essential understanding - Kafkatrapping

Zenaan Harkness zen at
Wed Dec 2 17:30:59 PST 2015

The points raised in this blog are essential in today's SJW/ "Social
Justice Warrior" (how politically correct that sounds) climate of
communication - the Kafkatrapping techniques described here may
provide an important "ahah!" moment to those who have been subjected
to such emotional/ linguistic constructs in the past, or who may have
to face such constructs in the future.

Here's to competently handling more of today's pervasive bullshit.
Posted on 2010-07-18 by Eric Raymond

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.

Sometimes the kafkatrap is presented in less direct forms. A common
variant, which I’ll call the Model C, is to assert something like
this: “Even if you do not feel yourself to be guilty of
{sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…}, you are guilty because
you have benefited from the
{sinful,racist,sexist,homophobic,oppressive,…} behavior of others in
the system.” The aim of the Model C is to induce the subject to
self-condemnation not on the basis of anything the individual subject
has actually done, but on the basis of choices by others which the
subject typically had no power to affect. The subject must at all
costs be prevented from noticing that it is not ultimately possible to
be responsible for the behavior of other free human beings.

A close variant of the model C is the model P: “Even if you do not
feel yourself to be guilty of {sin,racism,sexism,
homophobia,oppression…}, you are guilty because you have a privileged
position in the {sinful,racist,sexist,homophobic,oppressive,…}
system.” For the model P to work, the subject must be prevented from
noticing that the demand to self-condemn is not based on the subject’s
own actions or choices or feelings, but rather on an in-group
identification ascribed by the operator of the kafkatrap.

It is essential to the operation of all three of the variants of the
kafkatrap so far described that the subject’s attention be deflected
away from the fact that no wrongdoing by the subject, about which the
subject need feel personally guilty, has actually been specified. The
kafkatrapper’s objective is to hook into chronic self-doubt in the
subject and inflate it, in much the same way an emotional abuser
convinces a victim that the abuse is deserved – in fact, the mechanism
is identical. Thus kafkatrapping tends to work best on weak and
emotionally vulnerable personalities, and poorly on personalities with
a strong internalized ethos.

In addition, the success of a model P kafkatrap depends on the subject
not realizing that the group ascription pinned on by the operator can
be rejected. The subject must be prevented from asserting his or her
individuality and individual agency; better, the subject must be
convinced that asserting individuality is yet another demonstration of
denial and guilt. Need it be pointed out how ironic this is, given
that kafkatrappers (other than old-fashioned religious authoritarians)
generally claim to be against group stereotyping?

There are, of course, other variants. Consider the model S:
“Skepticism about any particular anecdotal account of
{sin,racism,sexism,homophobia,oppression,…}, or any attempt to deny
that the particular anecdote implies a systemic problem in which you
are one of the guilty parties, is itself sufficient to establish your
guilt.” Again, the common theme here is that questioning the discourse
that condemns you, condemns you. This variant differs from the model A
and model P in that a specific crime against an actual person usually
is in fact alleged. The operator of the kafkatrap relies on the
subject’s emotional revulsion against the crime to sweep away all
questions of representativeness and the basic fact that the subject
didn’t do it.

I’ll finish my catalog of variants with the verson of the kafkatrap
that I think is most likely to be deployed against this essay, the
Model L: “Your insistence on applying rational skepticism in
evaluating assertions of pervasive {sin,racism,sexism,homophobia,
oppression…} itself demonstrates that you are
{sinful,racist,sexist,homophobic,oppressive,…}.” This sounds much like
the Model S, except that we are back in the territory of unspecified
crime here. This version is not intended to induce guilt so much as it
is to serve as a flank guard for other forms of kafkatrapping. By
insisting that skepticism is evidence of an intention to cover up or
excuse thoughtcrime, kafkatrappers protect themselves from having
their methods or motives questioned and can get on with the serious
business of eradicating thoughtcrime.

Having shown how manipulative and psychologically abusive the
kafkatrap is, it may seem almost superfluous to observe that it is
logically fallacious as well. The particular species of fallacy is
sometimes called “panchreston”, an argument from which anything can be
deduced because it is not falsifiable. Notably, if the model A
kafkatrap is true, the world is divided into two kinds of people: (a)
those who admit they are guilty of thoughtcrime, and (b) those who are
guilty of thoughtcrime because they will not admit to being guilty of
thoughtcrime. No one can ever be innocent. The subject must be
prevented from noticing that this logic convicts and impeaches the
operator of the kafkatrap!

I hope it is clear by now that the particular flavor of thoughtcrime
alleged is irrelevant to understanding the operation of kafkatraps and
how to avoid being abused and manipulated by kafkatrappers. In times
past the kafkatrapper was usually a religious zealot; today, he or she
is just as likely to be advancing an ideology of racial, gender,
sexual-minority, or economic grievance. Whatever your opinion of any
of these causes in their ‘pure’ forms may be, there are reasons that
the employment of kafkatrapping is a sure sign of corruption.

The practice of kafkatrapping corrupts causes in many ways, some
obvious and some more subtle. The most obvious way is that abusive and
manipulative ways of controlling people tend to hollow out the causes
for which they are employed, smothering whatever worthy goals they may
have begun with and reducing them to vehicles for the attainment of
power and privilege over others.

A subtler form of corruption is that those who use kafkatraps in order
to manipulate others are prone to fall into them themselves. Becoming
unable to see out of the traps, their ability to communicate with and
engage anyone who has not fallen in becomes progressively more
damaged. At the extreme, such causes frequently become epistemically
closed, with a jargon and discourse so tightly wrapped around the
logical fallacies in the kafkatraps that their doctrine is largely
unintelligible to outsiders.

These are both good reasons for change activists to consider
kafkatraps a dangerous pathology that they should root out of their
own causes. But the best reason remains that kafkatrapping is wrong.
Especially, damningly wrong for anyone who claims to be operating in
the cause of freedom.

UPDATE: A commenter pointed out the Model D: “The act of demanding a
definition of {sin,racism,sexism,homophobia,oppression} that can be
consequentially checked and falsified proves you are
{sinful,racist,sexist, homophobic, oppressive}.”

UPDATE2: The Model M: “The act of arguing against the theory of
anti-{sin,racism,sexism,homophobia,oppression} demonstrates that you
are either {sinful,racist,sexist, homophobic, oppressive} or do not
understand the theory of
anti-{sin,racism,sexism,homophobia,oppression}, and your argument can
therefore be dismissed as either corrupt or incompetent.”

Model T: Designated victims of
{sin,racism,sexism,homophobia,oppression} who question any part of the
theory of {sin,racism,sexism,homophobia,oppression} demonstrate by
doing so that they are not authentic members of the victim class, so
their experience can be discounted and their thoughts dismissed as
internalized {sin,racism,sexism,homophobia,oppression}.

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