Thursday, February 27, 2014

And the Hatemail Begins...

First up, in light of our discussion last time, I'll leave you with two links to two things I've already written on the topic.

One, the aforementioned Grizzly article that just got released today (Thursday). So far I've only received one positive email. Kind of a let down considering I was expecting Sports-Overvalued-At-Ursinus level retribution off the bat. I suppose we'll see:

Second link, the blog post that the Grizzly article I wrote was based on, that's a bit different but very similar obviously. At the very least, the title is less inflammatory:

Since I've already pitched my piece in class and now twice with those links, let me just take this space to respond to counterargument.

Here's how the most common one goes, which was levied frequently in class the other day:
"You just don't understand/grasp it. There are so many things about being an X that you can't know about since you're a Y. You may be able to intellectually comprehend (understand what I'm describing) this specific issue, and you may be able to emotionally empathize/sympathize with it, but you're still missing something important, namely the first hand experience of having gone through the experience."

Granted! There are things that I haven't experienced that I can't experience, and until you tell me about them as the X to my Y I won't know about them. I'm simply ignorant. You've conceded that I can understand them once you tell me about them, however. And you've conceded that I can empathize. So here's my question in response:

"I see you think that even though I can empathize and intellectually comprehend the present issue, you think I'm still missing something. Clearly I am. But, what practical implications does that gap really have? Does it severely impair my ability to discuss the issue with you? In what ways? It seems to me the ball is in your court. Unless you can tell me what my lacking the experience you've had does to my ability to talk with you, I'm not convinced that it does anything, especially if I've already been made aware of it."

I'd also respond with this pressure: If there's an irreparable gap between individuals based on personal experience that prevents them from discussing certain issues, how can we ever hope to fix that problem? Even within the same groups, say within the body of black female homosexuals of low socioeconomic status, I'd imagine that there are tremendous gaps of personal experience. Certainly you don't think that those gaps also prevent people from discussing relevant issues to them as a group?

Here's the second objection: "I'm not trying to say that you can't discuss the issue with X group! Certainly you can. But you have to realize that that something you lack is important."

Again, granted. But what practical implications does this have? I get that there are things I don't know about until I'm told because I haven't experienced them, and I get that I can't experience them. But where does this leave us? I don't think it changes anything, unless more argument can be provided to the counter.

Third objection: "You have to understand, as you are a straight upperclass white guy, you have a level of privilege that lots of others don't have. You can get your voice heard where others can't in larger society. That's a problem, because when you try to talk about issues relevant to a small demographic that has been oppressed in some way, you have the potential to intentionally/unintentionally silence them."

Granted! But, we have to recognize that this is a potential, not a guarantee. My desire to weigh in on feminist issues doesn't mean that women have less of a say in the discussion than I do, or that I'm trying to take away their voice. To the contrary! I hope that everyone, regardless of who they are, can work to ensure everyone else has an equal voice in every discussion, regardless of topic.

My thesis is, essentially, the argumentor ought to be wholly irrelevant to the evaluation of the argument. That is, I'm working to combat what I see as systematic ad hominem. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm just going to leave this here.

    1. Interesting post Alum. I find #2-5 really compelling, and totally agree. It's #1 I think where the heart of the issue lies for me.

      The first sentence of #1 is totally conceded in my Grizzly article that I posted. The last sentence is also tremendously important. It's that middle one.
      "I recognize that I do not always need to be heard all the time, and by insisting on my inclusion, I risk inadvertently reenforcing harmful power dynamics."
      Certainly it's possible, and that would be bad too! But I'd hope that in small circles, eg a senior sem class blog, or a senior sem classroom, or a facebook conversation among peers, that it would be possible for everyone to self-monitor to ensure that EVERYONE gets a fair chance to contribute. Not allowing for this is risky! There's always the possibility that whoever it is that's told to "Shut the Fuck Up" might have something really interesting or valuable to say! They might even have something that needs to be addressed and corrected, and by telling them to "Shut the Fuck Up," you ruin the opportunity for either of those to happen.

      What do you think?