So, STFUSexists was blogging about Tone Arguments again. You know the idea: “you can’t tell an oppressed person how to react to their own oppression”. That’s why ‘racism’ against white people is okay, because white people are the oppressive ones. That’s why misandry is a justifiable reaction to the oppression of women.
That’s why misogyny is a justifiable reaction to the oppression of men. Because every reaction is justifiable, because it’s the oppressed group’s right to react how they see fit.
In this case, it was trans people telling cis people to kill themselves. This is okay, because trans people are oppressed, and so it is up to them how they react to this oppression. We can’t tell them to ‘control themselves’ or ‘play nicely’ in their reactions. It’s like when terrorists bomb us because we’ve invaded their country, and we have to side with them because they’re allowed to react however they want.
Or not. But why not? Is it because that involves violence? But ‘die cis scum’ is violent. Verbal harassment can be violent: violence doesn’t have to be physical. If you’re going to launch a mental attack against somebody for being born in the wrong body at the wrong time, you don’t know what effect that’s going to have on them. You don’t know if the person you’re calling a worthless asshat, the one you’re telling to go and die, is struggling with a lifetime of depression. You don’t know if you’re triggering them, or preying on somebody with a mental disability. They might not be the oppressed group on this particular issue, but that doesn’t make them immune to harm. One type of privilege does not suddenly make their life perfect. It doesn’t stop them being human.
See, I’ve studied civil disobedience in some depth. This includes which forms it should take, and what is justified: a topic of some relevance to this discussion of a different form of rebellion against authority. Assuming that civil disobedience is justified at all (in an SJ context this is reasonable) you get arguments from the likes of Gandhi and Rawls saying that civil disobedience must be a peaceful last resort. Tone arguments, in other words. But then you get objections from Muste (saying that going through the legal process first shows a tacit acceptance of the evil machine), King (saying that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’), and Marx (saying that violence is necessary to overthrow an established power, because they won’t listen to peace). Firstly, none of these arguments are very relevant in this context. Shouting at a stranger about how worthless and repulsive they are is not going to cause a revolution and end all oppression, and neither is it going to speed anything up. In fact, Tone Arguments are frequently based around the fact that civility would be a faster path to equality - that this is rejected as ‘derailing’ says a lot about the true priorities of these supposed social justice workers, who would rather the deontological right to vent their anger than the teleological end of having less to be angry about.
Secondly, these objections can be dealt with in any context. It is conceded that, for a truly righteous cause, violence may be necessary to bring about less suffering in the long term (teleological) or may be the right for an oppressed group anyway (deontological). However, there is no objective way of deciding which causes are sufficiently righteous. That’s why peace is usually proposed as a blanket guideline by the Gandhi and Rawls school of thought: damage limitation. If you react violently, and you turn out to be wrong, you’ve caused suffering for nothing. If you react peacefully, and you turn out to be wrong, you haven’t. Because we can’t assume our own infallibility, we have to impose this sort of limitation. You might be very sure that you’re right, but you can never be sure enough that it’s okay to become violent. That’s why peaceful protest will always be preferred to terrorism. Terrorism could be justified if it is for a righteous cause, but because we aren’t so arrogant as to believe that we are necessarily right in supporting that cause (and those opposing it are necessarily wrong), we don’t do it. If everyone is allowed to be violent when they feel they have a righteous cause, then we would have civil war. Attempts at peaceful co-operation aren’t perfect, but at least they respect all human beings as having the right to be treated as such. That’s got to be the most fundamental rule a social justice worker can enforce.
I could add that if acting violently leads to progress, then acting peacefully could lead to progress, but with less suffering along the way. I could add that if acting violently doesn’t lead to progress, then acting peacefully would only have an equal level of failure, and with less suffering along the way. But I won’t, because we’ve already established that the outcome is not what you care about. You just want free reign to attack anybody you see as offensive, but will then condemn anybody who finds you offensive, and will get incredibly angry if they return the attacks. You want certain rights for certain groups of people, and you want to be able to assign the groups based on your own subjective view of who deserves it. That sort of attitude is why we need to make the infallibility point, and talk about damage limitation. I’m not therefore going to tell you to ‘calm down, dear’, but I am going to ask you to start showing a little humility and respect. You are not infallible, you are not perfect, and you are not the only one with feelings. Suffering is part of the human experience: everybody does it at some point, to some degree. It’s been established that adding to another’s suffering does not help your own, and may even increase it in the long term, and so there is no way that such violence can be justified.
You’re allowed, if not encouraged, to disagree with somebody or challenge their opinions, but don’t tell them to go and die. You’re allowed, if you don’t feel able to reply calmly, to ignore them. Tumblr has a handy ‘block’ feature, if you want that. But don’t tell them to go and die. That’s not helping them be better, and it is just going to make the long term problem of the bigotry worse, whilst adding some short term suffering. It’s not helping you, either, because both of these things will come back to bite you. If you want to educate them, educate them properly. If you don’t want to educate them, fine; you’re not obliged to. But you are obliged to not harass them, trigger them, target their vulnerabilities, body shame them, sex shame them, use racial or sexual slurs, threaten them, defame them, or anything else which contradicts their right to be treated as an equal human being. If you don’t just care about your own right to rage, and if you genuinely care about social justice at all, then that’s the right you ought to be respecting. Not the right to terrorism.