Clay Shirky: More Jerks Please!

A Rant About Women,  he titles it, which is like dangling raw meat right there—or should I say, holding it out on a very long stick. Like they do at the zoo.

So Shirkey realizes he’s been conned, and by a bright student, and the realization makes him rather pleased. For is not his male student a reflection of himself? Many men feel that way; it is why they are such odd, competitive little creatures, and also why they feel, deep inside, like losers. And fear quite pitifully that anyone should know. A fear, a life of bluffing, women simply have no need for. Making us the far saner gender, but that is rather a given.

… I’ve grown increasingly worried that most of the women in the department, past or present, simply couldn’t write a letter like that.

This worry isn’t about psychology; I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

Note that here Shirky allows himself to behave like an arrogant, self-aggrandizing jerk. Pretending to disappear from the narrative whilst pulling various strings, which is not a bad thing, in art; when it’s the unconscious talking, not so nice.

It’s not that women will be better off being con artists; a lot of con artists aren’t better off being con artists either. It’s just that until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, they’ll miss out on channelling smaller amounts of self-promoting con artistry to get what they want, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.

It warms the cockles, it does. How Mr. Shirky cares for the welfare of his female students.

There is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed, and if there is an upper limit for women, they will succeed less. They will also end up in jail less, but I don’t think we get the rewards without the risks.

A certain weariness befalls me—jail? he makes a point about jail?— as I read the rest, but then I realize, Shirky really thinks the world brought about by men being assholes has anything at all to recommend it!

Part of this sorting out of careers is sexism, but part of it is that men are just better at being arrogant, and less concerned about people thinking we’re stupid (often correctly, it should be noted) for trying things we’re not qualified for.

Dude! Did it never occur to you that we’re on a different page altogether? One way ahead in the book?

That pissing contests may get you quick wins—but it also puts people in charge who are good at nothing but pissing? And lying? And cheating?

I’m telling you, we are after something more, we can see it and taste it. The old road is rapidly aging, please get out of the new one …


8 thoughts on “Clay Shirky: More Jerks Please!

  1. Shirky really thinks the world brought about by men being assholes has anything at all to recommend it!

    He’s not recommending the world brought about by men being assholes. He’s recommending a strategy for advancement in such a world.

    But you knew that…


  2. I don’t think Shirky’s piece was snark either — that’s my snark. Which does not change one whit my point. The better world of which you write will not come about by the old boys network strategy of lying to get ahead. Think of the power as it is exercised in the world, by men: hierarchal … Notice what that got us. I envision power as something quite other, as power shared and spread around. Which will lead to a more equable, less-suffering world?

    As I say, the old road is rapidly aging, crumbling, the infrastructure is shot …


  3. I returned to comment again because I thought of the woman who operates as Shirkey and Jeff Dickey believe we women must if we’re to get a shot at preventing the Dark Ages: Sarah Palin. Pouring new wine into old wine skins won’t help us.

    Sorry to get so mouthy on your blog, Zo. Helluva powerful topic!


  4. Maybe this IS because I have the ability to look at this AS a Shirkeyesque male who “only told lies I could live up to, and I knew when to stop.” The sorry fact that he’s pointing out – too obliquely – is that many/most arenas of professional and creative endeavor have been created, led and/or taken over by men who fit the portrait that Shirkey is painting. Risk-taking, self-promotion and so on ARE seen as predominantly “male” character aspects/flaws, in large part BECAUSE society has been and is fundamentally sexist – and is likely to remain so unless and until women can function within the existing framework successfully enough to alter it.

    That’s what I get from reading Shirkey’s piece; not a snarky bit of braggadocio that “men are on top because we know how to game the system,” so much as “until increasing numbers of women in a variety of fields – professional, academic, artistic, and so on – can work within this aspect of the system, it won’t be changed.” Not because change wouldn’t benefit men as well as women. It would. But rather, because those “gatekeepers” who control the system, having got to where they are now by gaming the system, lack the will if not the means to change it.

    We are at a turning point in human history, of a kind that hasn’t been seen in well over a thousand years. Institutions and conventions are changing all around us, and, not knowing how to change and survive, they change and die. Others watch the process attentively, determined against reality to avoid the same fate. But if we do NOT come up with a way to fundamentally change our society, to make it more equitable, transparent and open, we risk a new Dark Ages that will compare to the European mediaeval one as a broken fingernail compares to a petrol bomb.

    I believe that is what Shirkey fears, as do I.


  5. We women really think we can do better than to follow Shirkey’s recommendation; we believe we can shape a new cultural reality of values and performance rather than bravado and bullshit. His post was a fascinating read, but it was really only so much tap-dancing in the end. It’s staying power and substance our country needs right now; to get it, we’ll need to turn to our women.


  6. “A certain weariness befalls me—jail? he makes a point about jail?— as I read the rest, but then I realize, Shirky really thinks the world brought about by men being assholes has anything at all to recommend it!”

    That’s just an excellent point, and it highlights exactly what is wrong with the world-view underlying Shirky’s post.

    Liked by 1 person

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