[a note to readers: if you know me from school in real life, then please do not read my Tumblr apart from the posts I’ve linked to directly. It’s a part of my life that I want to keep separate from real life.]
I’ve been reading through Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, and reached the essay I’ve titled my post after. I think that the eponymous catchphrase- “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” -captures something I’ve been trying to get at for a while.
There is an obvious way in which it is untrue, which is that just because a tool originates from a system that creates oppression doesn’t mean it won’t be useful. Hitler designed an excellent autobahn system, after all.
But Lorde isn’t making a simple association or genesis fallacy. It’s something rather more profound- that oppressive systems and dynamics don’t magically become non-oppressive when you substitute in different groups.
In this case she’s speaking about the non-holistic way that kyriarchy teaches women to interact with each other (underlines mine):
As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.
Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.
She writes also in “Scratching the Surface” of the dysfunctional way Black people have been taught by white supremacy to regard each other:
The distortion of relationship which says “I disagree with you, so I must destroy you” leaves us as Black people with basically uncreative victories, defeated in any common struggle. This jugular vein psychology is based on the fallacy that your assertion or affirmation of self is an attack upon my self — or that defining myself with somehow prevent or retard your self-definition…
This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a limited and particular amount of freedom that must be divided between us, with the largest and juiciest pieces of liberty going as spoils to the victor or the stronger. So instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves for a larger slice of the one pie. Black women fight between ourselves over men, instead of pursuing and using who we are and our strengths for lasting change; Black women and men fight between ourselves over who has more of a right to freedom, instead of seeing each other’s struggles as part of our own and vital to our common goals; Black and white women fight between ourselves who is the more oppressed, instead of seeing those areas in which our causes are the same.
Further, Lorde connects the two divisonary tactics:
The tactic of encouraging horizontal hostility to becloud more pressing issues of oppression is by no means new, nor limited to relations between women. The same tactic is used to encourage separation between Black women and Black men… energy is being wasted on fighting each other over the pitifully few crumbs allowed us rather than being used, in a joining of forces, to fight for a more realistic ratio of Black faculty. The latter would be a vertical battle against racist policies of the academic structure itself, one which could result in real power and change. It is the structure at the top which desires changelessness and which profits from these apparently endless kitchen wars.
The specific oppressive dynamic that Lorde addresses ought to be familiar to rationalists. It’s the type of coordination failure that results from individual actors reacting to rational incentives corrupt and oppressive structures which promote disunity and non-solidarity, eventually creating disadvantage to each actor, popularly known as Moloch. One of kyriarchy’s main weapons is Moloch.
The development of the color line, for example, separated black and white workers who might otherwise have developed solidarity against the planters. White workers are separated from immigrant workers due to nations and ethnicity. The oppressive structures of schools place students at odds with each other, most famously in the case of “not like the other girls” misogyny and in the bullying of queer and disabled children. Trans-exclusionary radical feminists fail to include trans women as allies. Bisexual and lesbian women compete for who is most oppressed and whether the other is subversive enough. Hundreds of all examples of this exist.
The solution to this is not a metaphorical colorblindedness. The solution is accommodation, as it is with neurodivergence.
The divisions and particularities created between individuals are not grounds for separation and fear, nor are they necessary to destroy or to disregard as insignificant. Instead, they should be recognized and accommodated so as to be incorporated into a greater whole which addresses and represents both.
Things like stereotypes, like the hierarchical binary of white and nonwhite, treating difference of ideology as insurmountable, the discounting of certain types of harms, the delegitimization of different perspectives, and McCarthyism are oppressive dynamics which emanate from Moloch. The reasons they are oppressive remain constant, even if they are directed against different groups. These dynamics must be recognized in their various different forms; whenever there is a conflict it must be asked whether it is horizontal or vertical, Molochian or anti-Molochian. Regardless of targets, the dynamics – the tools of the master – remain evil; they are indeed a set of myriad double standards.
The difference between male and female ought to be be recognized as one of the differences people ought to neither erase nor base separatism out of; and which they should rather endeavor to draw strength and solidarity from.
For one of the first divisions of kyriarchy was between female and male, which often manifests as segregation between genders and otherization of different genders- i.e. oppositional sexism. A feminism that insists that men support it without supporting men is a feminism which sees difference as something to ignore; and a feminism which separates itself from men completely is a feminism which sees difference as cause for separation and suspicion. The two must be dialectically combined such that differences become ground for strength, solidarity, and accommodation, rather than separation or erasure.
The particularities of class (meaning, male/female, trans/cis, and so on) must not be erased, nor must they cause separation from the general greater society or from the individual. Instead they are united with the individual – who is inseparable from them – and with each other.
The individual is united with the particular while also remaining separate, possessing their own unique positionality; and the general moves ever closer to accommodating the individual. The greater society progresses towards unification with the particularities and therefore between individuals, but it is not one with them, for the particularities remain distinct as classes and the individuals’ needs are distinguished both from their needs as classes and as aspects of the general.
As each particularity becomes simultaneously more recognized and less divisionary, the general becomes closer and closer to becoming united as one whole, and the needs of each individual are accommodated and respected, as the ever-expanding union of the marginalized approaches victory in the battle of democracy.
Thus arises a Hegelian unity of the unity and the difference– a unity of the unity (the individual) and the difference (created by the various particularities) through the general (the society). Through solidarity, class-consciousness, and progression towards general acceptance, greater welfare is created. And thus the coordination failure is averted.
[note to Lisa Millbank, who might or might not get a notification that I’ve linked to her blog on this post: linking to your blog is not intended as interaction; if you find this post, please note that I am transmasculine/male and therefore you probably don’t want to interact with me]
[Also, I sincerely hope that you are not harmed by this post, and if you object to my links I will take them down; this is not intended to harm you and I hope that you are all right]
While I do not have an extensive knowledge of lesbian separatist cultures, I have read some blogs, such as The Radical Transfeminist and the associated Tumblr, which appear adjacent to the concept.
When I first encountered the Radical Transfeminist blog, I found it extremely interesting and indeed insightful. I retain this opinion today, but I also believe that, after reading further into Millbank’s blog and opinions, political separatism from men is a harmful practice based on incorrect assumptions about the nature of power.
From her FAQ here:
Q: I’m a trans/cis man.
A: My time and energy is not for you. Please don’t bother me.
When I first read this several years ago, this made me profoundly sad on behalf of men. (I didn’t think I was bigender yet.)
But I figured that this was completely fair as a policy, right? She’s a feminist and she gets to determine how to use her own time. Men don’t deserve her time.
And now I’m reading back and I realize that, no, this is legitimately really upsetting and I was completely valid in my offense.
To be absolutely clear, as a personal policy, trying to avoid men is fine. “I don’t feel comfortable talking to men due to past trauma” or “I just don’t want to talk to men and I don’t find it very fun” is a fine sentiment, and it’s fine to enforce this boundary by saying things like “Please don’t talk to me or interact with me if you’re a man or male-aligned. This is a personal preference.”
However, even as a personal policy, it could be stated more kindly. Millbank writes, “Please don’t bother me”, as if a man talking to her ought to know that it’s bothersome or was trying to bother her. In the heat of the moment, someone might say something like this; I expect someone’s FAQ answer to be kinder.
So please let me be clear: I am fine with people not wanting to interact with men and I am pleased if they state this neutrally in their FAQs.
But this is clearly not a personal statement, as least in the sense that it’s acknowledged as a preference and not an act of resistance, etc. It’s a political statement; it’s on her political blog, and stated in a political way.
Insofar as personal actions are political actions, they can be critiqued.
So what reasons does Millbank have for not wanting to spend her time on men? A cursory search of her Tumblr reveals that she practices separatism. A search for “separatist” on her wordpress doesn’t give any information – other than a few quotes from lesbian separatists in different contexts -. So let’s look at the available information and try to figure out why she might think that men don’t deserve her time, effort, etc., in the political sense.
- Her time is better spent helping women (etc.) because they are the primary victims of oppression.
This reason might be inferred from Millbank’s initial statement that her “time and energy” are not for men, e.g. that they are better used somewhere else, for someone else.
I disagree with this reason.
For one, this rather seems like assuming the hypothesis. The hypothesis is that women are the primary victims of oppression. However, this doesn’t take into account male perspectives on violence, patriarchy, and kyriarchy in general; what of war, what of homicide rates, what of the rate of men in prison? What of the way that misandry affects people of all genders across various intersections? What of the way that misandry harms men?
Secondly, intersectionality theory as well as holistic intersectionality contradict Millbank’s perspective. As a class, men might not be as oppressed as women. Each individual man and each individual woman who might address Millbank is likely to be affected by various different factors.
While Millbank does appear to be genuine in her devotion to intersectionality, the fact that her division line is between men and women, rather than between cis or trans, or abled and disabled, etc., makes me wonder if she has fully questioned the implications of her lesbian separatist source material.
After all, male/female is not necessarily the most important axis of oppression; it certainly shouldn’t be given especial attention above all the others. The female separatist perspective assumes a solidarity between women, rather than between e.g. black people or between neurodivergent people. The mere framing of “primary victims of oppression” claims that female/male is the most significant axis of oppression.
It’s important to listen to men’s perspectives for the same reason that it’s important to listen to e.g. white women’s perspectives: while they may be coming from a place of privilege (in the case of men, in relation to women; in the case of white women, in relation to black people), they still possess information vital to a complete theory of gender relations.
It is commendable to focus your activism on one area, but if she wants to focus on e.g. trans women as a class, then why doesn’t she also exclude cis women? Why doesn’t she exclude non-queer women?
The obvious reason to include various types of women in your feminism, even if you want to focus on a a specific type, is because you all share a common interest: that of advancing your lot as women. Additionally, they can all lend insight on their experiences that allows for a more holistic and inclusive vision of patriarchy.
The same reasons apply to e.g. including trans men and gender nonconforming men in your transfeminism; trans men and trans women have obvious interests in common and it is useful to form coalitions for political benefit, as do gnc cis men. Trans men and gender nonconforming cis men have different perspectives on gender than do trans women.
- Men are extremely dangerous and will hurt women if they can.
This point of view might be inferred from this post here, reblogged without disagreement, which states:
man roulette is a game where there are fucking THOUSANDS of chambers and a few – a very very few – of them hold closeted trans women. the rest are men, though, and if you pull the trigger and get “man” you are well and truly fucked
It is certainly true that men tend to abuse transfeminine/female people disproportionately, and it is good to be cautious.
However, a blanket ban on men – including online interaction! – is extremely overzealous. The majority of men don’t kill or abuse people. I think this is a fairly uncontroversial position to take. There exist many good, interesting men, all of whom are not inherent threats to activism and who may be valuable allies.
In addition – and this post was clearly put forth as a theory of gender relations, so it is valid ground for critique -, the concept of men as inherently murderous (unless they are actually secretly trans) Others men as a hyperagentified threat to women, which is not acceptable gender theory.
It’s unfortunately kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy; the fact that this boundary of not-interacting-with-men has been set means that all of the men who you encounter are boundary-violating jackasses, because the boundary-respecting men have all decided to respect your boundaries and are not interacting with you.
The framing of this perspective sets people up to think that all women are actually totally safe and trustworthy, while in actuality it is important to remain aware that anyone might be an abuser.
If you accidentally become close friends with a man, then you have lent your support and friendship to a man, who has in turn lent his support and friendship to you. This is great! It is mutually profitable. Maybe it is not optimal, since he’s not a woman, but it is very far from “fucked”.
Why Should Millbank Care?
Millbank’s deliberate shutting-out of the experiences and perspectives of men and male-aligned people as well as afabs has had numerous reverberations, most notably on the axis of transness. It promotes ideas which erase and injure nonbinary people of varous asabs due to its basing in separatism.
Thereby it hinders the establishment of broad coalitions based on axes other than gender, such as the LGBTQ coalition or a broader trans coalition focused around trans solidarity. See for example this post and this post, which characterize afab trans people as illegitimate, and which are both easily findable after a few minutes of scrolling on her Tumblr.
Regarding the first post:
A lot of trans men choose to identify as non-binary or genderqueer or something of that nature so that they can maintain access to queer women’s spaces (and queer women’s bodies, especially lesbian bodies) while still freely accessing as much male privilege as they can elsewhere.
They know they will always be viewed by larger society as “lesser men”, so many of them would prefer to simply be the only men who have consistent access to women’s spaces, which we should all recognize as a longstanding straight male predation fantasy (being the only male infiltrating a female space – which is something that cafab men actively do).
While I am absolutely sympathetic to the problem of cis lesbian and trans afab desexualization of and exclusion of trans women, this is a remarkably invalidating argument to make.
For one, the author specifically points out “trans men” who “choose to identify as nonbinary or genderqueer or something of that nature”. She never considers that these “trans men” might actually in fact be nonbinary or genderqueer. She never considers that afab trans people might have a valid reason – e.g. rampant cissexism – to present as male outside of lesbian spaces.
She also relies on transphobic narratives of deception and infiltration, but this time arrayed against trans men rather than trans women.
That post continues on in the same vein:
This is why some trans women view all trans men and cafab trans masc folks as part of the same class (since most cafab trans non-binary people seem to either be trans men dodging accountability for maleness, or cis women with a lot of internalized transmisogyny and misogyny who are trying to appropriate trans identity while distancing themselves from womanhood, making both groups people who are simply trying to use identity to obscure their position in relation to gendered power structures), with a great many trans mascs functioning and interacting with women in a way that is indistinguishable from men in general, simply more insidious.
There is nothing about maleness that ought to be held to accountability inherently, since there is nothing wrong with being male.
Secondly, notice how this post promotes the transphobic narrative that trans men are “cis women with a lot of internalized misogyny”. It quickly and eagerly jumps on the transphobic bandwagon of people who “use identity to obscure their position in relation to gendered power structures”. Notice also how it makes mention of afabs trying to “appropriate” trans identity.
This is offensive in the extreme.
Finally, the post makes inaccurate assumptions about transmasculine/male positionality within kyriarchy:
We’re both seen in many ways as embodying aspects of both male and female, but rather than cis people seeing both of us as simply “in between,” trans men and cafab trans people in general tend to be seen as somehow possessing the better qualities of men and women, while trans women are seen as abominations embodying the worst of both genders.
I absolutely don’t deny that transmisogyny is real, and that trans women are often treated more harshly than trans men for complicated reasons.
But I take umbrage at the writer’s portrayal of society’s “general” view of trans men and afabs as “possessing the better qualities of men and women”. That may be true in lesbian spaces, but it is not true in general society. Trans men and afab trans people have been assaulted and invalidated for our genders, and I do not appreciate the flippant erasure of these experiences.
While Millbank did not write this post, she reblogged without critical comment and added appreciation. This reveals a structural flaw in her feminism. While afab trans people might have valuable clarifications, Millbank has cut herself off from our voices and our experiences. She has neglected men’s rights to the point that she promotes and upholds misgendering and transphobia- which I am sure that she would be horrified at!
But she likely won’t ever realize differently, because her time is not for trans men.
Regarding the second post, here is a copy-paste of the relevant comments:
I wanna see someone write something about the gross proliferation of ‘afab nb femme’
Cuz it is gross and u can’t claim to be a lesbian while also rejecting womanhood
It’s always worth mentioning Leslie Feinberg was transmisogynist but otherwise everything her is fantastic- especially the addition about afab NB femme.
Wasn’t Leslie Feinberg like….not cis? As in, didn’t use she/her pronouns? And a massive fuck you to @spacedyke because you don’t get to have any say on my afab, nonbinary femme identity.
not cis people who are afab can be transmisogynists. you’re providing an excellent example here of afab nb transmisogyny
So in the above sequence, we see, again, blatant transphobia and transmisandry. “Afab nb femme” is denounced as “gross”, without respect for any personal factors that might cause a trans person to identify as femme – such as, say, being genderqueer or genderfluid, or being partially female some of the time.
There is also no analysis of what femme means and has meant to different people throughout history. The concept of gendered appropriation has been and continues to be used against trans people, and I contest the idea that femme belongs to anyone in particular. Serano’s statement on appropriation here is highly relevant.
There is also no awareness of what Feinberg has meant not only to the lesbian community, but also to the transmasculine community. Feinberg used male pronouns in trans spaces, and female ones in non-trans spaces, because he believed that in non-trans spaces female pronouns accentuated his butch identity. Stone Butch Blues is and has been regarded as something for lesbians, butches, transmasculines, and an immensely wide variety of people. It is incredibly disrespectful to claim his legacy for one group and one group only.
It is also disrespectful to police people’s identities, particularly the words they use for their genders.
This is coming from transfeminists, and it is deeply disappointing. This is true all the more because it is the kind of horizontal conflict that Lorde and the other feminists did not want to see. Trans people are turning against each other instead of uniting in solidarity against oppressive power structures.
Separatism is Still Not Nonbinary-Friendly
The separatists’ error here is also in their treatment of nonbinaries of different asabs. — That is, afab nonbinaries are routinely held up as examples of male privilege and misgendered as male appropriators, whereas amab nonbinaries are lumped into “women” for the purpose of separatism, as in this post.
Amab nonbinaries who do not identify as women are not, in fact, women, any more than afab nonbinaries who do not identify as women are, and it is incoherent to accept nonbinaries of one asab over nonbinaries of another. You might even say that it’s transphobic.
Someone might argue that the purpose of separatism is not to separate men from women, but instead to connect amab trans people, but then the contact with cis women is unjustifiable.
Meanwhile, the entire framework erases polygender nonbinaries who identify with both maleness and femaleness. I can either be misgendered by talking with Millbank, or I can be misgendered by being refused an audience with Millbank.
The male and female parts of my identity are not separable. (This is because of something mysterious called “intersectionality”.) Millbank’s framework requires setting up a binary of male against female, or rather female against male; it upholds rather then explodes oppositional sexism and the old radfem overemphasis on male-female relations over other axes of oppression.
Moreover, what of amab nonbinaries who retain a connection to maleness? Are they excluded if they still identify with and as men sometimes or partially? What degree of maleness and what degree of femaleness are acceptable? — And are polygender amabs held to a different standard than polygender afabs? Why is this so?
Understand this: asab doesn’t and shouldn’t be used to divide nonbinaries for the purpose of gender-identity-based separatism. It undermines our solidarity and denies our genders, treating amab nonbinary genders as somehow fundamentally different from afab nonbinary genders. You are undermining nonbinary solidarity and working against nonbinary coalition-building.
Dividing nonbinaries by asab in an absolutist separatist way makes an implicit statement about the importance of asab as an axis of oppression, ignoring and working against the very real ways in which nonbinary trans people of all asabs can come together and support each other, and the commonalities of oppression which nonbinaries of different asabs face.
It is useful to have amab nonbinary spaces and afab nonbinary spaces, separate from each other, but it is not politically or intellectually coherent to place afab nonbinaries with “men” and amab nonbinaries with “women” for the purpose of separatism as Millbank appears to practice it.
The Separatist Framework Disadvantages Detransitioners and Closeted Trans Men
Separatism appears to advance the idea the women and female-aligned people ought to have sisterhood together and to rely on each other for support, while also cutting off other connections to e.g. men and male-aligned people.
This creates an immense amount of coercive power. What happens when someone wants to become a man? They lose their entire support system, and are never able to talk to anyone they used to know ever again, and they are now the violent and threatening Other of maleness, which must be constantly feared, denounced, and made to answer for patriarchy.
So much for questioning their gender in a safe space.
If Millbank (&c) had adopted a more holistic feminism – one in which men’s perspectives were valuable and male/female was not in practice treated as the most significant axis of kyriarchal oppression – then they would have successfully avoided these transphobic and transmisandrist statements, or at least they would have been able to remedy them. But she and her fellow transfeminists did not, and they have reaped the foul rewards.
I hope that Millbank reads this. But I doubt she will.
Having given more thought to the issue, a somewhat concerning aspect of my work has occurred to me. I don’t know if I’ve been properly inclusive of detransitioners, and I hope that I have not urged transition too strongly. Every individual should take things gradually, evaluating based on empirical evidence and their personal reactions whether or not to continue transitioning. Transitioning is not the right choice for everyone, and I hope that that was clear.
Detransitioners are welcome in any trans community I want to be part of, as are chasers and admirers, but I am not sure how to effect this.
If anyone wants to contact me regarding how I can represent and perhaps provide resources for detransitioners more effectively, I encourage them to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also willing to try to give advice concerning people’s gender trouble.
Silver and Ivory argues that we have to get rid of the girlfag term and replace it with something else. I am not sure the alternative, “gaymale woman” is much better (as it excludes male-identifying MTF people and contradicts their argument that girlfags are not always attracted to gay men), but I agree with the overall message.
This is an excellent point; I don’t think my post included male-identifying MtF girlfags at all, and I apologize for that omission. I don’t know much about male-identifying MtF girlfags, but I hope I didn’t make any of them feel illegitimate or so on. I am not sure what Molay is referring to here, but I think that he means that I don’t include transfeminine girlfags.
However, Molay’s argument that it doesn’t include these two groups doesn’t hold up. “Fag” means “gay man” and connotes effeminacy; “girlfag” combines “girl” (female-identifying person) with “fag” to get “girl who is also like an effeminate gay man”.
By changing “girlfag” to “gaymale girl” or “gaymale woman”, we do a number of things. First, we lose the connotation of effeminacy, which makes the word more inclusive, not less- after all, we also have the butch and unaligned gaymale girls to think about as well! Secondly, we lose the homophobic/transmisogynistic/misandristic slur. This is aesthetically and politically preferable to me.
Otherwise, we have exactly the same result: “girl who is also like a gay man”.
Addressing Molay’s issues with my post: with this usage we still include male-identifying MtF girlfags. These people already identified with a word including “girl” and “[slur for effeminate gay man]”; I doubt that eliminating the “effeminate” connotation and the slur aspect does not include them.
Some MtF people might end up using “fag” in a reclamatory fashion. I of course support this, but it’s a somewhat separate usage than the issue at hand, which is the issue of girlfags as Molay and I both define it. The girlfags that we’re talking about aren’t girls who have been called fags; they’re girls who crossdream and identify partially with gay men.
If MtF spectrum people want to use “girlfag” in a reclamatory fashion for “girl who has been misgendered and attacked as fags”, then I welcome them and encourage this usage.
If Molay wishes to clarify his meaning here, I would be happy to respond.
Also, Molay states that my term contradicts my statement about gaymale girls’ attraction to gay men or lack thereof. I don’t think it does so more than the word “girlfag”, which includes a word that literally means “effeminate gay man”! The “gay” part leaves it extremely ambiguous as to whether the person concerned is attracted to men, women, or somewhere in between.
As I am not a girlfag anymore, I encourage girlfags to choose their own method identification.
Finally, I am pleased with the audience the post has reached and wish well to all of you.
So I’ve said before that I was going to write up a post on utilitarianism. This is that post.
Note that I haven’t done much formal reading on utilitarianism, and it could be that someone else has already made these observations.
Mine, of course.
There’s no great tablet sent down from high proclaiming that happiness is the ultimate good or that the repugnant solution is, truly, repugnant. It’s my moral system and my moral intuitions.
Obviously intuitions aren’t perfect; there are some obvious fallacies to be avoided (such as when people give to what is mroally salient rather than most impactful) in terms of implementation. But intuitions seem to be useful for ascertaining values.
It’s possible to create a moral system based around maximizing one’s own welfare based on game-theoretic logic about rational actors in perfect cooperation, but often people who only maximize their own welfare notice that not everyone is a perfect rational actor with perfect cooperation, so this argument falls flat for convincing its target audience. A maximizer for self-welfare wouldn’t actually act in this mannerr except under highly idealized circumstances.
The contractarian system looks quite good as long as we only consider good examples. For example, Omar’s welfare is satisfied by having everyone including him not murdered, and so are the welfares of 99% of other people, so Omar makes a contract for mutual benefit where murdering is not allowed and murderers are imprisoned or murdered. This is essentially the system we have now.
But this framework ignores the existence of preferences about others. For example, suppose that John’s welfare is satisfied only by killing everyone including himself, and that it is all-or-nothing; he wouldn’t be satisfied by only killing 10 people or by only killing himself, but rather exclusively by killing everyone including himself. John could not possibly make a contract of mutual benefit with anyone else, and as a rational actor John would want to achieve as much of his goal as possible.
This isn’t a problem for Omar’s society, since if enough people had incompatible preferences with John John would just be dead/in jail.
But now suppose that 99% of society wanted everyone killed including themselves. They make a contract for mutual benefit and maximize welfare by killing 100% of people.
Somehow this doesn’t sound very good anymore, at least not for the 1% of people who don’t want to be killed.
The exclusively contractarian framework doesn’t give us a way to distinguish between these two societies, since in both people are acting for mutual benefit. Accepting a space for non-self-maximizing intuition appears to be necessary, as does ranking preferences-about-others universally.
Game theory can be taken as a means to the intuitionist end, but not as an end in itself. Even in the above formulation, it takes individual welfare as a given.
What is Evil?
Utilitarianism does not typically concern itself with the idea of evil. I likewise have no formal definition of evil, but I use it as a shorthand for something I want to prevent in order to maximize agency.
The repugnant conclusion is the true statement that, for any (e.g.) happy population, there is a larger population in which each individual is barely happy that is equivalent in moral value. Ozy writes that it makes little sense to prefer the large population to the smaller population.
I don’t find the repugnant solution to be particularly repugnant. If everyone in the society has positive happiness – which is necessary for them to count as positive hedonic util – then it is an absurdly good society, a better one than we have here. The two societies are indeed morally equivalent.
It appear customary to utilize a linear relationship of utility in terms of inputs- like, if you have, say, 10 hedons, then that converts to 10 utils. This makes sense, since if you value hedons then it’s not like one is better than the other.
There also is the system of evaluating using average utils. This has all the typical pitfalls of using averages, but could possibly be solved with judicious usage of complex statistical methods. I don’t know any complex statistical methods so I will not use the system of average utils.
No one seems to use a combination of various types of utility, which makes very little sense. In real life people value various different things. The actual mathematics are likely fiddley squiddley and, while interesting, time-consuming to model; but I will propose a intuition-based system after evaluating the various utilitarianisms. We shall call systems like my proposed system holistic systems.
It also appears customary to utilize a linear relationship of population members to utility. This strikes me as flawed, at least assuming one population. Increasing the population doesn’t necessarily scale linearly to utility. A logarithmic, logistic, or shifting geometric pattern approaching a limit would be a better system until we have e.g. space travel or access to other realms.
This article will also try to avoid certain pitfalls of thought experiments by making assumptions/implications either explicit or nullified.
I’m not quite sure! We appear to be able to choose between hedonics, non-suffering, preference, and eudaemonia. Let’s evaluate all of these:
This is the system of maximizing happiness.
Some objections indicate that we might end up forcing people to wirehead or that we might end up maximizing happiness at the expense of achievements, motivation, technology, or long-term protection.
We minimize suffering.
Unfortunately, this implies that we should be striving to kill everything which might possibly suffer, and then tile the world with nonsuffering, which likely precludes a happiness function, as any resources used for happiness are not being used to prevent suffering. There are obviously other ways to minimize suffering, but this utilitarianism makes no distinguishment between different methods except for how efficiently etc. they reach towards nonsuffering.
Maximizing the fulfillment of preferences.
Requires a large superstructure to figure out what preferences to maximize, and doesn’t distinguish between different preferences.
I’m honestly not quite sure what eudaemonia is, only that it is sort of mystical and includes everything that people would see as a good thing.
If anyone would is able to define it more extensively, I would be grateful. As it is, it seems somewhat handwave-y. “Oh, look at this ~thing~ that I think would be good to have! Let’s try to maximize that!”
What’s left? My own preferred version of utilitarianism, which I call:
This maximizes the ability to refuse to do things.
It seems mostly harmless and possibly good, and can be achieved by means of the contract plan. It avoids the pitfalls of preference utilitarianism, and somewhat ignores tiling problems necessitates the existence of choices, things to do, and entities that can refuse. It distinguishes between various types of refusal by choosing the ones that maximize overall agency.
Unfortunately, it says nothing about happiness or welfare.
The largest problem extant for all of the above is tiling- the idea that an entity maximizing any of these could destroy people and replace it with itself. If we really value these exclusively, we would be in favor of this- unless there was something else we valued that humans had.
What do I value that human people have? (Most of these things are not universals, but things which humans, as an aggregate, tend to have that AI does not. There is no shame in not having one of these- not everyone can make art, not everyone can do science, not everyone has a sexuality; but in general these are important to conserve.)
- self-awareness– an entity that was satisfied by the speed of light being 3*10^9 would not have equivalent self-awareness to a person.
- intuition and problem-solving skills– System 1 is still valuable for solving problems and planning ahead; we don’t yet have effective programming skills to replace this. Potentially not a problem if we’re able to program well enough to create these reliably, but not a risk I would want to take.
- science– we have yet to program or discover something that could do science, generate experience, and discover new knowledge as well as human people can.
- art– I really like fantasy books and imagination, and would be sad to see this gone
- love, other emotions– while some people don’t have certain or all emotions, humanity as a whole encompasses a whole degree of interesting emotional experiences which it would be sad to lose
- the ability to spontaneously generate new ideas– important for survival and true progress
- attachments to each other– this is, again, not universal to humans, but something I would be sad to see go
- sexualities– again, not universal, but valuable to me
- general personhood, however defined
Chesterton’s fence very much applies here. I don’t want to put a hard limit on what a human is or to invent a hard definition; but all of these things are valuable.
The utility of these “human values” can be modeled by several different logarithmic-esque curves, rising sharply at lower values then approaching a limit, where x=amount of individuals with these traits and y=utility provided, so that quite a few individuals can stop having these values before they start becoming important to conserve. A higher utility would correspond to a higher x value.
This is one of the utility functions in the utility system I will be proposing below.
A Proposed Holistic System
We try to ensure that the “human values” curves do not drop below a certain value, preferably close to their limit. Only solutions in which “human values” (quotations to make it clear that they are far from universal) are above this limit are acceptable. Worlds where “human values” are above this limit are morally neutral compared to each other because of diminishing returns along the logarithmic curve. Any tiling and/or expansion that doesn’t limit the human values is morally neutral except regarding its impact on the below.
Next, we maximize agency. A world where more entities can refuse is better than one where fewer can refuse. This is done by means of a game-theoretic contract.
Finally, we maximize happiness. Rather than wireheading, we raise everyone’s hedonic baseline through e.g. head implants. We cannot decrease agency for happiness.
This ensures that we do not eliminate things that people typically value, like “human values”, thereby resolving tiling problems. It then ensures that we do not forcibly wirehead people while also providing for welfare as measured by happiness. It also provides a justification for preventing murder, enabling considered suicide, outlawing nonconsensual sexual contact, and protecting various freedoms, especially freedom of speech.
Further research could include formal mathematical models of this framework, objections to its structure, or other variants of holistic systems.
[warning for moral arguments, torture mention, death mention, murder mention, violence mention, and mention of Osama bin Laden and associated actions, suicide mention, bullying mention]
Recently the question arose as to how to achieve justice- how to prevent and respond to acts of evil.
I thought for a while, and I seem to have come up with this.
1. How should we determine the morally optimal degree of response?
Responses should not be more than proportional, because if we responded with more force than proportional, would mean that we could torture someone for 1,000 years (a really really awful thing) in response to them torturing someone else for a day (a less awful thing). So proportionality is the upper bound of our response.
But sometimes it’s not right to punish someone proportionally to their action- after all, if we punished someone proportionally to their action, then we could torture someone for a day (a bad thing) in response to them torturing someone else for a day (a bad thing). Most people would agree that torturing someone for a day is wrong, and I hope that you do, too. Sometimes we need to respond to someone with less than proportional action.
When should we respond to someone with less than proportional action? When we can stop them with less-than-proportional action. If we can stop someone from hurting someone with action that is less than proportional, we must take that action and nothing more. This is because harming someone needlessly is wrong.
So our rules here are:
1) We can’t hurt someone more than they’ve hurt us.
2) We can’t hurt someone more than is necessary for stopping them.
This is actually a really cool framework, and I am somewhat confident that it will hold up to a great deal of examples.
2. How does this apply to addressing fascism?
I will answer some likely questions that one might have, using this framework of response. It’s in the context of discussing fascism, but might also be applied to addressing other harmful ideologies and actions.
What should be our response to expressing fascist ideas?
Expressing fascist ideas creates potential for hurt, but must not be met with any of the following:
Violence, threats of imminent and plausible harm, or telling people to commit suicide/do self harm/somehow die.
You should not do any of the things that I have listed here, because, as I state in an earlier post, doing so means that people can’t express their opinions, fascists can’t be conclusively countered and disproven in the open, and, worst of all, observers won’t be able to have access to all the arguments and discussion that they might need.
[Punishing free speech] hurts the culture of free speech…
Shutting people up isn’t always bad- sometimes it’s a good thing. But killing and assaulting people can be used to silence good opinions just as easily as bad ones. This means that you won’t have any automatic feedback about whether your opinions are good or bad, which means you could miss something really important.
Violence in response to speech or personal attacks in response to speech are both blunt instruments, and that they discard good ideas as well as bad.
Open debate means that everyone observing is able to see the arguments in full. They can judge them by their merits and see the evidence for themselves- the more information, the more open debate, the better, as Chelsea Manning’s example shows.
Violence and personal attacks (that are not in response to personal attacks) silence good ideas just as well as bad ones. It means that people can’t see all the arguments to choose, which means that power is out of their hands and into whoever whoever is being violent and using personal attacks.
If your arguments and beliefs are good, better than fascism, then you don’t need to violently attack and personally attack fascists into silence. You just need to argue with them- maybe by calling them racists, maybe by glaring at them, maybe by screaming at them. If people can’t express opinions without a fear of violence and personal attack, then they don’t really have freedom of speech in reality.
Moreover, when you violently attack and personally attack fascists for expressing their beliefs, you’re not just silencing fascists. You’re also making other people afraid to speak up- because they don’t know who might be next and what degree of opinion is okay. You might think that you can draw a line between fascists and everyone else, but what if you lose the reins of power to other antifas, and now they think your opinions should be silenced?
People need to be able to access information in order to decide issues, for themselves.
This doesn’t mean that we have to listen to fascists- we can no-platform them, we can block them, we can violently oppose them as soon as they advocate imminent and plausible harm to others. But we can’t attack people for expressing their true thoughts.
Ideas aren’t just ideas. That’s why it’s so important that we be open to new ones.
However, I recognize that people are not perfect. I forgive anyone and everyone who has ever done the above in response to expressing fascist ideas, if they feel guilty in any way; if you’re not convinced that these are bad things, this last paragraph is not for you.
Expressing fascist ideas should not be met with personal attacks.
(I define personal attacks not as typical things like “you absolute jackass asshole!” or “fuck off” or “I hate you”, but as mockery of specific attributes of that person, e.g., making fun of someone for being overweight or for having to use a wheelchair.)
Making personal attacks might hurt people in your readership, on your side, who share the irrelevant attributes. It also increases stigma against people with those traits.
Moreover, it is not very effective at getting fascists to stop being fascists, at making your people (minorities who might share those traits) to feel safer, or at countering fascism to a neutral audience. Like the other things mentioned above, it’s a blunt tactic- you can hurt good people and good ideas just as easily by making fun of them as you can hurt bad people and bad ideas.
There might be good reasons for making personal attacks on someone, like in order to be a safe place for expressing anger and being true to oneself, but sometimes too many people making and agreeing to personal attacks leads to bad consequences. Due to personal mockery getting out of hand and becoming ganging-up, people have committed suicide or had PTSD attacks.
Unless you want fascists to commit suicide or have PTSD attacks (which is a bad thing and isn’t necessary to stop them from harming others), then you shouldn’t let personal attacks on fascists get out of hand.
How should we respond to fascists who make personal attacks?
We should make personal attacks back or block them, but try to not let it get out of hand (see above).
How should we respond to fascists who do violence, make threats of imminent and plausible harm, or tell people to commit suicide/do self harm/somehow die?
We do what is necessary to shut them up, to stop them, to imprison them. This includes vigilante murder, violence, or threats if necessary. We respond proportionally and necessarily to their action.
How should we respond to openly fascist people running nonviolently for positions of power?
If they aren’t nationally successful, all of the above tactics would work to oppose them. If they take a province, focus on protecting human rights through federal power, protests, and getting minorities out of that province as quickly as possible. Violence does not seem like an effective answer (see the reason given in the next paragraph), but is acceptable due to the likely harm they are threatening.
If they are nationally successful, I don’t know what to do, but I suspect that violence would not be a good answer. It would be used against us to consolidate their power, much like how Hitler used the Reichstag fire to claim dictatorial powers. But violence would be both proportionate and necessary to prevent harm- fascists and fascism in power are (likely) inevitably and inherently violent.
If fascists have taken the government, there is the imminent threat of violence against us, and we should concentrate on getting minorities out of the country, establishing a system of safehouses, and coordinating a resistance. Violence is acceptable, but not necessarily effective. We pretend to be fascists and sabotage the war machine in any way that we can. We plan coups. We try to keep the ideals of democracy and human rights alive. We look to the German resistance as our guide.
(See here for an explanation of what fascism is and what I am referring to here.)
How should we respond to a fascist government from outside the country?
Under my paradigm, as soon as a fascist government takes power, we sabotage it in the most effective way possible, including through violence, in order to prevent harm. This is proportional to the likely harm that the government is threatening to its people.
This paradigm works to prevent fascists from doing harm on all levels- individually, nationally, and internationally. It does so while attempting to harm as few people as possible.
3. We must not believe accusations of fascism without evidence.
This would make it extremely easy for fascists to sabotage antifa. Also, nearly all political groups have been accused of fascism:
Conservatives: All Conservatives, appeasers or anti-appeasers, are held to be subjectively pro-Fascist. British rule in India and the Colonies is held to be indistinguishable from Nazism. Organizations of what one might call a patriotic and traditional type are labelled crypto-Fascist or ‘Fascist-minded’. Examples are the Boy Scouts, the Metropolitan Police, M.I.5, the British Legion. Key phrase: ‘The public schools are breeding-grounds of Fascism’.
Socialists: Defenders of old-style capitalism (example, Sir Ernest Benn) maintain that Socialism and Fascism are the same thing. Some Catholic journalists maintain that Socialists have been the principal collaborators in the Nazi-occupied countries. The same accusation is made from a different angle by the Communist party during its ultra-Left phases. In the period 1930-35 the Daily Worker habitually referred to the Labour Party as the Labour Fascists. This is echoed by other Left extremists such as Anarchists. Some Indian Nationalists consider the British trade unions to be Fascist organizations.
Communists: A considerable school of thought (examples, Rauschning, Peter Drucker, James Burnham, F. A. Voigt) refuses to recognize a difference between the Nazi and Soviet régimes, and holds that all Fascists and Communists are aiming at approximately the same thing and are even to some extent the same people. Leaders in The Times (pre-war) have referred to the U.S.S.R. as a ‘Fascist country’. Again from a different angle this is echoed by Anarchists and Trotskyists.
Trotskyists: Communists charge the Trotskyists proper, i.e. Trotsky’s own organization, with being a crypto-Fascist organization in Nazi pay. This was widely believed on the Left during the Popular Front period. In their ultra-Right phases the Communists tend to apply the same accusation to all factions to the Left of themselves, e.g. Common Wealth or the I.L.P.
Catholics: Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively;
War resisters: Pacifists and others who are anti-war are frequently accused not only of making things easier for the Axis, but of becoming tinged with pro-Fascist feeling.
Supporters of the war: War resisters usually base their case on the claim that British imperialism is worse than Nazism, and tend to apply the term ‘Fascist’ to anyone who wishes for a military victory. The supporters of the People’s Convention came near to claiming that willingness to resist a Nazi invasion was a sign of Fascist sympathies. The Home Guard was denounced as a Fascist organization as soon as it appeared. In addition, the whole of the Left tends to equate militarism with Fascism. Politically conscious private soldiers nearly always refer to their officers as ‘Fascist-minded’ or ‘natural Fascists’. Battle-schools, spit and polish, saluting of officers are all considered conducive to Fascism. Before the war, joining the Territorials was regarded as a sign of Fascist tendencies. Conscription and a professional army are both denounced as Fascist phenomena.
Nationalists: Nationalism is universally regarded as inherently Fascist, but this is held only to apply to such national movements as the speaker happens to disapprove of. Arab nationalism, Polish nationalism, Finnish nationalism, the Indian Congress Party, the Muslim League, Zionism, and the I.R.A. are all described as Fascist but not by the same people.
If we allowed people to discredit others by accusations of fascism, then we would end up believing that all of the above are fascist. That dilutes the meaning of the word fascist and leads to unfair persecution of people who are not fascists.
I hope that this proposed system of evaluation is useful for future application to real-world events.
Or, The Wartime Mentality
[content warning: discussion of fascism, Stalinism, and associated atrocities; also mentions of rape and death; also for possibly inducing guilt through moral appeals]
“Only shitty people think Nazis are also people.”
“Nazis can’t be gay, because only people have sexualities.”
“We /are/ in a war, and have been for generations, to stay alive in a society that desperately wants us dead. Self defense is self defense.”
These are all quotes, paraphrased, from antifas. They mean exactly the same thing interpreted in context.
It seems clear that these are arguing for… something… about… opposing fascists? I have no clue, really, since they don’t specify what they’re arguing for, except that it is radical and violent and extremely radical and did I mention that it was radical?
But, all in all, it’s not really important what they’re arguing for, because I don’t think that anyone cares what they’re arguing for. It’s more the idea that they are standing strong against injustice and opposing fascists and that they are very very afraid of injustice ever happening.
So what’s not to like?
A Note to Readers
Before I say anything here, I want to say that I’ve read all the posts about how antifas are not “just as bad” as fascists. I agree that antifas are not “just as bad” as fascists.
Any movement, however, is vulnerable to declining into fascism. I would appreciate it if any antifas/sj activists reading this would take the time to read my arguments and to do the hard work of reform and critical thinking for their movement.
I will be comparing some of the antifa tactics and dynamics to fascist ideas, but that does not mean that I think that the antifa movement is equally as bad as fascism, nor does it mean that I think that self-defense is wrong. I will endeavor to avoid arguments of the form “x tactic is what fascists did, therefore x tactic is wrong”, because that is fallacious. Instead, I will instead use arguments of the form “x tactic is what the fascists did, and x tactic is bad because y”. The comparison to fascism is a way to frame it so that the reader will more easily understand.
The Antifa Position
I’ve seen a lot of posts insisting that good people are in a war with fascists. That their backs are to the wall and that the only option is self-defense. That self-defense is commendable and that killing fascists is a good in itself.
I hope that I am summarizing the idea of these posts well below:
We are in a war because our people are being killed. We are in a war because we are intensely vulnerable to them and that is terrifying. Our people are being killed day in and day out and we will defend ourselves by any means necessary.
Anyone within our ranks who argues is defending the enemy and possibly injuring our people. There’s no room for arguing because arguing means that there is division in the ranks and a weakness for the enemy. It makes your people vulnerable and it might hurt your people.
In addition, our enemies are not people. They have forfeited all goodness and all humanity because of the despicable people they are. Any act that they do is wrong.
To kill one of our enemies is a net good.
Let’s distill this argument down to several points:
1. We are in a war.
2. Be afraid of our enemies.
3. Don’t argue- that makes us vulnerable and hurts our members.
4. If you argue, you are an apologist for the enemy.
5. Our enemies are not people, and can do no good.
6. To kill or injure our enemies is a good in itself.
If you disagree with any of these points, please inform me and/or ignore the relevant point that I am making.
1. We are in a war.
The antifa position as I understand it:
Fascists and oppressors have been engaged in a war with us for hundreds of year by means of oppression.
Fascists want us to think we are in a perpetual war.
The Bush Administration, for example, has claimed a perpetual war against terrorism. Mussolini writes that fascism is opposed to peace because “war alone keys up all human energies to their maximum tension and sets the seal of nobility on those peoples who have the courage to face it”.
Fascism encouraged perpetual warfare.
For example, the policies and ideology of both Hitler and Mussolini encouraged perpetual warfare.
The factual question of “Are we in a war?” does not matter.
It is a matter of individual estimation whether or not we are in a war. I simply want to point out that fascism encouraged a mindset of war and the resulting fear created by a war. I will refer back to this point throughout the piece.
There is nothing wrong with thinking that we are in a war, by itself. However, this view is the foundation of other beliefs.
2. Be afraid of our enemies.
The antifa position as I understand it:
Our enemies are fascists (and kyriarchy). We should be very afraid of our enemies because they are powerful, could be anyone, and are hurting us.
If you do not endorse the idea that we should be afraid of our enemies (fascists), please skip to the next section below. If you have additional disagreements with any of the antifa assertions, please read anyway; some of the points may not be relevant but others will be. This goes for other points as well.
Fascists told us to be afraid of our enemies, and that has bad consequences.
In the past, the right has encouraged fear of the Other- fear of immigrants, fear of communists, fear of communist immigrants -in a bid to stop people from thinking. The right tells us to be afraid of the treacherous fifth columns and traitors, because that means that we can’t think. There are obvious consequences to this fear, in the form of restrictions and abuses against these “traitors”.
For example, one of the links above leads to an article about the Stab in the Back Myth, which was a Nazi theory blaming the Jews for Germany’s loss in WWI. The idea was that Jews had betrayed the fatherland, and were thus deserving of death and imprisonment. This blaming of the Other was used to incite fear and disturb rational thinking.
This is not a problem unique to rightist movements.
You might say, “Ah! But this is just a problem with rightist movements, not leftist movements!” But in this case you would be wrong.
For example, Stalin encouraged fear of and hatred of kulaks, regularly sending his enemies to gulags. Mao encouraged children to report their families for counterrevolutionary behavior. Pol Pot killed and tortured “intellectuals” for fear that they were disrupting the revolution.
This is not to say that antifas want to do any of these things. But it does mean that:
Antifas should stop telling people to be afraid.
Antifas should stop encouraging fear of enemies because fear is not productive and it is painful to be afraid. It also impedes clear thinking and physical health. Moreover, a fear of enemies within creates paranoia within activist movements and often hurts the very people it was meant to serve.
As we can see with fascism and the Stalinist and Maoist purges, encouraging the fear of enemies often leads to hurting them and dehumanizing them. The antifa movement is not unique, and this fear has led to dehumanizing and hurting enemies in the past.
This idea is based in a wartime mindset– the idea that our enemies are at the gates, that they are within us, and that they must be found and countered at every step. It enforces the wartime mindset and all of its associated ideas.
Objection 1: You might say, “This is clearly just a problem with hurting enemies. If we don’t hurt them, then encouraging fear is not a problem.”
Objection 2: You might say, “Ah, but I do not care about hurting fascists and/or cishet white men. Fascists are actually, demonstrably not people.” Or: “Fascists forfeited their right not to be hurt by me when they hurt me first.”
Your concerns shall be summarily addressed. Objection 1 is correct, but according to the evidence above I believe that it is overly optimistic. Objection 2 will be addressed under Point 6.
3. Don’t argue- that makes us vulnerable and hurts our members. If you argue, you are the enemy.
The antifa position as I understand it:
Arguing makes marginalized people feel upset and scared in their safe space, and it implies that you do not support the goals of the movement. We need solidarity in a time of struggle and oppression.
Fascists suppressed and dissuaded argument, justifying it by claiming it was defensive.
Hitler’s book burnings, for example, were justified by calling the books “un-German” and therefore subversive. Mussolini’s control of the press was used to repress free argument, as explained here:
“Fascism requires militant journalism,” the country’s newspapers presenting themselves “as a solid bloc,” committed to “the Cause” and obscuring or outrightly burying any fact or story antithetical to it. Even more than post-factum censorship, Mussolini favored this kind of proactive steering of the press, hardly subtle and clearly defining his expectations as both military and civilian leader of the people. In Fascist Italy, social and political pressures—and the resultant self-policing by the media—were at least as important as actual legal proscriptions, probably much more important.
One of the major ways that censorship was enforced under fascist regimes was through social and political pressures.
Patriarchy and kyriarchy in general are upheld by silence- that when someone says something and is not challenged, it is assumed that that is accurate. Enforcing this silence is a large component of fascist regimes.
This is not limited to fascist regimes.
Antifas should stop saying that arguments hurt people, because that stops the movement from being as effective as it could be.
For example, you might be afraid that arguing about certain tactics is wrong and would make people feel unsafe.
Suppose that someone, Person A, said, “I think that callouts are not an efficient way of countering transphobia, and that maybe we should try to take a more empathetic approach.” You quickly jump in and say, “You are hurting trans people by even daring to question this! You’re actively making spaces unsafe spaces for trans people. Don’t argue about this, ever.”
Your hypothetical statement in this situation is deeply counterproductive. Person A, after all, clearly wants to combat transphobia, and wants to try to figure out the best and most effective way to do so. What if callouts actually aren’t the most effective tactic? What if Person A has some good points that you could use to improve your feminism? What if Person A is trans and has been spoken over by cis people doing callouts, and you’re ignoring their lived experiences?
Of course, you individually are welcome to feel unsafe and to set whichever boundaries you want. And there are, of course, accurate aspects to the antifa perspective here. Some arguments, such as the argument “Are trans people really valid, or should they all be sent to conversion therapy?”, are directly hurtful to most trans people and possibly triggering.
The problem here is that some people, often but not always well-intentioned allies, seem to think that this the only way to help marginalized people and to help us feel safe. You can have a space that is safe for marginalized people while also having a space that is open to argument.
Antifas doing this are vulnerable to the same unfortunate results as fascist and Stalinist regimes.
Censorship by fascist and Stalinist regimes was bad because it closed out the space for opposing viewpoints through creating a fear of hurting the movement. The idea that argument about sj tactics, in and of itself, is always hurtful to oppressed people, is highly similar to this view, and will lead to similar issues with groupthink. It will also lead to ignoring the perspectives of oppressed people who disagree with ingrained ideas. Antifa, again, is not invulnerable to fascistic ideas, and when this preemptive limiting of disagreement happens, it has always led to abuses in the past.
And once you’ve denounced not only the people who disagree with you, but also the people don’t disagree with the people who disagree with you enough, then where do you draw the line?
So what should antifas do?
I would appreciate this same sentiment presented in less absolute terms. For example, instead of saying, “This hurts oppressed people everywhere; stop defending transphobes!”, you could say, “This hurts me because of oppression I face, and I would prefer if you conducted this discourse with someone else”.
I would also encourage you to evaluate what your opponents are really saying and to give them a chance. But of course that’s your decision to make, on your own time.
If you are an ally trying to be more inclusive, you could offer to tag the possibly-hurtful argument with a content warning. Anyone who wants to avoid an argument that someone else is having can block tags using Tumblr Savior.
The idea of competing access needs is particularly important here, but with the caveat that, when trying to do activism, being open to opposing viewpoints is important in order to avoid blind spots and groupthink (see above).
4. If you defend people who argue with us, you are an apologist for the enemy.
The antifa position as I understand it:
Arguing with us actively hurts marginalized people (see Part 3). Therefore, people who argue with us are hurting marginalized people. Defending people who argue with us actively hurts marginalized people, therefore people who defend people who argue with us are actively hurting marginalized people (and so on). They are all apologists for oppression.
Antifas should stop arguing this.
This mechanism of condemnation extends too far, and there is no clear limit to who it is applied. This stifles dissent and makes it easy for people to be ostracized without reason.
Antifa is vulnerable to possibly hurting marginalized people by ignoring their views. If people aren’t able to express dissenting opinions, then incorrect opinions might remain unchallenged. For example, second-wave cis white feminists often didn’t allow dissent, and they missed extremely important issues like trans women’s rights and black women’s rights. If you don’t listen to dissenting opinions and you ostracize anyone who disagrees with your current opinions, then you might end up making the same grievous mistakes as feminist movements in the past, and in the process hurting marginalized people.
This is also part of the wartime mindset- it derives from the idea we must be afraid of our enemies, who are at the gate and hiding within us in the form of apologists, and that they must be rooted out.
5. Our enemies are not people, and can do no good.
The antifa position as I understand it:
Fascists are not people, and it is impossible for fascists to do good. E.g. fascists are not morally important and do not count as sentient beings.
Fascists dehumanized people and claimed that they could do no good.
For example, the Nazis denounced the Jews as rats and untermenschen, less than human. Slaveowners called slaves subhuman. American combat troops in Iraq treated their kills as spoils.
Dehumanizing humans has always been the route to violence before. An expert on atrocities throughout history is quoted here:
Thinking sets the agenda for action, and thinking of humans as less than human paves the way for atrocity. The Nazis were explicit about the status of their victims. They were Untermenschen — subhumans — and as such were excluded from the system of moral rights and obligations that bind humankind together. It’s wrong to kill a person, but permissible to exterminate a rat. To the Nazis, all the Jews, Gypsies and others were rats: dangerous, disease-carrying rats.
From the beginning, Hitler and his followers were convinced that the Jewish people posed a deadly threat to all that was noble in humanity
Stalinists dehumanized people and claimed that they could do no good.
See the writing about kulaks before. And from the same article as above:
[I]t wasn’t only the Germans who dehumanized their enemies. While the architects of the Final Solution were busy implementing their lethal program of racial hygiene, the Russian-Jewish poet and novelist Ilya Ehrenburg was churning out propaganda for distribution to Stalin’s Red Army. These pamphlets seethed with dehumanizing rhetoric: they spoke of “the smell of Germany’s animal breath,” and described Germans as “two-legged animals who have mastered the technique of war” — “ersatz men” who ought to be annihilated. “The Germans are not human beings,” Ehrenburg wrote, “… If you kill one German, kill another — there is nothing more amusing for us than a heap of German corpses.”
This wasn’t idle talk. The Wehrmacht had taken the lives of 23 million Soviet citizens, roughly half of them civilians. When the tide of the war finally turned, a torrent of Russian forces poured into Germany from the east, and their inexorable advance became an orgy of rape and murder. “They were certainly egged on by Ehrenburg and other Soviet propagandists…” writes journalist Giles McDonough:
Stalinist antifa movements have gravely hurt Germans and fascists through dehumanizing Germans and fascists.
Antifas should stop dehumanizing people and claiming that they can do no good.
The answer to the fascist dehumanization of Jews is not to say, “No! Jews are humans, but Nazis aren’t! Let’s except another group of people from the system of moral rights and obligations that bind humankind together, justifying it by saying that they are less than human and a threat to society.”
The answer is to say, “Everyone is human. Everyone deserves rights. Everyone is fully and always human.”
Let’s review the antifa perspective rationally.
The antifa idea that fascists are not people is simply factually incorrect as well. Fascists are people. They consciously and sentiently exist, have all the traits of people, and are not in general unusual. See here:
[S]tudies of the behavior of people who had committed war crimes, both individually and in groups, concluded that while human nature is not innately cruel and only rare sociopaths can participate in atrocities without suffering lasting emotional harm, such crimes do not require any unusual degree of personal evil or mental illness, and are nearly sure to happen given certain conditions (either accidental or deliberately arranged) which Lifton called “atrocity-producing situations”. The Nazi Doctors was the first in-depth study of how medical professionals rationalized their participation in the Holocaust, from the early stages of the T-4 Euthanasia Program to the extermination camps.
Not only is seeing fascists as monsters incorrect, it also hinders your ability to realize when your own actions become fascistic. This is part of a wartime mentality- that the enemy can do not do any good, you must fight against them, and they are fundamentally subhuman.
When you say that someone is not a person, you are effectively saying that they are morally worthless, and you are setting them up so that you can murder them. This is how it has always ended, and the antifa movement is, too, vulnerable to fascist ideas.
Also, the idea that fascists can do no good ignores that actions are separate from people. If a fascist saves another person from certain death, that is a good action, even though they have an incorrect ideology and have committed other incorrect acts. Similarly, even though he was likely a racist, it is good that Abraham Lincoln tried to prevent the expansion of slavery.
When combined with Part 4, the belief that certain people are not people anymore means that a terribly immense amount of people are not human at all, or that they are edging towards subhumanity. But they are people, and their lives matter.
I argued this point and an antifa stated that I was trying to defend fascists. They claimed that I was saying that “they’re just people too!”. This is not what I am saying. It is good to prevent fascists from killing people, and every human life is important.
Every single human life, worth protecting and defending. I am not sure why this view is “peak liberalism”. This view encapsulates the best argument for social justice that I have yet heard: if every single human life is important, then black lives matter. If every single human life is important, then you can’t throw people under the bus, you can’t play respectability politics, and you will be less likely to make the mistake of genocide.
If there is no way that someone can lose their personhood, then that means that criminals – like Osama bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Muhammad – should be treated well. It means that the death penalty for murderers isn’t a good thing in itself. It means that war crimes are never acceptable, even against terrorists, even against Soviet soldiers- and yes, even against Nazis.
It means that you can’t attack people who haven’t directly attacked you. It means that, even if you’re acting in self-defense, you can’t kill someone after you’ve subdued them.
Every human life is valuable and worth defending.
If you stop believing this- if you start believing that, say, fascists don’t have lives that are valuable -then where do you draw the line? What beliefs are sufficient for you to stop valuing someone’s life?
And what happens after you stop valuing someone’s life? This lack of personhood implies that you would be willing to torture, abuse, and murder fascists, even if they were helpless, even if the war was over, even if you could succeed in protecting people without killing them.
It implies a world where fascists are dead, tortured, or abused is equivalent, in your view, to a world where they are not.
Or it implies something worse- that you prefer a world where more fascists are dead or hurt over one where less fascists are dead or hurt.
This brings us to our next point:
6. To kill or injure our enemies is a good in itself.
The antifa position as I understand it:
Killing fascists is good and injuring fascists is good, because fascists are not people.
Fascists and Stalinists believed this, as evinced by gulags and concentration camps.
Antifas should not believe that killing their enemies is a good in itself, because it leads to accepting horrible consequences and it goes against valuing all people.
Imagine the following hypothetical:
John, a fascist, is walking around eating pizza and not physically attacking anyone. (John has never physically attacked anyone, and there is no reason to believe that he has.) Having heard that he is a fascist, a government agent, Mary, assaults him, bludgeoning him about the head until he is bruised, bleeding, and sobbing. She takes him home and waterboards him, forcing him to stand in stress positions. She then rapes him. John dies the following morning.
The belief that killing and injuring fascists is a good in itself means that John, a human being, has been assaulted, tortured, raped, and finally murdered. If John’s injury and death are inherent goods, then Mary’s actions were correct. This is the inherent logical conclusion of the belief that killing and injuring fascists is good in itself.
I am not sure what to argue if you believe that assault, torture, rape, and murder are acceptable when done to fascists. I hope that this hypothetical shows the unfortunate implications of your view on this, even if you were not convinced by Part 5.
Imagine that you’re looking in from thousands of years in the future, reading the history of the world. Is this incident a good thing, or is it another senseless hurt, a pain that could have been avoided? Could Mary have stopped John from hurting others without hurting him or killing him? Did Mary actually have to stop John?
If your answers are that the incident was not necessary, but it was good, because fascists deserve to die and to be hurt, I ask you to consider the possibility that you or someone you love might have been a fascist in different circumstances, and that you would not want to be dead or hurt.
If you believe that assault, torture, rape, and murder are acceptable when done to fascists, I would ask you to imagine yourself in the fascist’s place. Would you want to be hurt this way, if you were so horribly, wrongly mistaken that you were a fascist?
Imagine that you were born into a racist household. Imagine that you are white, cis, and straight. You lived in a small, isolated town where everyone went to church and the girls all wore long skirts and there was not a single person of color. Your parents taught you from the day that you were born that the transgenders were polluting the country, that being gay would make you go to hell, that even a single deviation from their particular sect of Christianity would be grounds for torture or worse. Every day you’d come home to hear a lecture or another piece of news about how another one of your people, the white people, had been murdered by Jews or raped by blacks or fired, only to be replaced by a Mexican. You’d only heard about Jews and blacks and Mexicans as criminals. And you become increasingly afraid.
Despite this, you end up venturing onto the internet, where you find the fascist and white supremacist movements. You end up making friends, good friends, who grew up in similar environments. You develop a community- in-jokes, memes, whatever.
You also find people – antifas – talking about how white supremacy and how fascism is bad.
What do you want your hypothetical self to find?
Do you want the antifas to be the ones talking about how all human life is desperately important? Do you want the antifas to be the ones who emphasize the value of all humans, every single human life, every single last one, to be protected and defended-
Or do you want the antifas to be the ones advocating for murder? The ones who say things like, “Kill all fascists”, things like, “Fascists aren’t even people”, things like, “We will use any means necessary to kill fascists”?
Remember, your hypothetical friends are all fascists. Everyone you know, your closest family members, talks similarly to fascists. When people talk about killing fascists it makes you physically ill, makes you imagine your best friend dead, your father with his head broken open and red stuff coming out.
You might have been a fascist. You might have loved fascists. They are people and it is a tragedy to kill any person.
And now imagine- if you love people and you have people to love -that the person you love most is a fascist, however implausible this might be. Would you want them to be hurt this way, or do you still want them to be well?
And what’s more, remember what I said about in Part 2 about how fascism uses fear and a sense of being under siege to achieve power and control people?
Well, you’re creating a sense of fear, of alienation, and of siege, which reinforces the fear mindset.
Finally, if you do not love people or have people to love, but still value yourself, I would ask you to look at the game theory. If we decide that murdering or injuring others is a good thing, then they will conclude that it is okay to murder or injure us. Fascists, of course, will murder or injure you without regard to your actions, but other people who are not fascists are still influenced by your actions. They might conclude that, since you murdered or injured others, you are okay with being murdered or injured yourself. This works against your interests because it provides a higher chance of being murdered or injured yourself. Also, attacking fascists makes you vulnerable to retributive attacks and exposes you to risk. (I expect that very few antifas fit this category.)
Typically, this belief is defended by saying that we are in a war, and constantly must defend ourselves from fascists. But even wars ought to be fought by minimizing casualties and harms.
I hope that my writing has convinced you to change your mind. Let’s recap the antifa statements and my responses.
1. We are in a war. The war mindset creates fear and impedes thinking.
2. Be afraid of our enemies. Fear creates distorted thinking.
3. Don’t argue- that makes us vulnerable and hurts our members. Safe spaces are highly important, but in order to avoid groupthink and a vulnerability to being incorrect without correction, there should also be spaces where it is acceptable to argue.
4. If you try argue, you are an apologist for the enemy. This label and its connotations extends too far, without a clear limit. It stifles possibly-accurate dissent (see Point 3). Instead, antifas should focus on countering arguments.
5. Our enemies are not people, and can do no good. Fascists are people, and can do good.
6. To kill or injure our enemies is a good in itself. Killing or injuring people, even fascists, is to be avoided whenever possible, because of our moral intuitions and game theory. Sometimes killing people is necessary, but it is never an end goal in itself.
Next Up: A Tangentially Relevant Explanation and Defense of Free Expression
“Fascists only respect violence. Liberals are prostrate in front of the altar of ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘the market of ideas’.”
See Also: how we should counter fascism instead
 – I am not sure what to say if you think that these are not true accounts of events. I don’t think we’d have much common ground here, but if you believe that these events were not true the rest of the argument is still applicable.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that Ozy has hosted an Intellectual Turing Test on their blog. I participated as a pro-SJ, and wrote SJ #9 and ASJ #6. The test has now ended and I scored fairly highly! 🙂
I entered the ITT as a sort of test for myself- how well did I understand SJ? How well did I understand ASJ? I tend to enjoy this sort of faking/lying/manipulating type of thing, and was eager to craft my responses to deceive while remaining mostly honest to the letter.
In this post, I’ll look at which of the positions I endorse and how they fit together in general. I’ll also try to address interesting objections or comments along the way.
However, and this is an important thing to note, I didn’t include intersex issues in my SJ post. This is unfortunate, and I think that sex binaries, access to medical records, and less stigma on intersex people are really important issues.
I think that I should do something to mitigate this failure, but I am not really sure what it would be since the time appears to have passed for such actions.
1. What discourse norms do you tend to follow? Why? Do you think everyone else should follow them, and why?
I am extremely accepting to other viewpoints. I try to ignore my own emotional responses for the comfort of the other person and for the sake of open, but I accept that I often fail. I respond respectfully, though perhaps condescendingly; the condescension is not on purpose. If I am upset, I will tend to simply not respond to the other person’s arguments or statements.
This is because I have had painful experiences with angry people and find that such discourse styles limit free thought and don’t allow for changing one’s mind.
I believe that everyone should attempt to obey this discourse norm so that others feel safe, though if they cannot I am willing to forgive them. I want to be able to change my mind or not change my mind without emotional pressure or social stakes, so I consequently would appreciate if others were unaggressive and polite. I accept that some people might have emotional responses due to personal connections of lived experiences, but that is no excuse for treating others disrespectfully, although ignoring or shunning others is of course acceptable on an individual level.
Completely true and absolutely sincere. I anterrified of angry people, even – maybe even especially! – when they are on my side. On the other hand, I know that sometimes people are read as angry even when they aren’t due to race or other factors, and that’s not fair. I also want to optimize for correct opinions, and accepting and listening to people expressing anger even when I am afraid is a part of that.
My blog policy reflects this balance between me being scared of anger, and me realizing that anger and coarseness can sometimes be valuable contributions. (Soon, quite soon, probably next week, I will write something about freedom of speech and emotion.)
As I state, I am occasionally condescending on accident. I don’t mean to be, so apologies in advance (or in hindsight).
I will tend to respect other people’s viewpoints, but only if they seem reasonable as well. I don’t talk to people who seem like idiots or who seem to treat others poorly.
I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with so-called “SJWs”. I disagreed on really minor points – like regarding whether it was a good idea to not read straight white cis men’s books -, and often these disagreements would spark all-caps text accusing me of shedding man-tears, which is pretty rich since at that time I wasn’t identifying as a man (and even now I don’t fully identify as a man). People were immensely rude to me.
I’m not rude to others, and I would prefer that others do the same for me. My viewpoints shouldn’t be dismissed just because I don’t have maximum Oppression Points or whatever; they should be evaluated based on their own merit.
Fully endorsed and almost completely sincere and true, as most commentors speculated.
In fact, however, I eagerly book with idiots and occasionally try to talk to people who treat others poorly. Epistemic virtue is important to me, as is honing my ability to convince others on their own terms.
But I do avoid people I don’t like, people who don’t argue in good faith, or people who just don’t make any sense whatsoever to me, so this is true in a looser sort of way.
Someone brought up an interesting point- the man tears bit and how my response was basically “lol I’m not really a man haha”, instead of the more typical “accusations of hysteria have been used against women throughout history”.
This is a good point, but my point here was linked to my later answer in part 2 about assuming that identity groups are monoliths, addressed more comprehensively and lucidly here. I actually share the same issue with “lol man tears” feminism, and after this aspect was pointed out, I wished I could have added that. I’ve covered this issue more extensively here.
There’s not much to corroborate here. Both are almost entirely true, with a few exaggerations or vague word choices. They are consistent with each other.
2. What is the true reason, deep down, that you believe what you believe? What piece of evidence, test, or line of reasoning would convince you that you’re wrong about your ideology?
Some commentors noted that my ASJ entry sounded far more emotionally honest than my SJ entry.
I’m emotionally aligned with ASJ, but I agree with SJ on most object issues and in my general worldview. The SJ-ish jargon and rhetoric I use was heavily influenced by what I read when I was coming of age politically. So good on those who noticed it.
As for the rest, I think I’ll divide this part into the issues at stake. Don’t worry, it’s not half as incoherent as the SJ entry. 😉
Queerness and Gender
Almost all of my friends are sexuality-queer. I am bisexual. I would be upset if their love, and I suppose mine, were opposed or shamed or delegitimized due to gender.
I am bi-gender. I care deeply for my trans friends and I would defend them to the last drop of blood. I am saddened to see that they (and I suppose I’m included in this) would be disbelieved, hurt or discriminated against due to their genders. Cissexism and cisnormativity are both illogical and make no sense.
If there was clear evidence that the acceptance of non-straight sexuality resulted in unhappiness, inevitable painful dysfunction in life in general and in relationships even without homophobia and biphobia, or some kind of bizarre existential risk, like the invasion of aliens, and there was no plausible way to mitigate these results, then I would accept that my views were wrong.
If there were some evidence that transgenderism caused unhappiness, inevitable painful dysfunction in life in general and in relationships even without transphobia, or some kind of bizarre existential risk, and there were no plausible way to mitigate these risks, then I would accept that my views were wrong.
Maybe this is a bit weak-sounding, and I may have over-emphasized why I would change my mind.
I mostly stand by this. I would have written the “what would change my mind” portions differently, so that the part about transgenderism instead read something like “if there were evidence that transitioning was ineffective and that trans people inevitably died at higher rates, then I would change my mind and stop supporting and promoting transition” or something. In general I would have been clearer about exactly what belief I was going to be changing.
I think that some commentors were confused as to what my general philosophy was, so I’ll clarify.
Amusingly enough for a pro-SJ, I don’t believe in justice as such. My philosophy is some kind of classic-liberal contractarian philosophy, grounded in hypotheticals and amateur game theory, rather than a particular morality, as such. I typically value personal autonomy fairly highly, often above happiness, but my explanations of what I would actually change my mind on were likely overly vague and hence confusing.
There was someone who speculated that I was autistic. I do not know if I am autistic or not, but I’d like to be because it brings me closer to the Treasured Ingroup. I don’t think I am, though – maybe vaguely neurodivergent, but probably not autistic and probably within three standard deviations from the mean. Maybe?
Eliezer Yudkowsky’s decision theory was also mentioned, and I am pleased because Eliezer Yudkowsky is clearly the rightful caliph. I do in fact credit him for most of my philosophical structure.
I don’t think that gender is altogether a bad thing, and I fear that gender abolitionists don’t understand what they’re demolishing. Dysphoria’s horrible; but I also think that the most transcendent experiences in my life have been linked to my understanding of my own gender. The ways that I’ve imagined my ideal self in the mirror are in fact deeply connected to typical gender norms- imagining myself as a man in a dress, myself with long hair and looking like a girl, but “actually” being a boy, myself as a lovely femboy. And the way I experience attraction to others- oftentimes the way I perceive someone as attractive or not is directly linked to their gender. Does that make me a sexist? Does that enforce patriarchy? Of course not, and it doesn’t have to.
I would change my opinion here if it was shown that gender relied on patriarchy and that my experiences were the product of something else.
Maybe this was a bit unfair to the gender abolitionists, especially ones like Ozy, but I stand by it.
Societal gender is very important to me, and I am scared that it will be threatened; this is relevant to a lot of things, particularly Reconstructionism and a sort of unpolished essay viz. gender and transness that I’ve already written but which requires a lot of editing. It’s also a perspective I’ve come to by listening to my opponents, which is also an upcoming post.
I’ve mostly read very trans-positive gender abolitionists, like radtransfem.wordpress.com; but I really enjoyed reading the speculation about my potential transmasculine experiences. 🙂 It made my day to be referred to as transmasculine and I kind of want it to happen again.
I also enjoyed reading the comments by trans women about their experiences with gender abolitionism; I was obsessed with gender for around a year and one commentor in particular was on target. Gender was my main personal connection to SJ, given that I’m white-cultured and pretty much privileged in every other way.
So the consensus view here is that trans people and queers are valuable, that I would change my mind on specific things if it were shown that they were not beneficial under my philosophical system, and that I am afraid of gender abolitionism and in favor of some social norms.
(Also I like being called transmasculine.)
I didn’t have much to say about privilege here; in fact, I don’t mention it once!
I personally really dislike the idea, and that’s probably subconsciously affected my SJW paradigm.
But I do think that it’s occasionally useful; it was really a wake-up call for my 8th grade self about how privileged she was. Soooo I don’t want to abandon it completely.
Regarding this, a lot of leftists seem to think that every single member of an identity group agrees with the social justice consensus. This is completely false. Again, like with the man tear thing, it seems like a lot of social justice thinks it can categorize people into a label based on their actions, which I understand is actually a fairly sexist thing!
I would change my opinion on this if every single member of an identity group spontaneously began agreeing on something.
The whole idea of privilege also doesn’t make sense to me. A lot of social justice norms seem aimed at creating what Julia Serano calls a reverse discourse, this whole idea where privileged people need to shut the hell up and make space for others to talk. And honestly, this can be a really toxic dynamic. There are lots of sj type messages that say “It’s okay if you, an Oppressed Person, get angry with people and hurt them and can’t be civil in an argument”, and I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong, but look, okay, it implies that an Oppressed Person must get angry with people and be uncivil, and it implies that allies, in order to be properly Inclusive, must get angry with people and hurt then and become uncivil, and if you’re not visibly angry and you’re not hurting anyone and you’re civil, then you must be not a real Oppressed Person or not being a good ally or whatever.
And it also implies that, if you say something Oppressive, then clearly you deserve to be spoken harshly to. You deserve to be shamed and shunned and yelled at and all you get to do is apologize and if your opinion still differs then by God you’re an awful person. This is terrifying.
This reverse discourse also results in bad things like how, if a Privileged Person tries to say anything on a given subject, then they’re seen as “talking over” Oppressed People. “Talking over” other people is a horrible concept and it should be retired; the amount of times I’ve seen someone silenced or afraid to speak up because they didn’t want to “talk over” other people far outnumbers the amount of times I’ve seen the concept used to shut up an asshole who truly was speaking over others.
Some sj seems to really discourage empathy, as well. If someone’s talking about their experiences as a truly oppressed person, then the SJ Norm is for everyone else to shut up unless they’re a member of identity group x. They’re not allowed to relate their own experiences. They’re not allowed to have their own stories or their own connections. They’re allowed to listen and be Good Allies. And of course, there are some places for that. But in real life, conversations need more than one participant. And I’m afraid that this norm will end up making it so people of different backgrounds can’t relate to each other as well, so that there’s this crushing feeling of not-understanding, even if it isn’t necessarily the only option.
This relates to the idea that, if someone isn’t a member of a marginalized group, then it must be okay to hurt them and speak over them. And it also relates to how sometimes the sj-inclined act like power dynamics in the larger society apply to their sj group, when power can actually be distributed quite differently within subcultures.
I would change my opinion on the benefits of this reverse discourse if it appeared to actually aid people, or if sj started using it better.
Vehemently endorsed, with the caveat that I expressed my views far more aggressively than I would if not writing for the ITT. I think that privilege aids people sometimes, but hold a proportionally less extreme version of the above.
I also have since come up with the theory that privilege is a way of enforcing ideological conformity and creating Others. This also relates to freedom of speech, solidarity across oppressions, effective activism, and a general evaluation of privilege as an ideal and as it is used, all of which are things I will soon write about.
So the consensus view here is that privilege is an incredibly painful idea, but it sometimes aids people.
Women’s Rights and Intra-Societal Racial Issues
It’s wrong that people are treated unfairly, and it’s wrong that people’s autonomy is violated. I would be sad if I were a woman or a person of color or a female person of color who had been treated unfairly or abused due to my gender and/or race, so I must oppose patriarchy and white supremacy and support women’s rights and the rights of racial minorities. It is easy to imagine a likeable person of color and/or a likeable woman, and their needs are no less important than mine on a logical consequentialist level, so clearly it is important that they are treated well.
If women and people of color were shown to not be people with feelings (e.g. they were conclusively shown to be p-zombies), then I would change my opinion to place less priority on their “rights”. If women were shown to make suboptimal decisions that they later regretted, and paternal support altered their outcomes significantly in a way that made women happier, I would stop supporting women’s rights. If people of color were shown to a net bad effect – e.g., immigrants destroyed the economy, black people were all criminals – even without white supremacy in place, then I would alter my opinion thus.
Endorsed, mostly. You can see Yudkowsky’s decision theory really clearly here. The part about easily imagining a likable woman and/or person of color was a little weird, but it serves as an explanation of the emotion reasoning.
I have not established egalitarian consequentialism, as a particularly astute commentor noted, but in fact I don’t endorse egalitarian consequentialism. People who can produce higher utilons for less effort should be focused on over the less utility-monstrous, because the origin of utilons doesn’t matter.
This would obviously lead to some really stupid things like tiling the world with insert whatever, except that no one actually wants to tile, almost no one wants to be made into an optimal utility-producing tile (probably some hedonics, but probably rather few preference tiles), and it would thus violate the social contract.
(I will discuss this more. In another post.)
The part where I talk about immigration is still interesting to me. In general, I think that accepting immigrants is probably a net good and it likely works towards Pareto optimality. But it’s still interesting to think about the hypotheticals- like, what if each individual immigrant is okay until they reach critical mass and start establishing TERRORIST GROUPS and FIFTH COLUMNS and-
but anyway, I am pretty sure that empirically that does not happen, but if it did I would definitely have to reevaluate my views. There are too many unknown variables for me to specify the criteria I would have, but I would definitely scrutinize my fairly-vague opinions more closely.
As for women and being taken care of by their fathers, I can see why the happiness of women would be a weird thing to change my mind over. But there’s also the argument that this is just a weird valley between two wonderful absolutes, Lord Patriarch’s Female Slave World and Feminatopia, and there’s no going back to Lord Patriarch’s Female Slave World so we had better progress until we get to Feminatopia, as Scott Alexander argues here.
In order to get me to change my opinion on this, the arguer would have to convince me that Feminatopia doesn’t exist, because, say, “women are stupid and can’t optimize their own preferences”; or that Feminatopia necessarily had sufficiently awful consequences for utility.
For some reason, I don’t at all address police brutality, but rest assured that I think the criminal justice system needs to be reformed.
Some of the stranger hypotheticals were absurd and offensive. That’s why they are hypotheticals rather than things I already believe.
…I don’t discuss women’s rights at all. Or racial issues. At all. Probably this is a good thing?
I do discuss men’s issues in detail here, though:
Sexism, by the way, is something that a lot of feminists ignore when it’s against men. Yes, there’s sexism against men. There is misandry. And a lot of times feminism seems to reinforce this message of misandry. Of judging men by their appearances. Of claims of “mansplaining”, as if anyone could tell someone else’s gender socialization or their position of power through a somewhat condescending explanation. Of presumptions that men are rapists and always sex-hungry, which play into the erasure of male rape survivors. Even that people attracted to women – mostly straight men – are inherently predatory or disgusting, which is couched in feminist language like “objectification”.
I would change my opinion on this if it was shown that, as a societal pattern, men were not subject to prejudice, and I would change my opinion on sj’s opinion on this if more feminists and sjs talked about men’s issues.
The consensus is that racism is bad and patriarchy hurts everyone. Original, I know.
Imperialism, Colonialism, Capitalism
Imperialism is clearly wrong. It’s just plain mean, and it involves violating people’s autonomy and telling them what to do. Colonialism means stealing people’s land and destroying their culture. That’s not a good thing. I’m not really sure how else to articulate this, but it just seems like a mean thing to do and I would be emotionally upset if I saw something like this happening. In the present day, it’s important to make sure that imperial and colonial structures aren’t replicated or utilized because of the disastrous results in history.
If imperialism was shown to actually have better results, measured in happiness and unbiased opinion polls, than a lack of imperialism, then I would change my historical opinion. If taking people’s land arbitrarily was shown to have good effects in the long run, or was shown necessary to prevent atrocities such as the Holocaust, I would alter my historical opinion. If taking people’s land and exploiting them was shown to not only have a net positive result, but also to be better than all other options, then I would change my opinion of the present day.
I really don’t know much about imperialism and colonialism, but better minds than me have decided that it’s probably wrong. Also, social contract theory.
I vacillate between eudaemonic, hedonic, and preference utilitarianism, so the day I wrote this essay must have been a hedonic day.
You’ll note that I bring up the Holocaust in both essays, which makes sense since it has shaped my worldview quite significantly since I read Night.
On a somewhat different note- I really dislike some sj denunciations of capitalism. Capitalism has wrought an immense amount of benefit for the world. It’s one of the only reliable ways to raise countries out of poverty; and it has uplifted something like billions of people. It is the engine of the people’s choices and autonomy. The “crises” of capitalism haven’t been particularly bad compared to the crises before capitalism. It’s only because people don’t multiply that they don’t realize that peasant life and serf life haven’t been that great for peasants and serfs. That the old orders of certain countries have been corrupt and despotic and terrible, and that they have hurt far more poor people than capitalism has. Living standards have almost always gone up after a country industrializes and modernizes.
I would change my opinion on this if it were shown that capitalism was a net bad for the world, or if it were shown that coercion, exploitation, and (actual) imperialism by conquest were inherent aspects of capitalism.
And as for international interventions. I don’t buy that Western countries should always, always stay out of other countries. Maybe preventing genocide or destroying prison camps is imperialistic, but, um, does it matter? Yes, America in particular often has human rights abuses of its own, such as torture or prison camps or nuclear weapons, I’m not denying that, but this hypocrisy isn’t reason to let other countries also have nuclear weapons or prison camps! America, as the only remaining superpower, has a responsibility, as articulated by philosophical perspectives on the Holocaust, to prevent atrocities, even if it hurts her people, even if she must spend billions upon billions of dollars upon defense, even if she has no interests in a given region. The American revolution wasn’t won by Americans- it was won by the French allies.
When I wrote this, it was fully endorsed, but my views on capitalism have changed since then. I still agree with the spirit, but would have defended capitalism less stridently now.
The part about interventionism is… complicated, but I think I still agree with it.
Otherkin and Ableism
We should be nice to people who aren’t hurting anyone and who seem to be doing what works for them.
If it were shown that being otherkin had deletorious effects, even with, say, a universal basic income or a solid community, then I would change my opinion.
Disabled people are people, and if I were disabled I would want accommodations and validation and autonomy.
If it were shown that disabled people weren’t able to make good decisions and in fact did not benefit from accommodations on average, then I would change my opinion on this.
Neither of my selves have strong opinions on otherkin or the (mentally and/or physically) disabled. I realize that this is a larger problem within feminism, but I really don’t have that much status in convincing people of things.
So, sorry, yeah. I do care, but I doubt that my efforts would actually be useful to the disability rights movement relative to the inputs required. But I’m definitely willing to read articles or things if anyone wants to send me them! 🙂
And if I somehow become influential, I will definitely mention important issues about disability rights (universal basic income is relevant here, right? as is slashing/implementing various legislation viz. suicide?). If I become close to a disabled person I will definitely do more research about their disability in particular!
Consensus is that forced institutionalization is usually bad, stopping people from well-considered suicide is usually bad, effective accommodations are usually good, and that judging people for having non-normative features is usually bad.
3. Explain Gamergate.
I had no clue what Gamergate was, and it showed.
I had some valuable points about objectification and love in the ASJ section, but otherwise it was pretty much clueless.
Consensus opinion is that Zoe Quinn is an abuser and that objectification isn’t that bad.
So this was my write-up concerning the ITT.
As a summary:
Intersex issues are important, I like respecting other people’s viewpoints and trying to meet them on their own terms, privilege makes me feel anxious and discredited, men are very oppressed, and contractarian autonomy is very important for maximizing utility.
Articles that I Need to Write
Tiling Problems (0%)
Gender Abolitionism and Transness (80%)
Effective Activism (40%)
Freedom of Speech (30%)
including something about emotions
Solidarity Across Oppressions (0%)
Different Types and Usages of “Privilege” (30%)
Anti-Colonialism: Why It’s Kind of Irritating (0%)
Articles That I Have Somehow Written!
[epistemic status: wholeheartedly endorsed, but more informal than usual as it’s a slightly edited speech I gave]
In my social circles, both in real life and online, I’ve noticed something quite odd. It’s become common for my friends to make derogatory comments about straight white cis men – to refer sneeringly to how violent they are, how much they lack emotional depth, or just as this sort of all-encompassing figure of evil.
My knee-jerk reaction here is to object to generalizations and stereotypes in general. But at the same time, though, I don’t know how many of my friends have actually been seriously hurt by straight white cis men, or how much of it is actually directed against the structures that give straight white cis males more power, or whatever.
And I also think it’s true, that straight white cis males are given more power by society.
And so I haven’t really spoken up much.
But in spite of all these valid objections, I think that in the aggregate it’s still a problem. Let’s look at the content of these statements a bit more closely.
The first argument made by this type of statement is its denigration of male weakness. For example: “#masculinity so fragile”.
Fragile masculinity is part of a patriarchal gender role. It says that, in order to be seen as “real men”, men have to do all this crazy shit. They’re not supposed to not wear dresses or to be emotionally vulnerable and in general not be feminine. And they’re all straight, very very straight, and definitely not gay; and they have to make sure that everyone around them is very very straight and definitely not gay as well. They’ve got to have large penises, because God forbid that they are intersex or something shameful like that.
(And they’ve also got to buy hair shampoos that smell like log cabins for some reason.)
And all in all it’s a quite oppressive structure. Gender conformity is enforced by peers, by parents, by teachers, by both men and women (and probably nonbinaries too). Sometimes it’s just through social ostracism, but at the worst extremes it’s through assault, through hate crimes, or through abuse.
Naturally this seems like a classical issue that feminism should really be concerned with! Like, destroying gender roles is literally one of the keystone parts of feminism.
But what you see happening instead is that some, perhaps a large number of, feminists see these men being forced into oppressive gender roles, which of course don’t fit perfectly, which are hard to fit in, and you see them pointing and laughing. This was something that I fell into at one point, actually, and I think it’s hard to realize that this is what you’re doing from the inside.
For example, there are these stupid ass shampoos that they sell that smell like log cabins, remember.
And so it was a proud moment for me when some “feminist” accounts posted them with the comments, “lol can’t believe men need this to shore up their fragile masculinities haha”.
Such a proud moment; I can’t tell you how proud I was.
Let’s look at people who’ve been forced into an oppressive gender role from literally the moment they’ve been born – or sometimes later – and let’s point and laugh, because it’s fragile and pathetic that they’re trying to avoid being physically abused and socially ostracised. Let’s look at products that people actually buy because it makes them feel more comfortable in their identified gender, and let’s point and laugh, at the people buying it! Let’s look at stupid ass products made up by the media, constructed by corporations, and created by sexism; and blame it on men! Despite the fact that similar stupid ass products are marketed to women!
And by the way, I don’t mean “reverse sexism” or something. This is sexism bona fide, traditional sexism that has forced everyone into incredibly narrow gender roles. And it’s also ableism to make fun of weakness, to treat “fragile man tears” as blood in the water, and it’s ableism that’s related to misogyny- because crying and weakness, remember, are often associated with femininity.
And guess who else is often hurt by trying to fit into the oppressive male gender role? Oh, that’s right. Trans people assigned male at birth. Completely slipped my mind. I’m going to make fun of people struggling desperately to fit into the male gender role because there is no one except for Evil Shitlord Cishet White Men who could possibly be hurt by it. Yes, cishet. Because it’s not like trans men or nonbinaries assigned female at birth could be influenced by male gender roles or anything like that, right?
And who gives a shit about the precious fee-fees of Evil Shitlord Oppressor Men, anyway? Not me!
Look, yeah, gender policing or homophobia or whatever because of fragile masculinity is shit, and it sucks, and in that context I don’t mind complaining about it. But otherwise, you should think long and hard about whether you want to talk about fragile masculinity.
The second argument made by this type of statement is its assumption of inherent male violence. When I look up “male violence”, on the first page of results, I find a charming little article, on a prominent feminist site, all about how “men don’t like being reminded of the fact that their sex class is demonstrably, undeniably, indisputably… more violent than ours”. The article then started talking about how “they do this shit, … and then they have the nerve to get offended when women are suspicious of them”.
And holy fuck, no.
The author tries to play it off as “regardless of race, religion, or class”. But you do not get to de-racialize, de-religionize, and de-class an issue that is intrinsically related to race, religion, and class.
The idea of men as these inherently violent, white woman-abusing class is racial. The worst lynchings and murders in American history are based on “defending” white women from “inherently violent” black men. The fear of nonwhite men, particularly Latinos, defiling the white women and attacking law-abiding white citizens, is the core of Trump’s case against immigrants and the core of the abusive and brutal policing of racial minorities. And let’s not even get into the way that Arab and Muslim men are seen by society as this evil terrorist threat, who keep white women in harems and attack white Americans.
Let’s not get into the way that seeing men as inherently violent was used to keep (white) women indoors, cloistered virgins protected by their fathers against the brutish poor men, who must be kept away from them at all costs.
Let’s not address the fact that neurodivergent men are routinely painted as monstrous threats, who therefore must be placed in institutions against their will or forcibly medicated because they are psychotic and freaks and dangerous to society , because they stand too close and walk too oddly or because they have hallucinations and delusions, and this must make them the next school shooter. Let’s ignore that physically disabled men and disabled people are by turns degendered or constructed as monsters by this analysis.
Let’s not address the way that this narrative of men as inherently violent, combined with transphobia, oppresses trans people assigned male at birth, who must therefore be prevented from infiltrating cis women’s bathrooms and cis women’s feminism and cis women’s spaces. Let’s ignore the way that this shames and guilts trans men and nonbinaries of any asab. Let’s ignore the way that these direct aggressive attacks on men and masculinity exacerbate scrupulosity.
No, let’s ignore all of that and focus on how oppressed neurotypical cisgender white women are. By men. #Yes All Men.
And this isn’t just one article! In articles in this vein, it’s routinely stated that men are creepy, that assault against (white) women is just this huge huge problem that is all the fault of men, that sexual assault is inherently a gendered crime of a man against a woman, and that the violence primarily runs one way, man against woman.
And the thing is that, in addition to the other issues that seeing men as inherently violent has, it’s dangerous as well.
It’s dangerous because it allows for the erasure of male victims of abuse. The conversation around violent assault and domestic abuse is often explicitly focused on males as the abusers and women as the victims. This erases male victims, female abusers, and non-straight instances of abuse. By law, donations can only go to women’s domestic violence centers, not men’s. Women are less likely to be convicted of crimes than men. And the legal definition of rape requires penetration to “count”, excluding rape by envelopment and instances of non-straight rape. Male survivors of domestic abuse are sometimes accused of “really” being the abusers themselves, and feminist movements rally around female abusers like Zoe Quinn.
This construction of men as inherently or even mostly violent plays into sexist gender roles and stereotypes.
Because it’s not a coincidence that people who society sees as male, that the ones who are oppressed on other axes are constructed as these threatening caricatures of violence. It’s because of race and ethnicity and class, it’s because of neurodiversity and not actually being a man; and it’s also because of the way that gender roles intersect with these oppressions.
The gendered construction  a man under patriarchy is that of violence. Masculinity and men are constructed as inherently violent and as inherently threats.
And this construction is part of what colors nonwhite men, poor men, neurodivergent men, and trans people assigned male at birth as violent aggressors. And making sure to specify that it’s not nonwhite men, poor men, or neurodivergent men doesn’t actually help any of those men! The ~feminist~ construction still feeds into stereotypes of trans people assigned male at birth as aggressive, invasive aggressors. The construction still reinforces patriarchy. And it does erase the straight white cis male victims of violence.
Men are not inherently or primarily violent. Power dynamics do not flow in one direction. We forget this at others’ peril.
The third argument made by this type of statement is its construction of straight male sexuality as defilement. Like everything else here I’ve discussed here, the construction of male sexuality as defilement doesn’t originate in feminism. It originates in society. (White) women were encouraged to remain inside, prim and proper and pure and modest, away from the defiling gaze of men. The institution of marriage was created in part to “protect” women from onlookers. The famous Madonna-Whore complex describes a man who cannot see his beloved as sexual, for she is too pure for his dirty desires; and simultaneously he cannot see a prostitute as worthy of love, for she has been defiled.
The ways that these structures hurt women have been well-documented, and it is well that they have been. But their root lies not only in misogyny, but also in the patriarchal construction of maleness and masculinity as defilement.
The most recent manifestation of this has been the unending castigations of straight male sexuality: for looking at women, for enjoying books and video games with attractive nubile women, for undressing women in their minds. And these criticisms certainly have value; women aren’t public objects, to be gawked at and objectified, nor should the only female representation in media be a flat character with extremely nonflat breasts.
But sometimes the criticism has gone too far. Certain brands of feminist rhetoric denounce simultaneously the intrusiveness of ever being asked out by a (creepy) man and the entitlement of a (creepy) man waiting for women to ask him out, insisting that the only reason that a man might stand close to someone or talk too much is because he is creepy. The anti-objectification movement has at times decried the practice of ever looking at pictures of nubile women with large breasts.
It would be bad enough if only cishet straight white men were negatively affected by this; no one should feel ashamed of their sexuality in and of itself, nor should they be shamed for social awkwardness or shyness.
But, predictably, the reinforcement of negative stereotypes of “male” sexuality has negative effects for people who are oppressed on other axes.
Women who are attracted to other women, for example, or really anyone attracted to women, are shamed by this rhetoric if their sexualities are “male” and not properly pure and female. Trans and gender nonconforming people assigned male at birth have been attacked for their sexualities and genders as perverts and deceivers. Neurodivergent and socially awkward men in particular are shamed for their social behavior, and the overtly accusatory nature of this rhetoric exacerbates anxiety and depression. So-called “chasers” are constructed as monsters in this rhetoric, which of course has spillover effects on trans people.
And male rape victims are sometimes dismissed with victim-blaming rhetoric that insists they must have wanted it, because of the construction of male sexuality as ever-present and all-wanting.
Gender essentialism and sexuality-shaming are never acceptable, and while feminist critiques of straight male behavior are entirely necessary and welcome, their negative implications and effects on non-straight males and non-straight non-males must be considered.
Typically, pretty much everyone would realize that making large generalizations about large groups of people, generalizations that use traditional prejudices structurally embedded in society, was kind of sketchy, and they’d stop. But that’s not what’s happening here.
And I think it’s because we’re encouraged to see straight white cis males as Literally the Most Privileged Shitlords, who we’re allowed to mock. It’s like they’ve become the Other, those outsiders who we identify against because we know that they can’t be hurt, or if they are hurt it is acceptable to mock them.
But the thing is that, yeah, straight white cis males are privileged as a class. But at the same time, there are real and true structural injuries against the Privileged Shitlords too, on account of and inseparable from their maleness and their straightness- and because of intersectionality, inseparable from their cisness and whiteness as well.
And insulting straight white cis men on gendered grounds can’t be separated from insulting all men, or all people seen as men, or all people who share that behavior or attribute. There is necessarily and inherently damage and hurt involved in sexist generalizations about men due to the way that maleness and masculinity intersect with other oppressions.
And the fact that people don’t seem to realize this, it makes me pretty damn uncomfortable.
We don’t teach our boys to love and yet they do, they do love and they are vulnerable and they are emotional; and that’s the thing, the entire thing of it, that patriarchy doesn’t make people inhuman and hollow and empty, because it can’t, even though it tries.
The feminism that I love, the feminism that I would love, knows this. It knows that people are people and that men are capable of love and vulnerability and legitimate hurt.
It knows that power doesn’t flow one way and that oppressions are myriad. It knows that it first and foremost it needs to do good, and only after does it need to look good.
It knows that activism doesn’t mean screaming at people or demanding ideological conformity. It knows that listening and caring and hearing others is important and valuable and necessary.
It knows that men aren’t the enemy. It knows that misandry as a societal structure exists in both gender roles and in a hatred and disgust for men.
It knows that men are sometimes oppressed, and that women sometimes have privilege.
And this vision isn’t what feminism looks like now.
I owe a lot of my thoughts here to these sources, especially the Unit of Caring.
 – These parts were edited based on Aapje’s comments here:
I would argue that the hyperagent role that is forced on men results in their behavior being far more often regarded as their own choice and/or indicative of their true character, while women are more often regarded as victims of circumstance. So when a man behaves in socially maladapted way, it is far more likely that he is classified as a ‘creep’. When a woman behaves similarly, people will look harder for explanations that do not reflect on her character (‘she is just drunk’). When no (somewhat reasonable) external explanation is available, she would most likely be called ‘crazy.’
The connotation of ‘creep’ is primarily that one is a threat to women, while ‘crazy’ is more neutral. So in the terms we also see the sexist assumption that socially maladapted men are a threat specifically to women, but not vice versa.
Note that feminism usually does address the other side of the same medal, for example that women are assumed to be less capable than men or that workplace successes are less likely to be credited to them.
Ironically, because the downsides to the male gender role are often downplayed, feminism quite often becomes male normative, where behavior that is forced on men is regarded as the endpoint of an equal society. For example, it is often assumed that an equal number of women would want climb the ladder to become CEO or high-level politician, even though society conditions men to work long hours, accept worse working conditions even if they don’t really need the money, accept not spending a lot of time with the kids, etc.
So where for many feminists a relative lack of female CEOs is considered to reflect oppression of women, I think that it primarily shows that men are strongly conditioned to sacrifice quality of life for rather useless status and money that they don’t have time to (meaningfully) spend.
Scrupulosity, Objectification, and Trans Obsession: Part 1…
Serano’s Why Myriad Oppressions
[a followup to the girlfags post]
Before I came out to myself as trans, I was absolutely obsessed with trans people. I spent all of my free time reading Julia Serano and tsroadmap and Not Another Aedan and Quora’s Transgender topic and Jack Molay’s Crossdreamers site. I followed trans accounts on Instagram. I read Ozy’s blog and their Tumblr tag speshul snowflake trans and virtually anything else I could find of theirs.
My entire goddamn life was centered around transness.
But most of all I was obsessed with the stories and bodies of trans women. I was desperate for transfemininity and transfemaleness. I would scour pictures of trans women and analyze them for male and female traits. I would read tips for dilating after surgery and articles by Andrea James about facial feminization surgery .
And worst of all I would stare at trans girls at my school, and then I would quickly look away, hoping I hadn’t made any of them feel objectified or ashamed.
This entire obsession, however, was not pleasant. I would often feel an aching in my chest, a certain empathy and relation and identification-with. I once read a post about binding safely for trans men, and then went to bed feeling quite strange because it felt uncomfortably close to home. It felt like my heart was breaking and becoming exalted at the same time.
Of course, I rationally attributed this to intruding on a trans space as an Evil Cis Oppressor. Obviously.
And all through this I told myself that I was just being a good cis ally for my trans male friend.
And all through this I felt slightly dirty and guilty.
You see, I had a major crush on him that was very directly related to his transness. I obsessed about his transition. I obsessed about his masculinity. I obsessed over his experience and felt extreme joy when he told me about his successes and disappointments in coming out. I desperately wondered how it must have been for him, to live as the wrong gender and to be treated as the wrong gender.
But all through that year, I never asked him about it. I had read all of the requisite guides for cis allies, and all of them were in agreement: don’t ask intrusive questions. Don’t ask a trans person a question you wouldn’t ask a cis person. Don’t bring “it” up. Don’t pressure trans people into telling you things; wait for them to initiate.
And so I concluded that any questions about transness, any curiosity, any scrutiny, were pressure and transphobia and unfair. And so when I finally asked him a question – how he knew that he was male – it was only after months and months of internal obsession, and I felt guilty and as though I ought to apologize to him immediately afterwards. I worried that I had pressured him or that he now felt that he was illegitimate.
It was only after I was almost entirely sure that I was some kind of weirdly-gendered that we were able to have a conversation about transness and gender and experimentation.
And in addition to the typical guides for cis allies, there was the omniscient “chaser” classification. It was a rather ambiguous term, but the meaning that I absorbed was “anyone who is ever attracted to trans people, especially but not limited to trans women, who is interested in their transness, which is BAD BAD BAD”.
Reading these articles, I became increasingly worried. Was I objectifying trans people? Was I hurting the people I admired and respected by thinking they were more beautiful than cis people? Was I pedestalizing them by even caring about trans issues?
And so it was only after I had already realized that I was trans that I told my friend that I had a crush on him. Because otherwise I would be a disgusting cis person forcing myself on a trans person. And I would be seeing him as beautiful, possibly due to or related to his transness (which, remember, I was hyperfocused on). And that would be BAD and EVIL and WRONG because it was not Official Social Justice Approved (TM)
and then he would HATE ME and it would all be MY FAULT and EVERYONE I KNEW WOULD HATE ME and our entire friendship would be DESTROYED and maybe he would just be TOO UPSET TO EVEN TALK TO ME and I WOULDN’T KNOW I HAD FUCKED UP
and so of course I had to preempt that by apologizing constantly for minor discretions.
Obviously there’s something extremely fucked up about this mindset.
Social justice didn’t do shit for me when I was upset and scared and anxious about hurting someone. Social justice was the person screaming at me that it was all my fault and that, as a privileged person, it wasn’t my place to expect my friend to educate me or talk to me or give me any of his time or to be clear about the state of our relationship; it was the person shouting at me “you PRIVILEGED PIECe oF ShIT, STOP FORCING YOURSELF ON TRANS PEOPLE AND ASKING FOR EMOTIONAL LABOR”.
(My friend himself is very charitable and cares a lot about me. He would not have minded me telling him that I had a crush on him.)
And this whole thing where trans-focused sj screws over trans people- it isn’t just me. If it were, I would just pass it off as a weird quirk of myself.
But it isn’t. Sine Salvatorem on Tumblr relates a similar story here:
When I first learned that transpeople existed, I was fascinated. It’s clear in retrospect that the fascination was caused by me realising on some level that I was trans, but every time the thought popped into my head, I’d kill it. I am from an extremely homophobic society. I’ve been bullied all my life for being feminine. I was called “faggot” more often than my birth name for years. I was not particularly open minded to the idea that my bullies were at all correct.
So 11 year old me I visited a bunch of websites about transpeople and thought “that’s so cool, they’re just like me – except I’m a straight male, so not reeeally – but otherwise completely the same!” Yes, I was deep in double-think.
Eventually I decided that, if we’re so similar, I should talk to one. Heck, we could be friends! I was already mostly friends with girls, and transwomen are women, so I should have no problem. And, since transwomen are women, I could date one too, if they were interested. After all, it only makes sense to date people with whom you have common interests.
The first transgender-issues website I visited that had a forum had a list of rules to go with it. I diligently read all of the rules. Only one stood out and confused me. “No chasers allowed.”
I messaged the forum administrators and asked what a “chaser” was. I was told that a chaser was a straight man who wanted to date transwomen. I said that this didn’t make sense as a category of people to be opposed to, because a lot of transwomen date straight men. It was then explained to me that, no, the actual important thing is that they obsess over transpeople. That they read all about them and think a lot about transness and also would like to date them. When you put the two things together, what you were left with was the objectively worst human being who could exist.
And then 11 year old me wanted to die.
As it happens, she didn’t kill herself, she finally (consciously) realised she was trans at 14 (with help from 4chan, of all places), and she stopped worrying that thinking about transpeople was Inherently Awful.
But there is a part of me that will always loath the very concept of “chasers” and, by extension, the idea that you can be a bad person as a result of being attracted to $CATEGORY.
Her statement at the end rings quite true for me. People who prefer trans people to cis people, people who are fascinated by transness, people who obsess over the lives of trans people, are very likely trans or gender nonconforming themselves.
But let’s pretend that every single person who was attracted to trans people and transness and gender variance was cis (and, probably, male).
Even then, they would deserve to be defended and protected and included. Cis men who love trans people are marginalized by the gender role that tells them that they must be attracted only to a specific type of cis woman. They are marginalized by the transmisogyny that tells them that trans women are not real women, and that therefore they cannot be attracted to them.
Moreover, men are marginalized by means of association and role-based misandry. Under patriarchy, the “effeminacy” of trans women pollutes anyone who tolerates or accepts or is attracted to them, especially cis men.
People who love trans people and who are obsessed with us deserve not only to be tolerated, but to be actively welcomed with open arms. Too much admiration and love for trans people, based around our being trans, has rarely hurt us. And this is not least because some of these people might be trans themselves.
Individual readers are encouraged to enforce any boundary they so desire, including a dislike for people who obsess about trans people. But on a community level, something needs to change.
In her (otherwise excellent) essay defending partners, Serano writes that she believes that someone “who is only attracted to trans people, but not at all to cis people” is extraordinarily rare and likely does not exist. In explaining her reasoning as to why she believes that trans-attracted cis people are not fetishists or weird, she takes pains to say that “the vast majority of” men attracted to trans women “also are attracted to women more generally”.
But Serano doesn’t take her acceptance and inclusion far enough.
Reading this, I was not comforted. I worried that the acceptability of my attraction to trans people and the quality of being trans hinged on it being equal to my attraction to cis people. I worried that, again, I was being fetishizing by preferring trans people to cis people.
And I am sure, almost entirely sure, that this was not Serano’s intention.
But it was what I understood from the post.
This type of misunderstanding seems fairly common, actually, especially regarding attraction to women and objectification. The Scott Aaronson affair, for example, is a prime example of a quite conscientious, well-meaning young man reading feminist messages about attraction to women (objectification is wrong! it makes me feel uncomfortable to imagine that boys are attracted to me! I wish men weren’t so entitled!) and internalizing them to the point that he wanted to be chemically castrated. The Unit of Caring also similarly details her guilt and anxiety about being attracted to girls here and here.
Ozy Frantz describes this type of thinking as scrupulosity: an anxiety disorder that creates excessive guilt and excessive worrying about fairly minor moral transgressions. And this explanation rings true for me as well.
Scott Aaronson, the Unit of Caring, Sine Salvatorem, and I read legitimate, bitter accounts of how women were hurt by male power and male sexuality. I read well-intentioned guides for cis people, written by trans people frustrated by the presumption that their genitals and surgery decisions were considered public property.
Aaronson and the Unit of Caring concluded that attraction to women was wrong. And Sine Salvatorem and I, despite not being men, concluded that attraction to trans women and transness was wrong; and I applied this, however fallaciously, to trans men as well .
It seems to me that there is are several common threads here. The objections to both the sexual desire and the question-asking are both about treating women and/or trans people as means to goals, either for discovering new information or for achieving sexual satiation. This is a practice commonly known as objectification.
But this concern for respecting others, when phrased aggressively, can and does lead to a lack of accessibility for neurodivergences.
And, as Serano states, the issues with treating women as objects or trans people as objects or trans women as objects, and not people, are indeed real and true issues. But, as with Scott Alexander’s hangups with objectification, most of the damage seems to be tangential to the attraction itself.
Because of the disdain for admirers and those who preferred trans people to cis people in general, I used to worry that I was objectifying my friend. It was unbearably painful for me to think about – that I was hurting him, that I might hurt him, my first love – and almost as consuming as the obsession with transness itself.
And so one of my friends told me this: that we don’t love objects. We don’t cherish them and hope for them and want them to flourish.
We dispose of them as soon as we are done with them, and we don’t look back.
If some people treat trans people as less than human or as simple receptacles for sex, then that’s obviously shitty. It’s obviously wrong. But the wrong part is not that they admire us or because they’re romantically or sexually attracted to us. It’s that they’re assholes about it.
Similarly, if some people treat women as less than human or as simple receptacles for sex, then that’s obviously shitty. But the problem is not the attraction to women. It is that they’re assholes about it.
So to anyone who is reading this who is involved in social justice:
First, viz. statements directed at, for example, men who catcall or who objectify, or cis people who ask trans people about their genitalia:
Anger and rage have their places and serve an essential purpose in sj. But when attempting to talk to others, accusations and blame are not always optimal, and the percentage of outraged and highly targeted articles in social justice activism should be lower when the goal is the conversion of outsiders, e.g. in “101 spaces” for “education” .
Instead, what would be helpful for some segments of the population would be actionable guides, possibly with scripts, for how to either avoid hurting people or for mitigating the potential harms. These guides would be optimal if they avoided placing blame or using sweeping moral generalizations about behavior.
Claiming that “this isn’t about casting blame; if you once did [thing that one has just described as incredibly horrible and harmful and sexist and transphobic] then just don’t do it again! :)” does not actually prevent people from being guilty, upset, or worried, and in fact makes them feel even worse for feeling guilty, upset, and worried.
These explanations of harm also do not add to the guides’ persuasiveness for the scrupulous- scrupulous people already care intensely about your welbeing to the point that a few short sentences will suffice.
Instead, there should be a higher percentage of articles where the writers anticipate scrupulosity, and then specifically and methodically address particular anxieties that might be caused by their rhetoric.
There should also be a higher percentage of Trans101 articles written for closeted trans people, taking the perspective of “transness is a thing, you might be trans too!” See for example this article here.
I would also appreciate if preferences were not expressed, explicitly, not as absolutes (“don’t ever ask trans people about their genders! ever! all trans people agree with me and there are no nuances here whatsoever”). Expressing them as nuanced issues with multiple graduations of scale, like most social issues, would be more productive and accessible to me and some other people with scrupulosity like me .
This would also enable the movement to outreach to men, who are often turned off by feminist analyses of the evilness of “male” sexuality . It would be more inclusive of contrary viewpoints from within marginalized groups. And finally, it would aid (some) neurodivergent people and (some) socially awkward people through providing social skills advice.
Of course, this isn’t the best course of action for everyone. There is always a place for rage, anger, and denunciations of privilege. I am aware that some pro-sj people might have scrupulosity as well, or limited time, or a desire to create stronger rhetoric. I do not think that their activism should be paralyzed, either.
But I also think that there should be a space for more nuanced discussion; attempts at more nuanced discussion should not be met with accusations of privilege, insufficient radicalism, or insufficient commitment to sj ideals.
The places for rage and the places for nuanced discussion should not always or even usually be the same place, necessarily, but the majority of activism for converting privileged people should be open for nuanced discussion, disagreement, and debate.
Second, viz. a dislike of chasers specifically:
I think that I actually disagree with some people here, in that I think that obsession with and interest in transness is, in some cases not only acceptable but desirable.
People who have different preferences than I, or who feel objectified when seen as specifically “trans people” ought to have a place as well to express their concerns, to other trans people, in spaces limited to trans people only (ETA: or to non-chaser allies). I support their competing access needs and will defend their safe spaces ardently.
But the majority of trans spaces ought to support, defend, and welcome non-trans and questioning people. The first Google result for a trans forum and the search term “transgender” should be accessible to the scrupulous. It should also be both readable, understandable, and nuanced. My experience and Sine Salvatorem’s experience of trans activism will thus be less common.
Moreover, if non-trans people and admirers/chasers are part of the community, then it will be easier to ask for behavioral changes. Treating trans people like people, instead of as disposable objects, naturally emanates from being part of a trans community. Some of these demands  also ought to be accessible for the scrupulous and highly nuanced; others ought to be more aggressively phrased and guilt-inducing. (See SSC’s article about different ideological needs here.)
All of them, however, should include clear, actionable, and concrete advice. If social justice is to ever achieve anything, then its demands must be clear, actionable, and concrete. If demands are opaque, people do not understand what they mean even if they agree. If demands are not actionable, then even if people understand what they mean they will be able to do nothing. And if demands are not concrete, then even if people are able to do something it will have little impact on the real conditions of the oppressed.
And finally, social justice activists should keep in mind that advice and denunciations and rage have spillover effects. Even if the specified target is “straight white cis men”, you will end up talking about other people, including queers and nonwhites and trans people and non-men.
Straight white cis men do not deserve to be hurt and made anxious either, but I doubt that that would be a compelling argument within social justice activism.
To the Scotts Aaronson of the world, the Sine Salvatorems and the Units of Caring- I love you, and I stand in solidarity with you. You, more than anyone, are the people I will fight for, the people I will stand with, and the people I will write long rambling blog posts for.
 – To be clear, I’m assigned-female at birth. I am not entirely sure why I cared so much about dilating after surgery, since I already have a vagina and definitely would like it to be cut out.
It was probably because it meant that I could read about trans things without having to feel weird and oddly insecure about myself, as reading transmasculine things would have.
 – Yes, I failed at intersectionality here; I am aware that the posited oppressiveness of chasers is experienced not as simply trans oppression or as simply female oppression, but as transfemale oppression.
But most of the arguments against chasers apply to admiring trans men too: it’s a fetish, it’s treating transness as an interesting feature rather than seeing the whole person, it’s hurting the targets, it’s treating trans people differently than cis people of their identified genders and thus implying they are not real, it’s applying undue scrutiny and importance on their transness.
Practically the only arguments it doesn’t share are so tangential that I managed to miss them without more reflection. There is the one about how trans women are seen as sex objects and prostitutes due to being women. The other argument is about how trans women are subject to constant sexualization around men and in friendships with men (e.g., the whole redpiller/friendzone/Nice Guy type topic), and so chasers are hurtful in that way.
But I applied what I saw as the feminist position on the friendzone/Nice Guy subject to my crush as well, because I reasoned that if some women felt hurt and pressured when their friends turned out to have crushes on them, then some men (especially my extremely sensitive, eager-to-please crush) must also feel hurt and pressured when their friends turned out to have crushes on them.
(I would appreciate if no one tried to claim that I only applied these things to my crush because I subconsciously saw him as a woman. I tend to reason in general meta-principles and general rules, as in Prisoner’s Dilemma or Lockean social contract situations, and I rarely am able to apply the idea of privilege on a gut emotional level.)
And transness is placed front and center here. The arguments that I have seen aren’t talking about how trans women are hurt by men becoming obsessed with one particular part of them; it’s talking about how transness is the thing that men become obsessed with. This clearly indicates that transness is a bad thing for men to have an obsession with (and by extension everyone else, since I imagine a trans woman who disliked male obsession with her transness ould be no more pleased by nonbinary or female obsession in the same situation).
And people afflicted by scrupulosity are not particularly good at discerning the applicability of difficult concepts like intersectionality when it comes to things we could guilt ourselves over.
 – “101 space” and “education” are terms I dislike for aesthetic reasons. I also dislike them because they imply that the discussion should not take place on equal ground. They imply that there are no legitimate arguments to be made or doubt that can be had against social justice ideas, which is in essence a request for ideological submission on pain of moral failing.
 – See The Unit of Caring and Ozy’s post linked to before for the origin of these ideas.
 – The idea of an archetypal “male” sexuality is rooted in oppositional sexism, the pedestalization of women, and the denigration of men as undesirable, polluted, and disposable. Feminists and activists should reconsider their usage of this term. The Unit of Caring and Julia Serano have both influenced my view on this considerably.
 – I have read multiple articles about how the word “demand”, rather than “request”, is empowering. I don’t doubt that it feels empowering, but I doubt that it is really the most effective way of proselytizing. These statements have also made me feel anxious – am I not taking a hard enough line? Am I not empowering myself enough? Should I be harsher?
So I’m not a fan. But I recognize that these might be real needs. I wish, however, that they weren’t framed as absolutes.
Part 2, a guide regarding trans and/or female objectification, will be up soon.
See also the related discussion of men’s issues here.