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So, today, I read an essay in Yes Means Yes (which you should totally read), and it was about a WoC radfem who found herself in an abusive relationship, the relationship she'd promised herself she'd never be in, and she wrote about how for all her theorizing, for all her politics, her sense of logic, for all her reasoning, it would never have helped her break the vicious pattern of violence in her life, because that sort of detachment does NOT help anybody deal with pain. Pain that is here and now, pain that is raw, pain that is real.

Couple of quotes:

"I had to walk down a path of self-destruction to be able to see how little it mattered how far, intellectually and politically, I had developed myself. My analysis was still so emotionally empty that it had allowed me to become a wommon I despised."

"We've learned too well to become good theoreticians, but have not learned to be good practitioners of what we preach. When ideas from books become only that and don't translate themselves into our lived realities, at best we've become disingenuous, and at worst we've become dangerous and destructive to the ideas of the movements to which we adhere."

I've been thinking a lot lately about suggestions made by well-meaning friends about my tone and how I should be talking to people. I've been told that it's better to be objective about stuff than to get emotionally caught up, because it's only when you're being objective that you can say, for certain, you're right.

I just couldn't agree, but I couldn't express why. And I still don't think I can express it properly.

It's so easy for me to sit back and theorize about stuff. But for some reason, lately, I've been letting it get to me. I sit at my desk and I read a horrible report about someone getting killed due to some kind of -ism and I cry and cry and cry.

And for some reason, I think it's necessary. I think it's so necessary to confront the pain and the awfulness, with this primeval emotion deep inside, because people get hurt, and the pain is real, and if we don't feel it for ourselves, if we don't let it "get to us", then how do we know who we're fighting for? How do we know we're truly, totally, in it for the cause? Which, in the end, is for the people anyway?

So yeah, still having a good long think on it.

ETA: Found this awesome quote elsewhere:

"It's not necessary for every single utterance to be precise, scientifically accurate, academically rigorous, and polite. While one might think that calm, rational, well-articulated utterances are more effective than angry rants, when it comes to challenging privilege, activists can tell you that doesn't actually tend to be the case. That's why activists often use more agitating tactics like strikes and protests and sit-ins -- because sometimes that's what you have to do to get anyone to listen to you."

Although I'm not coming at this at an activist angle.



( 9 Words — Have Your Say )
Jul. 2nd, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
Certainly there needs to be a balance, and for humans, achieving true objectivity is impossible. But that's why we need to strive for it-- thinking critically and objectively doesn't mean being cold or disengaged, it means acknowledging our own cognitive biases and doing our best to counter their effects.
Jul. 2nd, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC)
Also, a quote from a Dorothy Sayers novel you might appreciate:

"He remembered having said to his uncle (with a solemn dogmatism better befitting a much younger man): 'Surely it is possible to love with the head as well as the heart.' Mr. Delagardie had replied, somewhat drily: 'No doubt; so long as you do not end by thinking with your entrails instead of your brain.'"
Jul. 2nd, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, but it seems to me so often that thinking critically means detaching from it, especially detaching from the ugliness. And very often, when I get the whole "calm down" thing, it feels like the whole thing is being dismissed, because that other person is just not so wholly affected by it that they don't understand the urgency.
Jul. 3rd, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)
I agree. Balance is essential. But, it's difficult to maintain balance between the heart and the brain in a culture that values the logical and the scientific over the emotional and spiritual. If the latter weren't important or useful in informing our human experience, why would we have them? Emotions provide us with information about ourselves that objective analysis simply can't.
Jul. 3rd, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC)
And there I disagree even more. :) Our culture values science over emotion? Really? I'd be hard-pressed to explain the prevalence and overwhelming acceptance of the supernatural, creationism, alternative medicine and "spiritual healing", astrology, conspiracy theories (you name it!) in any other light. Sure, emotions inform our human experience-- but as a basic starting point, and they're one reason why we're so easily led astray when it comes to reasoning. We can't trust our own reasoning BECAUSE of our emotions. In terms of examining privilege and bias, for instance, look at implicit association tests (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/)-- your conscious feelings ("sure, I believe everyone is equal!") can be very different from the way you genuinely make judgments about people.

And furthermore, calm, well-reasoned arguments are rarely as interesting as emotional, heart-wrenching anecdotes; because we're wired to pay more attention to the latter, it makes it that much more important to be able to recognize when our gut emotions are leading us. To hear what someone is really saying, we need to examine the language and wording of people's statements-- something we're not generally inclined to do in the heat of the moment or during a rousing political debate. I mean, even here I might have said "something you're not generally inclined to do" or "something one is not generally inclined to do", in order to elicit a slightly different response. This all falls into the domain of critical thinking and reasoning.

Regarding your quote, Jha: "politeness" has nothing to do with it. There's no reason to lump it in with scientific accuracy; that's buying in to the stereotype of the cold, rational scientist. I could point you to some very impolite scientists-- as well as some very polite ones, and some very polite young-earth creationists, and some very impolite anti-vaccinationists... people's attitudes are all over the map, and have very little to do with their views.
Jul. 3rd, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
You didn't read the link, did you? I think that might give you a better idea of what I'm talking about.

And anyway, those things on creationism, alternative medicine, astrology - those are in the realm of cold logic for their believers.

See why this objectivity thing is so problematic?

I'm not against the idea of critical thinking - that's VERY important. But I'm arriving a point where dismissing a viewpoint simply because it's emotionally expressed - being able to see through how someone expresses something to the core of what they're saying, I think, is very much part of critical thought.

Although I'm not really that much focused on the reacting to external stuff as in internal stuff when it comes to reacting.

Hrm, let me put it in another way:

Emotions SHOULD be part of critical thought, is what I think I'm saying - being able to examine one's own emotions, emotional reactions, wrt to something, would be very useful in de-constructing the biases implicit in our reactions. Being in touch with our inner impulses would enable us to really get in touch with what we're REALLY thinking, so we can control our biases further. Otherwise, we're just intellectually going through motions and not addressing what's inside us.

So back to the quote I added - say I get miffed at something someone else said and I react by saying they worded themselves poorly. If I let myself really engage, really get into my anger and feel it, then I'd have something to work with, by stepping back and asking myself, "did I say that in reaction to how they said it, or in reaction to what they said, or what? What was I reacting to?" The only way I could really understand what I was reacting to is to, well, to actually react.

So, in a way, it's still a kind of objectivity, but objective internally, critically analyzing what's going on inside and getting in touch with what we're REALLY feeling. So because of it, it doesn't really fit any kind of traditional definition of objectivity, but it still requires critical thought.
Jul. 4th, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
Surely you can't be claiming that all of those things you mentioned have just as much weight in our society as scientific evidence; it just isn't so. Alternative medicine is not as widely accepted as conventional medicine; people still snigger about chiropractry. Astrology is a fun pastime but it doesn't make sense to claim that most people believe it. I just disagree with you. Right now we are in an evidence-based, left-brain dominant mode.
I wish you were right, though! In order for our collective body of knowledge to expand we have to allow for the legitimacy of the unknown and the unknowable, what our human minds can't capture or have yet to capture.
The key, as you said, is balance. The ability to hear the emotional voice, legitimize it and use it in conjunction with the best analysis our logical mind can produce, is, I think, a sign of truly sophisticated thinking.

Jul. 4th, 2009 06:38 am (UTC)
When it comes down to it, I think what matters is: Does it work?

That's why activists often use more agitating tactics like strikes and protests and sit-ins -- because sometimes that's what you have to do to get anyone to listen to you."

The "Does it work?" question should be applied here, too. However passionately the activist feels (and, God, I've got 8 people's worth of anger in me), she needs to ask herself if her tactics are working. Does it work to share the message when that voice is trembling with anger and emotionalism? Personally, I feel the answer is no. The message does not come across and people respond/react to the emotion and not the message. It's not civility for civility's sake, but civility for efficiency's sake. I don't believe people listen well when they're shocked and offended; the walls come up and they try to justify themselves rather than listening and empathizing. It's harder to shock and offend if you're expressing your views calmly and rationally. Yes, there are the bigoted fucknuts who will disregard a civil and well-worded opinion, but those same people would be just as dismissive and probably hostile in response to an unrestrained emotional/angry post, too.

I don't think agitation helps and 9 times out of 10, I think it makes the activist a hypocrite. (Being offensive and blanket-judging as the minority group you're trying to break through to)

Just one person's opinion.
Jul. 4th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
Therein lies the rub though - a great deal of progress made in today's society were done by people who pushed and pushed and pushed, even while they were continually pushed back. Look at the Revolutions, both the French and the English - it was only after they agitated and fought, rather than presenting their arguments civilly, that they got the change they wanted, and who can blame them? It's not like the people in power would have cared.

Even the feminist breakthroughs made were done with quite a bit of agitating, with a lot of writing on the abuses happening in, say, prison complex systems - these are by no means civil pieces which maintain the comfort of the reader.

And I do think emotionalism works - in the case of ignorant people, I find they just genuinely do not understand just how painful the abuse is, and the only way to have them understand is to show it, particularly the human face of pain. It doesn't work all the time, obviously, but neither does being civil work all the time. People who don't like being confronted are going to be defensive, whether or not one is being civil.

Sure, some people may be shocked and defensive, but some of them may end up thinking. And here's what I'm talking about - I think people are just very detached from emotions in general, and see hurting as a point of weakness, rather than where strength derives. Now, if we willingly engage our own pains and our own angers when being confronted, it would lead to more critical thinking. (See my response above.)

I'm not talking about "how to talk to other people" so much as I'm thinking about "how should I respond to my own emotions". We make a big deal about civilty and approaching other people but don't really stop to think about how we respond to other people's approaches.

And you should read all the discussions in the link I posted. That's one of the things which got me thinking about this. Maybe it's not how I'm talking, maybe it's how I'm thinking. It's not just pure objectivity that makes a human what we are, it's also the fact that unlike animals, we get to interact with what we feel. We get to name our emotions and our pain, which enables us to control it better. If we don't, rationality doesn't help us deal with it.

For example, survivors of sexual assault. Because we often do not name what assault is, and leave the definition of rape as a vile attack done by a stranger in the dark, many of them hurt for several years afterward, confused and unable to deal with the pain. We know that being able to own that pain and admit to ourselves what has been done to us is important for the healing process. So, we need to confront that deeply buried pain, for one, and for another, we need information (which is in the realm of critical thought) to name it. Without education and rationality, we don't get to own that pain, but without re-visiting that painful part of us, the rationality can't help. Hence why catharsis is helpful, hence why support groups are useful.

I know it sounds like what I'm talking about in the latter half of this post is separate from the upper half of the post, but the more I think about it, the more I realize they're both part of a larger conversation.
( 9 Words — Have Your Say )