Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Changing Minds [Index]

This is the index to a recurring series of posts on fighting political fights, believing things about your political enemies, seeking truth, and seeking better conversations. So far: (in forward-chronological order)

Re-Thinking Prejudices

There is, of course, a difference between trusting uncynically and trusting blindly. That I'm willing to believe that people are speaking honestly does not mean that I'll accept their assertions on matters of fact without proof. Nor does it mean that I'll accept their moral assertions and moral stances uncritically...

But I will make the conscious choice not to write him off before he's said his piece on the matter at hand. If said piece includes things that are useful to think about, I'll have the chance to make myself stronger (factually, intellectually, morally) by stealing his good ideas. And if I eventually succeed in stealing lots of good ideas from different (sorts of) people, maybe I'll learn to communicate with different (sorts of) people, in order to distribute the best conglomerations of ideas to everyone, in a win-win-win-win-...


[E]ven if it is the case that there exist anti-vaxxers who are quoted accurately in the newspaper saying with straight faces that they are happy to let children die so that their child can be "pure", thinking about them doesn't help you fix the problem, namely, that there are people who can be convinced to vaccinate their children who aren't, right now, doing so.

Dealing with those people requires thinking of your adversaries as misguided, not evil -- which does little harm when you're wrong, just as the converse does little good.

A Place and a Role for Allies

In coming posts (and a few past ones), I'm planning on talking at length on things I'd like to see more of in various social justice movements, either in general, or in particular. I am, in large part, speaking to and for those who enjoy the privilege of being able to choose, intentionally and with lightness, their modes of discursive engagement. I am not speaking to and for everyone... involved.

To recap: it is occasionally useful and important to have allies able to engage dispassionately when dispassionate engagement is called for. It is good for everyone involved that allies be able, willing, and accustomed to doing so. (This is true for non-ally movement members, but is not always reasonable to ask, and in any case, their comparative advantage[?] often lies elsewhere.) In this and future posts, I have things to say about and to allies and people looking to take up the task of communicating optimally with people who disagree with us from the right, and am generally not speaking to people whose speech is policed enough as it is.

Clear? I'll try to remind you often.

What did you learn in school today?

Relying on counterspeech instead of escalating to summary discipline is hard, like fighting a conventional war without escalating to nuclear arms is hard. But, if we're going to fight the good fight in a world where the people able to mete out summary discipline aren't always (or usually!) on our side, we should treat every opportunity as a chance to practice approaching problems with dialogue, in a setting that's a little more conducive to it than the real world... It takes active effort to practice fighting cultural wars that are not "exercises in annihilation"...

A Liberal Critique

I honestly believe that discursive charity and liberalism make social movements stronger. When I levy critiques at the illiberal left for being insufficiently charitable towards the right, it's not because I would prefer they weaken their defenses against rightism -- it's because I would prefer they strengthen them. If you prefer to believe that I'm lying on this point, I don't know how to convince you otherwise, and I don't even know how to signal this every time I'm doing it, but, well, it's true.

I critique certain takes on feminism because I believe that there are things in them that make the movement weaker that I'd like to see go away. I critique certain oppositions to racism because I believe that they are weak tactics in fighting the good fight, and would rather see the good fight fought well. I don't spend a great deal of time attacking the enemy because really, what good would that do?

As Allies

Be honest here -- can you debate this rationally? Do you feel sympathy where your friends feel personal attack? Check your emotional privilege, and honestly ask -- can you do the work of allyship? Can you (not your friend under attack; can you...) swallow your emotions and approach the issue dispassionately?

Because if so, we need your help. Some people need to be talked to, and won't react well to emotional appeals. That's on them, but we need to talk to them anyway. If you're the right person for that task -- step up! (And if you're not, please don't tear down the people who are.)

If I Ran the Zoo

If you accept the premise that providing resources to help students have productive conversations with their families over break is a useful endeavor (and I do, mostly), then I argue that these cheatsheets for answer-response pairs were one of the least effective ways you could have gone about that goal. If you honestly cared about enabling students to have useful political discussions, they don't need cheatsheets -- they need practice.

What I'd like to see instead is a safe space for students to practice exchanging, interacting with, and -- yes -- expressing uncommon or unpopular opinions. (Remember that if you're in the placemats' intended audience, your ideas are the ones that are uncommon and unpopular in context.) This would have to be a place where ideas aren't dismissed just because they're clearly wrong or even because they're clearly harmful; after all, discussions around the family dinner table don't work like that. Instead, in the real world, people must be convinced out of their harmful views.

...and more to come.