By: Jared Marcel Pollen
Social movements, like revolutions, tend to follow a similar cycle in the process of rewiring certain beliefs and norms of behavior. This was perhaps best diagramed by Crane Brinton in his book The Anatomy of Revolution (1938), a study of the English, American, French and Russian revolutions, respectively––and how all of these revolutions (with the American being the perennial outlier) echoed one another in their stages of development. The same pattern can be mapped onto intellectual life during any period of cultural change; for moments of cultural upheaval are themselves soft revolutions, in a way, smaller in the order of magnitude than revolutions that demand a renovation of state power. This cycle goes as follows: right-to-centre, centre-to-left, left-to-far left, back to centre, back to right. Or, put differently: exposure of tyranny, modest demands, modest demands not good enough, rise of the radical left, reign of terror, reaction to the terror. What happens after that can vary.
We’ll come back to that in a bit though. At the moment, the #MeToo movement has reached its first anniversary: the Harvey Weinstein exposé turned one-year-old this past weekend, Bill Cosby has been through a court of law and will see the inside of a jail cell in this life, and the Preminger-esque drama that was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has come to a close (we’ll return to that soon as well). Even as we are living in this, the second year of his highness, Donald J. Trump the first, the #MeToo phenomenon has been arguably the most journalistically exhausted subject in the Anglosphere, with scarcely a side of its episodic saga gone unexamined. (I say this because at the moment I am living in central Europe, and talk of it here has been, so far as I can tell, peripheral.) Thus, one’s proverbial two cents feel even less asked for than usual, but a few things are still discoverable, and need to be pointed out.
In relation to the cycle sketched above, the #MeToo movement continues to tarry (one hopes for not much longer) in the Terror phase. If you think that sounds hyperbolic, or unduly harsh, try to come up with another word that describes a) the vigilance with which accusers are rooted out and brought forward, b) the limpid motivation to destroy careers and eliminate transgressors from public life, and c) the fear (however unfounded) that men may have about their pasts and their behavior in the future. This is not to say there can’t be legitimate and just censure of sexual assault and misconduct during the Terror phase. The Kavanaugh case is certainly one of them. One more disclaimer (just in case): I support the #MeToo movement and believe it is long overdue. The reason I add this disclaimer is precisely that a feature of the Terror is the way in which even a modicum of criticism is perceived as opposition or treachery––the discourse at this point having all the nuance of a cudgel.
If #MeToo has followed the revolutionary cycle, then the first two phases (exposure of tyranny and modest demands) were short-lived. Signs of unthinking started to appear as early as December 2017, when Matt Damon reasonably suggested there is, “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” and that both, while reproachable, should not be conflated. The response to this was what you would expect: You don’t respect women’s pain. What gives you, a man, the right to say that? You simply can’t understand what it’s like to be a woman. Really? Seriously? Seriously?