Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn


I was pointed at two articles, and decided to add a third. The topics should be familiar (activism, feminism); the post would be a bit long to host directly on G+, so I'll do it here. My thoughts are as much on the topic as the article.

Article 1 - Can a Man be a Feminist?. This isn't on a topic that turns on facts so much as definitions. The best I can do on this is offer my own definition and the conclusion that flows from it. I use the word feminism to refer to a cause and a cluster of movements arranged around various forms of that cause. I see the cause as "more gender equity". I don't see feminism as being specifically about empowering women; it's just as much about empowering men. I don't see women as having a special place in feminism; it's just as much about men. I don't see it as ending systemic abuses of women by men so much as shifting gender relations that abuse both women and men. I reject discourse of male privilege, "mansplaining", and "allies" - that's all bullshit and we should deconstruct it, laugh at it, and tear it down just as much as we do the idea of separate roles for men and women. Likewise, we should reject Dworkinist fears of appropriation of female roles, reject Wiccan feminist ideas of specific female spirituality, reject "trans" feminist ideas of keeping the gender roles strong but letting people move between them. The particular feminist movement I advocate simply suggests that while we should be comfortable with our biological identities, we can remove the social baggage that comes from them, discarding masculinity and femininity and gender-roles. The female-centric-seeming name "feminism" is just a historical artifact; anyone who believes in this cause is, in my view, a feminist. Returning briefly to the article, it still suggests "giving up the idea that you're one of the good guys" and a language of allies and subservience; it's broken in that way. One doesn't need any guilt or to look for the approval of anyone else to do good activism on these fronts. I don't feel any guilt for who I am, nor will I accept a lesser seat at the table for activism I believe in, and the way I believe we achieve inequity is simply keeping an eye out for it in ourselves and others and trying to do better as a matter of virtue. That's it. If someone can show or convince me I am (or someone else is) being unjust, under the standard of "show me in civil discourse with a sane argument" rather than the "shut up and listen to my manipulative story while I rage at you" that some activists suggest, then I'll try to fix that.

Article 2 - Keep Your Identity Small. Not a bad set of points about how some kinds of conversations are difficult - the author notes that once people have a personal stake in an argument, they rarely are able to consider it fairly. Decent enough with a few little problems (his programming languages example is a bit weak because there are not always definite answers to what is best in a language). The article is a bit too pessimistic, I think; when he says 「More generally, you can have a fruitful discussion about a topic only if it doesn't engage the identities of any of the participants」, he neglects that there are probably ways to have such discussions despite identities being engaged. Many of these topics are too important to give up having fruitful discussion on them (and would in fact mean we have to give up on talking about race or gender issues because most people identify with a race or gender that they're categorised into). Instead, I think that by having standards of discourse (civility and a good conversational flow at the minimum, Oxford-style debate between people who have studied logic or philosophy if we want to do better) and perhaps as individuals trying to get used to less emotional responses to back-and-forth and being in the habit of writing and sparring on these topics, we can learn to do better. Likewise, having strong traditions of inner criticism and factionalism between movements organised around similar causes can help us learn to talk about these issues, and to expel radicals who are too consumed by anger to accept anything but the "purity" of having everyone around them agree with them entirely. The article is too pessimistic.

Article 3 - On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism. I consider this baby steps towards reasonability from a fundamentally unreasonable perspective; it still praises the most unhealthy features of a flavour of activism (Transfeminism and "allied") that should in my view be wholly rejected, but suggests dialing them down a bit because the author has realised that some of the features make being engaged in the communities that activism makes as unpleasant as dealing with broad society. It's a good observation and one I recall well from my past presence in a BIGALA community; one of the many reasons I avoid such communities nowadays is the intolerance and rage that I recall from my engagement back then. I'm glad to see people starting to address this issue, although I hope they go much further and step entirely away from radicalism. A few assertions:

  • Anger and frustration are understandable, but their expression at one's conversation partner during discourse is a defect.
  • Transfeminist theory is not a truth where disagreement with it is a "mistake". It's just a philosophical theory and should be judged/treated as such. One doesn't get to "educate" people who disagree with it as if they're wrong. One can try to persuade, with arguments. One should be willing to listen to arguments if one is emitting them.
  • Civility is civility. Activists don't get a free pass to be rude if they're going to criticise rudeness of their opponents in a conversation. The same standards apply.
  • A good or bad argument is a good or a bad argument. Bad arguments should be challenged, whatever side they happen to theoretically be for.
I really appreciate one point the author makes; that activism is constructive of what would be. This is something we've tried to keep in mind in various flavours of socialist activism; that if we can't manage disputes and disagreement sanely within our community, our community probably doesn't deserve to win until it figures that stuff out; how can we show the world we have a better path when we're as crooked as everyone around us?

Finally, to repeat a (bold) statement I made in a recent G+ post, activist discourse is fundamentally unhealthy, and activist communities should strive to replace it with philosophical discourse. Otherwise they don't deserve to win. Philosophers and others who study/perform healthy debate and sweet reason need to sort these things out, replacing radicalism with practices that will make it clear to the mainstream that it's not just possible, but common sense to adjust society to better serve people outside the mainstream (and that giving such people everything any of them ask for is not necessary to do that). That's how progress is made, and it's the mutual tension that will keep movements sane (and hopefully expel the radicals).

In general, if you want to send me articles for commentary that are related to philosophy, activism, transhumanism, or other topics, and if I find them interesting enough, I'll write about them.

Tags: feminism

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