As part of the ongoing discussion around Dan Fincke’s suggestions that the comment policy for his blog should be the general way arguments are conducted in the world, Crommunist posted a link on Twitter yesterday.
A brief snippet from the post linked:
Let me tell you something: as someone who faces sexism on a very personal level, I have no interest in politely trying to educate misogynists when we live in a culture in which their misogyny has no repercussions. Our government is introducing bill after bill of offensive, woman-hating legislation, murder is still the leading cause of [death of] pregnant women, and rape is under-prosecuted at staggering numbers. Birth control is up for debate, governors are rolling back equal pay laws, and you think I have the energy to be polite to these people?
Because it doesn’t do any good.
Daniel responded at some length, but there’s one tweet in particular I’d like to respond to.
And one more tweet from Crommunist for context.
Here’s the thing. I do educate, and I still disagree with Daniel on this. I don’t disagree about him setting a comment policy for his blog. It’s his blog. I do disagree with any suggestion that people need to adopt his policy more universally. For my overarching reasons why, I recommend reading what I’ve had to say on accommodationism in the past, most briefly summed up here, here, and here.
Convincing people does happen. It may even happen sometimes in online spaces where everyone is very nice and refrains from any naming and shaming in conversation. I don’t know. I see very few of those places. Though they’re often touted as the ideal, they are far more rare than they think they are. The ones I do see have a far more restricted commentariat than we get around these parts.
Still, convincing people does happen, and it even happens through reasoned argumentation. That convincing comes at a cost, however.
What you must remember is that most of the argumentation we’re talking about here comes as a response to attacks on the well-being of groups of people. Much of the argumentation comes from those who are being attacked. That means we often don’t have the luxury of waiting for most of the fuss to blow over before we present our arguments. We don’t have the luxury of hoping someone will notice us long enough to see we’ve made an argument, take it in, mull it over, chew it over with us, then make up their minds that we’re right. We don’t have the luxury of not having our arguments stand out.
There is a direct cost to having these attacks treated as a matter for formalized debate. “Your well-being, pro or con. (White, gender-conforming, non-poor, dispassionate) gentlemen, have you prepared your talking points?” The truth is that the antis have a team feeding them information, and the pro side is usually prepared to argue until time is called–or a squirrel comes along for distraction. This is the truth because only one side is usually that invested in the outcome.
There is a direct cost to having these issues confined to the language and manners of the leisure class. Leisure is just that, and not many of us can afford it. That language, in itself, discourages unseemly haste. The time taken to mull things over is time we continue to be attacked.
There is a direct cost to attempting to eliminate shame from our dialog. We are being shamed, and those who shame us rarely even know they’re doing it. They don’t have to be direct; they have the weight of a culture that shames us behind them. All they have to do is let a tiny portion of that shine through their words, and they have the moral weight of that culture behind them. That won’t be eliminated if we police ourselves and the stronger, more direct shame we are forced to apply.
There is a direct cost to eliminating labels and names from our dialog. Those of us who have the energy to educate and argue while under attack are relatively few. Those who are afforded that energy because they are not under attack are many. Nor do they treat our time and attention as anything of worth in itself. If they will not learn from those we have already spoken to (they will not), if they will not organize themselves to collectively listen when we speak (they will not), sometimes our answers must be in shorthand. Sometimes they must be stung to listen or to simply put some substantial fraction of the energy into the conversation that we do. Sometimes names and labels accomplish that.
There is a direct cost to being inclusive in our communications. We are not just under attack, but under frequent attack. What we do can be exhausting. It can lead to burnout. It can warp our perspectives to deal with those who insist they are the default and we are other. If we communicate always for those who need educating, we don’t ever communicate only for ourselves. If we communicate always in the language of the leisure class, we are not giving our own words, our own perspectives, our own emotions, their due. We are eating ourselves up in the service of educating a few people, here and there, and that is not acceptable.
There is a direct cost to setting aside emotion. I can as easily debate the meaning and symbolism of Kids in the Hall sketches as I can social justice issues. However, it is imperative that I do not treat these topics as equivalent. One of them is entertainment, the other is vital, with direct consequences to other people. Infusing my arguments with emotion is one of the ways in which I help you tell which is which. Emotion will not tell you that I’m right, but it will tell you that there are consequences to debating this topic for sport.
Does that mean any of those things should be used universally or exclusively in education? Does that mean any of those things come cost free? Of course not. Daniel’s rules can apply to Daniel’s blog, because Daniel wants to have a particular sort of leisured examination of issues there. What it does mean is that simple education is not everyone’s goal or the primary or sole goal of everyone who does engage in it.
It can’t be. Education will only get us so far. The writer of the quote above was right about that. Education is a good thing that has the potential to shape the world in the long term, but in the short term, people are under attack. Changing the world in the short term is something that can be done alongside education, and it is–fascinatingly enough–a result that serves education. We have a number of cognitive biases that support the status quo. Reshaping the world to be more rational means that educators have less work to do fighting those biases.
So if you want to be super patient and super nice, that’s cool. There is always more room for education, and if you can get folks to engage using those methods, more power to you. As for me, I’ll do some of that. I’m good at it.
It’s going to be accompanied by a lot of work to change the world more quickly, though. I won’t be leisurely about that. I won’t be unemotional. I won’t hide what it costs me. I will weigh the relative merits of being inclusive and getting things done for any given action as I go.
And nobody gets to tell me that I should stop doing any of that in order to focus on educating the leisure class.