Urging Restraint and Social Justice Norms

Most people I know are extremely upset at Trump’s success.

I have, and I am sure that others have, urged restraint in emotion and in fear. In the coming days and months, I expect that these urges for restraint will be denounced as privileged and silencing of oppressed people’s voices, because this is the way that sj works right now.

But it’s not true.

When I heard that Trump was going to be president, my heart stopped. I felt ill. It became hard to breathe. I stewed on it and wrote an entire blog post on it in an effort to process it.

It was too awful to be true. And yet it was.

I’m sure that someone might call this a privileged request for sympathy or whatever. So, to clarify, I am trans. I am Asian. I am bisexual. I am often read as female. Believe me, my fear was real and it was rooted in oppression.

But I’d read a lot of rationalist articles about spirals of fear. About how often people are afraid to urge restraint. About groupthink. About how the Enemy is often construed as worse and more irrational than they truly are.

And I realized that in order to decide anything, I needed to wait for the actual results. I needed to evaluate situations by their own merits. I realized that America had structures that could not be easily subverted, that Trump actually does not hate gay people or trans people, and that most of the power in American government lies in its structures and in its numerous lower-downs and aides rather than in its elected figurehead.

And I found myself becoming less and less afraid.

This isn’t a technique that will work for everyone, and people do indeed deserve to have their feelings heard and listened to and validated, especially about issues that affect them through oppression. On a group level, however, the constant validation and discussion of absolute fear, coupled with the invalidation and silencing of less emotional perspectives, leads to wildly irrational beliefs and spirals of fear.

This isn’t a phenomenon confined solely to social justice. But it is a phenomenon that is reinforced by social justice norms.

For example, go back to the accusations of privilege at the beginning. Privilege- this is always the axis the debate turns on, isn’t it? But the accusation of privilege seeks to enforce a single degree of emotion and a single degree of discourse: ever more upset and ever more afraid and ever more panicked.

It encourages the spread of fear and the homogenization of opinion.

And you will notice that this one mode of communication and emotion is directly hostile to the idea of neurodiversity, and that in fact the portion of neurodiverse people who have different experiences of emotion are hurt by this formulation.

And the logical consequence of this emphasis on panic and pain and anger is that it becomes a competition. It becomes a contest of who is most upset and who is most hurt and who is most unprivileged.

And when people talk about different experiences, the (false) connection between privilege and a lack of emotional hurt leads to attacking people’s arguments through claiming that they are not really unprivileged. This leads to invalidation and attempts at delegitimization, which (of course) follow traditional distributions of power, especially regarding transness.

And that’s what makes privileged people want to haul out their anecdotes about pain so that they get the chance to speak without being invalidated. There’s no way to win: if they’re overemotional, they’re appropriating experiences and making it all about them and demanding emotional labor and having white guilt. If they’re underemotional and want to avoid fear spirals by speaking up, then they’re talking over underprivileged people and derailing and are improperly pro-sj. Both options erase the varying levels of emotional control that occur naturally, and both assume the worst.

Of course, as a response to this, there is a canned sj-approved response: your experiences about pain are not relevant since you are privileged, and so your pain doesn’t matter.

These accusations of privilege are attacks on the legitimacy of one’s identity, and implicitly assume standards for being a “real” [whatever]. In this, they serve the same purpose that accusations of f*ggotry serve in other circles: the policing of group identity and the enforcement of conformity (see Foucault’s observations here as well as linguistic studies).

Accusations of privilege reinforce party orthodoxy, silence free discussion, and enforce demands for emotion. They are the Two Minutes Hate of modern sj.


So what’s the solution?

The difference between System 1 and System 2 responses ought to be better publicized in sj spheres. Someone’s fear for their rights and life can be respected, validated, and discussed, while also acknowledging that the real risks are not particularly large or protest-worthy as of yet. Acknowledging and publicizing Kahneman’s division between the two would be useful.

Yudkowsky’s articles about one’s opponents not being evil, fear spirals, and and groupthink should be better publicized in sj sphere. Better awareness of the dangers of groupthink and emotional spirals would lead to less emotional pressuring and fewer extremes.

This particular aspect could be productively mentioned by the less emotional or the contrarians among us, and probably should be in order to introduce a contrarian opinion.

Script:”So there’s this phenomenon where, when people agree strongly about something and have really strong emotions about it and they are discussing it, they end up making each others’ legitimate fears into something much worse than they were before. In order to counteract this, I’d like to mention some mitigating factors that might make the problem less bad than you might think. [mitigating factors].”

Social justice needs to be more tolerant of a lack of emotion. When people talk about how they don’t feel upset or how it isn’t something to be worried about, they shouldn’t be denounced as privileged. It’s been well-recognized that it is wrong to denounce someone else’s emotions or to tell them what to feel; but this goes more than one way.

Privilege and a lack of emotional investment should not be equated. See above.

The relatively unemotional must recognize and validate the emotions of others more. I expect that, often, those who want to counter groupthink or who are irritated by emotional responses interrupt others and argue facts without taking the time to validate the emotions of others. Statements about possessing a lack of fear or exercising cautiousness ought to be prefaced with recognizing the validity of others’ emotions.

Script if you actually agree that it’s a bad thing: “It’s absolutely not okay that [thing that they’re upset about] happened. And it’s never okay for that type of thing to happen. At the same time, though, I also think that it’s important to evaluate it by its probable results and to remain rational through fear. For example, [thing that mitigates the risk].”

Script if you don’t agree that it’s a bad thing: “I can tell that this is really upsetting to you. And it’s completely inexcusable that [part of thing that you disagree with]. But I also think that [upsides of thing you like, possibly tailored to your audience using shibboleths and appealing to their values].”

These can both be added to the Yudkowskian groupthink introduction: “It’s absolutely not okay that [thing that they’re upset about] happened. And it’s never okay for that type of thing to happen. There is, however, this phenomenon where when people agree strongly about something and have really strong emotions about it and they are discussing it, they end up making each others’ legitimate fears into something much worse than they were before. In order to counteract this, I’d like to mention some mitigating factors that might make the problem less bad than you might think. [mitigating factors].”

See here also for communicating between different styles of discourse.

(Edited to add several key insights quite recently.)

 

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