The discussions I’ve been having today have got me curious about words SJ uses for its enemies and how broad they can be. Like “antifeminist” or “cissexist” or the like. It’s hard to know if the person labeled these things is kinda problematic or clearly horrible. So I got to wondering about whether we can nail things down to paradigm cases, and how interesting it is that I don’t think we can:

When we say someone is “an antifeminist” or “a misogynist,” are we thinking of  a man who wants to restrict abortion rights through legislation, a guy who wants to find a mail-order bride because he’s heard that Asian women aren’t “bitchy” like Western women, a conservative woman who believes in complementarianism, or a young woman who thinks “feminists” are “fat, hairy lesbians“ and doesn’t want people to think she is one, but does vote?

When we say someone is “colonialist,” are we thinking of someone who believes that Enlightenment thought and values “civilized” the world and things have literally gone downhill since Western empires fell, of someone who has a few stereotypical beliefs about POC that are hurtful and perpetuates microaggressions, of a young white affluent student with dreadlocks, a bindi, an Om hennaed on her hand, and a cool looking image of Kali badly printed on her favorite shapeless canvas bag?

When we say someone is “cissexist,” are we thinking of a parent who tried to force his child into conversion therapy or swears by Zucker, a politician who pushes for a bathroom bill, a parent who thinks being gay is fine but this gender stuff sounds like an Internet trend, a cis lesbian who says “get your cotton ceiling off my body,” a radical feminist who thinks some but not all spaces should be for “women born women only,” a radical feminist who thinks “males invade women’s space and should be driven off, violently if needed?”

When we say someone is “white supremacist,” are we thinking of David Duke or Neo-Nazis, or are we thinking of a white philosophy professor who can’t think of any black philosophers to assign along with Aristotle and Kant?

SJ uses these terms in very elastic ways, and I question that. Because a lot of them sound extreme, but we’re really using them to refer to people whose views are really not as intensely bad as that. And I think that leads to some really weird cruelty at times.

And assuming the goal is to take power away from the first group and win over the second group, I don’t know if grouping them helps us achieve that goal? Like, you can plausibly help the philosophy professor by proposing some readings that she can add, or giving a talk in which you present an approach that uses those authors so she feels like she knows how to lecture about them. That’s not going to work on David Duke. 

Distinguishing between “ignorant/saturated in bad ideas” and “committed to bad ideas” and “committed to harming others on the basis of those bad ideas” isn’t just about kindness to the ignorant people, it’s often more useful for achieving your goals. Being able to tell the difference between people who don’t share your values and people who share your values but don’t realize they do, or don’t know how to collaborate with you, is really strategically important. 

It’s not so important if your primary goal is to play blue-tribe status games though, which is why I can have such difficulty taking this seriously sometimes – most recently coming up with “appropriation” which has something like one good definition and seven bad ones exclusively used to signal how progressive you are.

I want the world to be a better place. I’m not sure internet politics have anything to do with that goal.

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