Kafkatrapping

Kulturagent (CC)

Via Armed and Dangerous:

Good causes sometimes have bad consequences. Blacks, women, and other historical out-groups were right to demand equality before the law and the full respect and liberties due to any member of our civilization; but the tactics they used to “raise consciousness” have sometimes veered into the creepy and pathological, borrowing the least sane features of religious evangelism.

One very notable pathology is a form of argument that, reduced to essence, runs like this: “Your refusal to acknowledge that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…} confirms that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…}.” I’ve been presented with enough instances of this recently that I’ve decided that it needs a name. I call this general style of argument “kafkatrapping”, and the above the Model A kafkatrap. In this essay, I will show that the kafkatrap is a form of argument that is so fallacious and manipulative that those subjected to it are entitled to reject it based entirely on the form of the argument, without reference to whatever particular sin or thoughtcrime is being alleged. I will also attempt to show that kafkatrapping is so self-destructive to the causes that employ it that change activists should root it out of their own speech and thoughts.

My reference, of course, is to Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”, in which the protagonist Josef K. is accused of crimes the nature of which are never actually specified, and enmeshed in a process designed to degrade, humiliate, and destroy him whether or not he has in fact committed any crime at all. The only way out of the trap is for him to acquiesce in his own destruction; indeed, forcing him to that point of acquiescence and the collapse of his will to live as a free human being seems to be the only point of the process, if it has one at all.

This is almost exactly the way the kafkatrap operates in religious and political argument. Real crimes – actual transgressions against flesh-and-blood individuals – are generally not specified. The aim of the kafkatrap is to produce a kind of free-floating guilt in the subject, a conviction of sinfulness that can be manipulated by the operator to make the subject say and do things that are convenient to the operator’s personal, political, or religious goals. Ideally, the subject will then internalize these demands, and then become complicit in the kafkatrapping of others…

Read more here.

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  • destroysound

    ESR is pretty much a huge douche IMO but I don’t disagree with anything said in the article itself. What I do disagree with is using a purported logical fallacy (kafkatrap or otherwise) to dismiss an entire set of claims. That, in itself, is a fallacy. Simply because a claim has been poorly argued does not give you license to dismiss an entire movement – it simply means the particular argument you encountered was not well formed. Arguing that “since a movement has used a particular technique that has been found to be fallacious, the movement is worthless” is a form of pleading.

    • TennesseeCyberian

      The author never said that employing a “Kafkatrap” makes any movement “worthless.” You made that up.  Unless you are referring to some Kafkatrap Movement I’ve not heard of.

      What he said is that frivolous witch-hunts damage the credibility of certain underhanded activists. So untie your noose and snuff out your torch, will ya? 

      • destroysound

        If you read the comments, he actually did. That’s why I said “I don’t agree with anything in the article itself”. I quote from the comments:


        No, insufferable self-righteous prigs I can handle – I’m well aware that abolitionism was full of those, it jumps right out of the primary sources. Emotional abusers relying on logical fallacies are another matter. A movement that fails to police such out of its ranks – that doesn’t show any sign of even wanting to do so – forfeits my respect.”My point is that it is not the responsibility of a “movement” to police its adherents – it is instead the burden of the person setting forth a position to do so in a logical manner free of fallacies. If a person commits a fallacy, it is not the fault of the thing he or she is arguing for.

        • TennesseeCyberian

          Disqus ate my reply, so I’ll just say it again:

          My bad.  I typed out of ignorance and retract my statement.

          I read the comment you are referring to, and yeah, policing one’s group for obnoxious zealots would be a ridiculous task.  That kind of collectivism is the root of his “Kafkatrap” in the first place.

          I’ve always said that authors should refrain from commenting on their own articles, and the author in question proves that point.  Should have quit while he was ahead.

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