March 23, 2013

Dark wings, bright skies

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 3:00 pm by chavisory

dark wings

 

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March 18, 2013

Emotional discussions

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , at 12:04 am by chavisory

Another thing that’s happened to me in a debate more than once recently is that somebody tries to belittle me out of the discussion on the grounds that I’m “over-emotional,” and therefore can’t expect to be taken seriously.

It took me a long time to learn that almost whenever someone tells you that you’re being “too emotional,” what they mean is that you are being perfectly appropriately emotional about something that they simply don’t want to have to acknowledge or think about.  That being emotional is not a disqualification from argument.  Being emotional is human.

Un-emotionality is not the equivalent of having a rational argument, or a reliable indicator that someone does.  It is not the same as having a grasp of facts or science or of the actual conditions under discussion.

Emotionality is not personal attack. Personal attack is personal attack, and while there is such a thing as lashing out gratuitously or needlessly, the sole fact of someone’s being emotional, is not it.

That someone is emotional does not mean that they have not, or are not capable, of considering their own arguments logically or rationally.

Rationality and emotionality coexist within individuals.  They are not a zero-sum quantity; they are not opposing or mutually exclusive characteristics.  Or aren’t there people who are both highly rational and highly emotional, as well as people who are both unemotional and deeply irrational?  Because an opponent displays emotion, does not invalidate the logical grounding of their argument, and isn’t an excuse from addressing the actual substance of their argument.  Emotionality itself is neither evidence nor lack of evidence.

To be emotional in argument is not the same as committing the logical fallacy of emotional argument, which is to assert that the emotional consequences, or the intensity with which something is felt, is itself evidence of the rightness or wrongness of a position.  Ironically, it is those who would invalidate a position based on the emotionality of the arguer, who are actually engaging in emotional argument—taking the position that emotionality alone invalidates a position or standing in a debate, and not the validity of the argument itself.

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What it probably does mean when someone is emotional is that the topic under discussion means a great deal to them.  That they’ve been affected personally by a situation, or suffered serious and personal consequences of how a problem is perceived and debated—often by people who do not know the realities of the situation as intimately as they do.

It means that somebody cares, that they’re passionate and invested.  And none of those traits precludes the ability to think productively about a problem.  Otherwise, you claim that no one who is truly, individually affected by a problem has any standing to talk about it and to be heard.  That the poor have no place in discussions of poverty, that the disabled have no place in discussions of disability rights, that racial and ethnic minorities have no place discussing racism, and gender/sexual minorities have no place discussing discrimination and bigotry against those identities—if they can’t be perfectly unemotional about it, to an arbitrary standard set by those who are not personally, directly affected by the topic at hand.

Does that sound either fair or rational?

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Do we really believe that any major civil rights or human rights victory, whether in a court of law or in our culture, was accomplished without emotional engagement?  The end of South African apartheid, or Jim Crow laws in the US?  The fight for women’s suffrage and enfranchisement?  The aftermath of the Stonewall riots and of Matthew Shepherd’s murder in terms of LGBT rights and acceptance?  The disability rights movement for the rights and inclusion of disabled people that preceded the passage of the ADA?

As logically grounded as all of those movements have been, they have all involved intense and even disruptive degrees of emotion.  And as certain as I am that their very emotional intensity was probably cited as a strike against their credibility at the time…who, now, would dare to say that the emotional investment of their participants should have disqualified their arguments and demands from serious consideration by the majority?

It’s an incredibly unfair standard when only those with the luxury of being able to be unemotional about a topic are granted the credibility to discuss it.  Particularly regarding the concrete consequences that the way it’s discussed has for people’s actual lives.

When someone claims that you are too emotional to be having an argument, it is they who are refusing to engage with the substance of your argument.  They are saying that the only recourse they have is to disqualify you from the debate, because they have no actual refutation to what you are saying.  And that the grounds on which they can do so are that you care too much, that you mean what you are saying.  That the problem at hand is not purely abstract or intellectual to you, but that it means something real.

March 13, 2013

Evening through the Looking Glass

Posted in My neighborhood tagged , , at 12:50 am by chavisory

lamppost

Late winter walk in the park.

March 7, 2013

A brief illustration of privilege

Posted in Marginalization, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:57 pm by chavisory

I am often not a big fan of the language of privilege.  While I have found it a useful concept and thinking tool, and one that I tend to think people should take the time to understand…I’ve seen it turn already highly-charged discussions rancorous.  Particularly when both “sides” in a discussion are in fact vulnerable in some way.  The word has such a negatively loaded connotation in its everyday usage that it can turn unproductive quickly when participants aren’t familiar with its meaning in a social justice context, or legitimately feel vulnerable, overtaxed, or externally threatened…only to be told that they may in fact be privileged.  I try to stay away from it.  I usually think that there are better ways to explain things that don’t send people straight into self-defensive mode.

So I was mildly surprised, and humbled, last week when a college friend on Facebook thanked me for alerting her to her own state of privilege, in response to a link I’d posted about a recent event, in the sense of privilege being a circumstance in which you never even had to think about how an issue affects you.

You may have heard about this:  Somebody noticed and blogged about the fact that if you Google-searched “autistic people should,” or “autistic people are,” the autocomplete search suggestions–generated automatically by the most searched phrases completing that sentence–were all hate speech:

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In response to the attention from bloggers who organized a flashblog to counteract those results, Google announced that it would revise its search algorithms to more effectively screen out death threats from the top suggested search terms.  (My contribution was here.)

There’s been a lot of discussion of privilege in the interactions between autistic bloggers and autism parent bloggers lately, which I’ve mostly stayed out of (and characterizations of war between the two groups, with which I mostly don’t agree).

But on a whim, I tried something.  Try it for me now if you want.

Go back to the Google home page.

Type in “parents of autistic children should,” “parents of children with autism should,” “parents of children diagnosed with autism should,” or “parents of autistic children are,” and don’t hit enter.  Let autocomplete do its job.

And see what the suggestion for that query is.

Here’s what I got:

parents of autistic children - Google Search(Search results read “things parents of autistic children should know“)

parents of autistic children are often aloof themselves - Google Search(Search results read “parents of autistic children are often aloof themselves“)

That is the magnitude of the difference between the assumptions that society makes about you, and the assumptions that society makes about us.  That’s privilege.

You may feel like autistic people, or other people who don’t know what’s like to parent an autistic child, judge you too harshly or unfairly, make ridiculous accusations, or hold you to impossible double standards.  There are times when you may be probably are right.  That there is a privilege differential does not mean that you can’t be hurt or bullied or wronged on an individual basis by someone of a less privileged group.

But society at large doesn’t wish you would just go away and die.  Major charities and research organizations don’t actively seek ways to make that happen.  There isn’t a federal law entitled the Combating Autism Parents Act.

(There is a federal law called the Combating Autism Act.  Think about what that really means if autism is an inextricable part of your psyche.)

Privilege is not about parents vs. autistics.  It is not about which group of us has had it harder, or that we could somehow count, add up, and compare the number of strikes against us.  It is not about how we feel about you or you feel about us or whatever personal wrongs or misunderstandings we might have done each other.

Privilege is about how the world at large sees you, and how the world at large sees us–and people like your kids–and the consequences of those conditions in who gets listened to and how.  And people–including parents of autistic people–are way, way more likely to get listened to seriously when they say that the world would be better off if people like us didn’t exist any longer, than when they say that we are acceptable, that we are not a tragedy, that the value of our lives is not best measured in terms of our financial burden on the country…or when parents like you say that you love your kids the way they are and only want their happiness and acceptance.

Privilege is the poisoned water that we’re all swimming in; it’s not about laying blame for who did the poisoning.  We all get wet; none of us can help but be affected in our views and the way we live our lives and interact with others…that doesn’t make it the fault of the people who aren’t the targets of the poisoning.  But we can all help unpoison the water.