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Saturday, February 3, 2018

J.A.Q.ing Off In Comments (Social Justice Bard)

We all know the steps to this dance.
Let's do it one more time.
I reran a post about "Tall Privilege" (one of my social justice metaphors) on my Facebook page a couple of days ago, and someone dropped a comment this morning with......questions.

Normally I wouldn't answer something like this.

I would leave it in the purgatory of "Not Approved for Moderation." I have a strict policy about not engaging this sort of thing. It causes an event of massive temporal and entropic proportions that threatens to disrupt the very dudebro time space continuum and could rip apart the fabric of the entire universe.

But then....

Well, I figured....what the hell.

As both someone who has done this dance a thousand times, and someone who worked as an educator for over a decade, it's actually comically easy for me to tell the difference between an actual good faith question and and a "Just asking questions?" counter argument that is supposed to "checkmate" a point (usually some kind of point about social inequality) in a Socratic style that the questioner thinks is slick as fuck.

It's not, but most people think they are the first person ever to come up with this shit, and the J.A.Q.ing off continues.

Phrasing it as a question also, of course, creates plausible deniability for SQiD's who are actually most interested in the sound of silence. Their inexhaustible reserves of bad faith energy and tireless probes of the "weakness" of such simple ideas as "there is inequality in the world and the people who experience it are probably better able to describe what it is like" serve more to bring stop energy and "punish" those who speak out.

But of course (when patience is exhausted and claims of bad faith come out) these questions can be pearl clutchingly defended with "But I was JUST ASKING QUESTIONS?"

I mean goodness, who is so against a thoughtful dialogue that they are unwilling to just answer a few innocent questions.  Clearly this is just an unreasonable person who can't defend their ideas from eminently reasonable query, and obviously the whole lot of them are irrational. Just because the questions are fallacy ridden, easily researched, completely disingenous, and I will ask them over and over again no matter how many times they are answered is no reason to suggest to suspect that I'm not working in good faith.

Fortunately, for the careful reader, the veteran of these fights, educators, folks with critical thinking skills, those who have been online for more than a week, pretty much anyone who has ever had a teen-ager try to outsmart them, anyone who has ever been manipulated, folks born on Tuesday, and people whose names contain a vowel,  the questions themselves often belie the agenda to "outmaneuver" whatever they're asking about.

So I give you D (piecemeal):

So... Questions:

1) The weirdest part of this article is the line "I might eventually come to NOT give all tall people the benefit of the doubt." That's bigotry, that's the definition of bigotry. The article talks about how tall people should not do this and must do that but has no advice for the bigoted short person. The tall person, who is doing nothing wrong in this scenario, maybe they're just reading a blog about writing, something that has nothing to do with height, gets a bunch of demands dumped on their lap by a bigoted short person. Doesn't that seem off? 


Even if this weren't just a goofy illustration intended to prove a point.

You literally swung and missed with EVERY part of this question.

"That's bigotry, that's the definition of bigotry."  No it's not. Re-check your definitions. The definition of bigotry has to do with intolerance (usually extreme) and often includes the word hatred. It also often includes some idea of "obstinately" clinging to this idea, which means in SPITE of reason, arguments, and persuasion which is exactly the opposite of the data of having many if not most encounters with something reinforce it to the point that they don't assume it will be the opposite. If our short person outright hated tall people for no reason that would be bigotry (although see below), but that's a far cry from what I wrote which included literally the words: "I don't hate tall people."

Trust me, D. I'm an English major.

Also if you run around hoisting a dictionary into people's faces while trying to discuss complicated and nuanced social issues, the only thing you're really telling them is that your level of understanding is about as sophisticated as a sentence, maybe two.

Because here's the real issue: you're trying to ignore a power dynamic (which is particularly prevalent in issues outside of this metaphor of short v. tall). And you ignored it, in this case, by cleverly truncating not only the next clarifying sentence, but even the entire sentence that you quoted. Let me go ahead and quote the whole thing so we can deal with what was actually said:
"And if, everywhere I went, tall people just kept doing and saying that shit all the time and acting like total dillholes, I might eventually come to NOT give all tall people the benefit of the doubt for being cool. I might think that generally tall people fell victim to an all-too-typical societal view that their tallness equaled some kind of moral superiority until/unless I'd met them and knew for sure they weren't going to pull that shit."
Man....it really undermines that whole hyperbolic "this is bigotry!" claim when the actual quote is A) about not "being cool" rather than some deep seated hatred and B) specifically contextualized to be about assuming someone is holding a common cultural prejudice rather than a baseless judgement.

You know what they call it when you try to argue against a point that a person didn't actually make?

Here's a hint.
(Image description: A man made entirely of straw.)

The tall person, who is doing nothing wrong in this scenario, maybe they're just reading a blog about writing, something that has nothing to do with height, gets a bunch of demands dumped on their lap by a bigoted short person.

Did we read the post D? Is this tall person of yours from some OTHER post? Because that's not what the tall person is doing "in this scenario" is it? In fact, the tall person is described as doing a number of activities that are quite a bit more antagonistic. No one is suggesting that a tall person just sitting around reading a blog.

Hi. It's me again!
(Image description: A man made entirely of straw.)

2)The blog says don't apologize or feel guilty for being tall just acknowledge the privilege. What does that mean? What does that even look like? I have heard acknowledge your privilege many times in the past but no one has ever said what that action actually is.

Really? No one?  Ever? Are you sure? Well okay then, you're about to really get your money's worth today.

Like this: "I acknowledge I have privilege in this area."

If you really want to spruce it up: "I recognize that I am afforded advantages due to the unearned circumstances of my birth."

And when you reach level two: "I'm thinking that my advice how you should compensate for those things of which I have unearned advantages and haven't had to deal with in my life is really super condescending. I'm going to try having some empathy for how that lands, and not insist that you are wrong about your own lived experience or that I know how to fix it. I'm sorry."

3) The last line of the blog is "don't tell them that they're wrong." What if the tall person thinks they're wrong? Being short does not convey unquestionable wisdom. Short people can be wrong even about being short. Intelligence is not height linked. A tall engineer might have better insight in solving the problems of shortness than short florist. Why do we assume a person who is tall lack the intellect to understand what it would be like to be short? Why does a tall person have to surrender their right to disagree? Yes, a tall person will not experience the emotional urgency of the problem but isn't that distance a good thing? Lawyer can argue a case their emotionally involved in, doctors can't operate on their children. Why does the problem of shortness require the problem solver to experience blinding rage at the problem?

Blinding rage? (Rereads the post.) I'm pretty sure you added that yourself.

Diiiiiiiiiiiiiid somebody call?

The last line of the blog is "don't tell them that they're wrong.

Actually it's not. Again, you decided to remove an entire dependent clause from the sentence to suit your purposes. Let's take a look at the real quote:

"And if they take the time and energy to tell you what they need to be able to reach the same things you do without undue hardship that you do not experience, don't tell them that they're wrong."
Oh. So we're not really talking about "unquestionable wisdom" are we? We're talking about someone drawing from a lifetime of being short and doing the emotional labor to tell you what they need with regards to a hardship they experience but you do not. Just like poor people are able to point out that "just work harder" or "skip the latte" isn't really good advice to escape intergenerational poverty. Or women can tell you that advice to "lean in" isn't always particularly helpful.

Don't mind me. Just mixing it up.
(Image description: Another man made entirely of straw.)
Short people can be wrong even about being short.

Yes, but they aren't as likely to be wrong as a tall person telling them what their life is like. Who do you think is better to describe someone's life than that person themself?

Intelligence is not height linked. A tall engineer might have better insight in solving the problems of shortness than short florist.

While an engineer designing some sort of actually useful solution to the social advantages afforded to tall people is an intriguing idea, that's pretty deep into the metaphor, to go for the sake of a specious hypothetical. I suspect what is really being asked is aren't there some people smart enough to disregard what folks identify as their own problems and what would help them, and instead tell them what their real problem is and how to fix it. ("Those kids don't need breakfast. What they need is a better work ethic!")

That's pretty fucking arrogant.

Intelligence isn't height linked, but knowing what one's own life is like has a massive correlation with actually being the person in question.

Besides my scenario wasn't about some wacky inventor genuinely trying to help a short person reach the top shelves with rocket boots or something. (Gotta read the actual text, dude.) It was about someone who dismissed the problem. Reading what I actually wrote, it would be more like our very smart engineer saying, "You should really calm down about this. Statistically speaking, there is only a .04 chance of falling off the counter and in all likelihood, even if you did, you would not be severely injured. Your real problem isn't that you need your coffee cups placed on the bottom shelf. It is that you need to go to the gym to improve your leg strength so that you can easily generate the 567 kilojoules needed to make the initial jump from the floor to the counter each morning. And have a better attitude."

But I guess it's a lot easier to read right past what I actually wrote...

We really have to stop meeting like this.
(Image description: Three scarecrows--or men made entirely of straw.)
If you want to invent a better step stool (probably because the short person tells you what the problem is with the existing one), awesome. Then you are not a dillhole tall person spoken of in the post.


Why do we assume a person who is tall lack the intellect to understand what it would be like to be short? 

Oopsie! You painted yourself into a corner with all this "intelligence" shit. 

Here's the problem with that line of thinking: If the tall person really had an intelligent sense of what the short person's life was like, they would almost certainly have stumbled along the fact (at some point during their painstaking intellectual research) that one of the most irritating parts of being short was tall people telling them what their life was like.

To put it another way, if someone were as intellectually savvy as you suggest (and not just assuming they know everything because they were in the GATE program in sixth grade) and had used that intelligence to become EDUCATED about the topic, they would have a vastly more sophisticated understanding of the issues, the impact of the issues, how to broach those subjects, how to frame them productively, what NOT to do, what had actually been tried a gazillion times to no avail, and will generally not act the dillhole described.

Most privileged people who tell folks pushed to the margins of our societies how they ought to live to rise above their circumstances display little more than a BREATHTAKING ignorance about the topic.

Why does a tall person have to surrender their right to disagree? 

This is a much more fraught scenario than I wrote. In your version there is blinding rage and surrendering rights. It sounds very dystopian. Did you maybe just read The Hunger Games? Or...wait I know.....

(Image description: First man made entirely of straw.)

Nobody has to "surrender their rights. This isn't a Cory Doctorow novel. It just makes them a dillhole to assume that they know more about what it's like to be short.

Yes, a tall person will not experience the emotional urgency of the problem but isn't that distance a good thing? 


Disinterest is not a virtue. Particularly around critical issues like equality.

This is exactly why not enough people with privilege think things like ongoing racism, misogyny, transantagonism, and bigotry are really that big a deal, can wait (indefinitely) until the "right time," (which is always at least after the next election), and spend their energy trying to silence anyone who points it out. It doesn't affect them directly, so it's non-urgent. They've got better shit to do.

Lawyer can argue a case their emotionally involved in, doctors can't operate on their children. Why does the problem of shortness require the problem solver to experience blinding rage at the problem?

I think you're missing some words here, but I get the idea: that only someone emotionally detached is capable of arbitrating what the life experiences that "count" as bigotry are.

First of all one problem with your analogy is that this isn't a court or a operating room. These are social issues that we're all of us invested in up to our eyeballs whether we think so or not, and while they lead to medical and legal inequalities, this isn't a trial or a surgery. (But on the bright side, you at least mixed it up fallacy-wise with some false equivalence. I sure was getting tired of–)

No? Oh sorry. I thought I heard my name.

Tall people (or anyone with privilege) arbitrating what "really" counts as bigotry is exactly emblematic of the problem.

Think about this: Imagine you said to me, "I think my boss has it in for me because of my nasally voice" and my only response was, "Only your boss is capable of determining that because they don't have a nasally voice. You are clearly too impartial to judge."

See how fucking ridiculous that sounds?

And yet we hear this EXACT argument about sexuality, gender, and race basically every day without even questioning it. The aggrieved party is deemed incapable of determining what "counts" as bigotry–not in a court of law but even just to TALK about it–and because their accusation (simply by virtue of existing) is so fucking irrational, the only person capable of judging is the very person being accused (or someone from THEIR group).

"Why of course I wasn't being a bigot. I don't have a bigoted bone in my body."

(All bigots have bigot-free bones, are the least bigoted person you'll ever meet, and love people even if they're purple.)

Can you MAYBE see how actually THAT creates a conflict of interest that we conveniently gloss over? This narrative of "the impartial judge" (so white people are the only ones truly capable of judging racism, straight people are the only ones capable of judging homophobia, men are the only ones capable of judging misogyny, etc...) has an actual glaring, overwhelming, undeniable, elephant-in-the-room issue of a complete conflict of interest that is never even considered within the "distance" you are just asking questions about.

Because when you think of who stands to lose social standing, moral high ground, control of the narrative, or–should the playing field actually be leveled–even resources, it is immediately clear that NO ONE is capable of being completely impartial.


So you might as well weigh all stories with equal empathy and veracity.

4) Tall people are considered privileged because more CEO and presidents are tall, they can reach thing and certain women only date tall men. But tall people can not be astronauts, they have shorter lifespans, and their clothes cost more. Why are some arbitrary measure considered privilege but other are not? If a tall person wants to be an astronaut then they are very disadvantaged even if they could be a CEO.

Just so you know how ridiculous the astronaut example was to throw in here D, you can be 190.5cm (6'3") and still be an astronaut. So you're not talking about the difference between "short" and "tall" people. You're talking about the the 1 percentile of REALLY tall people who don't physically fit into the shuttle modules.

The lifespan thing is actually an interesting point because it can show how important it can be to read what is written instead of bring a bunch of assumptions to the table. Okay so let's pretend the short vs. tall lifespan thing was definitively solved (it's not) with short people coming in an extra 5 years on average than tall. If the post were discussing lifespans, rather than the things it did, we might have to acknowledge that there is some privilege that goes the other way.

Then again the post didn't actually deny that short people had some privilege, did it? It also didn't qualitatively insist that being tall was "better" did it? (Hint: the answer to both is no.)

It talked about the privileges of being tall–the social advantages. Those don't go away because there might be one or two privileges to being shorter. It talked about not denying the privileges of being tall.  (Wanting to be an astronaut does not make the advantages of being tall go away.) And if our hypothetical short person were ignoring the privilege of their longer life span and giving the tall person a bunch of unsolicited advice on how to eat cruciferous vegetables to live longer and just move to Russia to be an astronaut because they have a taller height cap, they would probably be the dillhole in the scenario.

But....tall and short people aren't really what this is about and not the point you're trying to make, right?

Yes there will always be the lone advantage or two that goes the "other way." Men can't get that scholarship written for women. White people can't apply for a grant from the NAACP. Women can sometimes get free drinks*. That doesn't erase what is an overwhelming gestalt experience. And only if you ignore the entire rest of the goddamned world to focus on that one facet can you even come close to thinking that the scales are balanced. But framing the narrative in a way that focuses on what you want to be true and ignores everything else (possibly including causation) is disingenuous at best. Not too many people say "FUCK I wish I were shorter so I could live a statistical average of five years longer!" and there's a reason for that.

*If they are willing to risk anger, slurs, rage, physical assault, sexual assault, and even being killed if they accept that drink and then turn down the offerer.

I mean, that would be like mentioning that clothes are sometimes a little more expensive for taller people but leaving out that on average taller people make more money than the clothes would have cost and....um.....

Let's move on. Shall we?

5) On the idea of tall privilege one of the examples of privilege is that more CEO are tall. But what if this difference is due to something else, like, for example, gender. Women tend to be shorter so couldn't be the case that the average height to position difference is due in part to gender not height? Aren't we really talking about a multi-factor problem and pointing to an average based on a single factor just wrong. Won't any policy based on a single factor of a multi-factor problem over-correct and produce oppression? 

Excellent point. This is called "intersectionality" (like between two or more "axes" in a graph) and it points out that there are multiple complicated moving parts in privilege and marginalization. For example, CEO's ARE mostly men, so gender seems to be a factor too.

Of course as critical thinkers, we can isolate certain factors by accounting for them. If only gender mattered we would expect to see a wide spectrum of heights among those almost exclusively dude CEOs (we don't–they tend to be taller) and a generally even spread of incomes among men regardless of height (also no). If only height mattered, we would expect that CEOs would roughly reflect the statistical commonality of taller women (they don't) and we would see taller women generally making more than shorter men (nope). So we can infer that both these factors are real.

Being white also matters. Being cis also matters. Being from a high class background also matters. Being straight also matters. Being Christian also matters. And each of these things has a complex interplay with all the others. White women don't experience racism. Black men don't experience sexism. Black women experience both and often in ways that amplify each other.

What a marvelous observation, D. You've taken your first step towards understanding how oppression and supremacy work along lots of axes, which is–I'm 100% certain–exactly the point you were trying to make.

Won't any policy based on a single factor of a multi-factor problem over-correct and produce oppression? 

Policy? Was there a fucking policy in my post somewhere that I didn't see or remember writing?

Can I be done now. I'm tired.

Look it's pretty easy to read between the lines (well, not so much between them as the actual lines themselves) that your real question is about affirmative action and the "imminent dangers" of reverse discrimination. Because what ever will become of the mediocre white men if we start trying to factor for societal advantages and disadvantages?

In fact, it is absolutely true that any group that only corrects for one factor (say, by hiring more women) may create oppression inadvertently ("Now we have gender parity, but everyone is white and heterosexual"). But if you're asking, as I'm pretty sure you are, if the world is going to become a cesspool of reverse racism and misandry if we don't keep things 90% white dudes, not so much.

A better question might be: "Will the people with privilege, who perceive themselves to be losing power, prestige, jobs, control of the narrative, "their" country, etc....  Will they, as the playing field levels from total white male hegemony (that, at least here in the US, includes slavery, genocide, and codified legal bigotry) even suffer things to become equal, nevermind skewed in the other direction?"

Let's just say that in the US, where literal Nazis are marching the streets and white nationalism has put the serial sexual assaulter Donald The-Least-Racist-Person-You've-Ever-Met Trump in power it's looking pretty fucking unlikely. Or did you think that the party in power that is mostly straight white men is looking back to the halcyon days before the ERA and Civil Rights because of the 90% tax bracket and powerful unions?

However if short people inherit the Earth, D, I promise I'll take a moment from my CEO job with my multiple yoga instructor partners, pop back to that post, and change it to be about short privilege instead. Pinkie swear.

1 comment:

  1. I honestly wonder whether responses to people who hold opinions like these are worth the time? People who constantly shift and reshape their reality to reflect their beliefs? You just exhaust yourself having to defend things you never said, or things that simply aren't the case