managed to mistake my previous one for it. Whatever. The bottom line is that a comment from me has gone AWOL. Do you have any spam traps you can check for it?

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>Ah. You are correct; your response was in the spam folder, and now it's posted above. I think your criticism of Kirshenbaum makes sense. But I would say she was blinkered, not, as Elan would put is, "malevolent," or a "sexist lout." Most victims of sexual assault worldwide are female, but it made no sense for her to ignore the massive number who are male.

Daran
11 years ago

>"I think your criticism of Kirshenbaum makes sense. But I would say she was blinkered,.."Do you agree that there is nothing unusual or idiosyncratic about her initial treatment of the issue, that her "blinkers" are endemic within feminism?(I say "initial" because to her credit she did revise the text on the (now defunct) website, in response to my criticism.)"…not, as Elan would put is, "malevolent," or a "sexist lout." Most victims of sexual assault worldwide are female, but it made no sense for her to ignore the massive number who are male."Those wouldn't be my choice of words, but they are defensible.malevolent adj.1. Having or exhibiting ill will; wishing harm to others; malicious.2. Having an evil or harmful influence: malevolent stars.I agree that she's in no way malicious but I do think that the systematic erasure of male victimisation is harmful, and that feminism contributes to this.lout n.An awkward and stupid person; an oaf.oaf n.A person regarded as stupid or clumsy.I do think there is something a bit awkward, a bit stupid, a bit clumsy, about erasing half the people you claim to be raising awareness of.Which leaves us withsex·ism n.1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.Was not Kirchenbaum stereotyping victims based upon gender? Do we not see feminists over and over again advocating discrimination based on gender,in favour of women?Finally, upon what empirical foundation does your claim that "most victims of sexual assault worldwide are female" stand?

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>Daran: A couple of things.One, your latest comment (the one I'm replying to here) also got caught in the spam filter; obviously I just unblocked it.Two, the fact that Kirchenbaum focused only on female victims reflected a blinkered view, as I said, but hardly means she is "advocating discrimination" any more than someone advocating for male victims of violence is advocating discrimination. By your logic any organization that advocates for one gender would be discriminatory, including all of these groups:http://antimisandry.com/activism-news/mens-rights-organizations-7818.htmlThree, male rape victims worldwide.

David Futrelle
11 years ago

>Blogger acting screwy, so I posted that comment unfinished so it wouldnt be goggled up by a glitch. Back to the issue at hand: male vs female rape victims worldwide. I will be writing a separate post on this at some point, but in the meantime:

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