Chai Kovsky wrote:Okay, this represents one of my pet peeves with -ism activism that's exemplified in this thread. I know you don't intend it in particular, Jessica, nor most of the people who say things like it, but it's incredibly condescending, which is a turnoff to people interested in feminism who might not agree with everything a given group of feminists say. Also, it creates this sort of safety wall from logic: "Well, if you just got it, then you wouldn't disagree with us." I saw the same thing happening in the affirmative action debate upthread, that implication of "If you weren't such a biased pig, you'd support affirmative action the same way we do." It bothers me that the counterargument against affirmative action is, essentially, an ad hominem of varying degrees of subtlety.
[Warning: Long, much longer than I intended. And not entirely related to Feminism. Feel free to skim.]
I think that this can be a problem, and it's certainly easier for the subject of unfavorable scrutiny to respond with "Well it only doesn't make sense to you because you can't understand it!"
But the reason I made that point in the first place is because there's a definite trend among people of all
sorts to attack things they don't understand based on imagined inconsistencies or oversights that aren't actually part of how the object of their attack actually works. People do this with feminism; they do it with most other sociological -isms, too, in ways we've spent the last 20 pages discussing. They do it with religion ("How can Jesus be both God and the son
of God? Pick one, damnit.") They do it with science: for example, "The universe can't be both infinite expanding because it would have to expand into
something. Like, duh." This apparent inconsistency bugged me for years, until I was thinking about something else and it finally struck me how it makes sense. I'd just been thinking about it wrong.
When I was younger, and in school, I used to do this with math all the time. I would see something that didn't seem right to me, and start arguing about it. I would be smug and self-satisfied, and get into fights with teachers. And in many cases, I'd feel like I'd "proved the wrong," because they couldn't refute my argument to my satisfaction. But then, later, I'd be thinking about it, and I'd realize how it actually worked. I'd realize that most of the things I was being taught actually made sense, and that the reason they seemed wrong to me was not that they were inherently flawed, but because I simply didn't understand them properly. Once I "got it," everything made perfect sense, and I could see exactly why my teacher was saying what he did. Would my teacher have convinced me of this himself if he'd been a better teacher and better able to explain the matter? Maybe. Would I have learned it in the first place if I hadn't been such a stubborn and argumentative prick? Maybe.
This keeps being proven to me over and over again, in my attempts to learn to program. Again and again something will break, and I will rail against the faultiness of the language and the system, and proclaim Feature X to be "broken," and then I'll discover that I was simply doing things wrong. That things actually worked fine, and that I was just overlooking something.
. . .
A lot of the attacks on sociological items work this way. Like the apparent inconsistency between feminism's opposition to gender inequality, and its assertion that "violence against women" is a specific problem. "But wait," people say, "If the genders are supposed to be equal, then shouldn't we treat violence against women and violence against men the same way?" It looks, on the surface to someone who doesn't understand the matter involved, that feminism is contradicting itself. The answer is "No," for several reasons that have been previously discussed in this thread. Once those reasons are known and understood, the assertions makes sense and are no longer self-contradictory. Similarly, the primary point against affirmative action is "If we're trying to make things equal, why are we giving advantages to some people based on demographic?" It appears to be an inconsistency, but further knowledge of the matter reveals that it really isn't. Proponents of affirmative action aren't actually half-witted idiots who fail to see the gaping logical flaw in their ideology; they actually have an idea that makes sense and is internally consistent despite outward appearances to the contrary.
I have spent a lot of time, in my past, arguing against things I didn't understand on the basis that the fact they didn't make sense to me was indicative of their faultiness. In the process, I made an ass out of myself on numerous occasions, and learned relatively little.
I'm not saying that everything that seems wrong to someone is actually right and perfectly legit and that they'd agree if only they knew where the other party was coming from. But what I'm saying is that instead of arguing against
it, and saying "This is wrong! It doesn't make any sense," the proper course of action is to learn about it. To listen to what the other party is saying, and approach things from their
side, and try and reach those conclusions yourself. Sometimes you might still find flaws along this path, at which point it's useful to talk about them. And sometimes things might make sense to you. Either way, this is productive discussion; you are learning something that you may not have known before, and thinking about things in different ways, and the other party is evaluating and thinking about his own position. Either way, whether you ultimately end up agreeing or not, it's a discussion worth having and not two entrenched sides, one of whom thinks that the other is a bunch of idiots who hold a clearly flawed position and the other of whom thinks that the first are a bunch of idiots incapable of seeing the truth in front of their face.
Sometimes you might disagree about the relative impacts of certain things, or about the facts of the matter; for example, whether the impact of the resentment that affirmative action can create outweighs the benefits of the system. Or about how prevalent sexually-driven violence actually is in our culture. The road here, then, is not to claim this uncertainty as a fault; not to say "Affirmative action is stupid because it creates resentment," but to say "Well, lets try and learn about this.
Lets try to research, lets try to figure out how extensive this actually is, and how it compares to the other factors involved."
Another example: Every time the results of a study come up showing that the numbers of sexual violence and rape among women are astronomically high (one in five, I think?), there's nearly always
a flurry of responses saying "Well, this doesn't mean anything because the definition for sexual assault is this,
so it might catch these
other things which aren't an issue at all." We're given a value that seems absurd to us; the numbers "can't
" be true, and "can't" be indicative of anything real. But instead of seeking to learn more, to find out about these numbers and to seek to get to the bottom of the problem and ascertain for ourselves what they really mean, and whether they're astronomical because they're artificially inflated or because the problem was actually much, much worse than we thought it was . . . we reflexively seek to discredit them. We argue against
, instead of trying to learn from
. . .
Doing this requires a couple things. It requires a respect for the other party, and the belief that they have something worth learning from. It requires a willingness to work with them; not even a willingness to "compromise," but simply a willingness to try and learn from what they have to say, and to seriously consider the possibility that your objections are borne of a lack of understanding. Sometimes the other party's position makes sense, and you'll come to realize this through the discussion . . . and sometimes learning more about the matter simply reveals to you more of what exactly the problem is. But if you stick with your assumption from the get-go, and dig in and argue stubbornly and try to prove the other party "wrong" instead of coming out of your foxhole and trying to learn more to make sure you're on the right side, while accepting the possibility that you might not be . . . then nothing will be accomplished, and we'll just have another Internet Argument that will devolve into quote-sniping and ad-hominemity.
Huh. This post turned out to be a lot longer than I was planning it to be. And a lot broader, too, since it sort of encapsulates most of my frustrations with SB as well. Go figure.
. . .
tl:dr - Try to be constructive? The point isn't that if you're stupid and just don't understand if you think that something is wrong - it's that if something seems stupid to you, it might
be because you don't understand it properly, and the only way to find out which is which is by trying to learn more. Nonconstructive arguing accomplishes nothing useful.