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Moralizing, Consent Culture, and Problematic Business

2018-01-03 18:23:40.091412+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

Everyone's been passing around Vanity Fair: “Oh My God, This Is So F---ed Up”: Inside Silicon Valley’s Secretive, Orgiastic Dark Side and saying "ewww, gross". I'm saying that too, but I'm saying it about the writing more than the topic. I wrote a long thing for a Facebook thread that I'm gonna toss in the comments 'cause it's long.

[ related topics: Religion Writing Current Events ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: Moralizing, Consent Culture, and Problematic Business made: 2018-01-03 18:27:36.055551+00 by: Dan Lyke

So first, thank you for offering a reason to read this article more carefully, the first time I skimmed the landing and went on my merry way, now I'm digging in 'cause this is the sort of writing and thinking that's good for me to do to try to unwrap things. Normally I'd just put it on my blog where nobody would read it, but I'm writing it for this thread so I'll start here. Breaking it down:

"Many participants don’t seem the least bit embarrassed, much less ashamed. On the contrary, they speak proudly about how they’re overturning traditions and paradigms in their private lives, just as they do in the technology world they rule."

I have heard similar sentiments from psychologists, from writers, from people who don't rule the technology world, who, in fact, are just paying the mortgage, but who still believe very strongly in changing the paradigms with which we relate to each other.

And I should note that I'm not beautiful, a long way from my 20s, and married.

"Guests arrive before dinner and are checked in by private security guards, who will turn you away if you’re not on the list."

Okay. The party has a guest list.

"... at the most intimate gatherings, guests will cook dinner together; that way they don’t have to kick out the help after dessert ..."

Oh my, the guests help with dinner? Usually I impose that on anyone rude enough to show up early, but...

"Some form of MDMA, a.k.a. Ecstasy or Molly, known for transforming relative strangers into extremely affectionate friends, is de rigueur..."

Yeah, I (mostly) stopped even drinking over a decade ago, but I know that people do MDMA in social settings. I'm of the opinion that consent is what someone will think about the event in question in two weeks, so I'm gonna be super careful about mind altering stuff with people I don't know extremely well, but people party with drugs. No news here.

"One venture capitalist, dressed up as a bunny (it’s unclear how this fit into the edge-of-the-earth theme)..."

Yeah, like the author has never tried to force an outfit that they had into their closet into the theme of an event because they didn't want to buy more clothes just for this party?

The next paragraph describes someone feeling ambushed and pressured into both drugs and the social situation, and, yeah, that's super gross, especially that she felt pursued after she said "no".

So now we're almost half-way down the article, and we've gotten to the first skeeziness. But we've been set up for this by a bunch of breathless moralizing.

"It’s worth asking, however, if these sexual adventurers are so progressive, why do these parties seem to lean so heavily toward male-heterosexual fantasies?"

This is a good question. The particulars of the scene described are not my scene. I dropped out of a community back in the very early naughts because a space couched in terms of sex as spirituality (that clustered in the circle of a wealthy woman) seemed to have a little bit of that "male-heterosexual fantasy" thing creeping in, but I also find that it's not necessarily "male-heterosexual fantasy" as it is mainstream culture fantasy, and women seek it out too.

"...“And I’ll say, ‘Well, you’re 33 now, are we all caught up yet?’..."

I was just listening to an 86 year old woman extol the virtues of promiscuity (and she'd held those views for decades, this wasn't a "old and senile so all the prohibitions get dropped" thing). Some people aren't seeking "caught up". Their kink is not necessarily my kink (I have described myself as surprised to discover that I am, in fact, monogamous), but again we're in the breathless judgment.

However, we're getting to the meat of it:

"Ava’s jaundiced view of newly wealthy moguls would be funny if their gold-digger obsession didn’t mask something serious. The claim of being stalked by women often becomes an excuse used by some tech stars to justify their own predatory behavior."

Yep, this is skeevy. I submit that it's also a good portion of what makes people economically successful in our culture; a lack of empathy is great for justifying predatory business deals.

"When I spoke about Silicon Valley’s sex parties—specifically those where women vastly outnumber men—with Elisabeth Sheff, a Chattanooga-based writer and professor who has spent two dec­ades researching open relationships, her reaction was heated:..."

Yes, now we're getting into it, but the problem I have is that we've had two thirds of an article about titillation to get to the guts of it, and the first half described stuff that wasn't necessarily predatory. I mean, it could be, and at about the first half of the article we got to the meat of it, but maybe we could have started from the other side? On how this is a tale of predatory economics, and would be so without the sex?

"Jennifer Russell, who runs the established Camp Mystic at Burning Man, is more sympathetic. “Men and women are equally drawn to creating a structure that invites their full sexual expression, and events like this are a safe place to dabble,” she says. “It’s way better than a swingers’ club would feel because this is at a home and you are surrounded by people you know.”"

Which is kind of a whiplash back to my world, but then we're back into:

"Married V.C. admits, however, that for many men these parties aren’t so much about self-expression as they are about simply sport fucking. ..."

Yep. But this is hardly limited to VCs.

The guts of the article is the last quarter, starting with "The New Paradigm for Women Getting Screwed": If we'd started there, I'd be totally on the "ewww gross" train. If we'd started there and then had a good exploration of consent within the context of rape culture, I'd probably be singing the praises of the article.

Instead, this feels like a cheap hit job that doesn't really do anything but moralize.

#Comment Re: Moralizing, Consent Culture, and Problematic Business made: 2018-01-04 13:49:05.56264+00 by: DaveP

Maybe the book is better, but the article just left me feeling vaguely dirty and glad I moved away from the Bay Area a couple decades ago.

a lack of empathy is great for justifying predatory business deals.

That's a thought I've had before, and which seems to fit pretty well with many of the "I'm transforming the world!" people I've met.

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