Sunday, 25 May 2014
I hear buzzing. 25.05.14
My recent blog about rape statistics being somewhat dubious got me some hate mail. Unfortunately I can’t share it with you, as it contained a number of personal details I wish to remain personal; fortunately that’s not much of a loss, as it contained no information whatsoever about the topic. You could sum it up as “you’re a dubious character, a gender traitor and a rape sympathiser”, although a four-letter word starting with “c” would be truer to the tone and more succinct.
It gave me pause to think. The person in question not only feels passionately about the issue and doesn’t mind pulling punches to defend her point of view, but is also an expert on the subject. It should have been the easiest thing in the world for an authority whose field I’d just openly challenged to prove how wrong I am. She could have demolished everything I’d said simply by presenting supporting evidence in the form of accurate statistics showing that I am an uninformed moron – but she didn’t. She just attacked me – my personality, my history, my motivations and the possible consequences of my actions.
I found this very intriguing, so I sat down and pondered this peculiar, unpleasant, and increasingly common strategy. Is it a reflection of the personality of the specific attacker, or a manifestation of how rational discourse is declining in our culture? Do I call these behaviours upon me by my actions, and if so are they worth the cost? What are my feeeeelings about this, and what do they say about me? On and on I went, blah blah blah, until someone pointed up to me that maybe it wasn’t a strategy. Maybe, just maybe, the reason she was attacking me rather than my arguments is that she couldn’t do the latter. Maybe she didn’t know as much about the subject as she claimed. Maybe she just couldn’t find any statistics on the subjects that were worth a damn. Maybe I was right.
I fall for this sort of trick far too easily. I get drawn into people’s distractions and disruptions, instead of calling them on their nonsense and bringing the conversation back on track. Rationally, I know this is silly. Rationally, I wouldn’t do it; yet I do do it all the bloody time. I casually say something about anything (Miley Cyrus, school uniforms, the price of bananas, you name it), someone screeches that by saying that I’m “blaming victims”, “justifying rape” or “slut shaming” and instead of continuing to explain my position I get drawn into proving them wrong.
What an idiot.
It’s particularly upsetting because I’m a horrible person and I could not care less about some unknown twerp’s opinion of my personality, morals and intentions. Frankly I care a whole load more about many dogs’ opinion. If someone came up and told me that I “suck donkey dick”, metaphorically or literally, I’d probably respond with something like “sorry, not on Sundays” and go back to the business at hand. Why do I react in such a different manner when I am accused of stuff like rape sympathising? Although the two things are just about as repulsive, I am also about as likely to do either.
They do work, though, these buzzwords. They are offensive enough to generate an emotional response, yet retain enough of a semblance of rationality that it’s hard to just brush them aside. They generally make no sense at all if you bother to analyse the details. For instance, it is highly fashionable to accuse instructors of self-defence for women of being “rape sympathisers” if they mention that some behaviours can increase the risk of an attack. Well, if they were pro-rape, why in the name of all that is holy would they be breaking their backs, sometimes literally, to try and teach women how to avoid getting raped? (If you believe it’s for the huge income stream, dream on. You can get more money for less hassle teaching men, or possibly washing dishes.) Wouldn’t they be more likely to be preaching against women learning self-defence, so they could be raped more easily? However, on the surface these accusations are not completely off-topic, so we get sucked in by them and concentrate our efforts in defending ourselves. Meanwhile our carefully-constructed arguments, sensible theories, solid facts and attempts at reconciling points of view fall by the wayside.
I am not entirely sure what the solution is.
You can’t just go “lalalalala” with your hands over your ears – well, you can, but you might lose maturity points in the eyes of the general community. If you don’t care about that, try it. We will however be seating you at the children’s table at the next function.
You could start a buzzword-fest, retorting with all the accumulated soundbites of your side. You will end up looking as logically bankrupt and incapable of independent thought as your opponent, but it might blow the cobwebs.
You could take the extreme result of their point of view and present it back to them: “Oh, so you think school dress codes are oppressive and justify rape, it’s unfair to target boys and girls differently, and the whole system should be scrapped. So you’d be happy for high school boys to show up to class in speedos? And for the teachers to wear mankinis?” It’s hard to do without appearing snide, though.
You could point out to them that what they are doing is presenting a false equivalence, “a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none.” This will often get you attacked for being overly academic. The glorious sentence “that’s just semantics” is likely to rear its ugly head. Semantics, the study of meaning: why would we want to concern ourselves with something as pointless as meaning?
You could just call them out for trolls and dismiss them with light mockery: “So, it looks as if you can’t actually say anything meaningful about the subject” or “thank you for providing us with inflammatory politically correct buzzword statements that don’t prove anything or add anything to the discussion”. Do it politely though, without descending to their level of name calling, or you’ll be as bad as them. (Do not, repeat DO NOT accuse them of “drinking the kool-aid”; aside from the fact that it’s rude and childish, we have all drank our own flavour and we all parse things through the filter of our beliefs.) When they start fuming, you could ask “So, if you have something sensible to say then why you are trying to derail the conversation?”
Face it, though, whatever you do and however you choose to deal with them, you’re not going to change their minds. They are indoctrinated in their own belief system and there’s not a great deal you can do about it. Do you really think there is anything you can say to make them see sense? You can’t “win” this, so playing unfairly won’t gain you a damn thing. To flatten them verbally may make you feel temporarily better, but it’s a bit like feeling scientifically superior to a flat-earther – it’s not much of a result, is it.
Unless you are terminally bored, the only valid reason for wasting your time on this sort of wrangling is if there are third parties present – which, if we’re talking about cyber-arguments, is pretty much a given. These people may not have made their minds up yet. You may be the only representative of “your” side with the courage to stand up for logic in the face of popular truisms. Not many people are able to withstand a highly emotive assault long enough to explain how the buzzwords are misused or purely meaningless. Many people will shut down when called “rape sympathisers” or “victim blamers”, even when they know it’s obviously incongruous. The buzzwords are not only a form of brainwashing for those afflicted, but also a form of bullying.
By presenting yourself calmly, rationally and accurately, you could be helping bring back reason to topics which are currently sadly lacking it, or maybe always have. What you say and how you say it could be starting a chain reaction, enabling more people to think for themselves against the tide of dogma.