Thursday, 23 May 2013

Shut up about shutting up.

Alright, well as always I seem to be a little late to the party with my blog topics, but since Mr. Lindsay (who I might add, sold a membership to CFI with his speech in regards to the "shut up and listen" meme) kindly opened the doors of battle on this one, I figured I'd wade on in.

The thrust of this post will be in regards to why having experienced something does not make you an expert in it, but I'd like to address a certain bit of hypocrisy first.

Anyone who has A) Complained that Richard Dawkins marginalizes sexual abuse because he is a man and B) Has not themself been physically sexually abused and C) Has ever uttered "shut up and listen". Get the fuck out of here now, you're a useless hypocrite and cannot be made to understand anything.

For the rest of you with half a brain, listen in and your might learn something, shutting up is optional, though shouting at the text might ruin your concentration.

There are two main problems with the typical boisterous idiot who shouts "shut up and listen" at people, wielding it as if it were some sort of club to smite one's foes with. I'll address each in turn, but they are firstly: The assumption that one's own experience allows one to speak for a group, and secondly; The fact that experiencing something does not magically grant any sort of insight on how to solve the cause of the problem.

So here is the big problem people don't seem to understand, when you speak about your experience about being underprivileged, regardless of how you come by that, you speak for no one but yourself. Let me drill that on into you, since so many people don't seem to understand this, you speak only for yourself. You don't speak for all women, or gays, or blacks or Latinos or poor people or the mentally disabled or amputees or any other group, underprivileged or otherwise, you speak for yourself.

Now if you mean to say "Shut up and listen to ME!" that's fine, but unless I consider you some sort of expert my response is going to involve me telling you to go fuck yourself. I guarentee I am better at shouting than you, and if you want to talk, you don't start by shouting at me to shut up. If something is new to me, I'll say so, and odds are at this stage in the game I've already talked to a dozen or more people on the subject before you. When you tell me to "shut up and listen" to the women about conference harassment policies, I already have. The fact that the other women say something that doesn't agree with your philosophy is tough nuts for you. The same goes for gays, minorities and so on.

Understand that when I disagree, or criticize, I am not criticizing your people, your race, your gender or anything else, it is your ideas and your presentation of them which I am criticizing. The fact that your people are oppressed, regardless of  whom they are, does not in any way make -YOU- automatically correct or above reproach. You can be gay/woman/man/white/black/purple and still be completely, fucking, wrong. Get it?

"You can't possibly understand Islamophobia (sexism/racism/homophobia etc.) since you aren't a muslim. (female/black/gay)"

Sound familiar? Enough said.

Onto the problem of expertise and experience. So, you've been in a position where you're underprivileged, you're discriminated against for no reason other then a factor your can't control. This sucks, I feel for you bro/sis. But does this grant you some magical power to understand how to fix the problem? It does not.

I'll give you an example I know how to work with. I've never disarmed someone with a knife in real life. Whether through coincidence or the fact that I avoid situations like that, I've managed to avoid ever facing a knife wielding opponent, maybe I need to get out more, I don't know. Regardless of this fact I've practiced many of these scenarios with rubber knives, and I teach some basic knife defenses (run if you can, and how to not get stabbed if running is not an option), when I run a self defense seminar (we practice with washable markers and white t-shirts to see how well we did, its actually fun as well as informative and potentially life saving.)  If someone came in, and showed me a knife scar, then told me that I shouldn't teach this because I have "never been knife attacked privilege" and that the best way to avoid knife attacks is to leap at your attacker, I would laugh him out of the room.

This is a bit unwieldy of a metaphor, but I think I've made the point, one can talk on a subject without having experienced it, and the fact that one has experienced something does not necessarily confer the knowledge of how to fix the cause. Lastly, be aware that me "shutting up and listening" to you, does not in any way make you except from critical thought or peer review afterwards. If your ideas can't stand up to criticism then you're just wasting everyone's time, whether we shut up or not, you wouldn't accept such nonsense from a christian, I won't accept it from you.

In dealing with the issue of talking about privileged persons, it's important to keep in mind a very important point, that issues of class/race/gender/creed etc. are extremely complex, so it is possible to disagree in good faith, and come to different conclusions as to what needs to be done. If there is a problem with a reasonable solution, we can address it, but on the other hand, if enough people from the group you claim to be speaking for don't agree with you on the nature of the problem, you might want to consider the fact that you're acting like a whiny entitled snowflake.  Bear in mind the solution might not be what you want, and there is an old saying that goes sort of like this "A good compromise leaves both sides pissed off and whining about privilege."

Stand up and Fight!