Friday, May 10, 2019

Kindness isn't taking the side of the oppressor

I'm pretty liberal these days. I've mentioned before that I got into liberal groups thinking, "Hooray! At last, a place of tolerance and less thought policing!" Hahaha. People are people, and in groups there are things they pretty much always do. Policing the group boundaries is a part of that, and you don't necessarily need a list of dogmas or an Inquisition to do it. In fact, all the lack of those things does is make it harder to tell what offenses are going to get you in trouble.

One of the dogmas of progressivism is that if you are the victim of oppression, you are allowed to be angry. No one is allowed to tell you not to yell and shout, because that's tone policing. And I agree with this on a basic level. Obviously if you're suffering pain and trauma, you need to be able to express that. Being rushed toward forgiveness is unhelpful.

What bothers me, though, is that more and more things are considered tone policing. Anger is virtuous. Kindness is "both sides" rhetoric, which takes the side of the oppressor.

I have two examples lately. The first was when Melinda Selmys wrote a post about how some women in the white nationalist movement may be victims of ideological abuse, and so you might consider, if you feel safe doing so, maintaining some sort of distant ties.

She was met with rage and accused of "hugging Nazis." Jewish people said that she should let them decide whether she could maintain ties with such a woman or not. After all, the only reason she could be so casual is that she's not a victim of their oppression.

I felt and feel that Melinda's bona fides as an opponent of white nationalism are clear. She's not saying it's okay to be a white nationalist or that they're not that bad. She's saying that you might be able to rescue someone from a toxic belief system and that's a good thing to do. Attacking her feels like friendly fire. If you're going to attack and demonize your allies for not drawing exactly the lines you do, you'll wind up with a lot fewer.

The second instance is a post in a group of autistic people and some of their parents. I'm a little nervous sending parents to this group, even though it's incredibly educational, because they often get yelled at for mistakes they make out of ignorance. I don't want to introduce parents to autism acceptance and immediately turn them off it because the group demonizes neurotypical parents.

Someone said as much in the group this morning. Something like, hey, let's remember that not all parents who come in here being ignorant are the enemy. They just don't know we don't like puzzle piece symbols and ABA or why, so let's instruct them kindly instead of yelling at them and kick them out of the group.

So naturally everybody yelled at her and kicked her out of the group. Anger isn't just allowed, it's a requirement. Kindness isn't just unnecessary, it takes the side of the oppressor. The only way liberation has come is through "fighting for it."

I understand that nonviolence and gentle outreach isn't the answer to everything. Sometimes you have to push harder than that. But when you're a tiny minority and you're not armed or otherwise in an advantageous position, you can't win simply by being madder than everyone else! You may manage to shame other progressives into not arguing with you, but you're not actually converting very many people.

Having and voicing your feelings is important. But winning is also important. If you want to end the injustice you're dealing with, you need converts. And converting people doesn't happen simply by spraying out your raw feelings and shaming them for not liking it. It doesn't happen by stereotyping everyone who is not in your group as oppressors even when they're potential allies, and attacking them for being ignorant about something they've never heard of before.

There are a lot of ways toward liberation. Some people want to march in the streets. Some people invite a prominent neo-Nazi to Sabbath dinner till he changes his ways. And I totally understand that not every way is for every person. And that we shouldn't act like radical outreach is the only way and that all black people have to hug KKK members in order to convert them.

But if you do want to do those things, you shouldn't be shamed by your own side for it. These things are risky but they do sometimes work. And does it matter how your liberation comes so long as it does?

Well, that's what I think anyway.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if you've ever visited the incel message board but if you ever do, the rules page is instructive. People are explicitly forbidden from posting anything hopeful or positive. Instead they are expected to reinforce each other's victim complex. This takes a real but minor hardship and turns it into an all encompassing identity and worldview which consumes people. People end up with a really skewed perspective on their own situations.

I think a similar dynamic takes place in a lot of progressive communities. The struggle might be real, but the need to emphasize the victimhood of its members as a source of identity leads to a real toxic approach.

The neurodiversity community has some elements of this. The need to normalize higher functioning individuals leads to a dismissal of people with more serious needs. Just because you consider your autism to be a secret super power doesn't mean that others aren't horribly crippled by theirs. Most people are better than this, but not all.

Part of the source of this is, I think, that communities are subject to evolutionary pressures. The more they reinforce their reason for existence, there stronger they are and if their reason is victimhood, then they need to maintain the victimhood. Adf to this the fact that the governance of some of these groups allows the more toxic members to dominate the more reasonable ones and you have a recipe for trouble.

Sheila said...

You're totally right.

Except for one small matter about the ND community . . . it contains a lot of people who are "low-functioning" by any reasonable standard. Many people who can't work or speak are on Twitter or Tumblr. So in order to paint it as "low functioning people would all want to be cured," the anti-ND movement refuses to admit anyone is low-functioning unless they have no means at all to tell us how they feel about being autistic. Then, we are informed, the parents get to decide what they would have wanted.

I feel a little frustrated with the ND movement often, especially as I'm a parent and therefore the enemy until I prove myself otherwise. But it's not because of functioning levels; I feel they have the right take, which is that functioning labels aren't that cut and dried and don't tell us what a person will be capable of in the future.

Anonymous said...

I should hope that it was clear that I wasn't attempting to paint the whole neurodiversity community with the same brush, only to comment on a particular attitude I've seen, whereby one person applies their own preferences and experiences to another without acknowledging the differences in the other's circumstances. "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism" means that you cannot generalize from the experience of one person with autism. This should be true even if you *are* that person.

I'd quibble about the utility of functioning labels and they purpose of ABA, but that's not really the point I'm making.

ficino4ml said...

Hey Sheila, I haven't followed your blog, but I'm glad to discover it. I'm Ficino.

I've been trying to push for human compassion and freedom over on Strange Notions by contesting their forced birther line. If you think it appropriate, come over there and pitch in. One poster, Rob Abney, linked an article giving the "Catholic moralist" line against early procedures to remove ectopic pregnancies. I thought it absolutely appalling. A case of let's maintain our definitions and the devil take the woman.

Sheila said...

I'll try to get out there and take a look when I get a chance!

Welcome to my blog. You're always one of my favorite Patheos commenters.

Sheila said...

Well, I couldn't find it.

ficino4ml said...

Hi Sheila, the abortion discussions on SN have been in the more recent comments to this article:

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